A sweet friend asked me several days ago to blog about our family Christmas traditions. I have been “sitting” on the request and have finally decided to let cyber space peek into some of the traditions of the Ottinger family home during the month of December. At first I was a bit reluctant, because I was afraid of exposing myself and subjecting myself to either criticism or praise…..both can be dangerous to the ego. It is my hope that as I share with you what we do over the holidays that you will not 1. Label me as “an over indulgent perfectionist” or “too spiritual” or “not spiritual enough” i.e…realize I am enjoying my family and celebrating Christmas the way we see fit for our kiddos. 2. Be too hard on yourself if you do not “do” as much as we do.
It is my hope that you will see the joy of being intentional with your children and seize opportunities to make life long memories. Christmas Time sets the perfect stage for celebrating as a family as we focus on the precious birth of our Savior. I believe that traditions no matter how big or small, how elaborate or simple instill a sense of belonging and security in the hearts of our children. I hope that as I share some of what we do during the month that you will be inspired to slow down and make some family memories that will last a lifetime!
Here is a great quote I found on the web:
“The most vivid memories of Christmases past are usually not of gifts given or received, but of the spirit of love, the special warmth of Christmas worship, the cherished little habits of the home.” Author: Lois Rand. I love how he called the “habits of the home”!
Ottinger Family Traditions (in no particular order or edited very well)
-Hallmark Ornaments – each year we buy each child a new Hallmark Ornament. This was actually started my Mark’s parent’s when he was little. He still has all of his, which we enjoy each year. Sometimes we add to a series they have or buy a special one to mark something specific from that year of their life or a hobby. We let them open them one night in December and add it to a tree that we have specifically for Hallmark Ornaments. Mark’s sister also does this, so the kids love knowing their cousins get them too.
-We have little tabletop trees in their rooms that we take a special night to put up.
-We have a set of small artificial alpine trees in the corner of the kitchen that we decorate with home made ornaments, dough ornaments, popcorn strands (my dog has already eaten half them off this week=) ) and crafts the kids make over the season (this is my way of “protecting” what Mark likes to call “mommy’s tree”…which is the one I want to look perfect…ha!)
-I usually have a few Christmas Ornament craft sets (from Oriental Trading or craft stores) around the house for them to make whenever we have some free time.
-Under the “Hallmark Tree” I have: a basket of Christmas books, a Fisher Price nativity play set, a Playmobil nativity play set, a few music boxes and a train on a track around the tree. The kids are free to play with those items whenever they want.
-Nightly Readings – each night of December we read an advent story or scripture. What we use varies from year to year. This year we are reading “The Christmas Story from the family reading Bible” from Zondervan publishing as well as an Advent guide from our church.
-An Advent Calendar – we have a wooden tree that has 25 little doors to open with small ornaments inside. The kids take turns opening the doors each night of December. We also use this time to talk about things we are thankful for
-We will surprise the kids a few nights during the month with little happies. Last night we got a special box from the grandparents (who are both great about blessing the kids during Christmas). So we waited until Daddy got home, sat in front of the tree and had our “Start off the Celebration of the Birth of Christ” night by opening our first gifts, doing our first advent door and reading the nightly Bible story.
-At least one night a season, we get the kids into their PJ’s, make hot chocolate (bought them their own Christmas travel mugs last year), get donuts and drive around looking at Christmas lights
-I have a “Christmas Scent” always bubbling on the stove. My kids LOVE it and start asking in the fall when I am going to start “cooking that good smelling stuff”. It is very easy. Mix orange slices, lemon peels, apple slices, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and water into a small pan and simmer on your stove. Add more water and ingredients as needed. I usually make a new batch every few days. I also have lots of yummy candles burning and Christmas music (all kinds playing from the Pandora website…sometimes classical hymns and other times silly Alivin & the Chipmunks)
-We get a new family game and give it as a family gift one night during the month and then will have at least 5-10 “game times” during December
-We also take advantage of ABC Family Channel Countdown till Christmas. We can usually get a few “Family Movie Nights” out of what they have on TV.
-We make a gingerbread house the week of Christmas. I buy the pre-boxed one from Wilton and add extra candies and decorations. The kids really get into it and we usually have matchbox car roads, marsh mellow snowmen etc. We use this time to remind the kids that we are really Celebrating Jesus Birthday and will often sing Him happy birthday during this time. Several years ago my sister in law gave the kids Christmas Aprons so this is a special time they love to wear them!
-We have a few Christmas Pancake molds so we make pancakes a few times over the month
-The kids have special Christmas plates (thanks to the grandparents), which they use most of the month.
-We have our kids draw names to buy gifts for each other. Limit the amount they can spend and let them try to buy something the other person would really love. Helps them think of one another. We usually let them open this gift on Christmas Eve night or one night the week before. So their gifts to one another don’t get lost in the craziness of Christmas morning
-Buy or make gifts for our neighbors and deliver them as a family. Helps them see the joy in giving.
-Support an over seas cause each year. We talk and pray about it as a family. We have done several things- one year we supported a Haitian Orphanages Christmas dinner (they even sent the kids back a picture of them eating!!!!), one year we bought chickens for a village in Asia, and one year we wrote Christmas cards to an orphanage in South Korea.
-We do a local service project or give to a local cause….also something we talk about and decide as a family.
-On Christmas Eve we go to a Christmas Eve service as a family. Come home and let the kids open one gift…..it is always new PJ’s and slippers. We get into our new Pj’s and eat dessert and take turns reading the last part of our Christmas story. We sing Christmas songs and let the kids play whatever musical pieces they have learned or would like to share. We leave a note and cookies for Santa and food outside for the reindeer….even though the oldest three totally know daddy is the one eating the cookies and the dog is the one eating the reindeer food….they still love it =)
-Christmas day – We wake up (way too early) and the kids get “Santa Presents” which is one thing each unwrapped under the tree. Then we take a moment get coffee, etc. Then let the kids open one or two more gifts. Then we take a moment and have breakfast. Then we will go back and open whatever gifts are left and then wait a bit and let them play and enjoy what they have. Then we will do stockings (which they have already seen…but not gotten to touch yet) a bit later. We might hold back gifts from grandparents etc until even later in the morning or afternoon. We really like the tone it sets to open things slowly. As soon as we started that it changed the entire feeling of our day. We went from “what is next” to “wow look what I got…thank you so much…let me enjoy it for a bit”. We still have to remind our youngest ones to slow down and enjoy but it is well worth it! We really get the joy of giving to them for hours instead of minutes =)!
I hope you are inspired to grab sometime with your precious blessings while they are still home and make some Christmas Memories!!!!!