Monday, December 26, 2011

Being Prepared: Christmas

I'm reporting on another aspect of being prepared that really brought me happiness this year. The first week of November, I took some time to map out what a fun, happy Christmas season would look like for me! ME! Selfish me. Last year was fraught with stress and rushing around and unmet expectations. Although the kids seemed to enjoy Christmas, as did Shane, I was exhausted. This year, I was determined to turn things around. I'm happy to report success!

A few things that I knew that I did not want to do during Christmastime this year:
*Step anywhere near the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, with the exception of JCrew, since their sale is just too irresistable. (But we went to that sale at 4:00 pm. Reasonable.)
*Go to the mall. It just sucks the Christmas cheer right out of me. I did virtually all of our shopping online or at the little toy shop across the street. (I did go to the mall once to buy socks for Shane....but it was fast and ok.)
*Spend money on events that create more stress than joy (waiting hours to see Santa or lighting displays). Or generally spend more money than we've budgeted for this year.
*Sew anything after December 1

As for the things the things I did want to do, it was exciting to think of all of my favorite December activities. Knowing that we'd be far from family this Christmas, I tried to find the special local events that would help us feel grateful for being where we are this time of year.

I love the idea of an advent calendar and made a very simple red and green paper chain to count down to Christmas. (This could have been infinitely more aesthetic/creative, but, it was good enough!) Each link of the paper chain had a little special something for each day to celebrate Christmas, and the first 7 links even had coordinating scriptures to go with it, until I burned out doing that. Maybe next year I'll finish. My mom told me to write down our daily December activities, so here they are:

(Day after Thanksgiving: Put up tree. We couldn't wait.)

1: Christmas Music (D&C 25:12)
This was a great way to start December. I asked my mom to send some beginner piano books of Christmas music and was able to teach Peter to play a few Christmas carols on the piano. These songs were very motivating for him to master and he was determined to get them right so that he could accompany all of us as we sang along. I also made a mix of Christmas music for the car. Now Nathan can sing the "Glooooooooooria"s to Angels We Have Heard on High and it is very cute. My mom also stuck in a a few books of Christmas music for me to play, which was lovely. Even with the inevitable kid banging going on in the bass clef notes.

2: Deliver Christmas Cards (Luke 2:10)
This was such a great deadline for me. All through November, I imagined Peter reading this link out loud and saying, "Ok, Mom, today we go to the post office to deliver the Christmas Cards!" Which meant that the cards had to be ordered, addressed, and stamped with a friendly hand-written message, family photo, and newsletter inside. I know that it doesn't have to be this complex, but I really, really wanted to really do the Christmas cards right this year. It is my one really personal way to reconnect with dear friends, friends that I wish I could sit down and talk to for an hour or two, friends whom I love so much, I cannot believe that we don't get together still all the time. So, I was determined, and writing cards to friends and family turned out to be maybe my favorite part of the season. And what a bonus to open our mailbox and find lovely cards in return!

3: Stake Christmas Concert (Luke 2:13-14)

4: Put up Nativities (Luke 2: 7-16)
Especially nice to do this activity on a Sunday afternoon.

5: Put up lights (Matthew 2: 1, 2, 9-11)
This activity was intentionally done on a Monday, so that *voila* we could have a light-installing activity for Family Home Evening and I wasn't left doing it alone, muttering curses under my breath. One would think that putting up lights with kids would be frustrating, but it was motivating to work alongside our boys and feed off of their excitement. I hope I never forget how magical it was to all stand together in the front yard to look at the lights after we had finished.

6: Christmas Books (3 Nephi 16:4)
As a little surprise, I included a new Christmas book, as I try to do each year. This year, we added The Little Fir Tree.

7: Put up Christmas Village
Part of my childhood Christmases was gazing at these village collections in my grandparents' and parents' living rooms. I've inherited a few little village homes, stores, and a church of my own, so it was fun to share this tradition with my own kids.

8: Visit Stew Leonard's
We went with good friends, making it even better!

9: Look at Christmas Lights around the neighborhood

10: Visit Old Sturbridge Village for Candlelight Christmas

11: Deliver Neighbor Gifts
This was another great Sunday afternoon activity. Like the cards, I had to be prepared for this activity and thanked my November self, who had bought the packaging ahead of time and had made the cookie dough and stuck it in the freezer. Delivering gifts to neighbors and friends is amazingly fun when I haven't been slaving away for hours and hours!

12: Musical Family Home Evening with Friends
We loved hosting this party with a friend, whose spacious home accomodated all of us, including a large pack of kids. I loved being surrounded by beautiful singing and accompanying instruments! I'm happy to keep this tradition from my childhood alive while I am so far from home. The greatest preparation here was thinking though the food. I kept it extremely simple, with a few special homemade desserts and appetizers supplemented by generous offerings from friends and a few holiday treats from Trader Joe's.

13: Christmas Movies
Boys watched movies while I collapsed after last night's party!

14: Help Peter Make Gifts for His Teachers
This is tricky. Being a daughter of a seasoned piano teacher, I have seen many Christmas gifts from students, and they are always gratefully received. However, I do understand that some gifts that come are very useful and some are not. I liked the idea of Peter creating something himself, but I wanted his teachers to really enjoy our gift. I organized a group gift with the other parents and collected money to go towards Amazon gift cards. Peter drew a portrait of each teacher, which went in the gift bag with the Amazon cards and some candy. Gift cards are not very sweet or sentimental, but 100% more useful than banana bread or a big mug.

15: Buy a Garland to Hang on Banister

16: Decorate Gingerbread House

17: Ward Christmas Party

18: Make Brickle Brackle Bars
This is a Lloyd family recipe, so I let Shane take the lead on this one. We leave Brickle Brackle Bars for Santa, in efforts to be radical/edgy.

19: "Christ Is Born" Family Home Evening, with our own Nativity Play

20: Help Peter Make Gifts for Nathan and Shane
This is a fantasy that did not come to pass this year. I was hoping to have a few projects in mind to help get Peter's ideas flowing for gifts, but by this point, I was just kind of tired. Peter did make a little book for Shane, called "Dad's Favorite Things," which counts for something, even if it only had 3 pages. I am feeling pretty much the same as the writer of this blog post . Maybe next year!

21: Christmas Crafts with the Kids

22: Hang Up Stockings

23: Go to Friends' Christmas Party

24: Go to Boston Pop's Christmas Concert

The boys opened up their Christmas Eve jammers that I made from them (pre-December 1! I love it!). I used the (now discontinued) Oliver & S Kimono Pajama pattern, like I do every year. I have made them enough that I whip them out in a couple of nights.

I also made the boys two candy-cane striped bow ties. The sewing projects this Christmas were pretty simple and quick!

Post-Christmas was a lovely, quiet time. I chose to not even acknowledge that there was such thing as New Year's Day, after such a busy month of merry-making.

To me, an essential element of all the Christmas gift-giving is making thank-you cards. I love the idea of having Peter make these. Peter drew two pictures, which I scanned and printed on cardstock paper. As the biased mom, I have to say, they turned out pretty great.

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