Grinch Table Scape: What is the Christmas season without the Grinch? Bring in this fun Who-Ville inspired décor to the celebration.
Snowflake Sting Art: No matter what part of the world I have lived in, there is something about snow that makes the holidays – even when I live in the heat at Christmas. Add a touch of winter wonderland to your home with this fun craft.
Snow Frosted Candle Holders: Lights and lanterns are a tradition the world over for the holidays. Enjoy these beautiful candle holders as you prepare the way.
I love Christmas. You cannot come to my home and not see Christmas in every room of the house (yes, even the bathrooms). But I also love culture. I got my master’s in political science with an emphasis on international relations. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. If you spend time at my house, it would be normal to watch documentaries on culture, anthropology, and archeology from all around the world.
Although I celebrate Christmas in the Christian way, I also like to see how the rest of the world celebrates. I like sharing this with my son, so he is more inclined to understand other people in the world and all the beauty they bring.
Toward this endeavor, we look at a different culture every week of the season and learn about their traditions, songs, stories, and food.
These are just some ways we have incorporated other cultures, traditions, and fun into celebrating the Christmas season.
Christmas in China
Shen Dan Jieh (Holy Birth Festival): Families decorate their homes in evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The tree is decorated with flowers and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. Color is a big part of this celebration. We sometimes like to use the bright colored chains as our advent calendar to help count down to the big day.
Ta Chiu: This is a celebration of peace and renewal. The Chinese will make offerings to saints and read the names of everyone who lives in the area. We chose this time to find a non-profit to give to, give to our church, and remember those we love near and far.
Christmas in England
Christmas caroling is a big tradition here. People give carolers little treats (little fruit and nut pies are especially delicious). All the wrapping of presents, baking cookies, and hanging stockings happens Christmas Eve. This is one fun tradition we do. I wrap (my husband builds toys and things), and we watch Christmas movies with a nice cup of Egg Nog, wine, or spirit-filled fun drink.
Writing Letters to Father Christmas: English children write letters to Father Christmas then put them in the fire, so the wishes go up the chimney. We tweak this tradition by having a mailbox to Santa by the fireplace. Our son puts his letter in the box on Christmas Eve and Santa writes by Christmas morning.
Christmas in Ethiopia
Ganna: Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7 as the Ethiopians follow the ancient Julian calendar. For Ganna, people fast and dress in white, usually a traditional shamma (a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends). They attend church at 4 am. We incorporate this tradition by dressing up on Christmas Eve in our finest clothes.
The Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Ganna. If a child receives a gift, it is a small gift of clothing. To incorporate this, we do Elf-ing with our son. We find a family that needs a bit of extra love, and secretly help make the season better for them with food and small gifts.
Christmas in France
Fasting: Christmas Day is a day of fasting and midnight mass. After mass, they come home and enjoy le Réveillon (nighttime feast). Growing up, I enjoyed attending the Christmas Eve midnight service. We move so much; it sometimes is hard to find one. So, we adopted my father’s tradition of bring coffee. and donuts to those security forces (local police) who have to work the holiday at midnight.
Christmas shows: Plays and puppet shows are popular entertainment (especially in Paris and Lyon). We always try to find a local production to watch (dance schools are great for this) to help get us in the spirit.
Christmas in Germany
Advent Calendars: There is something fun about counting down to Christmas. In Germany, they use an advent calendar where children open a little number flap to see the Christmas picture hidden there. We do this with pictures, sometimes tiny candies, and verses for the season.
Christmas Tree: The tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany. Under the decorate tree, they arrange a manger scene. Instead of stockings by the fire, in some places children leave their shoes outside the front door filled with carrots and hay for St. Nicholas’ horses. We leave carrots and celery out for Santa with his cookies.
Christmas in Holland
The Letterbanket: This is a letter cake made in the shape of the family’s last name. Some families give a little “cupcake” version to every member. We do this, but instead of our cake in our initial, we bake one for Jesus.
Poems: During the gift giving, the giver also recites a poem written by the giver about the recipient. We love this. We decided to do this all year round by having a dedicated notebook to little notes and encouragements to each other to read and enjoy.
Christmas in Italy
The Italians use the manger scene in a lot of their decorations. We incorporate one in the center of the entertainment, so we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
La Befana: Legend has it, La Befana was too busy cleaning house to help the Wise Men on their quest to find the King, so now she spends January 6 (Thee Kings Day) wandering through the air on her broomstick looking for the Christ Child on the eve of Epiphany leaving gifts and candy in the shoes of little children. We do not do this, but we do watch movies about La Befana in the original Italian for fun.
Christmas in Mexico
Las Posadas Buena Noche: Christmas Eve the children lead a procession to the church and place a figure of the Christ Child in the Nacimiento (nativity scene) and attend midnight mass. To incorporate this, we attend a city children’s parade.
Farolitos: This little tradition is when family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns. Families then place candles inside the bags, and the lanterns are set alongside sidewalks, in windowsills, and on rooftops outdoor to illuminate the community with the Christmas spirit. My family lights the entire yard with lights. My son also makes additional decorations for the tree (or anywhere).
Christmas in Spain
Christmas Day Reunion: This is a day for families to come together and enjoy a great feast (having fasted Christmas Eve. As we cannot always travel for the holidays, we use this day to call, text, and zoo family across the world.
Urn of Fate: Names are written on cards and placed in a bowl. Then, two names are drawn at a time. Those two people will be friends to each other throughout the coming year. My large family does a similar thing via excel spreadsheet. Each name rotates so a new sibling gets to think about and take care of the other for Christmas the following year.
Christmas in Sweden
St. Lucia’s Day: Christmas really begins here on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day. The Swede celebrate the patron saint of light. The oldest daughter will get up before dawn, dress as the “Queen of Lights,” and go from bedroom to bedroom serving coffee and treats to each member of the family. The younger children help. We like this tradition, but we serve each other cinnamon rolls and coffee after getting the house beautiful for celebration. We work as family helping with chores, making breakfast, and enjoying a slower morning.
The Jultometn and Julbokar: This tiny Christmas gnome comes on a sleigh drawn by the Christmas goat, Julbokar. In some families, a family friends dresses up in a red robe and wears a long beard to bring toys for children. In other families, gifts are left behind on the tree. After gifts are open, the families dance and sing around the tree. We incorporate this little tradition by leaving notes for our son throughout the season and singing and dancing is a part of our life, so we listen, sing and dance to Christmas carols.
Perhaps there is something here that you might do? May want to try? Let me know.
How easy is it to get lost in the planning, gifting, and chaos of the holiday season? Do you find yourself exhausted? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Is the holiday season taking over your life (and not in a good way)?
I completely understand. The demands placed on people during the holiday sometimes seemed completely unrealistic. This can be especially true for deployed or separated families, single parents, parents of special needs children, and single people. It is so easy to get lost in the chaos.
How do we get out of the funk the demands can place us in? Change our focus. Stop thinking of “me”, and start thinking of others. If you are still having a little trouble getting into the season, try some old family traditions.
Part of the fun of the holidays is the books and movies that get pulled of the shelf and dusted off to enjoy. Growing up, my mom used to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to kick off the season. My dad would read Luke 1 to us prior to opening any presents. It was in these calm moments the real meaning of the season came alive.
I have continued this tradition in my own home. It is so special to pass this on to my kid and husband. These memories require no money, just quality time with those you love. When my husband was deployed during the holidays, this was one of the things he missed most about not being home. This is also what helps me stay grounded in the chaos when things start to get overwhelming.
So, I invite you to slow down with us this Christmas season. Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, snuggle up (perhaps by a fire), and enjoy these fun movies and stories. May they bring you as much joy as they have our family.
Transitions are hard. From deployment to moves to starting a new normal after COVID-19 quarantines, you can expect challenges to come at you left and right. Sometimes it feels like us versus the world. Sometimes that is true. But there is a way to push through, fight back, and end up on the other side better, stronger, and happier.
I watched a great movie with my best friend and husband recently, TAG which reminded me of the value of friendships in all circumstances. It got me thinking about my great friends across the country and the years we have been there to laugh, cry, and dance in the rain together. It helped me realize the importance of friendship in transition (be that deployment, move, health diagnosis, or something else entirely). Here are three things I have learned about creating friendships that last a lifetime.
1. Strength in Community
In life, support makes or breaks you. Without it, you walk a tight rope with no safety net. With it, you walk a tight rope with a smile. A good support system includes people who are willing to walk with you in your best and worst moments; people who know when to check in because they know you; people who know when to let you figure it out because they know you.
Ever notice how the most influential leaders surrounded themselves with a quality support system? Abraham Lincoln had his wife and Joshua Fry Speed. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his wife and Ralph David Abernathy. Gandhi had Charles Freer Abernathy. Jesus had the twelve, but within the one, he had the inner circle of three. If they could not face the challenges of this world alone, why do we think we can?
In Ecc. 4:9-12, the wise King Solomon said, “two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”
As we walk through life, we must remember we do not do so alone. Every part of our life touches another’s. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to let people in. It is ok to spend the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. Do life together. For more ideas on community, check out my blog on thriving during transitions.
2. Build Strong Friendships
I won’t fool you – the building is hard. Letting someone in to see the real you is difficult. But it is SO important to a quality life. But there are so many people out there in it for themselves, how do you know where to start?
Start by choosing the people you want in your community. This could be family or friends. Church, community organizations, and volunteer groups are a wonderful place to start.
Serve. Serving is a terrific way to see people for who they are. Are they someone who genuinely cares about the cause? Or are they someone who wants the limelight? Is this someone you want to invest in or have invest in you?
Spend time with people. My favorite way to spend time with people is by strolling a farmers’ market, playing games, or having a nice cup of tea/coffee/wine (depending on circumstance). It is in the conversation you get to know people. If you cannot do these things, write letters (I love getting mail that is not a bill) or Zoom/Skype someone. Just take the time. Just like plants and a good wine, time makes relationships sweet.
Don’t tell everything about yourself at the very start. Take time getting to know each other. Be honest (but smart). Not everyone is going to be quality; not everyone is going to be in your life forever; not everyone is going to safe with your information. If you wouldn’t want it blasted virally on social media, keep it to yourself until trust and need-to-know have been established.
Don’t think a no is a no forever. Sometimes people are just busy (or stressed). They want to hang out and invest but have no idea where to start in the chaos of their mind and life. Keep the door open for future invites and be sure to check in on them to see if you can serve them. Sometimes knowing someone is out there who cares is just as important as spending time over a cup of Joe.
3. Be the Person You Want to Be Friends With
I have lived everywhere from CA to MD in big cities and small (having moved 25+ times in 20 years). I can say without hesitation, people are guarded, wary, and skeptical. They have every right to be. Today’s world is infested with social media telling us what we should look like, act like, be like. Let’s face it: magazines are photo-shopped -NOT REAL. Let’s own it: we put on social media the best of our lives and hide the not-so-great. Let’s take accountability: We prefer looking down at a screen than straight across at the face of who we speak to because…here is the killer….it is easier. Then we complain we have no real friends.
Tough love, but true. If we want genuine friends, we must, as Jesus said, “love our neighbors as ourselves.” What that looks like is different for everyone (because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made). But the basic principle is the same: treat people with respect and you will have respect. Treat people with love (thinking of them above yourself), and you will be surrounded by love. The best part of this, when you treat people the way you want to be treated, it opens doors to new people, possibilities, and brings joy. So, why not?
Friendships enrich your life and improve your health. You can find so much strength in quality communities. Building strong communities can help in transitions from life change moves to life-changing diagnoses. They provide places to laugh, cry, and be real in. Being wise in developing community and friends can ensure you have lasting friendships for life.
For more on developing friendships and community, check out my Facebook page.
It is that time of year again. The snow is blowing. The lights are glowing. The turkey is on the table. And the toy catalogs have found their way into everyone’s mailbox (like it or not).
It is the time of year when our “perfect angles” remind us just how perfect they have been. When they do extra chores or are extra nice to siblings so they can remind us just why they “deserve” that special toy or one more present over than last year, or (you fill in the blank).
As the years pass, it seems the “need” for stuff grows like ivy – clinging to the hearts and minds of our dear little ones (and if we are honest, sometimes ourselves). So how do we stop this selfish weed from growing in our homes and slowly, silently, destroying everything our dear ones worked toward all year round?
The answer is simple:giving. Here are four easy ways to get back Christmas with a focus on giving. Give of our time. Give of our attention. Give of our resources. Turn the focus of the home from inward to outward.
But, how do we do that in this media-influenced, one-click purchase, instant gratification world? But maybe, giving is not the problem. Maybe it is a matter of the heart. Here are 12 ways we try to shift our focus year-round (but especially around the holidays).
1. Give Attention: There are so many people in our lives that need an extra touch of love. Take time to notice them. Greet them and see how their day is. For those in middle and high school, take an extra two minutes to hang out with that “strange” kid or the kid at the lunch table all by himself. Chances are those are the kids whose stockings will be empty and/or there will be an extra seat missing at the Christmas dinner.
2. Check in on friends and family: We love writing to our extended family using snail mail. There is something nice about receiving a card, letter, or extra something in the mail from a loved one. My son has taken it next level and will include mini-comic books he created or add in recipes he thinks the other person will enjoy. This takes less than 30 minutes and brings delight and joy to all involved.
3. Practice Gratitude: If you have been following me long, you know I really believe in practicing gratitude. This past year I chose to take things even further to make this a daily practice. I have shifted my weekly calendar to reflect not the appointments I have or the deadlines I need to make, but what I am grateful. This shift has been so helpful during deployment and moving to keep me grounded and less stressed out. Here is resource I created to help my son do the same thing (though now he uses his school planner as well). It has been so rewarding to see the year in review (a great idea for New Year’s too).
4. Donate to organizations around you: Organizations that help others are often strapped for cash (especially during the holidays when more needs arise). Donating to an organization is a fantastic way to not just spread the wealth, but to open the door to talking with your children about why there are needs, how your kids can avoid being in situations that need the extra help, and why you chose that organization.
This year, I have joined the Dressember Thrive with Dressember Team to help support human trafficking prevention, intervention, and survivor empowerment programs around the world. Having lived in the highest human trafficking areas in America (Los Angeles/Huntington Beach, CA; Greater Washington DC area, pan-handle Florida), and spending all of college and graduate school campaigning for awareness and change in this topic, it has served as a great way for me to help teach my son about stranger-danger, what to look for, and how to report it
5. Practice Forgiveness: The holidays bring about family. Family brings about questions into your life, you might not normally talk about. Family also tends to say and do things to and around you that you dislike. Although the holidays are a fantastic time for bonding, they can also break relationships. Instead of building walls or hanging on to the continued pain, use this time to forgive and let go. After all, the pain is only hurting you – not the one you are mad at.
6. Shine a positive spotlight on others: No one likes to be at a family gathering where it is the “All About So-and-so Show.” Nor do they want to be in the spotlight of negative attention. For those parents with special needs, this can be a challenging time of year with routine changes and high sensory impact. Instead of using this time to remark on how displeased, you are with how people act around you or children, or to complain about how they did not think about how to incorporate your needs more, take time to spotlight those around you.
Complement the chef if you are not the one cooking. Even if you do not like the food. Afterall, they spent all day cooking.
Give a shout out to the host or the in-law watching all the kids so the siblings can catch up.
Point out what a great idea someone had for a game or activity (and then let yourself enjoy it).
7. Compromise: I am the middle of seven children. You can imagine how difficult holidays can be when you are coordinating all seven children, their spouses, and the next generation. It may be time to compromise. Instead of doing gifts for everyone, just a family. Or instead of opening presents first thing in the morning on Christmas Day, you wait until December 26 or December 27 (we even opened on New Year’s Eve one year). Being willing can make the holidays sweeter in ways you never thought possible.
8. Watch the road rage: I have lived in the worst traffic places in America (405 and 101 intersection in CA, Baltimore/Annapolis, and the Indi-85 in Florida). It is so easy to get angry quickly in your car when no one will let you in to merge, or they are slow to start moving when a light turns green or, Heaven forbid, they are driving the speed limit. When you find yourself in this situation, remind yourself the extra two seconds will not change if you hit the next light or not and the other driver may be heading to the hospital in a hurry or coming from a funeral. You do not know what is happening in that car.
9. Donate your time: For some, money is tight. That means giving to local organizations seems like a burden. So, for those where money is tight, take time to help a local organization. This is a wonderful way to show kids firsthand what your time can do. Help Habitat for Humanity build a house. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Carole at the hospital or senior citizens center. Small tasks can make an enormous impact. Not sure you want to get completly engulfed in a project? Find an organization you really care about and ask how you can
Donate your time.
Donate your stuff (and make room for all the new stuff on Christmas).
Donate your expertise. It is amazing how many non-profits need editors, writers, tech savvy help.
10. Start small: The best of the holidays, for me, are the small traditions. If you are having trouble getting into the spirt, start small. See the city Christmas Tree lighting. Enjoy the local dance school recital. Have a cup of hot chocolate (and spring for marshmallows) with the kids. It is in the small things that memories are made.
I would love to hear how you enjoy your holiday season with the kiddos. Let me know your favoirte way to make the season all the brighter.
For more on how to enjoy the holidays, check out my Facebook page.