Things I’m mulling over…opinions?

Something about the Christmas season always gets lots of projects aswirl in my brain. Here’s some of what’s been going on around here.

  1. I’ve been working on a really fun bathroom cabinet project that I’ll show you soon. After doing a bit of hunting online, today I bought what I hope will be just the right drawer pulls to jazz up the project. So much fun to see something new coming together in a space that has looked tired for awhile.
  2. I’m in the midst of my yearly struggle to keep gift-giving moderate, to not go overboard on spending.  But it’s really hard.  Gift-giving is one of my love languages, and when I see things kids would enjoy, I just want to buy them all the moon, hang the cost. I do try to keep to a dollar limit.  But just today I found a great price on an item that I KNOW one of my big kids would use and use and use.  After some discussion, John and I decided to go for it even tho it was over the budget for that kid, and maybe do a bit less when that one’s birthday comes around.  If I remember.  Ha.
  3. I’ve also been gradually collecting little stocking-stuffer items.  Actually, I started this summer, and am almost done.  Things I’ve done in past years include chapstick, stretchy gloves, toothbrushes, mechanical pencils, peanuts, Hershey’s kisses, and flashlights.  What do you like to put in kids’ stockings?
  4. This year Erika and her husband and baby will be with Israel’s family over Christmas.  So we’re planning a before-Christmas mini-celebration so that we can all enjoy watching the babies open gifts together.  Erika and Israel will be getting their gifts from us then.  All the kids will be doing a gift exchange that day too.  When they were small, John and I brought them to the dollar store to choose one gift for each sibling.  A couple years ago, after some discussion, they decided to go with the name-drawing system and buy one larger gift for one sibling each instead of tiny ones for everyone.  It seems to be going well.  Much excitement is buzzing here among the kids at the idea that they’ll be getting to open at least one item each before Christmas.  I imagine this will all get more complicated as our family grows and more of the kids get married. What do you do to get together with family when some of them are traveling?
  5. Christmas always gets me thinking lots about traditions.  I want traditions and warm memories more at this time of year more than any other. Teenagers don’t always appreciate my efforts to do the same things over and over each Christmas.  They look cranky when I suggest the yearly viewing of  ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’  They’re not so thrilled about helping with cookie-baking. They’re bored with puzzles. They do tend to enthuse over our annual gingerbread houses– but that’s mostly because of the candy and the fact that we do that activity with friends, not just family.  I’ve just decided to ignore their resistance, and gently require their presence during family times.  Our grown kids like the traditions just fine– in fact, they seem to appreciate them more the older they get.  So we’ll hope that this current batch eventually gets over their boredom and come to appreciate what I’m trying to do with these little routines.  But still, I’d love to hear your hints for encouraging teenagers  (especially 14 year olds– heaven help me, I have three!) to appreciate traditions and time spend with family during the holidays.


  1. How funny! My very hard to please teen who is umimpressed with seemingly everything complained to me last week that our family has no traditions! Thank you for sharing your joys and struggles via your blog. You are inspring.

  2. I remember my family being good at making sarcastic comments when we were being especially resistant. We’d joke about having lots of “cozy family activities” and make it sound mushy gushy, but really just do the same things. I remember having other guests/people around helped with the bad attitudes but it was still a part of life…. bummer. 🙁 I cling to all those neat times and traditions now, as your older ones do!!

    • Yeah, humorous teasing is often helpful in such moments–when I can remember it! My default reaction is: ‘What? They’re not thankful??’ Except I think that thankful bone tends to grow with maturity…

  3. We alternate Christmas and a celebration around New Years. On even number years everyone spends Christmas with the family and an alternate celebration time with the in-laws. On odd years Christmas is reserved for the in-laws and we host a family celebration around New Years. This gives you a bit of a break in between celebrations and also makes it easier for those coming from afar.

    • This sounds like a great way to handle it, esp later on when more of our kids are married.

      • We have done a similar style since we were married – one year with my family on Christmas day, one year with his. I liked the freedom of it. We could focus on whichever family was around at the holidays, and focus on an alternate weekend with my family. Who knows what our teens will choose!

  4. we do something similar to natasha. i live in the same city as most of my husband’s family, so it’s easier for all of us to get together. my family is more spread out, and lives in another state, so it takes more planning to get everyone together under one roof. consequently, we have christmas eve/day with my family, and then the following weekend we have our celebration with his family. so far it’s working out, but we’ll see how that changes once there are more kids to consider and travel with 🙂

  5. We are so similar! I shop all year for the kids and then when I see something I know they would love, I am torn!
    I have talked of letting some of our traditions go, since I have 3 teenagers now too who tend to complain. When I said it, they all were sad and didn’t want to do that! I think it made them appreciate all the time and effort that Mom puts into all those traditions. I think they outgrow it and learn to love and miss those tradtions.
    As a young married we often did the New Years Christmas run. It certainly worked for us.

  6. Well, we have an interesting way to handle the married kids’ and Christmas that every family seems to deal with.
    We have Christmas the 4th of July in our family. Yep, we all arrive at the appointed destination with Christmas wrapped packages and decorate the tree, the whole nine yards. We have all the fixings and enjoy the day playing volleyball, going on the slippy slide, etc.
    On Christmas Day, whoever is at home visit the hospital and nursing home and serve meals at local legion hall.

  7. Stocking stuffers- candy, toothbrushes, socks, gloves, and fun small items that they want (right now I have 2 littles, so action figures and such). The teen gets candy and socks, shower & hygiene items (razors, shower gel, etc)

    Planning Christmas getting to be a big ordeal with extended family. My side ALWAYS got together on Christmas Eve. Worked well until my brother married a woman who was the youngest of 10 and the ONE day her entire (siblings, nieces/nephews, greatnieces/greatnephews, parents) family all got together was, you guessed it, Christmas Eve. Add to the mix my brother’s custody schedule and when I have my eldest and my sister’s schedules and it gets crazy. We’re getting together the 22nd, but my eldest won’t be there. We’re getting together with my ILs on the 30th and that was difficult as well. We live up to 3 hours apart (5 if the college sis isn’t home yet). However, the one thing my husband and I do insist upon is that our kids sleep in their beds on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning is a special time in our family and I don’t want my children not being HOME for Christmas, as long as they live in our house. I know that will change when they leave the nest, but it’s something that is very important to me.

    Christmas exchanges. My side has an over 18 (sibling, spouse, and niece now in college) exchange and an under 18 exchange. The kids really enjoy choosing a gift for their cousins! Adults also buy their respective godchildren something as well. My parents have stopped buying gifts, figuring we have all that we NEED and the kids have too many toys anyway, BUT they do give each family an amount of money to be used specifically for a vacation trip. They just started that last year and we adult kids LOVE it! It’s a mid-3 figure sum and covers a few nights hotel and meals out.

  8. We like do our stockings on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), which was always celebrated by my Dutch family (And by most of the other families in our neighborhood, many of whom were also Dutch. The ones who weren’t inevitably joined in after their kids came home from school complaining!)

    We usually do sugarless bubble gum, and things they will use up — ChapStick, playdough (for the younger ones), a couple cool pens for the older ones, and some chocolate. For older kids, we will include fun bath stuff, or a lego mini-figure, or something like that. New mittens/gloves are sometimes in there.

    The one thing we ALWAYS do is an ornament. That way, our kids will have a collection for when they leave home.

  9. We do have traditions here too.
    But throughout the year, I ask “what is the ideal Christmas/Easter/birthday… for you?”.
    And I keep in mind the answers for those upcoming events.

    As for stocking material, I think the mini sugary cereal boxes have potential, yarn and buttons (for the sewers/knitters), coins (for the younger), grocery coupons for the grown kids.

  10. for stockings, I often include lip balm, some chocolates, a nice pair of winter socks, fun pencils or pens, and some simple personal care items (small lotions, etc.). My kids are both teens, but when they were younger, I often included things like magnets, little wooden animals, and things like that.

  11. Jabber Jaws says:

    Since we got married this year and that means combining six kids, we have kids drawing names and we are giving them $50 to spend on whomever they draw. They are over the top excited about this!
    Last year my older children – teens and close to teensage years- and told me what traditions they loved and hated. I agreed to let a few go BUT they had to come up with replacements AND had to be in it to win it – attitude and all. Honestly, I love their replacements. We now spend more time looking at Christmas lights, surprising people with cookies and watching lots of Christmas movies. What they ALL wanted was more time and less busy. Less decorating and buying and more down time together. We shall see what traditions survive the blending of two families. For me it is interesting to note that as we grow in size, we lose more of the expected traditions and cling to those that are about us.

  12. I think you should just keep doing your traditions, but maybe have them research some Christmas traditions from their countries of birth. Maybe if they research and implement a tradition from there, they might feel like they are contributing to the entire holiday for the family. I know 4 of the 6 were adopted as very young children/babies, but the 2 older girls might enjoy bringing some of the traditions they once knew into the family celebration. Just a thought. The kids might get a kick out of creating a new tradition and taking ownership of it. It might help with the attitudes?

  13. We are military, and with 5 kids we can’t afford to go home for Christmas. Ever. We see our families when we can (a plus of homeschooling is you can travel when flights are cheap, or roads safe for driving etc) but my family is spread out from LA to Dallas to Montreal and places in between. Since my brother and sisters and I married and started having kids (15 years ago for Caroline), our families have never all been together at the same time. My father is about to retire, and we are hoping to plan a reunion in the next couple of years. I never imagined when I was young that we would have to plan a reunion to see each other. I guess what I am saying is, you have a nice problem.
    That being said, when Daddy has to deploy over Christmas, we will do presents early with him, and sort of split it in half. It is nice to spread to holiday joy out a little.

    We also put little sparkly notepads and pendants in stockings. We usually find cute ones for under $10, and the girls love getting new necklaces. All my kids love lego mini figures! And always, always, an orange in the toe.

    Merry Christmas!

  14. One of the things that saved “holiday family movie” night for our family is that we realized that no one really LIKED It’s a Wonderful Life. We switched to Home Alone when my brother and I were 11 and 13, and while it’s less of a classic, it’s still about wanting to be home and together at Christmas at the core. My brother and I still get together to watch it each year! The guy I’m seeing now’s family used to do “family presents” for each Sunday in Advent — all of which were things to do then as a family. A new Christmas movie on DVD, a new board game, etc. He has a broad age range of siblings like you guys do, and it was a great way for them to all do something together that was still in the vein of a holiday tradition, without being something they’d done every year before.

    Also, my mom claims that the best trick she’s ever discovered for our stockings was to steal a good handful of our Halloween candy each year and store it in the back of the freezer.

  15. I think I mentioned this on your wrapping organizing post, but my mom always gave us a roll of clear “scotch” tape in our stockings. She tried to make the dispensers different colors and such, and sometimes we would (consensually) trade with each other if we liked the other designs. We would write our names in sharpie markers and put a piece of tape over it to keep it from rubbing off. I tried doing this with my kid, but he never cared much for using it. Since the tape just kept sitting in a drawer all year, that tradition got abandoned pretty quickly. You said your kids do use it, though.

    I like Beth’s idea of having the kids create traditions based on their country of origin. “You celebrate mine, I’ll celebrate yours” sort of thing.

  16. This made me laugh because of a conversation this past weekend with my 17 year old daughter. I was home Friday alone with my 4 year old and decided to go ahead and put up the Christmas tree, and decorate it. We have never really established a tradition of decorating it together. Later that night I picked up my daughter from a friends house and she asked if I did the tree, when I said yes, she was like “without me????”. I was shocked, I told her she always complains about helping, and her answer was “Mom I complain about everything, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it.”

    Oh, and I love to watch two movies every year at Christmas time, I don’t make my family join me but I remember watching them with my mom and grandmother so I watch White Christmas and Its a wonderful life. I warn the rest of the family that I will be watching one of my movies that night, and they all laugh about finding something to do. But EVERY YEAR, by the time the movie is over everyone is in the room watching it with me.

  17. I always loved Christmas traditions. Cookie and special treat baking, movies (although, I didn’t like It’s a Wonderful Live until I was an adult) and an annual reading of “The best Christmas Pageant Ever”.

    Now that I’m married with my own little family we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas each year between my family and the In-Laws. When we go to my family’s for Thanksgiving, like this year, my parents put up the tree right after Thanksgiving and do a mini Christmas celebration with us. When we go there for Christmas, my In-laws usually do a dinner/gifts the day before we leave for my family. So far it has worked out pretty well. Most of my siblings try to coordinate the same way, so that we’re all there together over either Thanksgiving or Christmas, since we live all over the country.

    Stocking Stuffers: Light sticks are super fun!(Dollar Tree has packs of like 10 glow light bracelets for $1) Chapstick was always an appreciated must in my family growing up. Mom usually put a calendar in, or beside, the stocking. I usually put a new pack of crayons in my kids stockings.

  18. I work with teenagers in a volunteer youth organisation.
    The way to get them involved is give them ownership.
    If they organise it, or are responsible for it, they care more.

  19. We’re at a major crossroads in life – with our oldest son marrying the Sat after Christmas this year. So everything I go to do I find my mind swirling about the future. Stockings. We’ve always done them. What now after he leaves? I was hanging them this year and hubby piped up – what about “Jessica”? (new-to-be-daughter) I thought it was so sweet. 🙂 But also as our family grows and expands I realize our current traditions might change and grow as well (into new things).

    For stockings – usually some candy, gum, mints. One son will be getting a small tool. We found the girls a few little accessories for their AG dolls. They’ll freak with excitement and no doubt will be spending a lot of time with something they already have – in a new way. For our teens I like to give small gift cards (Taco Bell, DQ) – like $5 ones, enough for one meal or treat. Those are a HUGE hit and are very useful instead of “stuff” they might not really use.

    I LOVE how you’re having a “mini Christmas gathering” when all your kids can make it. I think that’s a great solution. Been thinking of that for us next year. Then doing our normal traditions on Christmas Day with those who are all still living at home.

    We’ve had a LOT of stress in past generations around holidays. My husband and I really want to focus on the holidays being a time of BLESSING and LOVE and WORSHIP – not fighting/fretting over things always being the way they once were. 🙂

    Over Thanksgiving weekend my teen sons headed to the kitchen and whipped up a batch of caramel popcorn balls. Something we have NEVER done before, but they had a BLAST! Got me thinking they might have started a new tradition. New can be fun. 🙂