After re-reading my last post, it may sound like we have totally succumbed to the commercial, Santa happy, tinsel and lights Christmas. And that would be true, but we also drench ourselves in the "real meaning of Christmas" stuff right along with the rest of it. I love, love, love it all, and really do not feel compelled to nix one for the other. My kids know very well what Christmas is really about because of the thousand and one traditions we incorporate all month long, and I have never once felt that all the other "fun" stuff has taken away from that.
Speaking of which, I failed to mention in the last post that the day after our sugar cookie fest, we took the kids to this fabulous art exhibit. What a feast for the eyes! And what perfect timing.
The next day we made our final decisions about what exactly to give to some needy souls halfway around the globe through the World Vision catalog. This is a new thing for us, and I suppose someone out there is going to tell me what a scam this organization is, but I tried to do my homework on several relief organizations before deciding where to send our money. I'll probably be a little more thoughtful next year, but it was one of many catalogs that happened to show up in our mail box, and once my kids saw it they got SO excited about buying things like goats, chickens and medical supplies for people in need that we just had to do something. The kids all bought gifts for each other with their own money. (That's always a treat to watch unfold.) Of course we used our neighbors/teachers/friends as an excuse to make an exorbitant amount of cookies so we could reach out and share some of our sugary love with them. There were other giving opportunities as well, and I still have other traditions of giving I would like to try to incorporate in future years depending on our family dynamics. Wonderful church services and movies like The Nativity, the kind of music we listened to, the Christmas stories and scriptures we shared by candlelight almost every night of December - it's not too hard to really get the true spirit of Christmas going even amid all the other hub bub.
It's hard to say which is better, Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. We have so many traditions plugged into both that they both become wonderful in completely different ways. In a nutshell, Christmas Eve feels almost sacred, while Christmas morning is just plain fun.
This was our first Christmas ever without any immediate family nearby, and even though we were invited to go to Uncle Don and Aunt Marsha's on Christmas Eve, we wanted to lay low since we would be simultaneously doing Christmas as well as getting packed up to leave for California. And you know what? It was actually kind of nice doing our own little thing.
Christmas Eve morning Brandon had to have that Kneader's french toast again, so I made it, because we hadn't consumed enough sugar yet. Then I got to making my last batch of sugary goodness, because we hadn't consumed enough sugar yet.
Chocolate dipped pretzels:
Later in the day we had Ashley and Ian over, ate more garbage, and played several rounds of Bohnanza, which Ashley and Ian were kind enough to gift us. They left shortly before dinner because Ashley would have rather eaten her own left pinkie toe for dinner rather than sample what we were having: oyster stew. (Just kidding, they had plans with some other friends, but she's not a fan of seafood.)
Oyster stew is the sacred cow of Christmas Eve in the Reynolds family. Brandon makes it, his father makes it, his father's father made it, and so on and so forth as far back as anyone remembers. I'm serious. I looked up some top rated recipes for Brandon, but he insisted on calling his dad to get the "real" recipe. When he was in Japan as a missionary, he somehow managed to track down some canned Campbell's oyster stew for Christmas Eve one of the two Christmases he was there. It's that serious. (I make clam chowder for whoever won't eat the stew. Pretty much everyone but Brandon and his Dad.)
After dinner, everyone got on their Christmas jammies and we did the nativity story with the hand puppets for Rachael:
After the puppet version, we lit the candles, sang some of the more "holy" Christmas songs, then read the real deal from a lovely little book I found with beautiful fine art illustrations from some museum. (Too lazy to go downstairs and get the reference.) That's when things start to get good. We had a talk about the gifts we give at Christmas time, and how they are all just symbolic of the ultimate gift of God's love for us through his Son, who also gave everything for us. We reminded them that they didn't really "need" or "deserve" any of the fun toy gifts they would be getting in the morning (especially thinking of those kids who will be happy to have a new goat in their family), but that too is like God's love for us. Then we gave each of the kids a small, but meaningful gift that would help them to remember their commitment to God every day.
That's also when we talk about our gifts to Jesus, which--for us--is all the giving we try to do throughout the month, but also one thing we want to focus on for the next year. This year Brandon wants to be more aware of others, I want to be more joyful, and on and on. Everyone chooses one way--one gift of the heart if you will--that they will give to Jesus. Then, every night in our family prayers for the coming year when the kids take their turns, they remember to include those things in their prayer. (Please help Elizabeth to be more loving to Rachael, etc.) It seems like a little thing, but little things go a long way:
We almost forgot, but at the last minute we decorated some left over store-bought sugar cookies to leave out for Santa (nothing like the best for the Big Guy):
If you can even believe this, all of our wrapping was done before Christmas Eve and . . . wait for it . . . Brandon does all the wrapping! For a few reasons. 1) I do all the shopping AND the Christmas letter. 2) I'm a terrible, sloppy wrapper and it bugs him. 3) He was sick and tired of going to bed at 2am on Christmas Eve every year because I didn't do any of the wrapping in advance. (Boo hoo!) All perfectly good reasons to take that little job over. Good job, Brandon! Nothing like a decent night of sleep on Christmas Eve.
(Do you see what I see? Santa got those matching, monogrammed stockings on sale at the last minute for mom. I'm kind of embarrassed because of what I wrote in my decorating post, but it is what it is.)
The next round of pictures are as bad as the last. Our house doesn't get any good light, the color casts are yellow, and my camera doesn't take great low light shots, so I vacillated between over exposed flash shots, and blurry low light shots. Sigh. I think the feeling of Christmas morning still comes out in this picture nonetheless. If you could hear the music, see the "winter scene" DVD playing on the TV, and smell the pine candle/cinnamon rolls in the air, well, that's a whole nother level of Christmas morning:
THESE cinnamon rolls:
Then it's present time. Neurotic dad gets each child their own personal box for their presents so we don't lose little things or get things mixed up:
Now, we have thought long and hard about the best way make our gift giving meaningful and not to go too overboard, giving the kids more than they can even appreciate. This year I read several ideas that got me thinking (liked the idea of the Three Wise Men gifts: one that is wanted, one that is needful, one that is ??? . . . I've forgotten already), but the worst was the family that was so opposed to the commercialization of Christmas that they have Santa fill their kids stockings on Dec. 5th (St. Nicks Day in some European countries), no matter what day of the week the 5th lands on, even if it's a regular school or work day. They go get their tree and find their stockings filled when they come home. And it's JUST stockings. No other presents. Then, on Christmas morning, while all the other families are enjoying the usual "commercial" traditions together, they go around offering service like shoveling driveways, taking people breakfast items, caroling, etc. The mother even went so far as to say that her kids felt "special" when they could tell their friends that Santa came early to their house!! I'm sorry, I'm not buying it, and you better believe when those kids grow up their spouses aren't buying it either. And if anyone comes to my door on Christmas morning with breakfast or an offer to shovel my walk, I'm going to tell them as nicely as I can to go home and do Christmas!!
In the end, we try to give everyone the one thing that they really want, and then fill in the gaps with things they need or that we think are worthwhile, and, well, we usually end up going overboard anyway. We don't buy our kids "stuff" any other time of year. If they ever ask for something, the standard answer is, "Put it on your birthday/Christmas list or see if you can earn some money for it." So I have to admit, it's fun for us to spoil them a little on their birthdays and Christmas morning after months of saying "no" or "wait" or "earn some money for it yourself".
Another way we try to instill gratitude and not entitlement through this whole process (along with dragging out the day because it's just FUN to make it last as long as possible) is another Reynolds tradition. We start with the youngest child, and one by one each person chooses a gift for someone else, we all watch them unwrap it, savor the moment, and they get an opportunity to express thanks as a result.
A few present highlights in no particular order . . .
Kate got a table easel and paint supplies: