We celebrate Christmas from Christmas Eve Mass through the end of the Christmas season, which is January 9. On January 9, we remember the Baptism of Our Lord. There are many important feast days in between Christmas Day and the Baptism of Our Lord. Some that I enjoy and appreciate include: Feast of Stephen, Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, and Epiphany. There are many more for the 12 Days of Christmas…and this year, with Christmas being on a Sunday, there are more than 12 days of Christmas. Here is a neat webpage that has a virtual “Christmas calendar,” with doors like an Advent calendar.
How does my family celebrate Christmas? It started with Advent. Advent was a time for waiting, and preparing our hearts for the Lord. We made sacrifices, prayed, read scripture more, and did other Advent traditions. Now the Christmas season is a time to celebrate and have great joy because Christ came to us. “The word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.”
Here are some things that my family is doing this year. Feel free to share what your family does during Christmas, too! As a heads up…this is a long post! I hope you can skim and enjoy some of our Christmas joy with family. If you have any Christmas time traditions that you love, please share them.
- This year, we put up our tree on Christmas Eve. Although I really think it’s a cool German tradition that my Oma did in Germany, and my husband’s Oma and Opa did in Germany, I usually like to have my tree up sometime between St. Nicholas Day and Latarae Sunday. That was not the case this year. We had a Christmas Eve tree! While preparing for house guests for a week long-stay, I was very focused on making other preparations. Around noon on Christmas Eve, while I was cooking dinner, my husband assembled our Christmas Tree in the living room. I quickly got out the lights and ornaments and put the bins on the floor, and then went back to the kitchen. Then my wonderful sister-in-law took over. She directed the three kids on how to decorate the tree, and they had a nice time together.
- We went to mass on Christmas Eve. We worship our Lord at mass, and with our community at our parish. This year, my father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law came from out of state. We all went to a 4pm mass. It was beautiful! We were grateful to see many of the families we know at mass, too. We stayed about 30-minutes after mass talking with some of our good friends, and meeting some new friends. The Cathedral was full and decorated with many Christmas trees, lights, bows, and a large nativity scene.
- After mass, we ate and then exchanged gifts. It’s my husband’s family tradition to open up gifts on Christmas Eve, as long as the family attended church. This tradition has worked really well for our family, particularly when we remember to have our children take naps–or rest–in the early afternoon to enjoy a more joyful evening. Without naps or rest, there are likely to be meltdowns by the end of the day…and that’s not a fun way to open gifts (we learned the hard way when our youngest were 1 & 2). It’s my husband’s German family tradition to have the youngest child read the story of the nativity from the Bible (when Jesus was born). My son read the first half of the story, and then my older daughter read the second half. Then, one by one, each child selected a gift from the Christmas tree and handed it out to the receiver. Then we could all enjoy each gift, and it was an even to share together. I like to give the children practical gifts if needed, such as clothing…although this year, they did not need any new clothes, so I did not purchase any. Mostly, we gave books. We gave my son a new Bible. He grew out of the Beginner’s Bible, and now is ready for a Bible with more content and chapter numbers. We gave my oldest daughter a novel about a girl who meets St. Therese of Lisieux. We gave each child at least one toy. Since they were seeing grandparents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we really did not go overboard with gifts because they were generous.
- On Christmas morning, the children had some simple gifts in their stockings. I gave 1-2 religious gifts per child, some coins (1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel, and 1 penny), a chocolate bar, and a craft. Again, nothing fancy, but some fun things. It’s my family’s tradition to fill Christmas stockings not only on St. Nicholas Day, but also on Christmas morning. I forgot to add in the fruit like I wanted, but fortunately they did not notice.
- We don’t “do” Santa. I don’t judge if other people do, but it’s not our thing. We explain to our children since they are small who St. Nicholas was, and that the Santa myth was based on him. We still talk about the fun stories there are about Santa, and this year, we even took the kids to see Santa when it was at an event. They thought it was fun (and I was sure to make sure the children did not say something like, “You’re not the real St. Nicholas, he’s in heaven!”). I find value in letting my children know that I only tell them the truth about all things, and I won’t even try to pretend that there is a man who comes down our chimney on Christmas Eve with presents. Other families can pull it off, and that is great, but that is not something I am comfortable telling my kids (maybe it was too traumatic when I figured it out as a kid that Santa was not real and my parents had lied…I was probably too sensitive). Instead, our kids know that we give them gifts, and we appreciate knowing what they would like to receive. We also like telling them about what a good Christian man St. Nicholas was. Feisty sometimes, but good and holy!
- On Christmas day, we had a big meal with family and enjoyed each other’s company. My parents came to town from out of state for two days. Our oldest daughter played Christmas songs on the piano. She had been practicing songs for weeks to be able to give a “Christmas recital” for family.
- On December 26, we had more family come visit our house from out of town. My brother-in-law and his family came. Our kids loved seeing their cousins! Cousins are truly a gift from God! Again, we had another big meal. My husband made a really good Hungarian goulash recipe. We enjoyed Lefse and sonbuckles (these are Norwegian foods). Being together as a family is such a treasure.
- On December 27, we exchanged gifts with my brother-in-law’s family. We didn’t get to it on the 26th (our youngest needed to get to bed early). The children gave such thoughtful homemade gifts. My daughter painted a sunset on a canvas for her uncle, who is also her Godfather. My youngest daughter drew pictures for her aunt, who is also her Godfather. My son made a candy cane ornament for his aunt and for his grandmother. I love letting the kids have freedom to make some gifts for loved ones. We also ate Krumcake, another Norwegian treat.
- On December 28, we again fed family. It was a our last day together, and our family headed back home. This was the longest visit I have ever hosted. I’ve never cooked and cleaned in the kitchen as much as I did, and I would do it all over again. One of the best parts was that one of my dear friends was incredibly generous…she knew I had a lot of family to come visit, and she said that any of them could stay at her house while her family is out of town for a week. Isn’t that amazing? I still cannot get over how kind she is. That was a beautiful Christmas gift to help family be more comfortable, and no one had to sleep on the floor (although my kids had been very excited about the prospect of sacrificing their bed to have a sleepover on the floor!).
- On December 29, I collapsed and slept for some of the day. I am such an introvert. I needed to recover! It was the Feast of the Holy Family, and I appreciated having my immediate family at home for a quieter day…although it was not completely quiet. A sweet friend said she had some extra 4T and 5T clothes she wanted to pass along to me. I invited her and her 7 kids to stop in and have a play date with my kids. I love living in a place where friends can stop by for a visit while they run errands.
- On December 30, my husband and I gave the children a few new gifts. We do not give one gift for each of the 12 days of Christmas, but it’s nice to spread some Christmas gifts out and not give them all on one day. We gave my oldest daughter more Box Car Children books. My son received more Magic Tree House books. My youngest daughter received a Heaven is for Real book. We chose the books as good ones for the children to read, particularly during Christmas vacation (we don’t start homeschool up again until Wednesday, January 4). I especially liked getting the Heaven is for Real book for our 4-year-old. It was a gift not just for her, but for all of the children. I don’t have many books that show how beautiful heaven is, and I see it as an opportunity to make sure we cover the topic and discuss it with joy. We also got out of the house as a family for the first time since Christmas Eve! Having family over for 6 days straight, we had no reason to leave…but it sure was nice to get out of the house. We enjoyed a local history museum together and saw their Christmas display.
- On December 31 (today), I would love to go to our local shrine, Our Lady of Good Help. I like to go there once per month, but I have not gone in several months. I have been longing for a time to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, quietly pray and silently listen. To bring my Bible, and read the Word of God in quiet. If you have any prayer request when I go to the shrine for any healing, physical or emotional, please let me know. Prayers are truly heard there and healings have happened (including for my son, which I will blog about at a later date).
- On January 1, we will attend Mass for the Holy Day (and Sunday) to celebrate Mary as the Mother of God.
- On January 6, we will celebrate Epiphany. We will remember the the three wise men visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We will follow the German (and probably many other cultural traditions) to write with white chalk on the outside of our doors as a means to bless our home (go here to learn more). When my Oma lived in Germany, her family’s priest would go to each home, give a blessing, and write with chalk on the doors the first initial of each wise man and the year. Locally, in many Catholic Diocese in the US, they provided blessed chalk on Epiphany and a copy of a prayer to use at home. We like to give our chidren a simple gift on Epiphany. It’s my tradition to give each child a special ornament on Epiphany. Since we leave our Christmas tree up for the entire Christmas season (especially since it did not get up until December 24…), it’s fun to get new ornaments. I choose an ornament that represents a gift a child has or an interest. For example, the first year my daughter took ballet class, I gave her an ornament that looked like ballet shoes. When my son was 3, my son loved trains, so we gave him a train ornament. When our youngest daughter stated ballet lessons last year, I gave her a ballerina ornament. A year after we had a miscarriage, I bought an ornament that had our child’s name on it (Gabriel Hope). Now every Christmas, we get to see not only beautiful ornaments of angels, and sparkly round ornaments, but ornaments that have special meaning to remember.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about our Christmas. I bet you had a full start to your Christmas season, too! Merry Christmas!!!