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.
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.
I loved winter break as a kid, a student, and as an adult. I love the opportunity to take some time to reset, renew, and rejuvenate before the new year begins.
This time of year offers a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (something I think we all need more of this year). It also offers the ability to slow down; remembering this time of year is not about us.
Winter break is also notorious for creating conflict with children, turn off our brains, getting out of routine, and all-around can be a formula for disaster (something no one wants more of this year).
We have learned for our winter refreshment some simple steps that decrease conflict and increase the quality time (all while keeping our brains fresh and working for the coming semesters).
Set a routine: It is really easy to let our kids run amok during school breaks. After all, it is vacation time, right? Ture, but when you plan a vacation to Disney World or on a cruise, you have an itinerary. Why would you not have a similar concept for your stay-cations? We have found that even the littlest routine is in place, behavior and attitude are much better all around. Our vacation routine consists of ensuring all chores are completed, some reading is done, some time outside playing, and perhaps a craft is done before turning to any computer or television screen. For some more tips on screen time, check out my blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?
2. Join a Reading Program: Words have power.Books have power. For those who follow me closely, it should come as no surprise I incorporate reading into our lives – even on vacation. A great way to incentive this (and keep our brains working), is to join a reading program. This is a great way to keep kids (and adults) reading year-round, but especially during school breaks. Many local libraries have winter break challenges. We particularly like Beanstack. This site allows you to find local reading challenges near you (or create your own). Many challenges have tangible rewards.
3. Plan at least 1 outing a week: Many are averse to this for money’s sake and others are adverse to this for COVID-19 sake. I understand both of these. However, neither should prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful world around you. For those concerned about money, many zoos and museums offer great deals for the year for family memberships. For those worried about COVID-19, a hiking trail is a great way to be outside, seeing nature and enjoying the beauty around you. Either way, getting outside your home once a week during the break prevents Cabin Fever from setting in and taking over.
4. Give a Project: This should be something they can do in the allotted time. Projects offer a way to feel productive and successful at the end of the break. More importantly, if you help your child with the project, it can be a great time for bonding and making memories. Some projects to consider for winter breaks: rearranging the room and painting it (let them choose the color and help); painting a scene or picture onto a canvas, building a new bookshelf (or re-purposing furniture). For those with younger children, some projects might be arts and crafts, sorting through toys they no longer want, writing a comic book, or a story with illustrations. If your child plays an instrument, this is a great time to give a new song to practice and then a recital at the end of the two weeks to celebrate.
5. Schedule Active Family Time: I love family time. My family tries to set apart an hour a day to just be with family – no screens, no phones, no distractions. But, that can be difficult (especially with my and my husband’s jobs). How do we manage? We set a specific time and put our phones on silent or away (we do have to keep them out sometimes due to the nature of work). Then, we let our son pick the activity. Often he picks games (we like games a lot in my family). Sometimes he picks art or going for a walk or bike ride. Then we do that. It is our time to invest in each other. Some of our favorite family games are Shut the Box, Speak Out, Apples to Apples, Quiddler, Phase 10, Uno, Pictureak, Boggle, Scrabble, Concept, Clue, and Sorry.
We are hoping this winter break is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. May these simple tips be as useful to you as they have been for us. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good break! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours.
Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.
It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world. This year peace seems so much farther away than usual. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace. May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.
Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life. Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness. Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath. Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass. Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine. this more a routine.
2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives. In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.
3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature. Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other. More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration. But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day. For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.
5. Read/watch something uplifting: What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel. Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car? This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior. When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things. Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.
6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows. Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that. But, during that time, we are still taking in messages. Use this time to listen to what is uplifting. In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to. Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music. At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.
7. Write down your worries…then burn them: This is one of my favorite things to do. There is something powerful about writing down the worries. It gives them a concrete feeling. And concrete can be destroyed. Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits. Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear. Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them.
8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships. We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax. But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love. As a military family, we have lived all over. It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us. The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them. But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this.
9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better. But, more importantly, I feel better. When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally. I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn). However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.
10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.
This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity. May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.
It is the most wonderful time of the year. Hot cocoa. Chestnuts on the fire. Family and friends and loved ones.
Kids around the world have begun shouting at commercials, “I want that!” Toy catalogs are being circled with hopes and dreams of young and old.
But, for many, this year has brought heartache, fear, and darkness. Families and friends seem farther away than ever before. Fear clutches the hearts of even the most stoic.
But, it does not have to be that way. We can embrace the real and true meaning of Christmas – the greatest gift of all time. To celebrate this gift, my family has incorporated one of my favorite holiday traditions. I thought I might share with you how we have changed our house from a “Give me!” to a “Give them” household.
Elfing: It is better to give than receive – especially when you go out elfing. This is similar to “Booing” (a Halloween tradition). Many do this for friends and family, but my family likes to find those in need. We like to find the families struggling to get by, but would never ask for help. We like to find the families that feel so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, that the simple act of love changes their life. Some years we choose a single-family and “elf” them weekly for the month of December. Some years we “elf” a different family in need every week. But, it is a weekly part of our Christmas tradition. All you need is a goody bag – or – stocking. Fill them with Christmas fun! Things like coloring sheets, crayons, candy, card games, elf hats, and ornaments are great. Cookies are a favorite of ours. **Tip: The Dollar Tree is a big money saver for small trinkets and fun children’s toys. Have the kids help choose the filling. Then wait till dark, load up the kids, and leave the gift on the porch. Ring the bell and RUN! RUN! RUN! The best part of “elfing” is no one “knows” it was you.
2. Christmas Caroling: Music is powerful! I spent years studying how music is used to create culture. But, of all music, there is something unique about Christmas music. The way it brings peace, hope, and love to even the darkest places is incredible. This year, with so many shut-ins, senior citizens, and families in quarantine, it is easy to think this tradition is out date. But, it doesn’t have to be. We have traditionally caroled with our Rotary Club and church groups, but this year, we are doing things, well, differently. We are caroling via the internet. Simply record yourself singing and send it to the same places you would normally go in person. If possible, make this a family event – my family loves singing together.
3. Give: This time of year is always a bombardment of “give me” from charities the world over. Having spent more nearly 15 years in the non-profit sector, this is often the time of year where most of the budget comes in. It can seem like everyone wants something. We have learned to use that as teachable moments. We present the different ways to give to our son, then we let him pick which ones should be a part of our giving. He also saves all year a tithe (see my article on finances for more) and this time of year is when he chooses where to put it. I highly recommend you look at the charities and non-profits in detail to know how they will spend that money – we ensure a majority of giving goes to the need (not the CEOs). Charity Navigator is a great place to start.
4. Out with the Old: As a military family, we move a LOT. In 15 years alone I have moved 13 times. We have discovered in moving, there is a lot we don’t use or need. So, about five years ago we started a new practice (partly out of wanting to make moving easier and not having to purge a lot). We decided that for every Christmas and birthday, for every 1 thing in, we donate 1 thing out. This helps keep our house manageable but also allows our little to understand that the needs of others are year-long – not just once a year.
So, whatever way you celebrate this beautiful time of year, I hope you find these simple ways to give away to remember what Christmas is all about. May it help take off some of the “keeping up with the Kardashian” mentality at bay and bring us back to the heart of Christmas.