How to Have a Magical Holiday without an Elf, Mall Santas, or Candy filled Stockings...
So this is Christmas... or it will be: in just 13 days. Admittedly, between a sick kid (they kindly took turns), adjusting to cold (read: frantically trying to make sure everyone has boots that fit), and trying to feed the household three times a day, December 1st passed by without a second look from me.
There's no elf on our shelf, for more reasons than my lack of time and commitment to midnight creativity. We choose not to have him around. No mall Santa either. If we happen to mistakenly end up at a place where someone is playing Santa, my kids tuck behind my legs and ask me when that guy in the costume is going away. As to candy filled stockings, well... there's bound to be a piece or two of good dark chocolate waiting for each little one - but that's it.
Now that I sound like Mother Grinch, let me explain: I love the holidays. I love watching my children delight in downtowns wrapped in Christmas lights and dance along to Christmas music as we walk through the grocery store. I love the way they cuddle into me each morning, because it's cold out of the blankets, and I'm warm. I love the anticipation of snow - and now that we're not living in Florida, it's an actual possibility. We had a dusting this morning, and they put on their boots and hats and ran outside, delighted to feel the wet flakes between their fingers.
When I look around - on facebook, at the coffee shop, at our town calendar... I wonder if we're missing out, if I'm not doing enough. After all, this is Christmas, and we haven't watched a Rudolph movie, made cookies, or gone ice skating. I could easily claim that we're too busy, or that these things don't work for us, or that we were all sick and simply couldn't do what we wished we could have done to make these holidays really magical.
But here's the truth: it's been perfect. We've been still, slow moving, casual. We've gotten outside in the woods, we've watched the snow fall in front of the street light through the upstairs window. I've sat and daydreamed while the girls took extra long baths and watched while they ran their fingers down steamy windows. We've cooked together, special things, without any need for sugary cookies that might demand some intake control. They've done their own art projects - markers on paper bags, scribbled pen "lists" on sticky notes - none of which have come from or will ever make it onto Pinterest, but which leave me free to enjoy a cup of tea, and watch them work without having to interrupt or go shopping for supplies or ration out how much of what is used by whom...
It's been a delightful and simple holiday. 13 days left till Christmas, my husband reminds me. I put up my guard at first - is it being suggested that I haven't done enough? What do I have to prove of our holiday merriment so far? But no, he sighs with delight. "I've really enjoyed this month," he says. "It's been good." Yes, indeed. And we will carry on, without Santa, shelf sitting elves, or sugar cookies...
Care to join us? Here's 13 ways (one, of course, for each day) to have a magical holiday without stress, Santa, shelves, or sugar:
13. Cook something new with your kids. Holiday cooking for kids does not have to involve cookies if you are trying to cut the sugar or avoid wheat (though you can certainly Pinterest up a storm of recipes for that too). A few of our favorites this month:
Portobello mushroom burgers,
Egg sandwiches on homemade biscuits or scones,
Butternut Squash soup with grilled cheese wedges.
Elevate your ordinary dishes and make them something irresistible. Lily loves to grate Pecorino cheese over soft yolked eggs. (Try this tool.) Thea will eat anything if it comes with a balsamic reduction (make your own or cheat with this**) or glaze or dipping sauce. When they participate in the cooking, they're proud of their meal, and they have ownership in it - which makes it a whole lot more likely to be eaten with thanks!
(**cheating has costs, of course - most premade sauces and reductions have caramel color and other things you might want to avoid.)
Thea exploring spices. "Gentle, glass," she said over and over.
12. Go for a walk in the woods. Getting out in the (cold) fresh air is not only healthy but stress relieving. It even helps with sleep patterns... did you get that? More walks, better rest! I kick myself when I forget this. Of course outdoor time is no fun at all if someone (or everyone) is cold - read our tips for dressing right for cold weather exploring (and a free printable) here. If you don't have a backyard to enjoy or a park within walking distance, make your drive more inviting (and more likely to happen) by stocking the car with accessories (gloves/hats/scarves) and snacks in the morning so you're ready to jump in the car whenever the time is right.
11. Go to the library. Even though I'm disappointed that all 10 copies of these are already taken out, Thea is tickled pink to have her pick of books with trucks on them, and Lily can find every princess related book in existence. And, if they change their mind and Thea decides she's after pink princesses too, well, they're right on the shelf for her to discover. And while Lily is after that princess book, she just might find a book about math that she just can't pass up.
10. Go back to the library. It's not just books - most libraries have wonderful children's areas full of beautiful toys, puzzles, puppets, train tables, and even doll houses. If your local library is lacking, ask them why. A few donations from your community might make a huge difference - and what better time to clean out toy rooms than the holidays! Check out new libraries in your area too - most of us are privileged to live in short driving distance from many libraries. We have EIGHT within 15 miles. Oh the options!
9. Collect some nature. No Pinterest is needed. No guidance, no instructions. If you have older kids, they might be interested in looking up a few ideas themselves, but really - anything goes! Let one thing lead to another and do what works for everyone. We hand out baskets and let the girls explore. Thea fancies leaves and dirt and sticks as long as herself. Lily carefully selects shiny rocks and acorn tops and colorful leaves, if any can be found. When we come in, if everyone is tired and hungry and ready to move on, we're free to do just that. There's no commitment to turn our collections into anything - we've been exploring. Lovely! If everyone is up for more or perhaps after Thea is napping, I might ask Lily, "what would you do with these collections?" By nature, a 4 year old never opts for a project out of their reach. They will choose to create within their means, and that is just perfect. My job is to get out of the way and occasionally answer questions or help with scissors. If I say anything at all, it's, "I love watching you create."
8. Dance to some holiday music. We love Pandora for this - there are endless options and you can tailor them to fit your likes. If you don't dance with your kids, start! You must! Dancing has no rules. Dance silly, dance dramatically. Let your kids call out the type of dance - Robot, ballerina, and dinosaur are some of our favorites. If you've never danced like a T-Rex, you're truly missing out.
7. Stay in bed. Go ahead. Turn off the phone, cuddle under the covers, make a blanket fort. Read books, tell stories, pile on Dad.
6. Warm up to a fire. The light of a fire (or even a candle or two) is a magical thing for a child. Make a ceremony out of the lighting. Talk about it. Warm your hands by the fire or watch the shadows on the wall behind the candles. Be sure to pick a calm day or time so you don't have to spoil things by worrying or constant reminders to take care around the flame. Watch as the same children who are often bouncing off walls and talking in anything-but "inside" voices quiet and pause to watch those flames flicker. That's magic!
5. Decorate a small place. Do your kids have a fort or a bookcase (one of the girls recently ordered themselves this one on our Amazon account... oops) or a small shelf of their own? Focus on decorating that small place - whatever way they choose. Perhaps strips of cloth tied to a string, or intertwined paper circles, or acorns served on leaf plates for their stuffed animals to enjoy. Put flannel sheets on the bed, dress up their stuffed animals, and tuck them all into sleep. Children (boys and girls alike) love to play at mothering - make sure to whisper and shhh and rock and hush and nurse those stuffed animals - and they will giggle and start to follow along. Then sit back and watch the delight in their eyes as they tenderly care for their sleeping "babies"!
4. Visit with great-grandparents (even if they're honorary!). When we lived in Florida, far from family, our kids loved going across the street to visit with Dot and Charles. They got plenty of hugs and attention, and Dot would let them play a song on her piano and take down the beautiful strawberry fairy music box to and spin the pin on the bottom so the girls could watch it twirl and dance along. If you don't have anyone around who your kids can visit, try contacting a local assisted living facility. They usually have holiday parties and get togethers where company (especially the under 3' type) is oh so welcome. Just make sure everyone is healthy - if in doubt, stay home and make some cards to send!
3. Make cards and visit the post office. Children delight in making handmade cards, no rules needed. Watercolor pencils are a wonderful change from the typical crayons or markers and are easy to use for all ages. Whatever you use, free yourself from Pinterest perfection stress - let your children create freely, and make sure to ask before adding their names to the cards - they probably have a specific spot in mind. Then package everything up, and set a time to go purchase stamps and mail their cards! When it's time, help them count out or pick coins to pay for their own stamp (even if you have stamps on hand, it's much more magical to buy them one at a time with coins from your own pocket!) and tuck the coins in their jacket pockets. (Smaller kiddos might drop the coins in Mom or Dad's pocket for safe keeping). We are pretty familiar with our post office so we know when it's empty and when it's busy. Head over at a low traffic time and you won't feel rushed and each child can have their turn at purchasing a stamp, putting the stamp on their envelope, and putting it in the mail slot. "I wonder if that package will arrive?" Lily always asks when we mail something. Thankfully, we ship priority with tracking and insurance... but it is a bit magical, isn't it, how pieces of paper go in that mail slot and turn up, a few days later, at just the right door?
2. Get the kids to relax in the bath. If you're feeling fancy (or especially stressed) try adding some Epsom salts. A warm bath in a cool room is the closest we're getting to a sauna at the base of a ski hill for now... so we make the most of it. But if you've got a nice chalet waiting, feel free to invite me! To help encourage a peaceful rather than a playful, splash filled bath time, make sure plenty of fun has been had earlier - a chance to run, laugh, play rough, and get outdoors. Then add some calming music, put a towel on the floor so a small spill is no big deal, and relax! Don't think the kids will go for calming music? Try an audio story!
1. Make time for you. There's nothing that ruins the magic of Christmas like Mom & Dad in bad moods! If you've used these ideas so far, you've probably seen a few magical moments when you've been "not needed" or found yourself watching your kids, totally engrossed in play, and thought, "Wow, I could actually sit down and just be for a moment!" Yes. Do that! It is well worth the time. You are worth the time. Don't, however, stress out about making time for you! It might look different for you than for me. It might not mean alone time - some of my best me time happens right next to the girls. They play, I ignore them. Seriously! Whatever your "time" looks like, find a way that works for your family that can be refreshing and de-stressing! It will make life a lot more magical for everyone.
From our family to yours, we wish you a wonderful, peaceful holiday and a very Merry Christmas.
- Jess, Eric, Lily, and Thea
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Christmas 2013... because the 2014 photos are still secret (even to me).