Friday, December 21, 2012

NEW Favorite Holiday Traditions

  
I am sure if you are like me, the traditions of the Christmas season is what makes this time of year so special. When I think back on my childhood, there are very few presents I remember, but there are those family traditions that I will never forget, and I have enjoyed passing on to my children. Our family is HUGE into traditions. We have traditions for nearly every holiday: ground hogs day, the longest day of the year, St. Patricks Day, Valentines, Halloween, Labor Day, etc. You name the holiday, our family (extended and immediate) have traditions for each one that make them fun. I am sure you are the same way too! I love asking people their favorite family traditions because you get to hear about the way people spend the holidays with their families and things that make this time of year special. I wanted to just take a minute and give you a glimpse into this holiday season with my family. There is nothing fancy about anything we do. In fact, you could find cutsey-tutsy ideas over on Pintrest if you want the real crafty ideas. However, I feel our traditions offer family's a real and simple way to help make this time of year more special. Besides me sharing our traditions, I would LOVE to hear some of your traditions. Feel free to leave a comment with some of your family's traditions and I'm sure I will get many wonderful ideas from you too!

Last year I blogged about several of our favorite traditions we have done for nearly 14 years now (my husband's 'light turning on ceremony', Christmas-Adam sleepover under the tree, Gingerbread houses made with leftover Halloween candy, sibling gift card exchange dinner & date night (a total favorite!), fancy Chicken Cordon Blue Christmas Eve Dinner, Sub for Santa drop off, etc.) There are too many to count, but this year I wanted to share a couple NEW favorite traditions that have really helped put the true meaning of Christmas back into this season for my family.

We have loved this  Christmas Advent Calendar. I put together last year that has correlating scriptures for each day of December. I switched up the scriptures a little from the ones she had online, but the kids have really had fun looking up scriptures each night and it's been a great way to get discussions going about Christ's birth and what it means to us. I also added a few nights where we sing certain Christmas songs around the piano. My family is far from musically inclined (in fact, I am totally tone-deaf), but we have had fun singing some of our favorite songs around the piano. It's been fun to see even our 11 year old boy reluctantly come over and sing every now and then.
 
Now, onto our most favorite tradition that we started this year and will never forget. It was such a touching experience that even my children talk about it still, several weeks later. I got the idea from one of my favorite authors and motivational speakers, Emily Freeman. The idea was to make 'homeless care packages'. We all know this time of year there are several people on the streets or corners asking for money or needing help. I know people say to be careful to give them money because you never know what they might spend it on. So, the idea is that you put together these care packages and hand them out anytime you see someone in need.
 
I heard this idea, had major goosebumps and went straight to the store with my kids to put together some kits. I loved this idea and felt like it was something we could easily do and I was not expecting the amazing results that would come from it! We went to Walmart and picked out several simple things like new socks, ponchos, hand warmers, water bottles, granola bars, oranges, apples, treats, snacks, crackers, juice, raisins, candy, a Christmas note and picture of Christ. (Next year we want to add a toothbrush, toothpaste and few $1 gift certificates to McDonalds or somewhere they can get an inexpensive meal). My children all wrote a note of love in the Christmas letter, we sealed them up and got them ready to take out.  We put together 18 kits just in time for us to walk out the door to our annual Temple Square Light visit.
We had several cousins with us that night and so each child had 2-3 bags to hand out to anyone they saw that was in need. It wasn't only a few feet from our car that the kids noticed a man sitting up against a lamp post. They all ran over to him, gave him the package, wished him a Merry Christmas and ran back to the group. I have to admit I was a little embarrassed and worried about how someone would respond to this group of rowdy children. However, the man told them over and over how grateful he was and quickly ripped open the bag to see what was inside. This was just what the children needed to get their excitement levels up! They couldn't wait until we found someone else they could share a bag with.  We were able to give out only 7 bags that night, but each time it was such a special experience we were all in tears and went home feeling such a debt of gratitude to a loving Heavenly Father who has blessed us with so much. To think of how much this simple Ziploc bag of goodies meant to these people was so humbling. To come back to our comfortable and warm home, soft beds, clean sheets, pillows, clean clothes, family, etc. it brought tears to all of our eyes as we realized how blessed we were. It is sad how much we take for granted on a daily basis. This experience helped me and my children, and the rest of our family, realize that we need to do more. There are so many people suffering and needing an extra hand, and words of encouragement, we all re-dedicated ourselves to find more ways to serve.

The great thing about these kits is the ones we didn't give out (my sister went the next weekend and was able to give out 11 in just a short time), we have kept in our car and anytime we see someone with a sign, or someone who seems to be suffering, we give them a bag and wish them Merry Christmas. It has been so neat to see their eyes light up with excitement and gratitude for such a simple gift.
Infact, we loved this tradition so much our neighborhood had a Christmas breakfast and the children were able to put together over 50 more kits to be brought to the homeless shelter. They decorated the totes the items went in, helped fill them with the items people donated and the youth will be bringing these bags to the shelter before the end of the year. Our neighborhood has loved the fact we don't do neighborhood gifts and instead participate in an annual service project. I LOVE not having to deal with Christmas goodies, plates, delivering, etc. The money is much better spent towards a good cause ;)
One last tradition that my sisters have done for years that I think is so cute is their children put together little gift bags with goodies and a little note that says congratulations on the best Christmas lights in town. They then drive around looking for their favorite decorated homes and then the children go up to the door and give them the treats with their little 'award' for best lights. My kids go with my sister every year and think this tradition is so fun. Simple, yet a great way to spread Christmas joy ;)
Last, but not least, we LOVE our annual neighborhood Christmas breakfast. This year a few friends and I were put in charge of all of the food and decorations for over 200 people. We saw a color scheme on Pintrest for red, white and blue and we were THRILLED with how everything came together. WE ahd to admit that the decor was some of the cutest we have ever seen in a church cultural hall. These pictures don't do it justice, but it was SO amazing! We had over 300 snowflakes hung from the cieling by fishing wire, 5 foot tall candy canes, and pure cuteness from one end to the other. 
Besides the cute decor, the hot cocoa bar was a HUGE hit!  The children (& Adults) loved the warm hot chocolate with all of their favorite toppings. They could make their hot chocolate unique by adding crushed candy canes, chocolate chips, regular marshmallows, peppermint marshmallows, coconut marshmallows, etc. The mason jars with ribbons and tags turned out super cute and would be a fun way to dress up any Christmas party you may have upcoming! 

Okay, I am sure you have had enough of my ramblings. Feel free to share some of your favorite family traditions and I will be back tomorrow for a Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie that you (and Santa) are sure to love!!


7 comments:

Diane said...

Loved this post. What a neat idea to help your kids learn to give! Made me cry.

Leanne said...

Thanks for sharing your sweet family ideas. You're such an inspiration and truly exhibit pure charity. What a blessed Christmas it would be if we all reached out as you have done. Merry Christmas to you!!!!

Shandra said...

Thank you Diane and Leanne. Those were sweet comments. I really appreciate your kindness. My family is not great at a lot of things, but I do feel it's so important to help our kids look outward to help others and not be so self centered (a HARD task to accomplish in today's world). We'll see if they turn out okay later on and if my efforts were worthwhile ;) ha!

Thanks again and Merry Christmas to you!

Unknown said...

One of our favorite traditions is our Night of Lights, one night during the holiday season with Christ as the focus the entire night. We begin with a candlelight dinner, something special, and the centerpiece on table is about Christ. Then we watch movie clips, read stories, sing songs and discuss Christ. The only lights that stay on are the ones with the Nativity set; no Christmas tree or otherwise. We also have a homemade manger where we place the "child" (doll) in swaddling clothes and each person in the family writes a gift they want to give to Jesus and place it in the manger.

It's a wonderful and special evening for our family, and each year it varies a little. Some years we blindfold the children and take them to some kind of barn in the area where we have staged a live nativity or just placed the manger. Sometimes we have a candlelit path to our own barn to find the Christ child.

Shandra said...

What a neat tradition. I love that fact you turn off all the regular Christmas lights and just use candlelight. I love the focus on Christ and the time with family. Thank you for your comment and sharing your ideas with us ;) Merry Christmas!

Mindy said...

I was so inspired by your post, that we are going to do this when we go on Monday to see the lights. I took some of my kids to the dollar store with me to get stuff to put in the kits and they came up with some great ideas. Some of the things we found were: knit hats, pack of gum, mini pack of antibacterial wipes, a few band-aids with antiseptic already on them, small packages of Kleenex, etc. I am excited to see how it goes, and for the kids to experience giving to someone less fortunate.
Thanks so much for all the wonderful recipes, ideas, and inspiration that you give through your blog - I love it!

Todd said...

Mindy,

That is so great! Thank you for sharing your experience. Please tell me how it goes on Monday. That is so wonderful that you are going to do this too. It really was such a neat experience. If you don't see enough people around Temple Square, just drive by the Roadhome homeless shelter and there will be more people than you can give out bags for. That's where we saw most of the women and children, which broke our heart the most.

Good luck to you and thank you for inspiring the rest of us and being willing to help others :)

Merry Christmas!

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