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: Elizabeth and the Riley Family
1. Tell us about your family!
Hello, we are the Rileys! I’m Elizabeth, my husband is Jeremiah, and we have three sons: Matthew (6), Abraham (3), and our newest is Elijah (4 months). I feel like our days are so full! If I were to name a time when Jeremiah and I have felt “we are in the trenches” of parenting, I would say that time is now. It it is wonderful! And it is exhausting too!
We homeschool and have recently been remodeling a nearly 100-year-old house. My husband also works from home, so in combination with homeschool, home is a very important part of what we do.
I love teaching and nurturing my children. It is such a blessing for me!
2. Tell us a favorite memory of Christmas past!
One of my favorite memories of Christmas past is that my dad would fix the most delicious chili verde. He would cook it the whole night starting in the evening of December 23rd, and it would be ready for Christmas Eve dinner! Often friends would stop in and join us for the meal on Christmas Eve, and there was always plenty to share. Looking back I know the chili verde was a delicious meal, but even more wonderful was the wonderful spirit of love in our home–something I hope is also present in our home now!
3. How do gifts work in your home?
Yes, we do gifts! And Santa causes quite a lot of excitement in our home. It’s pretty magical to watch the kids’ excitement. We don’t buy toys and a lot of stuff throughout the year, so I think it makes Christmas gifts that much more special.
My husband and I try to be very careful when we do buy things. I’d rather buy one nice, well-made gift over five or six mediocre things that will break easily.
So we buy the boys one nice bigger gift and then a couple of smaller things like a book or some shirts. We have decided that within our family we want to develop a family culture of playing games together, so we gave each boy a fun game. We’ll usually get a neat book (though we didn’t this year) along with a couple of things to wear. And that’s pretty much it for what Jeremiah and I buy.
Now, that’s not all. The boys have generous grandparents who love gifting to grandchildren–so the boys receive a lot of gifts from them. And after Christmas each year we go through things and get rid of things we don’t really need or want–even if the item still has a useful life. Since my boys are still young, I do this myself so I can get it done more quickly. The interesting thing is that my boys rarely notice when I get rid of toys–which once again reinforces my thoughts that less is more!
4. If married, do you and your spouse exchange gifts? What about sibling gifts?
My husband and I do exchange gifts. Usually just one–though sometimes I’ll buy my husband some clothes too because he rarely buys them for himself!
I used to do gifts for siblings–growing up and into early adulthood we used to draw names, and that was really fun (in fact, I’d love to do that with my children when they are a little older). But now I usually just get something fun for my only sister, and that simplifies things quite a lot. As siblings we all love each other dearly but gifts aren’t really the way we show love for one another–so it works for us!
5. What special Christmas Eve traditions does your family have?
I love Christmas Eve so much! There is an excitement that fills the air! We recently started the chili verde tradition that comes from my side of the family. My husband smokes the pork (it’s sooooo yummy), and we roast a bunch of peppers and let the verde simmer. I love the taste of the chili verde, and I love that it’s special but not overly-complicated or time consuming to make so we can spend time playing games and enjoying one another.
We also recently started the matching family pajamas tradition, and I love it. I didn’t know whether my little boys would be excited about receiving matching pajamas, but they loved it! My three year old told me he was never going to take them off and that he would still be wearing them when he grows up to be a daddy (which I thought was so funny)! I think it’s interesting how simple traditions like that can be so special.
6. What special Christmas Morning traditions does your family have?
Christmas morning is the fun and magical part of Christmas for us! This year our two older boys snuck downstairs super early to see the Christmas magic, but the goal is to have them wait so we all go down together. We take turns opening gifts. Someday I’d like to have a fun breakfast, but this wasn’t the year for that. And you know what, it was still wonderful!
7. Do you have any favorite holiday recipes that make an appearance each year?
Chili verde and this yummy drink recipe that my mother-in-law shared with me: sherbet ice cream in a glass with Sprite and a little bit of egg nog. Oh my goodness–it is delicious!
8. Do you have any Christ-centered Christmas traditions you want to share?
We act out the Christmas story in Luke chapter two on Christmas Eve. And throughout the season we focus on learning about Jesus Christ and His purpose in our lives. We usually do our little devotionals at breakfast time, and we light a couple of candles within the table centerpiece.
We watch the beautiful Bible videos that are available on lds.org
, and I read verses from the scriptures to them. It’s not anything super structured or fancy. Just simple, and I love it. I have a few service projects that I’d like to make part of our traditions–but I am also realizing that I am at a very full point in life between a nursing baby and homeschooling in addition to managing our home. Sometimes I have felt a little frustrated that we haven’t been able to accomplish more service-oriented activities during the Christmas season, but then I think “Hey, maybe this year is just not the year for this or that!” And it’s okay. I have a few ideas tucked away for when I have more bandwidth, but I am learning to accept my current season and be realistic!
9. What are some ways you have simplified Christmas to keep stress lower?
I suppose my answer to this is a bit of a continuation upon my previous answer, but I think it’s important to be realistic about what I can actually accomplish as a mother to very active young children! So far I haven’t found a way to do elaborate service projects, make neighbor gifts, send out Christmas cards, have amazing homeschool lessons, home make gingerbread houses, and fix a twelve course meal for Christmas Eve! It’s just not happening at this point in my life! I can pick one or two things during this season–but I am learning to accept that it’s okay and it’s totally normal that I can’t do everything! What I can do is take small moments with my children to bear my testimony of Christ or help my children do service for one another. And sometimes those little moments provide the most memorable lessons for children anyway.
Elizabeth shares more thoughts on Instagram @elizhriley and @scripturelight. You can also follow her homeschool & motherhood journey at RaisingRileys.com.
Thanks so much Elizabeth for reminding us it’s okay to have seasons in our life!
Want more? You can find all the other “How We Celebrate” posts right here! There are so many real, good ideas you’ll love!