Hunting at Hagg’s – Forget buying a pre-cut tree off the lot, we like to get all bundled up (the first weekend after Thanksgiving) and go hunting at Hagg’s Tree Farm for that perfect U-cut tree! They have hayrides, fire-huts to keep warm, an animal barn, antique/gift shop, life-size nativity, Santa visiting-hours, hot chocolate, cider, coffee, fresh mistletoe, and homemade garland/wreaths! I’ve gone since I was a toddler, and getting to see Z enjoy the same experience is such a great feeling! (Note: always check online before going to a tree farm. Lots of these fun places offer coupons, and some even run limited-promos for FREE trees!)
“Everything Goes” Eclectic Tree – Growing up, I looked forward to hanging all MY ornaments, as did all of my siblings. We each had ornaments that dated back to the year we were born, and each one represented our interests for that year. Mine morph from little lambs, to cinnamon-scented crafts I made in Kindergarten, onto various pianos, horses, then to graduation gowns… we all had 18+ ornaments by the time we moved out. Ezekiel’s collection has already started, and despite missing the last couple years of tree decorating, he still has 3 ornaments: a Baby’s 1st Christmas, a dog (his 2 yo obsession, pronounced “dogue”), a Mickey Mouse, and this year he’ll be getting a Star Wars Stormtrooper in his stocking! We also bought a set of family ornaments last week to launch the tradition; Target has a bunch of coordinating Marvel and DC superheros this year, so I bought Jared Batman, myself Cat Woman, Ezekiel chose Spider Man, Cruz is the Hulk (because he is the STRONGEST), and Valor is Ironman! I let Ezekiel hang his ornaments and candy canes wherever he wanted, hence the cluster-followed-by-bare-spot-pattern 😉 This tree is also likely to have stringed popcorn and/or homemade paper-chains on occasion, and surrounded by presents wrapped in funky-fun paper of the kids’ choice. Hodge-Podge is the name of the game here! (Don’t worry, I have a faux formal tree too… for all you perfectionists out there!)
Looking at Lights – Driving 5 mph down lit-up streets that were known for having the “oooh-aaahhh-effect” on people is one of my fondest memories. We’d pick a night (usually between Dec 15-23) and go to a few different locations… one time we even brought a thermos of hot cocoa! Researching the closest neighborhood near you is easy nowadays, and it’s worth driving the extra 15 minutes to get there if you have to. You could start your night by hitting the Starbucks drive-through, and DON’T FORGET THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC! I can’t wait to take the boys this year! Here are some great country-wide resources for you: The Best 5 Neighborhoods to See, Christmas Lights Finder, and for my Portlanders The Red Tricycle (FYI: Oregon’s Peacock Lane made it to the top 5!)
Night-Before-Christmas Campout – I’m pretty sure everyone I know has done this at least once! The anticipation of waiting for Christmas morning can make sleeping very difficult for an excited little tot. Sleeping “under” the tree with my siblings made the magic of Christmas morning that much more mysterious; we would try to guess/make bets as to what was inside the presents and all of us were CONVINCED we would catch Mom & Dad (or Santa) putting presents out in the middle of the night… but we were always surprised to wake up and find new packages strewn about that had somehow been delivered without us noticing. Where did they all come from!? Z is finally old enough to campout this year, but Daddy might join him until he falls asleep to make sure he doesn’t get too curious while left to his lonesome!
“Must’ve Been Santa” – My parents made it very clear to us that Santa was NOT real. They explained the logistics of how impossible it would be for him to visit every house in one night, and their focus was always on Christ’s birth. But – with that said – there was always 1 present under the tree that my parents would “disown”. My dad would pretend he didn’t recognize the package, and my mom would claim she didn’t wrap it either. The tag was signed “from Santa”, and although I knew he wasn’t real… it created just enough curiosity to make Santa seem believable again 🙂 We have explained to Ezekiel what the true meaning of Christmas is, but his 4-year-old-mind is full of imagination and wonder right now. I’m not going to play up the elements of paganism surrounding Christmas, but I’m also not going to be the one to completely squash his ability to make-believe.
A Stocking from Cruz – Obviously it would be unhealthy if we continued to buy presents for a child who’s deceased, but the desire to do so is still there as it is with Ezekiel & Valor. Our family is a family of 5, but there’s something sad and eerie about having one stocking that’s never filled. In order to solve this heartbreaking dilemma (because he certainly does deserve his own stocking), we decided we’re going to place items in Cruz’s stocking every year that will be gifts to Ezekiel & Valor, from Cruz. This way it includes Cruz in the gift-opening process, but the gifts won’t be useless or unplayed with.
Annual Holidate – Our first year of marriage, my husband said he wanted to go out looking for a few things to start our “holiday collection”. It was October and we had nothing harvesty or Halloweeny – and little did I know – I had married a MAJOR HOLIDAY FANATIC! We grabbed a couple Pumpkin-Spice-Lattes and went to all the stores in town that had seasonal decor (Z Gallerie, Pier 1, & Target are our top faves). We laughed so much that day, while I basically made fun of him for his slightly insane love for festive decorations! I’ll never forget the black wreath covered in sparkly spiders that I REFUSED to let him buy! And ever since that day, we have gone out every year and done the same. (It wasn’t until recently though that I realized we had started our own tradition!) As soon as back-to-school supplies are cleared out and the retail world switches into holiday mode (I call it the changing of the guard), we go on our annual “Holidate”. Sometimes we don’t find anything that lives up to our picky taste, and other times we find 2 or 3 things we (actually BOTH) agree on!
Black Friday Shopping – I never did this growing up, but as soon as I got married I decided to try out this infamous tradition. It only took that first midnight adventure to become addicted to the adrenaline-rush of racing mob-like crowds for limited door-busters; getting my Christmas shopping done for a fraction of the price! The key to locating and securing the items on your list is to look at all the ads before leaving the house, check store opening-hours, and make notes of which places have which items. (That way you don’t get to Target AFTER the $4 Blu-ray are gone, and you reach Victoria’s Secret BEFORE the $12-yoga-pant-frenzy is over!) Also, work your budget so that you have money to do your Christmas shopping in November instead of December. The only downfall to this tradition is that stores are opening earlier and earlier every year, and pretty soon they’re gonna be calling it “Black Thursday”. It’s sort of frustrating for someone like me who prefers to actually finish my dinner before facing the crowds… but Cyber Monday is a great way make up for the deals those dang early birds beat you to!
Elf on the Shelf – We just started this tradition last year, and Ezekiel absolutely loves it! #ElfOnTheShelf is a very popular hashtag on Instagram, so that’s how I found out about this silly trend. I’m not very creative with him (Charlie), but my sister-in-law @winkinkdesigns inspires me every day! Read more about what Elf on the Shelf is all about here, or go to my sister-in-law’s blog to download her FREE printable props/accessories! #BellTheElf
Advent Calendar – We found a SUPER cute Lego calendar at Target, and the Advent calendar tradition was born!
Sponsor A Child – Jared and I decided to sponsor a child in honor of Cruz. The $30/mo seems insignificant in comparison to how much it would’ve cost to raise Cruz at home. Every Christmas we will write letters and send family pictures to our little guy in Africa, and we’ll make a separate donation to their children needing major medical procedures/life-saving surgeries.
Build a Shoebox – Filling a shoebox is so much fun! It eliminates some of the debate over what to buy, because there’s only so much that can fit in a box. We chose a boy this year, so we filled ours with a Christmas Tree Lego set, a Superman T-Shirt, Avengers Toothbrushes, Mini Light-Up Football, Hot Wheels Car… it was an important lesson for Z to learn… giving away things that he wanted for himself. To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, go to SamaritansPurse.org
Ronald McDonald Toy Drop – We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Stanford for 2 months in California, and learned of ALL the amazing things McDonald’s is doing for families in need of a home-away-from-home. While children like Cruz are waiting for an organ donor, or cancer patients are going though extensive chemo treatments, they house the patient’s families for only $10 a night! They have a Holiday Store in December where they accept gift-donations to fill the shelves, and then families can go in and pick things out for Christmas! If you’re interested in bringing Christmas gifts to your local RMHC, go to RMHC.org ❤