Christmas Traditions


 



 
 



 




 
We all have our favorite Christmas traditions that make our celebrations unique to our families. There is an endless number of wonderful traditions that you can incorporate into your Christmas to make it uniquely yours. Here is a sampling of some ideas to try, and perhaps you'll find one or two that will be annual favorites!


Pat-a-Pan/ Freeplay Muisc

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 Starting on the very first day of December, my family's traditions always included a beautiful advent calendar.



If you're not familiar with advent calendars, the basic idea is to "count down" to Christmas by opening a little "door" (which is marked with a number) on the calendar each day, starting with the 1st of December, up until Christmas Day. There are all sorts of advent calendars, which can be made of fabric, wood, cardboard, or paper. Some are even sold with a chocolate behind each door. But I always prefer the simple paper ones, which have a little Christmas related picture behind each door. There are religious oriented designs as well, which  may have a verse of the Christmas story behind the doors. Children love these, and eagerly anticipate opening another little door each morning. The most beautiful paper advent calendars are generally made in Germany, but in recent years I have found some lovely U.S. made ones as well. You can find them in card shops and department stores, but sometimes the best selections can be found online. This year, I bought mine at Vermont Christmas Company. I write the year on the back of each calendar, and save them in a box, after the holiday. I have them from all the way back to 1986!






When I was a child, there was a nearby town that always hosted a Christmas lights and display contest. When our Christmas tree was all decorated, we'd bundle up and drive out to this town to see the Christmas lights!


Try to take notice of the areas around where you live, as the season gets underway, and note the cities, towns or neighborhoods where there are lots of lights displays. Choose a night to take a drive, with Christmas music on the CD player, and check them out! It could be the night you decorate your tree, as it was for us, or maybe Christmas Eve after church, or before bed time. Nearby where I live now, there is one home owner who has an extremely elaborate Christmas lights display, with the lights synchronized to music, moving reindeer, marching soldiers and fish leaping from a pond of lights! You may be lucky enough to spot one of these. To find out where the best Christmas lights displays are near you, go to christmaslightfinder.com. Check out this one here, if you can't find one near you! (turn music off above)

Holdman House, UT



Check out their website for more!




Even if you're not particularly religious, or do not belong to a church, consider attending a church service at Christmas time! 




If you are a believer, it will serve to strengthen your faith, and if you are not, it is still a beautiful reminder of the original reason for this season of love and light in the dead of winter. The Sunday before Christmas is Christmas Sunday, and this is usually when the children put on a Christmas Pageant, in many churches. Something about little ones in halos and sheep fleeces brings tears to the eyes! Check with the churches near you and see when their pageant will be performed.


Another option would be the candlelight service that many churches hold on Christmas Eve. Often there are more than one service, so you can choose to go early in the evening, or wait for the magic of the midnight service. Bring candles, and something to catch the drips, and lose yourself in the wonder of light and Christmas cheer! Be sure to bring as nice a donation as you can afford. Most churches have a special designation for the money they collect at Christmas, such as a local food pantry or a particular charity. You will return home in a good mood and with the spirit of Christmas in your heart.




No matter your financial circumstances, it is always a good thing to make some sort of charitable donation during the Christmas season. It can be a donation of time, or gifts or money.

One charity that I support at Christmas is Operation Christmas Child. This project collects shoe boxes that people fill with small gifts for a certain age group for boys or girls. They are distributed around the world to needy children. Many of these kids have nothing at all, so a bright box of new gifts is a wonder that offers love and hope to these children who only know poverty and despair every day. This is something that you can have your children participate in. It will raise their awareness of other children who are in need around the world, and nurture a spirit of generosity in them at this "giving" time of year.

If you are not sure you want to donate to Operation Christmas Child, watch this video and have tissues handy! (turn off music above)

Operation Christmas Child


Here is a wonderful article on just how to pack and send your shoe box! There are also links at the end for ideas for boys and for girls.

 
Start a tradition of creating a Christmas tree for the birds and wildlife! You can either do this in your own backyard, or find a wooded area nearby where you can bring your goodies for the critters.

This is a wonderful tradition, and children especially love it. Make popcorn and cranberry strings to drape on a tree. You can also smear  pine cones, rice cakes, or toasted bagel halves with peanut butter and roll in birdseed to hang on the tree with yarn or string. (The birds will use yarn as nest-making  material in the spring!) Hang slices of apple and orange as well, and scatter those, along with a bag of mixed nuts in the shells and a box of raisins around the tree. The birds and wild creatures will thank you for a delectable Christmas feast! To top off your excursion, read the story/picture book "Night Tree" by Eve Bunting to the children, about a family who loved this charming tradition.






If it's not already a family tradition at your house, this is the year to start making Christmas cookies, especially if you have children in the house, including teens!


You just need a basic sugar cookie recipe (below), a set of Christmas cookie cutters and a selection of decorating delights!! Your Christmas cookie cutters might include such figures as a star, Santa, reindeer, candle, stocking, Christmas tree, gingerbread man, bell, snowflake, candy cane and snowman. 

I have found it best to make the dough the night ahead, shape into 2 large balls and cover, allowing to chill overnight in the fridge. This makes the dough easier to handle and roll. 

Take out one of the balls of dough and divide into four smaller pieces. Liberally flour a cutting board (large one, if you have it), and pat out the dough to a rough circle. Then roll with a rolling pin to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Have the children dip the bottom of the cutter of their choice in flour on a plate, and place carefully on dough, as close to one edge as possible. Press down hard and lift, and voilà!! Place on cookie sheet and then decorate before baking.

Here are some suggestions for items you can use to decorate your cookies:

raisins
walnuts
sliced almonds
peanuts
chopped dates
hershey's kisses
m & m's
black and red licorice whips/strings
chocolate chips, or chips of any flavor
sugar sprinkles
jimmies (multi-colored sprinkles)
cake writing gel

And, you may want to use a pastry brush to "paint" frosting on your creations in various colors. Make a frosting of confectioners sugar (powdered sugar) and milk to a consistency that is thin enough to paint on, but not thin enough to run off the cookie. Color with a few drops of food coloring.

Best Rolled Sugar Cookies Recipe
by Jill Saunders

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 Cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
5 Cups All-Purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Directions

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt.

Preheat oven to 400ºF/200ºC. Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/4 - 1/2" thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter and place cookies on cookie sheet, 1 inch apart, to decorate. (Take care not to let decorating materials fall onto baking sheet, as they will burn.) Bake 6-8 minutes in pre-heated oven.









Send Out Christmas Cards

Sending Christmas cards was once a very popular tradition, kept by most celebrators of Christmas, year after year. Today it is a dying practice, sadly, with many people printing out "newsletters" instead, or worse, emailing them!! 
Why not be one of the hardy few who still send out real, honest-to-goodness Christmas greetings to your family and friends this year? It is a warm surprise to find a cheerful or beautiful Christmas card in amongst the bills at this time of year. Choose a design that means something to you... a nativity scene if the Christmas story is what means the most to you, or a card with animals on it, or something that reflects the area where you live. You can usually find cards that
are sold to benefit one charity or another, and that can be your way of spreading charity this year. If you can find a local cause, such as food pantries, church groups or animal welfare causes, all the better. 
Make yourself a list of friends and family that you'd like to send to and go about collecting addresses. Make sure to note them in your online address book, or a physical one that you can tuck away with your Christmas things at the end of the season.  Sometimes there is one particular relative who can get you most of the family addresses you need. If not, try going to anywho.com and plugging the names in to see what comes up. If all else fails, call them and ask for their address. It will spoil the surprise, but they may be able to give you someone else's address while you've got them on the phone! Be sure to buy some Christmas postage stamps for your cards, and a package of Christmas stickers to seal the back with is nice too. You may be surprised to find that you will start getting cards in return, so get them out as soon after December 1st as possible.

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