Tinsel on our Christmas tree. Homemade hot chocolate. Wet noses from hours playing outside in the snow. Loading up the car to drive to grandma and grandpa’s before noon. Mashed potatoes with noodles on top. Laughter. Gift wrap on the floor. Pictures. Smiles. Candle light Christmas Eve service. Dresses. Moving the mouse in our advent calendar. Christmas movies. Family. My mom. These are the Christmas memories I think of when I think about my childhood. They are real, they are remarkable, they are unforgettable.
As a mother of my own three children, I am realizing that Christmas traditions are unfolding naturally and without plan. There are, of course, things that we intentionally do each year. However, there are things that just tend to happen year after year that we didn’t realize would mean so much to our kids.
Grandma’s Homemade Hot Chocolate
Nothing tastes like the holidays quite like that of my mom’s homemade hot chocolate. I remember playing outside for hours as a kid, only to come inside with wind-kissed cheeks and frozen toes. Mom’s hot chocolate was all I needed to get my feeling back into my limbs. My kids would prefer to have this deliciousness year round, but I tell myself it is more special when it is limited. The recipe is easy to follow, and you can go simple or extravagant with topping ideas.
Mom’s Sugar Cookies
My mom made her infamous sugar cookies each and every year. This was by far one of my most memorable Christmas traditions as a child. If you are looking for a recipe with minimal ingredients and without sprinkles and frosting, we also love this one.
Curled up by the fire place, hot cocoa in hand, popcorn in bowls, ready to watch! My dad lives for the Hallmark 30 Days of Christmas. My husband and I love enjoying our tried and true movies that we grew up with. My kids get excited to try new movies, as well as work the traditional ones into the mix. I recently discovered PureFlix, which offers free family-friendly movies every Sunday during the holiday season. They even offer a homeschool curriculum .
Our favorite Christmas movies include:
A flooded backyard rink is as common here in Minnesota as hot dishes and the phrase “Uffda.” From sledding to skating, hockey to snowball fights, a little fun in the backyard is fun despite the cold temperatures.
We love to window shop to find the perfect items to add to our Christmas lists. Sometimes, that window shopping even takes place from the comfort of home, via Amazon and Target.com. When we do make it into the mall however, the lights and trees, the musical ambiance and the energy, the smiles and the Santa hats all feels good.
Although I would love to do a big holiday baking day with friends and family, it has been just our little team of 5 for the last several years. We spend a few Saturdays during December with aprons over jammies, Christmas music playing in the background, and we crank out treats. Chocolate covered peanut butter balls, dipped pretzels, star kiss cookies, and more! There is not a tastier Christmas tradition than baking home cooked holiday treats with loved ones.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Putting the star on the top of our Christmas tree is always done last. After the tree has been trimmed, lighted up, and decorated with beautiful ornaments. Almost like an afterthought, yet at the front of everyone’s mind. I’d be lying if I said it was always a blessed moment as a family, because it typically goes up only after we’ve had fights and shed tears over who gets to put the star on the tree this year. The struggle is real. As is trying to hoist the kids up each year to have them reach the top of the tree, as we realize that they keep getting further and further from being babies.
Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?
We absolutely CANNOT let a Christmas season pass without making a snowman or two. Okay, truth be told, the kids typically try to each make their own. Much like sharing toys is difficult, so is creating just one perfect snowman. ‘Tis the season.
Holiday Cards: Modern Day or Old School?
We live in a paperless world where people are aware of their environmental carbon footprints. Yet each holiday season, thousands of dollars are spent on the perfect holiday cards. There is so much that goes into this simple card: The photo shoot of the family, the selection of and ordering of the best card in the shop, the printing and subsequent waiting, hand-addressing and stamping, and last, putting items into a mailbox that is typically only used to take bills out of. In a time where snail mail is dying and everything has gone digital, holiday cards are the one time the world goes back to yesteryear, to amaze those around them with a breathtaking beauty full of season’s greetings. Well, the Walkers have gone digital… For our 3rd year! Each year we create a digital holiday letter, complete with photos, updates, and live links. Each year, I question if it is worth the financial savings. Each year, I say I want to go back to the art of mailing a Christmas card. Then, each year, I am thrilled to email our digital sentiments out to family and friends and am amazed that I get responses. They aren’t lengthly, they aren’t constant, but we appreciate the call and response that comes with our way of sending our loved ones the updates.
Just as I remember painstakingly spilling over catalogs to create the perfect Santa wish list, it is a joy to watch my children do the same. We collect all of our catalogs and keep them readily available for thumbing through in the evenings. When the kids are ready, and after much thought and discussion, they each prepare their own version of a Santa letter and then keep their fingers crossed that his sled will steer him in our direction on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, we set out cookies and milk for St. Nick and sprinkle fresh carrots on the ground for Rudolph and his teammates to find. Then, we fall asleep with the magic of Christmas in our hearts.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
This is technically more of a Thanksgiving tradition. However, as the official kick-off to the Christmas season, I’ll include it here. My husband’s family has had a Christmas tree farm dating back to his grandfather’s dream. The G & R Plantation is a cut-your-own tree farm. Each Black Friday, you’ll find the extended family at that very tree farm, hours away from the nearest mall, and far enough from cell towers that even online shopping won’t work. Each year, new memories are made and new adventures are sought, but this family tradition is one of our favorites.
Ugly Sweater Contest
I remember the agony of trying to make our first Christmas without my mom as “mom like” as possible. We had the traditional dishes, all of her Christmas decorations and ornaments, and yet, it wasn’t the same. Nothing would be the same. Pretending like it could be was a painful slap in the face, as well as a plan for awkward yuckiness during the holiday that my mom so fiercely loved. So, we paved the way for new traditions. We decided to dress in ugly sweaters. We decided to hold an ugly sweater contest, with an online vote. We decided to spend the time laughing at one another rather than feeling sad about the missing presence in the room. And ya know what? It worked. Laughter is a genuine part of Christmas again, instead of a forced afterthought.
Santa Gifts: Unwrapped
Does your Santa wrap his gifts? Leave them unwrapped and ready to play under the tree? Are they in a box? Or are they already set up? This was a sticking point early in our lives as parents, as my husband and I came from different backgrounds. The Santa that visited me as a child would wrap in special wrapping paper and the tags were always typed. My husband’s Santa, however, left gifts right under the tree. We’ve toggled back and forth before deciding that our Santa would do his dirty work on Christmas Eve and leave Christmas morning for coffee, cinnamon rolls, and happily playing children.
That Cute Little Tree is My Favorite
My husband remembers getting a new ornament each year from his grandma, one that was special and just for him. This ornament would go on his little tree that he got to decorate all by himself. Our children now love to decorate this little tree with his childhood ornaments. This got me thinking that maybe they could each have their own little tree with their own little ornaments. And thus, a new tradition has begun. Each year, they anxiously decorate their trees and get to pick out their own ornament that is reflective of their personalities and interests for that calendar year. One year might be pink cupcakes and the next a cuddly black bear. One year might be a Thomas choo choo train and the next a Minnesota Wild hockey puck. One year might be a Disney princess and the next a kitty in a basket. The best part is watching their personalities change throughout the year, and seeing those personalities on display for decades to come.
What are your Christmas traditions? Comment below and let us know!
Photo Credit: Mojitos and Munchkins