By Christine Thackeray
I had a wonderful childhood. I was raised in a family with twelve children who for the most part adored each other. From Halloween on, the holidays were magical. Starting with homemade costumes covered with sequins and satin to thematic thanksgivings with matching sweatshirts made especially for everyone in attendance, which included half the ward and every room in the house.
The minute Thanksgiving ended we began singing Christmas Carols. My mother loved to make candied fruit by covering huge bread bowls overflowing with grapes, plums, apples and pears with a crystalized sugar solution that made the fruit glisten like magic. We often made snow candy by pouring hot syrup in the snow till it hardened. You could make your dent any shape you wanted and the candy would be that shape. One year my brother made a candy of his own face! We also made snowflakes out of parafin and tissue paper which was the messiest project you can imagine and we still did it many years. My mother made every room sparkle and filled every minute with preparation and excitement as the massive list of traditions were repeated with gusto.
As a young mother, I used to try to match my mother's impressive pattern but often found myself run ragged and unhappy. As I got older I realized that for my mother each tradition she chose was something she loved doing. I found that I didn't have to be a photocopy to still follow her pattern. (By the way, this was a discovery achieved through many shed tears of supposed failure and frazzled nerves.)
So here are a few Christmas traditions that my family has altered to make the holidays just as fun but a whole lot easier-
Baseball Hat Nativities-
Don't you hate it when the entire linen closet gets emptied out for the nativity play every year? One nifty trick we have used for the donkey, star, three kings and other animals is to doctor up baseball caps for their costumes. You can tape on a couple donkey ears, swathe some beads across the top or stick an aluminum star on the front and ta-da there you go. We still use towels and ties for the shepherds, tinsel headbands for the angels and sorry, Mary and Joseph have the same faded costumes we've been using for twenty years.
Christmas Shopping on Christmas Eve-
My kids can't keep secrets. We used to take the kids shopping for each other as soon as they earned their money by doing household chores, but the day after they bought their gifts they had told everyone what they got for them- and if they hadn't, then their brother had poked and prodded the packages so much they knew- taking all the fun out of the present thing, while bringing many tears in the process. Add to that present-eating toddlers and the whole gifts under the tree thing wasn't happening in my home.
So we started the best tradition ever made. On Christmas Eve we take all the kids to Wal-Mart (often there is a Target or K-Mart nearby- or a great thrift store. Then we each split up and shop in three hours. I've got seven children and it's great. They usually go in teams of two. Then we head out to a restaurant for our fancy Christmas Eve meal. We used to go to Fazolli's because they had endless breadsticks. It's great because so few people were in the restaurant we felt like we own the place. Then we head home and everyone rushes to their rooms to madly wrap them and get them under the tree in time to choose chairs and head off to bed. By then they are all too tired to mention what they got each other-- and they usually sleep in the next morning to boot.
Choosing Chairs and Three Gifts-
Growing up we were showered with presents on Christmas and the reality is I remember very few of them. Think about it, how many gifts did Christ get on his birthday? THREE. So from Santa each of my children get three gifts and they aren't that big. We still have a great time on Christmas morning but it doesn't blow the budget. Also, we choose chairs out of a hat the night before and each child puts their stocking on the chair. On Christmas morning their stockings are filled with candy and the gifts sit unwrapped on their chairs. No Santa wrapping makes Christmas much easier.
Do you every feel guilty because Christmas has come and gone but you haven't visited your neighbors yet? In England Christmas Day is the day spent with family and on the day after Christmas called Boxing Day, the Lords and Ladies would visit their servants and friends and give them gifts. So if you haven't done it before, use boxing day to deliver cookies and go caroling- oh, and tell them the story so they think you planned it that way.
I stink at Christmas Cards. I seem to always start too late and after all the parties and school concerts, they still sit half addressed on my desk. An alternative if you've missed the holiday is to go for the next one. One year I sent out Valentine newletters- a perfect way to show love. Another year when I was really off I sent out Easter cards which is the real Christmas date anyway.
So good luck and remember you can make your own traditions to suit your own strengths or weaknesses. The goals is to merely have a Merry Christmas!