When I was growing up, we never lived in the same city as either set of grandparents, so I associate the holidays with traveling. We would see my dad's parents in the summers and occasionally at Christmas, but most Christmases were spent in Northwest Arkansas visiting my mom's parents, my Nana and Poppy.
Our Christmas celebration actually started in early November, because we'd all go to Branson, Missouri for a few days to see the Andy Williams Christmas Show and see all of the holiday decorations. It was so festive and super fun. Andy used to have all the children in the audience come onstage, and we have really cute pictures from that. I still get all warm inside when I hear his Christmas album, because I associate it with going every year to usher in the holidays. I love Branson. Everything about it.
After Branson, we celebrated Thanksgiving and then made plans to go to Fayetteville for Christmas. But before we headed out of town, Santa always came to my house early, because he knew we were going to out of town on Christmas. It never mattered, and I always felt extra special that I could tell my friends: "Santa is coming early to visit us. He knows our schedule." (Type A to the max---I loved that Santa knew our schedule.)
We'd leave out the milk and cookies (such a small thing, but so magical to see the crumbs and empty glass in the morning). And then the next morning we'd walk into the den/living room, and the four of us would each have a designated spot where our gifts from Santa were displayed (not wrapped, if you're wondering). That was the chaotic, fun, exclamatory, and exciting time of the morning. Then, we'd open our wrapped gifts from our family in a more orderly fashion. It was wonderful. Everything about it.
Then, usually the next day, we'd pack up and head to Arkansas. I remember reading or listening to Christmas music in the car, and enjoying the time to just be alone with my thoughts and enjoy one or two of my new Christmas gifts. We'd snuggle with blankets and it was so much fun.
We'd arrive at my granparents' and it was so beautifully decorated for Christmas. I remember a bell garland on the mantle that would play Christmas songs, the winter village set up on a table, the small white, twinkling tree in the formal living room, and the grand finale, which was the big, bright tree set up in the sunroom (it's such a pretty room). It was so tall....it reached up to the vaulted ceilings. Usually there was Christmas music playing in the music system that was all through the house. It was magical---everything about it.
There would be iced Christmas cookies from the famous Rick's Bakery. They're still my favorite Christmas cookies of all time. FYI: This is where the Duggars got their 25th anniversary wedding cake and Joy's birthday party cake. I'm soooo connected to them it's ridiculous. Seriously.
When we were younger, our family would act out the nativity scene. Let's just say it has provided hugely entertaining home video moments for us. Even after we were too old to act it out, we always had a time of family worship to really stop and think about the spiritual significance of Christmas. It was so special.
At some point in the visit, we would go to downtown Fayetteville to see Lights of the Ozarks. I'm pretty sure my siblings will kill me for putting these pictures from 2005 up, but I couldn't resist!
Yes, that's me acting ridiculous in front of a Cinderella's Coach look-alike. You shouldn't be surprised.
Now that I'm married, Kurt and I make it a priority to see both sides of the family each holiday. We just alternate which family gets the "priority days" each year (if that makes sense). The Lancaster Christmas is so enjoyable, because it's a "country Christmas." Not in a derrogatory way---it's just in a beautiful rural setting, Mrs. Pam has the house decorated so cozily, and there's tons of great food! We also play games and usually watch old home videos. I'm so happy I married into this family!
In recent years my family (as in my parents and siblings) began hosting Christmas, and it's just as special. We're older and that brings a new dynamic to it. My favorite part is watching people open the gifts I picked for them. I work so hard to find the perfect thing, so seeing their reactions is a huge payoff. Even though we don't travel to my grandparents' house anymore, I'm learning that Christmas really is about who you're with---although I don't think I could ever do a "destination" Christmas! Home--and family--is where my heart is.
That's Christmas to me. It's funny, because I think once you have a family of your own, you're kind of in limbo because you want to hold onto the past and the way things were, but you also want to start your own traditions. Here are some that Kurt and I want to implement as a family:
- Ordering goodies like Peppermint Bark, Hot Chocolate, and Mint Patties from Williams Sonoma. Once a year deliciousness.
- Celebrate Advent leading up to Christmas.
- Decorate the house as a family, with Christmas music, movies, and goodies.
- Have a special holiday breakfast one morning.
- Read holiday classics off and on throughout the season in the evenings.
- Volunteer to help the less fortunate in some way.
- Sponsor an Angel Tree child.
- Bring out the Elf on the Shelf.
- Host one or two holiday parties at our home. I want to entertain more!
- Have a Cookie Baking Day.
- Driving around in our pajamas looking at Christmas lights.
- Have my dad read the Christmas story to our family after a holiday dinner together.
I love Christmases: past, present, and future. Everything about them!