How We Celebrate Christmas | Amanda Morgan

by Melissa
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This post is part of the “How We Celebrate Christmas” — a mini series showing how other families “do” Christmas. I hope you enjoy learning from other families as much as I have! 

CelebrateChristmas

As always, this is not meant to stress us out of make us feel like we are doing Christmas wrong. Rather, my hope with this series is we can see that there are many RIGHT ways of celebrating. Hopefully some of these ideas will help you start your own meaningful family Christmas traditions. 


Meet: Amanda and the Morgan Family

1. Tell us about your family!

My husband and I have been married for 15 years and have four boys ages 5, 8, 11, and 13.  (And yes, that likely looks, sounds, and smells exactly like what you’re picturing.) We live on the more rural side of the Puget Sound, across the water from the Seattle area.

2. Tell us a favorite memory of Christmas past!

My favorite is actually not my own memory, but my husband’s, and it’s become an important part of our Christmas stories.  He comes from a family of 10 and one Christmas season, in particular, they had several life events that put them under great financial strain, and Christmas was looking pretty sparse.  One night, there was a knock at the door and Santa — red suit and all — was standing there with a huge bag full of gifts.  There were several other nameless Santas that year that sent money in the mail and one who paid off part of the much-needed home renovations they were in the middle of.  It always inspires me to give more and be that Santa for someone else.

It’s also part of why we very sincerely believe in Santa in this family.  (I wrote about that and how we answer our kids’ Santa question here: https://notjustcute.com/2010/12/15/do-you-believe-in-santa-claus/)

3. How do gifts work in your home?

Santa fills the stockings along with leaving one or two other unwrapped gifts and a letter to our boys.  The boys each buy one small gift for each of their brothers, or sometimes two will combine their allotted amount to get something bigger one of their brothers has been wanting. My husband and I don’t have a set number of gifts for the boys.  I’ve always been drawn to the “something you want, something you need…..” theme, but have found I have to be more flexible.  As their wish lists start building at the beginning of the season, we try to find themes and patterns to guide our selection so that everyone balances out, just maybe not in quite the same way as the rhyme.  There are always things for the whole family — like games and movies — and everyone always gets at least one book, but from there it follows where their interests and needs are.

4. If married, do you and your spouse exchange gifts? What about sibling gifts?

We do exchange gifts, but they’re usually simple and take a backseat to everything else. Though, I have to say my husband has always been the more thoughtful gift-giver.  One of his favorite scriptures is Luke 2:52 — “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” It’s part of how he approaches balanced goal-setting (mental growth, physical growth, spiritual growth, social growth), along with evaluating his different roles (father, son, husband, etc.).  Like I said, he’s a much better gift giver than I am and often used this theme for giving ME gifts, and I’ve finally clued in and started using the same structure for giving him his.  Honestly, we often already know much of what we’ll find under the tree, but the letters and notes that go along with them to tie them into the theme are often what I enjoy most!
We both come from big families and used to exchange a family gift with just one sibling’s family from each side, rotating each year, but both families are beginning to transition to using that money for giving service rather than exchanging gifts.

5. What special Christmas Eve traditions does your family have?

On Christmas Eve we always have a Bethlehem dinner — which my boys talk about almost all year long.  It’s so simple for me, and they LOVE it.  We (very loosely) base our dinner on foods that would have been served in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  So, at our house, that usually means some naan from Costco, salmon off the barbeque, grape juice, and a spread of olives, pomegranate seeds, oranges, and apples and maybe some crackers and cheese. We eat by candlelight (and Christmas tree light) and it’s such a calming, simple way to transition into Christmas day.  I love that we start the holiday by focusing on Christ’s birth.  It’s so much simpler than putting together a fancy meal (or really most of the everyday meals we have) so it helps me to relax and enjoy the night too!
After that, the boys traditionally open their “grammy jammies” from my mom and are often eager to get to bed ASAP!

6. What special Christmas Morning traditions does your family have?

Our biggest tradition is just that we are SLOW.  From very early on, my husband and I wanted our kids to take their time opening presents so that they can actually acknowledge and appreciate their gifts rather than race through, ripping them open as fast as they can.  So we usually open stockings and find Santa’s gifts and then pause for breakfast.  Then open a few more gifts one at a time and maybe play with something for a while. Then open the rest following that same pattern.  Opening gifts usually takes us several hours — not because there’s a lot to open, but because we try to slow it down and really savor the process.  We don’t have family close by to get out to visit Christmas morning (and when we did have family close by, the gathering was always in the evening), so we’ve had that luxury of time to make Christmas morning last  A L L  morning.

7. Do you have any favorite holiday recipes that make an appearance each year?

Christmas morning always means cinnamon rolls and a citrus-based wassail.  Once the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve, I start making a batch of cinnamon rolls and tend to it in between wrapping presents.  I cook the cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve night and then pop them in the oven in the morning to warm them up before frosting.  So it’s like they’re fresh from the oven without me having to get up at a ridiculous hour.
Our wassail is super simple – 10 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 can OJ, 1 can Limeaid.  Warm all of that in a pot on the stove until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm-hot.  Then add 1 tsp each of vanilla and almond extract.

8. Do you have any Christ-centered Christmas traditions you want to share?

Our Bethlehem dinner is probably our favorite one.  In past years, we’ve also done various advent activities inspired by Emily Belle Freeman’s Christ-Centered Christmas.  This year, we’ve been counting down to Christmas every night with the Light the World videos from lds.org and trying to focus on some of the simple service challenges.

9.  What are some ways you have simplified Christmas to keep stress lower?

Our biggest shift for simplifying has been ordering online.  Particularly now that we live in a more rural area, it is such a sanity saver and a time saver to order almost all our gifts on Amazon or online for in-store pick up at our local stores.  It saves me a ton of time and stress to simply swing in and pick it up.  Plus, I find that if I’m ordering presents, it’s easier for me to focus on my list and just get things done, whereas when I go in the store to go shopping, I tend to get overwhelmed and distracted, picking up a few impulse items and/or unable to find the one thing I was actually looking for.  This year, my husband and I basically sat down and figured out our list, and then ordered it all up — all without leaving my warm blanket!10. Any other favorite Christmas memories/ideas/tips you want to share? We love hearing how others make their season magical but not overwhelming!

This year I didn’t put up a tree.  I have a very busy one-year-old who would not let that tree stand a chance.  So this year I opted to put up garland above my kitchen cabinets and decorate it as a tree.  I even have been putting our gifts up there so little toddler fingers won’t be tempted to open them and it has been a game changer!! Our house still feels festive with all the other decor and I didn’t have to worry about keeping the tree in a safe place all season long.

10. Any other favorite Christmas memories/ideas/tips you want to share? We love hearing how others make their season magical but not overwhelming!

One other Christmas tradition we enjoy goes back to my husband’s childhood, when his grandma would bring out the “Christmas Pie” as the last Christmas gift.  

This big, topless box (or even a bowl or tub) with little presents inside would be wrapped up with strings coming out of the top for each child.  At the end of the family gathering on Christmas night, the kids would stand around the gift, holding their strings, and say “Little Jack Horner, sat in the corner, eating his Christmas pie.  He stuck in his thumb, and pulled out a plum (and they’d all pull their strings) and said, what a good boy am I.”

As each child pulled the string, a small gift attached to the other end would break out of the wrapping.  Steve’s parents carried on the tradition as they began to hold Christmas gatherings in their own home, and now we do it on Christmas night as well.

The presents aren’t anything big, more like stocking-stuffers, but it’s always fun for the kids to have one more thing to look forward to at the end of the day, and we love remembering those family ties!

Amanda writes about intentional, whole-child development at notjustcute.com


Thanks so much Amanda for sharing your Christmas traditions with us!!

Want more? You can find all the other “How We Celebrate” posts right here! There are so many real, good ideas you’ll love! 

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