My favorite childhood memories are from the holiday season. Growing up, my parents always made sure that my brother and I had memorable holidays. They did it by establishing annual traditions that started in November and extended all the way to mid-January. Now that I am a mom, I realize the effort, time, and money my parents put into giving my brother and me unforgettable holidays. And 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 can enjoy as a family, and I’m sure some of them will change over time as Caleb grows older. However, the one thing we have done consistently is making sure our little one enjoys this time of the year as much as we did when we were kids.
Becoming parents changed things for us in so many ways. Now, 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 our Christmas tree and 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. 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 decorating the mantle and the tree while listening to Christmas music and drinking hot cocoa.
Visiting Christmas Lights Displays
Nick and I started doing this 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 used to 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’ exhibition at a different park that has walking paths instead. Caleb LOVED it, so this year we are taking him there again instead of driving. He really loved being able to interact with the displays, and while it was cold out, we still had a great time.
Holiday Cards Photoshoots
For most of my life, the holiday cards we sent and received were regular greeting cards with Christmas and Holiday wishes. The first time I received a photo holiday card, I thought it was the best idea ever. To be honest, I couldn’t wait to have my own family to do it myself.
Once Caleb was born, I couldn’t wait for our first Christmas as a family to finally do it. Our first couple of cards were boring and nothing special. We got our photos taken at Target and chose their from their card designs selection. While I liked the photos, it seemed that everyone on Instagram had used the exact same backdrop, so finally I decided we would do things differently.
The following year, when Caleb was almost three, we decided we wanted unique photos taken at an outdoor location or in our home. Since then, we now schedule a photo session in November and get a family photoshoot done. I love that now 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 keepsake 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. It was the most meaningful present I received that year because I felt so welcomed in his family thanks to that small knick-knack for our tree. Nick and I got a second one to commemorate our relationship. The following year we added Rojo to our family, so we started getting family designs with a couple and a dog. Then after Caleb was born, we started getting a family ornament (dog included) with all of our names and year on it.
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. Since he turned three, he has 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 all of the special ornaments we have gotten for him throughout the years.
Traditions and Ornament Scrapbook
As I’ve mentioned before, I love keepsakes. I also love documenting things and writing down memories. Four years ago, in 2016, I started a holiday scrapbook. I take a photo of either an ornament or a moment celebrating one of our holiday traditions. I then write-down details or a short story about each photo. At the end of the holiday season, I take a few minutes to update my scrapbook.
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 when they change over time, or simply realizing which ones we have kept the longest.
Sponsor a Less Privileged Child
I struggled with sharing 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 financial resources should do during this time of the year.
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 and their Christmas wishlist. The family buys the toys, and the parish delivers them to the parents. On Christmas Day, this child will be opening the presents he asked for, and that makes my heart so happy. Such a small act of kindness 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 seeing 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. He brings small presents such as cookie cutters or a gingerbread house kit and encourages Caleb to enjoy our family traditions. Our elf is a “helper” of some sort, who is helping Caleb to navigate the holidays. He’s also helping him to understand the meaning behind the season while getting him excited about our family 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 now.