Friday, December 2, 2011

{A Few of My Favorite Things} - Traditions

Happy December!  The most wonderful time of the year is finally here!  Just like a child, I look forward to this time of year all year round.  Now don't get me wrong - I actually hate cold weather and love, love, love the summertime!  But there's nothing quite like Christmas - the traditions, the music that fills the air (and my heart!), the sights, and the heart-felt warmth that comes with the sense of giving, whether it's sharing gifts with family members or sharing time or money with charitable organizations.

In honor of this cherished holiday called Christmas, over the next 4 weeks I will be blogging about a few of my favorite things.  Sometimes it's hard as a single parent to feel like a "real family" around Christmas time.  But all families are whether you're like myself and just a family of 2 or whether you're a blended family of 10 or anything else in between, it is up to you to share this joyous season with your child/children and build memories that will last a lifetime. 

This week I'd like to share a few of my favorite Christmas traditions - I thought this would be a great way to start the series and who knows?  Maybe you might decide to add 1 or 2 of these to your own holiday lineup! 
1. The elf on the shelf.  If you haven't heard of this tradition, you and your kiddos are missing out!  The Elf on the Shelf arrived in our home on December 7, 2008 and his name is Tink.  You can find your own at Amazon here but they are becoming more and more widely available as the popularity of these little elves is gaining and can even be found in mainstream stores such as Target now.  Typically sold as a set, there is a small elf and a book explaining the tradition.  Basically what happens is the elf arrives sometime after Thanksgiving and stays with you until Christmas.  Each night he/she flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa if your child/children have been naughty or nice and then (here comes the fun part!) he reappears in a different spot in your home when he returns!  At our house, Libby can't wait to wake up and see where Tink is next - he can be quite naughty himself sometimes, even spilling M&Ms all over our kitchen table one year!  :)  This year he was running a bit behind schedule and just showed up today and she was thrilled!  It's a great way to keep her behavior in check for the next few weeks but also to inspire her to believe in the magic of Christmas.

2. "Happy birthday, Jesus!" party.  I make it a point to help Libby (and myself!) remember the true meaning of Christmas - a celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  While the entire Christmas season can sometimes seem like a blur of one celebration after another, it's easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle and forget what we're really celebrating.  To get back to the root of Christmas, we have had a small "Happy birthday, Jesus" party every year for the last 3 years.  Each year Libby invites a few friends over and together we decorate a birthday cake and sing "happy birthday" to Jesus.  Since she is older now, last year I decided that I also wanted to tie in some sort of service activity with the party to help my daughter and her friends take part in the giving aspect of Christmas - we should give and make sacrifices just like Jesus did for us when he suffered a death on the cross for our sins.  While I'm not sure what I'm going to have them do this year (any ideas???), last year Libby and her 2 friends painted magnets that I later wrapped and delivered to some of the residents of the nursing home where I work that do not have any family or friends visiting regularly.  I gave the magnets anonymously but I know that the residents that received them were so grateful for that small gesture of kindness. 

3. Ornaments.  I suppose most anyone who celebrates Christmas has a Christmas tree and if you have a Christmas tree, it's not complete without the ornaments and the lights, right?  Well,
 ornaments are more than just simple decoration at our house.  There are several traditions we have that revolve around ornaments so I want to briefly mention each of them.  First of all, one thing I look forward to every year is an ornament exchange with a few of my friends.  We began this tradition in college and this will be our 10th year!  It's a simple way for us to get together and celebrate our friendship over the years and express our gratitude for one another through the simple act of exchanging a gift - and rather than buying gifts for everyone, we each bring one ornament to the exchange and then draw names when we get there to determine whose gift we will be opening.  It's become quite the competition to see who can find the cutest ornament!  Secondly, in order to build up the small collection of ornaments that I had when I put up my first Christmas tree for my daughter and I, I have purchased a personalized ornament for our family every year.  Let me tell you - finding a cute, personalized ornament for a single parent family can be quite tricky!  Most of the personalized ornaments representing a 2 person family represent a couple.  But I've managed to find something each year, even if it's not the most accurate portrayal of our family.  And Libby loves looking at the different ones from over the years.  Not only do we have the personalized ornaments from each year, but we also have ornaments from most of the vacations we've taken.  Looking at all those ornaments brings floods of memories as we pull them out of their boxes and hang them each year.  Lastly, I also buy an ornament for my daughter every year.  The funny thing is, she doesn't even know I do this!  I buy it in secret and have a special box I keep them in, along with a small letter I write her each year explaining what the year has been like, what she means to me, and why I bought that particular ornament for her.  Someday, when my daughter has her own Christmas tree, I look forward to presenting her with this box of special notes and ornaments collected over the years.

4. Operation Christmas ChildI'm not sure who looks forward to this one more - me or Libby!  Every year in November, we participate in Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child, where we fill a shoebox with toys, candy, socks, books, crayons and paper, and hygiene items to be delivered to a child in need in countries such as Haiti.  Many times the items in these shoe boxes are the only new things these children have ever received.  When the shoe boxes are handed out, the distributors also take the opportunity to share the story of Christ with the children, often a first for many of them.  It's a great way to share God's love!  And it can easily be done on a tight budget.  I'm an avid couponer so have been able to get many free hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, that I set aside for either our use or to donate later.  This year I just pulled my box of "free stuff" out and Libby was able to pick out what she wanted to give.  We also keep Happy Meal and other Kids Meal toys that Libby doesn't like or want in their original packaging, making for easy toys to give to those in need.  And always looking for a good bargain, I buy a few more school supplies in August than what Libby will need because (a) they are cheaper in August and (b) they are great to donate to causes such as Operation Christmas Child!  It's too late to make a box this year (they are always due mid-November), but if you're interested, you can still make a donation by clicking on the link above.  And start setting aside a few things for next year's boxes!

 our 2011 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes - one for a girl, one for a boy

5. Shopping!  Just tonight I returned from another cherished!  I don't really participate in the madness of Black Friday shopping but I have made it my annual tradition to go shopping the first Friday of every December with the alumni group at Bellarmine University, my Alma mater.  I know shopping is a chore to some, but not to me!  I LOVE it and even more so when I'm on this trip!  For $35 per participant, Bellarmine rents 3-4 charter buses to take a group of rowdy women of all ages to and from an outlet mall near Louisville (in Monroe, Ohio the last 2 years), provides breakfast, drinks, and snacks, as well as some fun entertainment and games en route!  If you're a single parent, you know what I mean when I say I don't get to do much shopping on my to me, having a day where I can spend all day with some great friends doing something that I love is a priceless tradition for my own Christmas and helps put me in the spirit! 

What puts you and your family in the spirit of Christmas?  Do you have any unique traditions?  Or any ideas for our service aspect of the "happy birthday, Jesus!" party this year??? 


  1. How fun! This is our first year of Elf on the Shelf....actually UPS just brought him yesterday so he appeared on the mantle this morning for the first time ever. His name's Freddy. (Tink is such a cute name!)

    Hope you had a blast shopping! I've heard great things about Monroe, but I've never been. Maybe one day...

  2. I hope you all enjoy Freddy, Anne! You'll have to keep me posted! :) I will warn you...there have been a couple of nights when Tink did not move...I've told Libby that those must be the nights when Tink was just too tired to fly back to the North Pole. haha!

  3. Just now read this...& I'll have you know, I LOVE the idea of the "Happy Birthday Jesus" party--it really is super important to remember & celebrate the real reason for this season & we were honored to be a part of that with Libby last year. The girls had such a great time decorating their magnets & might I add, you are so crafty & creative sometimes!! I could use an elf on my shelf just like you in my house! LOL Can I borrow some of that creativity sometime? I can't ever get my "craftier" ideas to take "flight" due to lack of time lol. I hope you & Libby have a very Merry Christmas this year, from me, Chris & the girls! :)