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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!
As always, this is not meant to stress us out or 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: Jenny and the Nielsen Family
1. Tell us about your family!
Hi! My name is Jenny, and I’m happy to have a chance to tell you a little bit about our family and how we celebrate Christmas. My husband and I have been married 12 years, which makes me feel old, actually. He is a computer guy by day. I majored in health promotion and worked in worksite wellness before we had kids. Currently, I spend my time as a stay-at-home mom; we have three kids, ages 8, 5, and 3. We love camping, water-skiing, snow-skiing (though there is some debate in our house about which type of skiing is the best), playing games, kayaking, and just spending time together as a family.
2. Tell us a favorite memory of Christmas past!
My very favorite Christmas memory happened last Christmas. We have an assisted living facility in our neighborhood. There are many opportunities to help at that facility, and our family spends time there often. Last year, as Christmas fell on a Sunday, my husband was asked to conduct a religious service at the facility (we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) on Christmas Day. This meeting immediately followed our own church meeting, so I knew that we would spend most of the morning at church. We approached our kids and talked to them about the residents who live in the facility. We talked about how sometimes that can be a sad and lonely life, and that Christmas might be an extra hard day for them. We asked if they’d be willing to wait until lunch time to open their presents so that we could go to our own church service and then to the assisted living facility. Our kids were more than willing, and we started making cards for each of the residents there. Our idea grew a little and we put together a small gift for each person as well.
In the time we have spent at the facility, it has been easy to see how much the residents there love to see little children. Christmas day came, and just as I had imagined, the residents there were so excited to see and visit with my little children. There was such a neat feeling in the room as my kids walked around giving a present and hand drawn card to each person there. It warmed my heart to sit back and take in the scene, and behold the joy on the residents’ faces; joy that came from my children. It also warmed my heart to see the joy that my children gained from that simple act of service. It helped remind me that it truly is better to give than to receive. It also reminded me that there are so many who are lonely and need a little cheer, and gave me extra resolve to remember to seek those people out, especially on special days.
3. How do gifts work in your home?
We believe in Santa at our house! My kids usually ask Santa for two things, and that jolly old fellow usually comes through for them. He also typically brings a couple of other fun surprises. My husband and I have a set budget that we spend for our kids, and we vary how we spend that each year. Sometimes it’s something big with just a couple other small gifts, or more small presents but nothing huge.
We tried something new last year that was quite fun. I read a story on ldsliving.com about a family that used red, green, and gold wrapping paper to symbolize gold, frankincense, and myrrh- the gifts given to baby Jesus. In Biblical times, frankincense was often burned in Temples. We use this gift (wrapped in red paper) to symbolize frankincense, and we give our children something that will help our spirits grow (things like a journal, scriptures, a painting or picture with religious significance, church music or movies, etc.). Myrrh had practical, medicinal application. We use these presents (wrapped in green paper) to symbolize myrrh, and give useful things, or things that we need. Then of course, presents wrapped in gold paper are the fun and exciting gifts, and represent the gift of gold. We usually do a couple (or more depending on how we have done gifts that year) of each type of present. Last year my kids loved this, and I feel like it helped us focus on the gifts that were given to Jesus, and helped us think about Him, even in the exciting moment of opening presents. As the Christmas season approached this year, my son asked me if we were going to do this again, because he really loved it last year.
4. If married, do you and your spouse exchange gifts? What about sibling gifts?
My kids each pick a present for one of their siblings, and we rotate each year. They have to do jobs around the house to earn money for the gift, and then they select the present and help wrap it. They really love this tradition. They get so excited about getting presents for each other, and I love to see how thoughtful they are in trying to find something that their sibling will love.
My husband and I don’t really have a standard way that we do gifts for each other. We talk about it year to year and discuss things we might want or need. We use amazon wish lists to give ideas, but we both typically come up with a couple of surprises for each other as well.
5. What special Christmas Eve traditions does your family have?
Each Christmas Eve I make a big, fancy, ham dinner. We invite both sets of grandparents, and we also invited my grandparents while they were alive. It has been such a fun tradition for us, and my kids get so excited waiting for their grandparents to come. After dinner (and dessert!) we read the Christmas Story found in the Bible, and then the kids get to give their sibling gifts to each other. I love doing the sibling gifts on Christmas Eve, because then these gifts don’t get overshadowed by the many fun gifts on Christmas morning. The kids take time to give hugs and express thanks, and there is usually such a sweet feeling in our home while they exchange gifts. It’s one of my favorite moments of the Christmas season. The kids also get to open one present from my husband and I, which is always a new pair of cozy pajamas. Then we try to get them to bed relatively early, because it takes them so long to fall asleep!
6. Do you have any favorite holiday recipes that make an appearance each year?
Christmas Eve dinner always consists of ham, and my great-grandma’s sour cream potatoes. My son has several food allergies, so I sometimes feel like I’m still tweaking recipes to get them just right. We always make these gingerbread boys, and I have an egg free sugar cookie recipe we make. Every Christmas morning we eat Cinnamon Crunch Muffins. It is a recipe that only calls for one egg, so I can easily substitute it and the muffins still turn out great. Santa seems to leave an orange in each of our stockings every year, and we eat those along with our muffins.
Here is the recipe for Cinnamon Crunch Muffins:
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup shortening
- 1 egg
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup chopped nuts (optional)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I always do a heaping spoonful)
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Then cut in shortening. Add egg and milk, stir just until moistened. Mix filling. Place half batter in greased muffin tins. Fill each cup about half full. Sprinkle half of the filling throughout the muffin tins. Then add remaining batter, and top with remaining filling. Bake muffins at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
7. Do you have any Christ-centered Christmas traditions you want to share?
Years ago, I made an advent calendar that centers on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Each night we talk about events from His life, and read scriptures, and it helps us think about Him all month long. We’ve also enjoyed participating in the light the world initiatives created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
One additional thing we do each year that helps us focus on the Savior is finding someone to help during the Christmas season. There are so many people in need during the holidays, and we actively seek out a way to help a family or individuals who are in need of assistance. This year we helped provide for needs of low income students at a school in Salt Lake. These kids needed things like coats, boots, and clothes to wear to school. We involved our kids in choosing, purchasing, and wrapping those items. I truly believe that, in years to come, my children won’t remember the gifts they received, but rather, the help that they gave and the ways that they served. I feel that this helps us remember the Savior, because we are trying to be more like Him.
8. What are some ways you have simplified Christmas to keep stress lower?
Oh, I wish I had a better handle on keeping Christmas simple! I am definitely not an expert in this area, but there are two things that have helped me immensely. The first thing that has helped me is to plan ahead. I usually create and print our Christmas card in July. I buy, wash, and wrap Christmas Eve pajamas in September or October. I try to have most of our Christmas purchases planned by Halloween. I have already purchased next year’s neighbor gift, and will put it together when I have a free day during 2018 rather than trying to squeeze it in during the holiday season. Planning ahead gives me more time to spend with my family and doing fun activities during the month of December.
The second thing that helps me simplify is this: I give myself permission NOT to do every single thing on the holiday list every single year. Let that sink in for a minute: we don’t have to do every single thing every single year. This has been a game changer for me. In the past, I have worn myself out trying to get to every Christmas light venue, make gingerbread houses, etc. This year, our family has had a yucky virus that has worked its way through our entire family. One person (or more) has been sick for the entire month of December. We haven’t done very many activities that involve being outside of our house, and honestly, we have still had a great Christmas season. If we don’t make it to Temple Square or the Ogden Christmas Village, or to see the windows at The Grand America, it’s okay. It really is. My kids aren’t going to look back and remember 2017 as the year that Christmas was a bust. They are still happy and enjoying the season, and their memories will fill in with other years when we are able to do those things. When I think back to my childhood, I don’t look back with a checklist of what we did or didn’t do each year. I just remember good times, and happy memories, and our children will do the same. So, it’s okay to do some things one year, and others another year. I try to make each year fun and exciting for my children, but I try to take it in stride and not over do it either.
9. Any other favorite Christmas memories/ideas/tips you want to share? We love hearing how others make their season magical but not overwhelming!
I just want to share our very favorite family tradition, and that is sleeping by the Christmas tree! One night, during the moth of December, we have a big family sleepover by our Christmas tree. My husband and I started this tradition the first year we were married, and it has been so fun to see how our kids have truly come to love this activity. We set up beds, snuggle in, and watch a Christmas movie. We fall asleep by the light of the tree. It sounds perfect, but it usually is a night where we don’t get a ton of sleep because the kids won’t stop talking, but it’s such a fun tradition. Any time my kids are asked about a favorite family tradition, this is what they answer. They love it.
Thanks so much Jenny for sharing your Christmas thoughts 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!