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: Lelsey and the Colvin Family
1. Tell us about your family!
My husband and I are blessed to have four children. Ella is nine, our son Jones is seven, Kate is four, and Thea is 10 months old. We've been married for just over thirteen years, and we've split most of those years between London and New York City. We just moved from Manhattan to Westchester County (about 45 minutes north of the city), and we're still trying to find our footing here in "the countryside" while enjoying the perks of proximity to one of our favorite cities.
2. Tell us a favorite memory of Christmas past!
Perhaps my strongest childhood memory of Christmas reaches clear back through the years when I was about five or six. It was a snowy night at my Grandparent's house. Their home looked like a Christmas postcard, with a tree in every room and homemade treats and festive goodies overflowing on their dining room table. We grew up with the same Santa coming to visit every single year. I remember his snowy white beard, giant black leather boots and proper Santa tummy, his cheerful voice, and the way he smelled like the cold (sounds strange, but if you know what winter cold smells like when you step outside, then you know what I'm talking about). After we'd all given Santa our Christmas wishes, sang a few carols, and each had a traditional orange and candy cane from his red velvet bag in hand, we waved Santa out the front door. My cousin Jonathan and sister Erin and I dashed up the stairs to the topmost room to see where Santa had parked his sleigh. In my mind's eye, I can still see the snowy scene below as we watched Santa's footsteps disappear into the still night. Christmas magic at its finest.
3. How do gifts work in your home?
We believe in Santa, and that's for sure. In fact, if you don't believe in Santa, you don't get any presents around here. Santa brings stockings, and at least one gift per child. Our stockings are one of the biggest parts of Christmas day (more below), and Santa's gifts are unwrapped and left under the tree for that big moment. We really try to put an emphasis on service to others during the holidays, and we let our children know that we choose to share what we have by helping those less fortunate than us to have the Christmas they deserve. And that means, less presents.
4. If married, do you and your spouse exchange gifts? What about sibling gifts?
My husband and I help Santa with stockings, which is usually the best part of Christmas for each of us. Typically we try to set a small budget for a gift or two as well so that we each have at least one surprise gift under the tree. I always stick to said budget, Kyle never does - bless his generous heart. The children usually get 1-2 smaller gifts from us, and then grandparents create the rest of the holiday magic with packages under the tree. For siblings, we give each child a few dollars to find a meaningful gift for their siblings. Some years we make our gifts, but usually I don't have my act together in time for homemade gifts. Each year I vow to make it happen, but I usually fall short!
5. What special Christmas Eve traditions does your family have?
6. What special Christmas Morning traditions does your family have?
We have some really special traditions on Christmas morning. First off, we don't wake up and run into the Christmas tree. It's a long, drawn out, magical morning filled to the brim with anticipation. Anticipation is everything! First we wake up and go to our stockings. My parents always put up a sheet to cover the living room so that we couldn't see the gifts Santa left, and we do the same in our home. Stockings come first in the lineup of the day. As mentioned, our stockings are one of the best parts of the day, and our stockings are the most unique I've ever seen. We don't hang up traditional socks, we hang up knee-high nylons that are tied on a string. It's the ultimate act of faith to hang up that sock when you're little, but when you wake up and see what Santa has left, it's truly astounding! Santa fills the nylon sock with candy, nuts, and treats, and then presents cascade down from strings alongside the candy-filled nylon. When you'd like to eat some candy, you just rip a hole in the stocking. It's brilliant! The best part of the stocking is the personalized letter from Santa. It's a recap of the year that mentions achievements, goals, and small acts of kindness that were reported by Santa's elves. It's like a mini family history, and we keep all of the letters together in a Christmas book. The letter is always my favorite part of Christmas, especially now that I'm grown (and my favorite elf has taken time to write down a few observations about the year). We always get a windup toy and a book of Lifesavers, as well as 10-15 other small gifts. Santa knows us all so well, and it's such a treat to see what he brings for each of us.
Up next we have a big Christmas morning breakfast. As you will recall, Santa's gifts are in the other room covered by a mere sheet, and the excitement is almost too much to bear! Growing up, we put our nervous energy into whipping up a feast while my parents got ready for the day/dragged out the morning so that we couldn't go into the tree (torture!). Some mornings we'd just have eggs and toast and hot chocolate, but a typical menu nowadays is french toast, bacon, and orange julius (the last one is a must!).
After breakfast, each family member has to get dressed and ready to go under the tree. When we were little, this was sheer torture, but now it's just plain hilarious saying the same lines my parents used on us: "Well, I think I'm going to go have a nap before we go into the tree..." "Maybe we should just wait until tomorrow to open presents?" etc. There's nothing quite like stretching out the magic of the morning. I get excited just thinking about it!
When everyone is dressed and ready, the children line up next to the living room. We have a little countdown, and then it's a free-for-all to find the gifts that Santa left. We try to take turns opening gifts, but usually everyone is too excited for that to last very long.
After we open all our gifts, Christmas Day consists of relaxing, watching movies, and eventually preparing for a festive meal. Growing up, we had the traditional feast of ham or turkey, but it's taken us a little while to sort out what works for our family. Kyle doesn't like ham, I don't like turkey, and it was too much work to make a fancy meal that neither of us were crazy about. Kyle's family grew up having prime rib, but it was a cut of meat we could never afford as students for the first few years of marriage, so we kind of forgot about it! This year I remembered with enough time to plan ahead and surprise Kyle.
Oh, and this year we did something in the morning that will definitely become a new tradition: we put a little Christmas morning feast and the iPad next to the door with a note that said "Please enjoy this little Christmas morning feast! We downloaded a new movie for you, and we'll come in to get you at 8:00am for stockings!" It was brilliant. They loved it, and we loved being able to sleep in a little as well.
It's not Christmas until we have a plate of homemade fudge, caramel, and peanut brittle to enjoy. We also have a favorite bacon and cheddar cheeseball that we love.
8. Do you have any Christ-centered Christmas traditions you want to share?
9. What are some ways you have simplified Christmas to keep stress lower?
This is a particularly relevant question for this year, as I feel like my holiday season was the perfect example of how NOT to have a stress-free Christmas. Typically, I try to get my elf work done as early in the season as possible so that the days leading up to Christmas are relaxing and enjoyable. I realized too late this year that there was no way I was going to have a relaxing Christmas Eve, and it made me feel even less relaxed in the quiet moments knowing that I had so much to do in the days to come. Typically, I try to have a lot of freezer meals, soups, and hearty snacks on hand for easy meals, and we tend to order a lot of takeout and pizza during the holidays as well. We usually try to tie in neighbor gifts with traditions we'd be keeping anyway, for example, taking homemade caramels or fudge to neighbors while making enough to last through New Year's for ourselves!
10. Any other favorite Christmas memories/ideas/tips you want to share? We love hearing how others make their season magical but not overwhelming!
I like to think about Christmas in the same way that I approach hosting: Do now what you can't do later. For me, this typically means that I focus early in the season on the things that matter the most to me and push everything until later (or until next year) so I can enjoy the moment. Priorities seem to change for me each year, but I hate arriving at Christmas Eve with regrets. Whether it's neighbor gifts, teacher gifts, helping Santa, or a trying to find service opportunities, I try to take each day at a time and prioritize the activities that will help me and my family best feel the spirit of the season.On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it means that I try to embrace the moment and let go of anything that I didn't plan for in advance.
Thanks so much Lesley for sharing your love for Santa and 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!