Our Family Christmas Traditions

In previous year's December blog posts, I mentioned some of the traditions that we have in our household: baking, stockings, decorating, etc. But the sad truth is that Keith never really got to participate in any of it (aside from our stocking exchange), because of his former 6 - 7 days a week, 80+ hour work weeks. This is honestly the first Christmas in the 7 1/2 years we've been together where Keith has gotten to fully participate, and all I can say is, I love it! So for the first time ever really, I can say these are some of the traditions that our little family does over the winter holidays.

December 6 | St. Nicholas Day
This is a tradition that my family practiced growing up and that Keith very sweetly agreed to continue with our family. My four siblings and I were taught growing up that the spirit of St. Nicholas inspired gift giving over the Christmas holidays, which many families transitioned into the idea of Santa Claus bringing gifts down the chimney. In our home, we knew that mom and family members were the gift givers, but we talked a lot about the history of St. Nicholas, how he brought gifts for those in need, and that gifts at Christmas were a sign of our love for one another. One more way that we celebrated St. Nicholas was by hanging our stockings the evening of December 5 and waking to find them filled with goodies the following morning, St. Nicholas Day. I started this tradition with Keith the first Christmas we were dating, bringing him, and his dog Sadie, stockings on December 6, and once we moved in together we continued the tradition together. Leading up to Christmas this year, in preparing to be parents, we've spent a lot of time discussing what holiday traditions are important to us and how we want to explain various practices and traditions to our daughter. Keith's family also grew up exchanging stockings, on Christmas Day, and for the first time this year he asked that one of his family traditions be carried over to our St. Nicholas stocking exchange - shelled peanuts, an orange and an apple at the base of the stockings. I went to three local grocers to find a bag of shelled peanuts, so both our stockings this year had them (plus the fruit) in the bottom!

Decorating our Home
The past few years, I came up with a color scheme in advance of us buying our tree and I would then decorate the tree and our home in that scheme. Last year, it was a neon-themed Christmas and I made ornaments with glass bulbs and neon colored paints and glitters. I wrapped all our gifts in brightly colored ribbons and neon tags. The year before was all silver and blues with metal bells, blue ribbon and silver ornaments hanging from our tree and filled vases and bowls around our home. And our first Christmas in our Austin house, I went very traditional with reds and golds. This is actually the first year that we didn't cut down our own tree and I didn't come up with any color scheme or decorating ideas in advance. We bought our tree from a nearby tree lot outside a local business, they delivered it that evening, and the next day Keith pulled out all our decorations that survived the trek from Texas. We turned on some classic holiday tunes, hung our stockings above our non-working fireplace in our bedroom, swapped out a few decorative items on the mantel for more festive ones, added a few ornaments to our wine cork bowl on our dining table, placed our Nutcracker on the tv console, then hung colored lights, a string of metallic silver garland, and a variety of ornaments on our tree. We also bought two small potted trees from our local grocer and added those to our herb shelves in the kitchen window. It was a lovely, relaxing evening and every night since, we've enjoyed turning on the tree lights and preparing dinner while holiday music plays in the background. I'm kind of thinking from here on out that Christmas color schemes may be a thing of the past!

Look who got a little chalk paint update this past weekend to break up all the black on that wall!

Holiday Movie Watching
Over the years, I've tried to watch as many holiday-themed movies around this time of year as possible. Keith was usually able to join me for a few, but this year, we actually came up with a list we were hoping to watch together before the end of the month! So far, we've watched A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Home Alone. I've also watched The Holiday, Love Actually and Elf. Over the next few days, we're planning to watch It's a Wonderful Life and Charlie Brown Christmas. We have a lot of favorites, but we try to mix it up a little every year so we're not always watching the same ones.

Giving Back
The past several years, we've made it a tradition to choose a few nonprofit organizations in advance with missions that are very dear to our hearts and donate to them over the holiday season. We make various small donations throughout the year, but this is one that we intentionally discuss and research for weeks. Around Thanksgiving, we start off by talking about what causes are really important to us (this year it was preventing gun violence, homeless women and children, and gender equality). Once we've agreed on a few main causes, we each research organizations that are making a real difference in that area and then make a donation. We're looking forward to including our daughter in this tradition in the future, and getting her feedback on what types of causes she'd like us to donate to or be involved with. We'd also like to start taking this beyond mere cash donations and find ways to get further involved in the local community as a family throughout the year too.

Holiday Baking
Growing up, both our families did a lot of baking around the holidays, so once I had a place of my own, I transitioned this into baking for friends and neighbors. Even once Keith and I were dating, the baking was largely left up to me, so I typically baked treats that my family traditionally baked around the holidays - coconut macaroons, frosted butter cookies, and gingerbread cookies. The past few years I started mixing it up and would also make dark chocolate peppermint bark, gingersnaps, fudge, and even loaves of chocolate chip bread to pass out. When we owned our house in Austin, I would bake all weekend in early December, pack up all the items in festive boxes and papers, and deliver to each our ten closest neighbors. This year since we're living in an apartment, we really only know our downstairs neighbors, so we dropped off baked goods for them this past weekend and the rest we brought to a chili cook-off a member of our church is hosting nearby. This is the first year that Keith helped me pick out our recipes and baked with me! We decided to make Texas-shaped butter drop cookies (seemed appropriate for a Texas-themed chili cook-off!), dark and white chocolate peppermint bark, and figgy pudding (best served warm with vanilla ice cream). All turned out absolutely delicious! This week for our Christmas celebration, we're also going to bake a dish Keith's grandmother made every year while he was growing up - Bishop's Bread (similar to fruit cake).

As long as I don't have a baby in the next week (I'm 37 weeks!), I have another blog post planned in a few days with a recap of our traditional gift exchange (something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read) and some details on prepping our apartment for baby. Until then, I hope you all are enjoying your own family traditions and celebrations this time of year!