Friday, August 30, 2013

Thinking Ahead to the Holidays, Part 3 - Christmas

My Grandmother made this Nativity....

Even with a conscious effort to keep Christmas simple and focused, it still requires some planning.  I don't like to wait until the last minute when I feel rushed, so I try to do a few things sooner rather than later.  Here are a few things that work well for me.

When I'm cooking, I double up on some meals in  October and November so that December is a little easier.  I actually do some of this year-round, but I find that cooking extra and freezing it so that I have some meals ready to go is really, really nice in December.  It helps on days when we end up busier that we thought we might be.  Some of our favorites are chili, spaghetti sauce, meatballs and sides like mashed potatoes, biscuits or rolls.  With a few main courses in place, it's pretty easy to put together a meal on short notice.

I also make the fruitcakes early and freeze them.  There is no change in flavor or texture, and it simplifies December.  In fact, did you know that you can make cookie dough ahead and freeze it?  It's another way I can have some things ready to go without having to do everything last-minute.

We like to plan at-home days.  This gives us time to read Christmas stories, listen to Christmas music, call Grandma and Grandpa, make decorations or just relax and have fun.

Our little angel - center.

Christmas is a fun time to do stuff.  Get ideas from everyone in the family - what do you want to do?  That way, no one feels dragged around from activity to activity without input.  If you have a big family (or really ambitious family members), you may have to limit each person to a certain number of ideas.  You may also need to explain any financial limitations that you have, and help family members come up with some fun things that are not costly. 

Pipe Cleaners + Stuffed Animals = Reindeer Ring Toss!

Some things we like to do include having a special hot cocoa and popcorn night, going caroling (Daughter and I - Husband is not so keen on this), driving around to see the Christmas lights, attending church services, going to the library's 'decorate a cookie' event...every family will have a different list.  Consider activities like visiting shut-ins, making and passing out cookies to the homeless, volunteering at a soup kitchen or spending time at a senior center.  These can be really meaningful ways to share love and togetherness during the holidays.

As I mentioned back in the Halloween post, Daughter has an advent calendar.  Each day has a sweet treat along with a tiny scroll.  Some of the scroll messages are an activity for that day, some are Bible verses, others are special little love notes. 

I made this advent calendar back in 2010. 
The numbers are on wee pouches that hold a bit of candy and a note.
(Tip:  If you want to make a gingerbread house with young children, you can use graham crackers for the structure, and colorful cereal (or leftover Halloween candy) for decorations.  It's a lot of fun without a lot of investment.  I've even made a tagboard cube and just glued the graham crackers to it with frosting, so that little ones can get right to the decorating part.)

This will be controversial to some, and not to others, but a lot of the gifts under our tree on Christmas morning are not from-the-store new.  My philosophy is this:  if I can get an items that Daughter is wanting for Christmas, gently used, for a fraction of the price, I think it's a good thing.  We have even found items new in the box that we were able to get for a fraction of the original cost.  We don't use this strategy so we can get lots of toys and presents, but because it saves us funds and allows us to use our money for other things that are important for us.  If I have $50, and I spend it on three new toys, that's one way to do it, but if I get those same three toys gently used for $15, I have a remaining $35 that can be used to buy Christmas dinners for those in need, mittens for the homeless, etc.  We see it as proper stewardship, and because we have always done it this way, Daughter (and the rest of the family, too) is perfectly happy with something that's gently used. 

homemade English toffee

Per your kind requests, here's the recipe for the English Toffee.

We also make some gifts, both for family and friends.  I make soap, I bake and I can crochet, so I usually create some of the gifts we give. 

I like Christmas Day dinners that are simple and fairly snack-y.  Daughter just wants to play with her new toys, after all, and really, I'd like to spend the day relaxing and enjoying my family, so something self-service and easy is nice for Christmas Day.  Last year (if I remember right) we made some crescent rolls or little biscuits, and had sliced ham, some mustards, a vegetable tray, fruit salad, and a cookie/candy plate that had various sweets we'd been given for Christmas.  It was easy, you could come and go as you pleased, and there was no need to get stuffed with a big meal.  I don't know exactly what we'll do this year, but I'll share our plan when we have one. 

This tree was a Christmas gift for the winter birds.

I'm 100% certain that your Christmas plan and priorities will be different from ours.  I'd love to hear what's important to you and how you prepare for the holidays.  Comments welcome! :)


Sheila said...

Okay, so I am so distracted by the desire for the recipe for that toffee that I am having trouble staying focused on your message. :) Please post it! I need to think about some changes to our Christmas. We always celebrate with just our family of 4, and I have come to associate Christmas with depression, because it seems like everyone else is celebrating with family. This is a good reminder to me that I need to be planning now. When our kids were young, it was just so hard to travel to be with family that we stopped doing that for holidays (we have never lived near our families). Even now our kids our older, my husband doesn't want to travel for the holidays. Since this is the way it's going to be, I need to take some steps to have it be a happy time for all of us. I really love your point about doing things and experiences. If nothing else, staying busy always helps keep the depression at bay.

Cathy said...

I love the picture of your angel! She is absolutely beautiful.

I also think that English toffee looks heavenly! Perhaps a recipe may be posted at some point?

Christmas and most holidays are never the same for me anymore. My family is sort of split up and we tend to do our own thing often. However, with the birth of my new grand nephew I will be heading to South Carolina for the holiday! I MUST be there for his first Christmas.

Every Christmas Eve I used to take his mom and her brother to the movies. It started as a simple way to help my sister do all of the last minute gift wrapping while the kids were out of the house. It ended up being such a tradition that my niece told me in her early 20's that she wanted us to continue the tradition even after she was married and had her own children. This year Camden will be too young but next Christmas I am taking him!!

I usually purchase a gift or make one for each member of my family (mom, dad, sisters, niece, nephew, nephew-in-law, brother-in-law) and my best friend. When by Golden Retriever was alive, I would always give her plenty of treats and toys. She enjoyed the holidays just a child would!

Rhonda said...

We usually have several soups for our Christmas Day meal, along with bread, crackers and some desserts. It's simple and can be eaten whenever. With changes in our family our traditions have also changed. We've cut back on gift giving, but still get together to celebrate.

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

Woops - here's the correct link to the toffee recipe, and I put it in the new thread too. :)

Cathy said...

Thank you for the recipe! I just got back from getting some almonds and chocolate chips. I'm going to be making some tomorrow.

Sheila said...

Thank you for the recipe!


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