My favorite childhood memories are from the holiday season and our family traditions. I have so many good memories from my childhood, and now that I am a mom, I realize the effort, time, and money my parents put into giving us memorable holidays. Now that I have my own family, I want Caleb to experience the same happiness I did as a child.
Since our first holiday season together, Nick and I started a few traditions which we still celebrate seven years later. Once Caleb was born, it became even more significant for us to have family traditions we can celebrate with him as well. Over the years, we have added new things we enjoy as a family, and I’m sure some of them will change over time. However, the one thing we have kept consistent is making sure our little one enjoys this time of the year as much as we did when we were kids.
Since we became parents, the holiday season feels even more magical and meaningful, so I hope you enjoy learning about our family traditions.
Decorating the House and the Christmas Tree.
Usually, we decorate the tree and our home the weekend after Thanksgiving. For a couple of years now, we set up two Christmas trees. We put up one in our bedroom, which gets different themed decorations every year. Last year it was elf themed and this year we did candy cane!
Our main tree, which we put in the family room, gets decorated with all of our meaningful ornaments (more on this later on the post.) Caleb loves listening to the stories behind them, and he really enjoys helping to decorate the house. Last year, my Father-in-Law gifted him a village and a train to put under the tree. While they take a couple of hours to build and put together, it’s a fun thing to do as a family.
We spend a few hours putting on ornaments and decorating the mantle while we listen to Christmas music and drink hot cocoa.
Visiting Christmas Lights Displays
This is something Nick and I started doing during our first holiday season together. For six years in a row, we visited a drive-through lights display at one of our local National Parks. We’d put on our PJs and slippers before heading on a 3.5 miles drive through amazing Christmas lights exhibits.
Last year, however, we decided to visit the lights display at a different park that has walking paths instead. Caleb LOVED it, so this year we are taking him there instead of driving. He really loved being able to interact with the exhibitions, and while it was cold, we still had a great time.
Taking Photos for Holiday Cards
We didn’t start sending holiday cards until after Caleb was born. The first and second year, we got our holiday photos done at Target in front of a Christmasy backdrop and got the cards from the selection they have on-site. While I liked the photos, it seemed that everyone had used the exact same backdrop, and I wasn’t thrilled about the card designs either.
The following year, we decided we wanted unique photos taken at an outdoor location or in our home. So now, we schedule a photo session in November and get a family photoshoot done. I love that our holiday cards are unique, and the photos are taken at meaningful places for us. I also love that holiday cards are great keepsakes, so every year I keep a few that I add to Caleb’s memories box and our yearly scrapbook.
Making a Gingerbread House
I never made a gingerbread house until I met Nick, and you can tell by my lack of skills decorating them haha. Making a house out of cookies and candy while listening to Christmas music sounds like a lovely way of spending an afternoon, so I wanted Caleb to experience how fun it was.
Sometimes, I wish I had waited until now that he actually follows instructions. Building a gingerbread house with very young children is not the brightest idea. Infants don’t care about anything more than their milk, and toddlers put everything in their mouths including candy, cardboard, and glue haha. They also love throwing things everywhere! Take it from me, making gingerbread houses gets easier once your little one turns three at least.
Nevertheless, I don’t regret doing it even when he was so little. We have some great photos and videos of the messes we caused, and it’s been fun to learn together so many new tricks and tips to make our houses look better.
Getting a New Ornament for the Tree
This has become one of my favorite traditions because I love keepsakes. I love having meaningful ornaments with a story attached to them, which makes decorating the tree much more significant. It’s also a tradition that has evolved every year, which reflects the changes our family has gone through as well.
My Mother-in-Law got us our first “family” ornament during our first holiday season together, which is why we started the tradition in the first place. Nick and I got a second one with our names and the year on it to commemorate our relationship. The following year we added Rojo to our family, so we started getting the ones with a dog on them. Then after Caleb was born, we started getting a family ornament (dog included) with all of our names and year on it.
Nowadays, we get 3 to 5 ornaments every year. Besides our family one, I order an ornament to commemorate special occasions such as our wedding and Caleb’s birth. I also order a glass one with our holiday photo on it, so I can always have those photos on display during Christmas time.
In addition, Caleb gets two ornaments every year. I wanted him to have his own special traditions with his grandparents, so for the past three years, they take him to the mall to have lunch and to choose a special ornament just for him. The past couple of years, he’s chosen it himself, which makes it even more meaningful. Nick and I also get him one which reflects his current interests. Last year it was Paw Patrol, and this year is Noah’s Ark (still confused about this one haha.) Once he grows up and starts his own family, I plan on giving him a box with his ornament collection for his own tree.
Traditions and Ornament Scrapbook
As I’ve mentioned before, I love keepsakes, and I love documenting things. Four years ago, I started a holiday scrapbook in which I put a photo and write-down details or a short story behind our ornaments and our family traditions. Every year since then, I take a few minutes at the end of the holiday season to add any new tradition we have started and to update small stuff like changes in a location or any other meaningful information.
It’s really fun to go through this book and read the stories behind each one of our ornaments. Also, I love to read about our holiday family traditions, noticing if they have changed over time, or simply realizing which ones we have kept the longest.
Sponsor a Less Privileged Child
I struggled trying to figure out if I should share this or not because I believe that good deeds should not be put on display. However, this is something I truly believe every family with the financial resources should have in their holiday traditions list.
I think it’s important for my son to learn that he is a privileged child. I don’t want him to grow up thinking that Christmas and the holiday season are all about presents and toys. I want him to learn the real meaning behind the season. We might not be rich, but he has a home, clothes, food, tons on toys, and eight adults (four grandparents, two uncles, and two parents,) who make sure he has the best and most magical holiday season every year. Other children, unfortunately, are not that lucky, and I really think it’s important for him to learn to share his good fortune with others.
Our local parish hosts a toy drive in which a family picks an ornament that contains the name of a child along with their Christmas wishlist. The family buys the toys, and the parish delivers them to the parents so their child has presents to open on Christmas Day. We got our ornament this year and are in the process of getting the toys. Once we have them, we will wrap them as a family and deliver them to the parish. I honestly believe that a small act of kindness like this can give a child the magical celebration they deserve regardless of their family’s financial situation.
I want Caleb to learn the joy of giving. I want him to grow up to be generous and share his good fortune with others, and I hope that leading him by example is the best way of doing this.
The joy of a child meeting Santa and telling him their Christmas wishlist is something that warms my heart. Every year, I make a cute letter that his elf on the shelf “brings” to invite Caleb to meet Santa at our local mall. He gets so excited every time, and it’s one of the highlights of the holidays for me. I might be an adult but I still want to believe in Santa.
I usually make our reservation online, so Santa knows his name. It’s so thrilling to see his small face light up when Santa calls his name! He’s a smart cookie, and sometimes it feels like he has stopped believing already. So, I’ll do anything I can to make him believe for at least another year.
Elf on the Shelf
This newish Christmas tradition seems to be very controversial among mommy groups, and I get it. I really do. I don’t believe in using an inanimate object to force my son to behave. I want him to be a nice kid every day year-round, and not only in December to get Christmas presents.
Our elf, Manny, is not the typical Elf on the Shelf. He comes on December 1st and brings a box with cute mugs, hot cocoa, cookies, a couple of Christmas movies, and one or two small toys for Caleb.
Manny doesn’t leave every night to tell Santa if Caleb has been nice or naughty. Instead, he only leaves and comes back once or twice per week to bring small presents to help us to celebrate our already established family traditions. Each present comes with a note, in which he reminds Caleb about the meaning behind the season as well as what we will be doing for the week.
Sometimes, he brings a gingerbread house kit, and sometimes he brings cookie cutters. Some weeks he brings tickets for a light show display, and some other weeks he brings stamps for our holiday cards. Our elf is a “helper” of some sort, who is helping Caleb to navigate the holidays and getting him excited about our traditions. It has worked for us so far, and Caleb loves having a little magical friend who enjoys being part of our family during the holidays.
So many traditions and so many memories. And these are not all of our holiday traditions by far. In fact, I didn’t include either our Christmas Eve or Christmas Day traditions or this post would have been even longer.
My final thoughts on holiday traditions are that they are so much more meaningful now that I have my own family. As a child and even as a teenager, I didn’t really value everything my parents did to give us the perfect holidays. Now that I am the one in charge to create beautiful memories for my son, I actually treasure those memories even more. I really hope that when Caleb is old enough, he can also treasure them as much as his daddy and I do.