The Magic of Christmas

As many of you long time readers know, we’re a frugal family (for the most part). While we do splurge on lots of things in life, our day to day perspective is to watch every dollar carefully to make sure it’s being used wisely and in pursuit of our goals. It’s not that we disagree with spending money. But instead of spending money on lots of “things”, we’d rather spend it on building memories instead.

While the holiday and birthday seasons inevitably come with lots of “things,” we choose to focus our family on the experiences of those seasons instead. And don’t get me wrong, that’s hard to do! It’s hard not to get caught up in the mania of spend, spend, spend. But every year when the holidays are through, I’m warmed by the fact that our kids have a grounded perspective on what the holidays are about. This perspective is still growing, but at 6 and 4, I couldn’t be more proud of where they are. And with that, I thought I’d share a few things that we do to make our holidays (and Christmas, in particular) magical for them.

MARKING THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON

Each year, the weekend after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of our Christmas season. It’s that weekend that Christmas songs are turned on and when our family picks out our tree. We go to the same vendor year after year. It’s a summer farm stand turned Christmas tree stand and they have such nice trees. Sure, they’re a lot more expensive than the tree you can get from Home Depot or Wal-Mart, but it’s a local business and it’s right down the road. The kids get involved in picking out the “best” one and we decorate it that weekend as a family. We play holiday tunes while decorating and the kids take pride in the final product.

Also, starting last year, we jumped on the “Elf on the Shelf” bandwagon. So many friends had elves so we thought it was time an elf visited us. The kids loved waking up each morning to see where “Lewis” spent the night. We also have a simple advent calendar and the kids take turns moving the “Christmas tree” as the December dates go by.

FAMILY FUN ACTIVITIES

One of my favorite memories of the Christmas season growing up was going to see “A Christmas Carol” and the “Magic of Christmas” music production each year with my family. Our kids are still a little too young for these shows, but I’m thinking that in a year or two, we’ll start doing at least one each year. We have, however, participated in many other holiday activities that are age appropriate for younger kids. Our town has a bunch of festive activities including the lighting of the local lighthouse and a festival of lights complete with a santa parade. And my favorite activity of the year is our extended family Christmas celebration. Aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents get together each year, we have a yankee swap, and eat great food. And there is lots of love and laughter. It was my mom’s favorite day of the year and I look forward to it as my favorite day of the holiday season.

THE GIVING SEASON

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, the kids get involved in helping others. At Thanksgiving time, they pick out a food box to donate to the local food pantry. Year round, we emphasize with the kids how lucky they are to have what they have and that there are others out there that don’t have a nice place to live or a good meal every day. They’ve seen some poverty on our travels so they are beginning to understand this concept. The donation of food reinforces that.

And at Christmas time, they either choose a child to buy for through a gift tree at the local mall or they buy a gift for a child to donate to the burn center in Boston. My husband’s firehouse gathers gifts for kids at the burn center who won’t be home for Christmas. This is another tough lesson for the kids to learn, but we do want them to be aware that there are others out there that aren’t going to be in their beds on Christmas Eve and that we should do something to make their day even just a little better. They’re still very young, but they are starting to learn empathy and how important it is to help others when we can.

BAKING

There are certain things that I make only during the Christmas season. That includes my mom’s famous Peanut Butter Balls and Christmas cookies. The kids have started to help where they can with these baking activities. And we generally let baked good be the centerpiece of holiday gifts for teachers, bus drivers, friends, etc. I feel homemade gifts are the best kind of gifts and are genuinely appreciated by all.

HOLIDAY MOVIES

Another of our favorite holiday activities is Friday movie night. Each Friday before Christmas, we choose a Christmas movie to watch. In the earlier years, we chose movies like “Winnie-The-Pooh and Christmas Too” and “Rudolf” but we’ve moved onto ones like “Elf” and “The Grinch” of late. Generally, we have pizza and watch the movie together as a family. The kids look forward to Friday movie night all week.

CHRISTMAS EVE

The night before Christmas is a special night in our household. We make a traditional holiday meal to enjoy and the kids open up one small Christmas present before heading to church for a family friendly Christmas Eve service. We’re not a particularly religious family, but spending time in church with members of our community is heart warming and emphasizes this special time of year. On our way home, we drive around checking out holiday lights while listening to Christmas music. When we get home, we put out cookies, milk, and carrots, and we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Then it’s off to bed for the kids!

Christmas morning involves a fire in the wood stove, holiday music, opening gifts one at a time, and then a big breakfast feast in our PJs! We’re big proponents of the “want, need, wear, read” giving trend for kids. With Santa in the mix, we tend to do a little more than one in each of these categories, but we limit our gift giving at Christmas to what we believe is a reasonable amount of gifts for the kids. I’ve been involved with unreasonable gift giving in the past and saw first hand how overwhelming it can be for young kids.

Most of these holiday traditions are not unique. In fact, I think they are very standard for families with children. The difference may be the way that these traditions define our holiday season with the gift giving being just a very small part. And the frugality of our approach is a convenient coincidence but not the reason why we limit our gift giving. In short, we hope that the accumulation of all these experiences and memories are what will linger with them throughout the years when they think back about the holiday season, not the toys they got when they were four.

What about you? How do you make the holidays special for your kids? Do you make a conscious effort to limit gift giving?

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