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20 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Across the World

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

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.

  1. 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.

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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.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

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.

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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.

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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.

Finding Balance: Telework and Home School

photo-of-women-using-laptops-
photo-of-women-using-laptops

In most American schools, and the average day at school is six hours.  Add in travel time, lunch, extracurriculars and this can easily become a ten-hour a day event.  This is a great balance for working parents.  Children are educated while parents bring home the bacon.

But this is no longer a reality.

With more people teleworking from home, and schools across the nation closed for the year, many are asking “How do I work full-time and teach my child?” 

As a two-income working house, and I work 40-60-hour weeks, I understand first hand the struggle of education and income.  We are a tenured homeschool family who has been schooling well before #Coronavirus or #COVID-19 were household words.  So, is it possible to do both?    

YES.  It is a combination of art and science, but completely doable.  Here is what has worked for us over the past year. 

1.       Meditation:  We are a praying house.  But not everyone is.  We have found when we start our day with prayer, mediation, and/or work out (I love Yogashred), our moods are elevated, our focus is keener and our bodies are in alignment.  The extra benefit is our health is taken care of prior to the health of our company.  Companies are only as good as the health of their talent.

grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field
grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field

2.       Start Work Early:  My work day starts well before most people are out of bed.  This allows me a solid 3 hours to get uninterrupted and focused work completed.  The earlier the start the more productive I am. 

3.       Have a set work time: Set hours of work where the school cannot interfere.  This might mean breaking your workday into 2 two-hour segments, or 4 two-hour segments.  The trick is to ensure when you focus on work, your attention is on work.  When you focus on school, your attention is at school. Closing your “office door” or taping a “Do Not Distrub” sign up can be visuals for your family to stay away while at work.

writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy
writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy

4.       Plan a Routine: We all know routine is healthy for our mentality.  That is true for children as well.  We give our son a weekly assignment list.  This includes all worksheets, lessons, quizzes, tests he will need to complete to stay on track.  This allows the kiddo to know what to expect and begin to take some independence and responsibility for their own education.

5.       Work First.  Play Later: When we present the weekly school task, we operate by a Fun Friday mentality (check out next week’s blog for more details).  If all school is completed prior to Friday, you get Friday off.  This is also beneficial for parents who work because that means Fridays your attention is not torn between work and school during “school hours.”  We operate under no games, screen time, etc. until schoolwork is complete.

woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing
woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing

6.       Turn on music:  There is tons of research on how music is both good for the soul and productivity.  We use classical music or whale sounds quietly in our home while we work.  This is an aural clue work is to be done. We leave the Anamainics and Lego Music for playtime.

Homeschooling is intimidating (we actually debated it for four years prior to taking the leap).  Homeschooling while working is even scarier.  This week, remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.  And it won’t be perfect. There will be adjustments.  There will be times of frustration. There will be times of feeling like a failure.

Find what works for you and go for it.  Be encouraged.  You are not in this alone. 

COVID-19 and the Real World or How to Survive Social Distancing

Corona Virsu COVID-19 microscope hazmat

In case you have been living under a rock, COVID-19 is a real thing. More deaths than the average flu.  Towns are shut down.  Travel shut down. School shut down.   In just a few short weeks, the world has discovered the #introvertadvantage.

Fear is rampant.  Families separated.  Hospitals are overrun.  Is there any other story in the media today?

Kids are home, out of routine, lonely and increasingly scared.  Being a parent has taken on a new back-breaking load – how to keep your kids calm in the middle of this crazy storm.

Here are some tips on how to help your kids find peace and clarity in this colossal hurricane of COVID-19.

What our first home school schedule looked like

Keep a routine. Humans, by nature, thrive on routine.  From getting up and ready to going to bed at night, we operate through a routine.  Take out the most central part of a child’s day and you are set up for chaos.  School is not just a place to learn about math, science, and literature.  It is a place of friendship building, community development, and space.  Space from parents and siblings (in some cases).  So throughout this time, set a routine where school is apart of the day.  Include some breaks from each other.  Include some video telecalls to their friends and family.  And remember, this too shall pass.

My kiddo doing his part sending some love to the Senior Citizens

Find ways to help.  The community is only as strong as its weakest link.  There are many ways to help from home.  Remember, nonprofits and churches still operate their community funds.  They still need income to ensure the homeless have food, the low income can pay the electric bill (which just went up because people are home more), and safe places for an escape from the dangerous.  If you already give, keep giving.  If you don’t, I encourage you to start.  Want to be more hands-on, Neighbors Helping Neighbors is providing training on how to help neighbors safely.  Help the truck drivers with a meal (you are still getting deliveries, but their rest stops are closed).  Even the smallest act of kindness goes a long way.

The little one’s Sanctuary.

Have a sanctuary.  Refuge and safety are more important today than ever.  When people are crammed together, they have shorter tempers and we humans tend to get a bit crazy.  A small space you can call your own, escape to in the chaos of the house, that is simply yours is valuable when there is not a pandemic.  It is even more valuable now.  Ensure some sanctuary and calming time is a part of your schedule.  Outside on the back porch or inside a closet of the house…whatever works for you.

Emerald Coast Sunset

Get outside. Cabin Fever WILL set in and it is a REAL thing.  In 1918, the Influenza pandemic swept through the world much like COVID-19.  There were two ways to treat patients.  Inside and outside.  What a Boston, MA hospital discovered was a combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.  So go outside.  Enjoy the sunshine.  Remember that the sky is blue and the sun is bright and the breeze feels so good on your skin. 

Being creative with #paintbynumber…I haven’t broken my need for lines and regulations yet. 🙂

Be creative and productive.  It is easy to think you are stuck within the cell that is now your home.  But you are in a world equipped with so much to be entertained in – without turning on your TV.  Plan an instrument?  Play it.  Have some paper laying around?  Write.  Legos?  Build.  Paint.  Color. Draw.  Or, for those social media addicts, get online and recite poetry, sing, dance, get goofy!  We all need a little happier.  Depression and loneliness are real things.  These get even worse in isolation.  So, enjoy being a goof for people to laugh at or sing a song for people to love.  It might be the one thing that saves a life.  If you are feeling suicidal or depressed, there is help.  Call the National Suicide line 1-800-273-8255 for help. 

The family that sweats together stays healthy together. Workout run (in safety gear). Quarter miles sprints!

Work Out. Chill Out.  Stress is high and endorphins are low.  Be sure you are fueling your body and your mind as we walk through this new “normal.”   30 minutes of cardio a day is great.  This can be easily accomplished by a walk outside (no neighbors necessary), a run on a treadmill if you have one, or numerous free workouts on YouTube and Amazon Prime.  Just search your favorite activity and you will be bombarded with choices from yoga to kickboxing and dance.  For those of you on Wii – don’t forget about Wii Fit.  There are so many options.  Have fun with it.  For a special challenge, join the 30 Day #5fitchallenge with #SOFLFit5 (Special Olympics Florida).  IT is a great way to hold yourself and your special kiddo accountable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Use this time to be productive. Whether that means working on those summer abs, catching up on that reading list, finishing those household projects, or whatever, remember, your kids will follow your lead. So, whatever you do, remember this too shall pass.  We are more than conquerors.  We are the light.  Be the light.  Be love.  Choose joy.