How We Celebrate Christmas | Andrea Nelson

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! 


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: Andrea and the Nelson Family

1. Tell us about your family!

Hey everyone!  I’m Andrea (a stay at home mom) and I’m married to Dean (a high school teacher) and together we’re the parents of four crazy boys who range in age from 9 down to 2.  I grew up in Utah, but 9 years ago we moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my husband is from.  We met at BYU and will be celebrating our 12th anniversary in March.

2. Tell us a favorite memory of Christmas past!

I will never forget the Christmas I was 9.  My Primary Teacher was in a singing group and my parents took me to her concert in Salt Lake City.  It was a pretty big deal being one of 6 kids to ever get to go anywhere alone with my parents, and I can still remember walking the streets of Salt Lake feeling like a million bucks to be taken on such a special outing.  The concert was in a very ornate, old, Church and I remember being enamored with the gargoyles and stained glass windows.  My Primary Teacher sang beautifully and it was such a treat to know someone “famous” personally.  My teacher’s singing partner wrote the music and I loved it then, but little did I know that 23 years later and I would end up living in the very area she was from and that many of her songs reference.  So I still listen to the Christmas CD from that concert, but it holds even more meaning now that I live “home in the hills of West Pennsylvania.”  If you want a great new Christmas CD to add to your collection look up “Sleepy Little Town” by Cory Connors.  You won’t regret it!

3. How do gifts work in your home?

At our house Santa does most of the work.  He brings a few gifts unless it’s something big then just a couple.  He never wraps anything, but he does assemble everything, so when we come out Christmas morning everything is set out and ready to dive in and play with.  No digging for batteries or screw drivers, or reading directions, just pure magic.  Mom and Dad get a smaller gift for each kid that is wrapped under the tree.  My boys all draw names with each other for a sibling gift exchange.  Since they’re still young we usually let them do some chores to earn money from us to help pay for the gift.  It’s nothing big, just $5-$10, but they have so much fun with it.  We all look forward to the shopping trip to help them pick something out for their brother.

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

Nearly 12 years in and we’re less about surprising each other and more about just working together to make sure we both get at least something that we’re excited about.  Depending on our needs or wants for the year there’s been big gifts or smaller gifts, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something we’re happy with.  Every once in a while we’ll pull off a surprise just to keep things fun.  We both come from families of 6 kids, but luckily both sides of our families exchange names each year, so we’re responsible for one sibling/sibling’s family for each of our families.

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

Here in Pennsylvania we’re close to my husbands parents and grandparents and we often have family come back here for Christmas, so whoever’s in town all joins us for a yummy dinner at Dean’s grandparents house.  They’re in their upper 80’s now and we feel so blessed to still be participating in this fun tradition.  After we wrap things up with extended family, we hurry home to open our matching Christmas jammies, read some of the Christmas story from the bible and sing a few hymns before heading off to bed.

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

Growing up my family had to be showered, dressed, teeth brushed, beds made….EVERYTHING, before we got to go get our presents!  I decided that adopting the tradition of Christmas pajamas meant that we could definitely wear them for Christmas morning festivities, so that’s the route we’ve gone.  No one is allowed to go see their presents until we’re all awake, and we snap a quick family photo.  Then the youngest heads in first to see their spoils quickly followed by everyone else.  We always have Sticky Buns for breakfast after all the gifting dies down.

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

I love love LOVE toffee, but so far I stink at making it, so maybe this year will be the first time I really pull it off.  We can’t resist making up a few batches of fudge.  Me and my oldest son share an affinity for mint fudge, but we have to make the classic milk chocolate with nuts too.  And our Christmas Morning Sticky Buns is a must.  You put it all together the night before using frozen roll dough and wake to it risen and ready to cook in the morning.  Can’t beat that!  Here’s a similar recipe…

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

We love all things Santa, but he definitely takes a back seat to what matters most.  Years ago I made wooden star ornaments with all the names of Christ from the scriptures on each one.  The boys love to look at all the different names He goes by and ask why He got each one.  We read a countdown scripture for every night in December that is a story from the Bible about the Savior, and then we discuss the attributes of Christ that the story shows.  We also have a manger we work on filling with hay for any service we do all month to be ready for the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas morning.  I wrote about that tradition on years ago.  Check it out the Hay in a Manger tradition.  It’s a good one!

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

I’ve learned that no matter what you do Christmas can always get crazy if you let it.  I do my Christmas shopping all year round to help alleviate some of the stress in December, not to mention the financial stress.  It’s lots easier to afford Christmas when it’s been spread out over the whole year.  If I see a good deal on something I know one of my kids will love I grab it whether it’s May, August, or December!  I also try not to put too much pressure on myself to “do it all.”  We love making gingerbread houses every year, but one year I had a new baby and it just wasn’t gonna make the list that year, but rather than beat myself up about missing a beloved tradition I gave myself a pass that year and it relieved a lot of stress.  And believe it or not, no one else even seemed to notice because we still did plenty of other fun things.  Do your best to do what you can and it will be memorable even if you don’t fit every tiny thing in.

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

Living on a single income of a high school teacher means we sometimes have to get creative to make Christmas special on a small budget.  One year we thrifted a cute, but very girly wooden kitchen and then my husband and I worked together to refinish it for our boys.  It’s still a toy that gets played with daily and every time I look at it I have fond memories of that special year playing “Santa’s Elves” in our garage when our boys were in bed at night.  Sometimes the most meaningful or treasured gifts are not expensive at all.  Sometimes you just have to think outside the box.

Andrea occasionally shares fun ideas for kids here at SoFestive. You can see the fun So Festive! for kids ideas here

Thanks so much Andrea for sharing!

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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