I absolutely love the holiday season, and I also really love family traditions. My parents did a great job of creating/continuing a bunch of fun traditions. Now that we have a child of our own, I wanted to make note of all these traditions so they are not lost. There are also some traditions that I would love to start...because you can never have enough.
Even though Ava is too young to partake in many of these traditions this year, we are starting all of the ones we can. To me, these traditions are way more important than any gift that Santa brings. I honestly can't remember most of the gifts I received as a child, but thinking about all these fun traditions brings a huge smile to my face.
Traditions from My Childhood:
- Nativity Play at My Grandparent's Ranch: This is by far the coolest thing we did at Christmas. My grandparents lived on a wonderful piece of property in the Texas Hill Country, complete with a big barn and a variety of farm animals. Every year, we went to their house the weekend before Christmas. In addition to opening gifts, decorating cookies, and eating dinner, we also acted out the entire Nativity story. We dressed up in costumes (many of which were made from sheets and pillowcases) and even had scripts. We also sang the appropriate Christmas carols throughout. My grandmother sometimes found different versions of the story that we used, such as a children's book that told the story through the eyes of all the animals.
Regardless, I usually played Mary and my cousin Barham was Joseph. Sometimes baby Jesus was a doll and sometimes he was played by the youngest grandchild.
And my grandfather always played both the Innkeeper and the voice of God. Here he is telling me that there is no room at the inn :).
They even had a donkey that we got to ride!
I will always have such fond memories of this wonderful tradition, and I am so very sad that they sold their property a few years ago. Unfortunately, this is the kind of tradition that needs the perfect setting.
- Sand Tart Cookies: When I think of Christmas, I think of my Mimi/Mom's sand tarts. They literally melt in your mouth. The recipe is not super difficult, but a lot of love and time goes into them. As a result, my Mimi was shocked when my Mom gave them to our teachers as Christmas one year. Her reaction: "You gave those to strangers?!" Classic. This is definitely a tradition that I plan on continuing.
- Advent Calendars: We usually had several advent calendars going on at our house, including the chocolate-filled paper ones and the huge Christmas tree one with velcro ornaments (of which many have gone missing over the years). I love the countdown to Christmas, and the anticipation-building power that they hold.
- The Nutcracker Ballet: As a little girl, I thought the Nutcracker ballet was pure magic. Especially since I was a dancer myself. Ballet Austin puts on a wonderful production of the holiday classic, and we went at least every few years.
- "A Christmas Affair": The Junior League of Austin organizes a huge holiday market every year, which includes booths selling all kinds of clothes, gadgets, and food. They also have performances going on throughout the day, appearances by Santa, and beautiful decorations everywhere. I don't think I have ever bought anything at the event, but it is so much fun to peruse the aisles. I haven't been, but I think the Chi Omega Christmas event in Dallas is similar...although I don't know if they let Tri Delts in ;).
- Zilker Park Tree and Trail of Lights: Going to see the Zilker Park Christmas tree and Trail of Lights is something we did nearly every year growing up. And it was always mandatory to spin under the huge tree of lights. The tree becomes part of the Austin skyline during the holidays, and it is a wonderful sight to see driving into town. The Trail of Lights was recently closed for a couple years due to lack of funding, but it is back this year due to fundraising by a new foundation. I can't wait to take Ava!
- Watching Christmas Movies: Who doesn't love a good Christmas movie?! I definitely have fond memories of watching Rudolph (the classic claymation-type animated one), Santa Claus (the one with Dudley Moore), A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street (both the original and new versions) as a kid. And later on, Home Alone, Elf, The Grinch, Love Actually, and even Die Hard have become holiday favorites. But my absolute favorite movie is White Christmas. We have watched this movie a bazillion times, and I think I know every word to every song. There have definitely been some fabulous performances of "Sisters" in our house :).
- Bonnie's Birthday: My sister's birthday is on Christmas Eve, and my parents always made a huge effort to make her birthday special despite being right during the holidays. When she was younger, she had many gingerbread house-making parties at the Austin Children's Museum. But for the past 15 years or so, we have had a bowling party a few days before Christmas at the classic Dart Bowl. There is something about the tacky interior, greasy food, and friendly family competition that screams Christmas to me now, and I don't think our holiday would be quite the same without it. I even bowled while 8.5 months pregnant last year...and totally dominated!
- Candlelight Church Service on Christmas Eve: While I have never been a super consistent churchgoer, we always went to the Christmas Eve service. The pastor would tell the entire story of Jesus' birth, and the congregation would sing the appropriate Christmas songs throughout. My favorite part was at the end when everyone held up a lit candle and sang "Silent Night." So lovely.
- Leaving Cookies for Santa: As a kid, this always seemed very important. You couldn't slight Santa by not leaving him some cookies and milk. We also left some carrots for the reindeer on occasion. I'm sure it was a lot less fun to eat those as a parent.
- Reading The Night Before Christmas: We read this classic each year on Christmas Eve, and it will be an easy and fun tradition to continue.
- My Dad's One Gift That Didn't Come From Santa: Santa did most of the heavy lifting (literally) when it came to gifts in our house. And his presence was long-lasting in our family since Lily is 13 years younger than me. However, my Dad always made a point to give each of us a gift that was just from him. It was usually a special piece of jewelry, and it was always so sweet. I would love to continue this tradition with Ava, and have Josh give her a special gift each year.
- Mimi's Present Poems: My grandmother has always been quite the writer (she was one of the first women to graduate with a Journalism degree from UT), and she used to include short poems on the gift tags of our presents. The poems were clues about the gifts, and the last word was left blank for us to guess. They were so fun!
- Opening Stockings Last: I know this is a small thing, but I always loved saving our stockings until last.
New Traditions I Would Love to Start:
- Austin Visit: We think it is important for Ava to always wake up in her own house on Christmas morning. So, just as we went to our grandparents' house in Wimberley every year, we are going to start going to Austin to visit my family the weekend before Christmas. In addition to visiting with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, she will also be able to enjoy all the fun Austin-area Christmas attractions that I adored as a child.
- Hot Chocolate Bar: I love hot chocolate (and apple cider)! And I think it would be really fun to set up a hot chocloate bar at some point during the holidays. Perhaps while we are decorating the tree as a family, or maybe as part of a Polar Express-themed night.
- Pictures with Santa: We did this a few times as kids, but I would love to make it a tradition to take Ava...at least while she is young. We already checked this one off the list!
- Donating Toys to Charity: Donating old toys to charity during the holidays serves many wonderful purposes, including teaching your children to be appreciative of all that they have as well as the importance of helping others in the community. Additionally, Josh and I both are very much against toy clutter around the house, so this would help solve that problem on a yearly basis.
- Advent Calendar with Holiday Activites: I found this idea on Pinterest for an advent calendar that includes cards with various holiday activities, such as "drive around to see the lights," "decorate cookies," and "write a letter to Santa." I think this would be so fun, and we could switch up some of the cards every year to tie in new activities.
- "Cookies & Castles": The TCU Tri Delt chapter puts on this gingerbread house-decorating event every year to support Cook Children's Medical Center. Ava was too young to participate this year, but hopefully we can make it over to Fort Worth next year.
- Christmas Eve PJs: Another tradition that we started this year is having Ava open up one gift on Christmas Eve...a new pair of pajamas. We cheated a little this year and had her try them on a couple weeks ago so we could take a picture of her in these cute drop-seat PJs.
- Elf on a Shelf: I can't wait to jump on the Elf on a Shelf bandwagon as soon as Ava is old enough to understand. There are so many ideas on Pinterest right now for creative elf placement, and I definitely have some ideas of my own. However, I will not be one of those crazy moms that makes huge messes in the name of silly Elf on the Shelf anticts. Because somebody (i.e. me) will have to clean that up!
- DFW-Area Christmas Events: I know about most of the fun things to do in Austin around Christmas, and I am really excited to experience all that DFW has to offer during the holidays. I definitely want to check out the NorthPark trains, the Gaylord ice exhibit, and all the great Christmas light displays around town, including Swiss Avenue and Interlochen.
I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and all your family traditions!