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.
My son reminds me so often to celebrate the little things. He gets excited for every holiday – EVERY holiday. From Groundhog’s Day to Battery Day (February 18) to the traditional New Years’ to Christmas Day. Need some fun creative days to celebrate, check out this fantastic calendar! He reminds me that each day has a reason to be celebrated.
But, he also reminds me daily how hard it is to be a parent. Some days, weeks, months (if you have that teenager), it is so easy to focus on the negative. “My kid isn’t…. (fill in the blank) and should be.” Grades are down, a call to the principal’s office, a truancy notice. Some days it can be hard to want to love on our kids.
But, this month of love, I think we can (and should) do better. Our kids need to know they are loved just as much as we need to know our spouse or significant other loves us.
Here are some ways to bring more love into your relationships with your kids:
Encouraging words. We parents are often so quick to bring to light the negative actions of our children. And there is a good reason for that (discipline is essential to growth and development). But how quick are we to bring encouragement? When was the last time you told your kid you were proud of them? Impressed by them? Complimented them? This month, I encourage you to try to do this once a day and see how much richer your relationship with your child gets.
2. Play. This is so hard! Most parents work and parent. By the time work is done, we are exhausted and tired and the last thing we want to do is get on the ground and play blocks or Lego with the kiddos. We don’t have the energy to play a video game or draw. When we spend time with kids, the adults typically chose the activity. I encourage you this month, to purposely set aside 30 minutes a day where your child gets to pick the fun activity and then pour heart into it. After all, aren’t they more important than a replaceable job?
3. Cook. It is amazing what bonding happens over food. The smells. The textures. The colors. Cooking together is a great way to get quality time naturally. Teaching how to cook or experiencing new recipes and flavors together invites conversation, laughter, and play into the home. Enjoy the mess. Enjoy the yummy product. Enjoy the time with these precious children.
4. Apologize. How often have we yelled at our kids out of anger? Frustration? Exhaustion? How often have we gotten on to them about disrespect? Self-control? The choice of words? Too often as adults, we do not practice this vital step in our relationships with our children. Then we wonder why the attitude doesn’t change or the disrespect increases. We must be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from our children when we respond negatively to them. They will practice what is modeled to them. Apologize. Talk it out with them like you would in the reverse. Grow together. Be stronger together.
5. Date night: We make it a priority in my home to have a date night with my spouse. But, I think this same tradition should be made with the kids. Quality one-on-one time with each child is essential. It allows the child the opportunity to speak freely, laugh honestly, and get needed coaching without an audience of siblings. It is a perfect time to pour in honest discipleship into the next generation – who loves you above all other people. Once a week, take your kid out or spend some time in, just you two, and see how they prosper.
What are you doing to fan the flame of love in your children?
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.
I love the holidays. I love the crisp air. I love the tradition. I love the colors. I love the music. I love the time with my family. I love spending hours trying to find the perfect gift. I love the smells of great food only served during these special occasions.
But, I hate traffic. I hate to travel. I hate crowds. I hate the demands of my family time. Add in some COVID, a touch of election discussion, a dash of natural disasters, a splash of special needs, and the longer nights, and I find my exhaustion can (and sometimes does) lead to an attitude of complaining. I can lose focus on the good; I can (if I am honest), sometimes, even ignore those blessings right in front of me.
I am so grateful for a husband who has helped me see this reality and the tips and tricks he has taught me to overcome this. I also know this is a year-round problem. This is a lifestyle choice. This is a daily choice. So, here are some things my family uses to be grateful for the family and build our relationships.
Count Your Blessings: The first step to having a gratitude attitude is to count your blessings. As the old adage goes, name them one by one. For some tips on how to make this a daily practice, take a look at these simple steps. Recognizing that, even though this year has been exhausting, challenging, and all around, awful for pretty much everyone, there is still so much to be grateful for. Take some time to name all the reasons you love your family; how they help; how they have grown; how far you have come toward goals.
Spend Quality Time with your Family: We make it a practice to spend at least an hour a night hanging with our little one. It doesn’t always happen, but we try to make it a priority most nights. This is the time our son picks what we do (the things that interest him). We get down on his level. We laugh with him. We celebrate with him. As he has grown, this time has become more and more essential. We often spend time cooking together or doing art together. This is an intentional time we spend learning who he is and how amazing he is. It is a reminder, especially on harder days, that there is so much light, love, and life to give to him and that he gives to us.
Family Fun Night: These are my favorite nights! My husband is usually in charge of planning these nights. And he is so good at it! Of course, we do the family game night, but my husband doesn’t stop there. Having the same routine can become monotonous if that is all you do all the time. So, we build Lego as a family or spend a night reading to each other. Around the holidays, usually the first week of December, my family loves to read The Best Christmas Pagent Ever. But here is a list of some books we have enjoyed reading together as well.
Family Work Days: I have a love-hate relationship with these days. I hate getting started and how some tasks take WAY longer than they should do to teaching and training. I love how we accomplish things as a family, I love seeing how my family grows in communication, strength, and bonds. We set a goal for the day. Sometimes it is getting the garage clean. Sometimes it spring cleaning (dusting, wall cleaning, re-organizing). Sometimes, it is a community volunteer day where we volunteer at a local organization for someone else. We really like these events being able to do things from helping the elderly to yard work for a non-profit. We love being able to serve together. This opens the door to so many life conversations that get missed in the daily chaos.
Family Work Outs: I know what you are thinking…“No way! Working out is for me to have a break from my kids” or “Nope, I don’t do that.” Although there are numerous reasons to work out for your health and wellness, there is something more rewarding when you work out together as a family. love to long-distance run together. I am slow…very slow compared to my family who can run 2 miles in under 17 minutes. But, we start as a family, and when they are done, they come back and finish with me – as a family. I love the deck of card nights. We use a traditional deck of cards and shuffle. Each draws a card. The number on the card tells us how many of the activity, the suite tells us what activity (hearts are abs, diamonds are pushups, spades are squats, and clubs rotate burpees, heavy ropes, punching bags, kicks). There is so much variety with this, and it becomes a game. We are completely out of fun ideas or need to get out of a rut, we find a new workout on Tubi, Amazon, or Youtube.
Family Fun Days: My husband and son are as manly as they come. They love to fish, hike, dig in the sand, and play in puddles. I am as girly as they come. I love to read, write, and paint. We could not be farther apart on the spectrum. But I love these days. My boys will take me hiking into a beautiful wood, then stop for hot chocolate and smores before hiking back. They have taken me fishing, while I bring a book, and enjoy watching them bring home dinner. I love it when we go to the beach and play in the water, build sandcastles, and attempt to catch fish with our hands. But, they love me too. So, sometimes we find the free days at the museums and aquariums and learn about history and art for a day. Zoos are great places to go as a family and spend time out in nature able to talk with each other. Check out next week’s blog for more ideas on how to build your family relationships on a budget.