Over the years, we've had all kinds of fun Christmas traditions:
* going to the mall for a picture with Santa Claus. We'd dress in red or green, wear our "Happy Birthday, Jesus" buttons and go! There's a picture of each child crying on Santa's lap (I love those pictures. Am I a horrible mom?) and then pictures of them as they got older and we added more children. Santa ran out of lap!
* baking and decorating Christmas cookies. I remember having all purplish black cookies because the kids mixed up all of the icing. Not pretty cookies, but they were good! Over the years, we've had Oklahoma State cookies, Santa falling off the roof cookies, and other cookies that I refuse to discuss. Remember, I had three boys living here.
* making Christmas bon bons ... and Christmas cake. Our Christmas cake is a tradition that goes back to my grandmother. I grew up eating it as a little girl, and my kids have all learned to love it and look forward to it, too. The cake takes over an hour to mix, over an hour to bake ... but it's so worth it! We referred to this cake as Jesus' birthday cake. He was wonderful to share it with us!
* buying an ornament that represented a milestone for each child or that represented something they were involved in/interested in that year. These are the ones that I unwrap each year and get a little misty-eyed -- baby's first Christmas (from 1981!) ... a cowboy hat when our youngest son wore his cowboy hat everywhere, even to bed ... a santa playing baseball that represented when our middle son played his first season of t-ball ... a baby angel for our sweet little girl who followed after three rowdy older brothers. This is a tradition that we've continued. When our oldest son married his sweet wife, we bought a bride and groom ornament for our tree. When our precious granddaughter was born, we bought a grandbaby ornament. We're adding another grandbaby ornament this year!
* putting fake names on the presents so no one knew which presents were theirs. Each year, there would be a "theme" to the names. One year, every one was a candy bar (Twix, Snickers, etc.) ... another year, the kids were all members of The Gang (Scooby Doo, Shaggy) ... we've had the Seven Dwarves ... the Three Stooges (plus Shep) ... Mexican Food (Taco, Chalupa) ... Classic Toys (Checkers, Lincoln Logs). Each year, our grown kids will give suggestions on the aliases we need to use this time around.
* Advent calendars or Advent wreaths. We'd read a Scripture passage each day that would lead up to the Christmas story, light candles, and have a family devotion/celebration. We'd end up singing Christmas carols as we'd take the children to their rooms and tuck them in for the night.
* eating chocolate doughnuts and drinking orange juice Christmas morning before we open presents. This has happened as early as 4:00 am (not by Wes's and my choice!) and as late as 8:30 am. Not a fancy breakfast, but one that our family looks forward to each year. Christmas brunch always follows around 10:30 at my parents' house ... so the doughnuts tide us over until then.
* playing our Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving until December 25th -- every day, loud, and often!
* using our Christmas plates, placemats, and cups
* reading different Christmas books as a family, but always reading the Christmas story out of the Gospel of Luke
* family pictures. We'll always take a "good" one. You know, the type that you'll put on a Christmas card to send to people. And then we take a "real" one -- one that is goofy and shows what the Allens are really like.
* watching Christmas movies. Although this one is an area of great disagreement in our family. We all agree that "Miracle on 34th Street", "It's A Wonderful Life", and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are all Christmas classics. Those are just a few. There are LOTS of wonderful Christmas movies. But the men in my family insist that "Die Hard" (because there's a Christmas tree in it) should be put on that list, too. Uhm, no. They'll never convince me otherwise.
What wonderful memories we've been able to store up over the years through our Christmas traditions. It's my hope and prayer that our children will take these ideas, maybe add to them or tweak them a bit, and carry them on in their own homes with their children to build their own memories. I've seen that the traditions have helped us slow down enough to enjoy the simpler moments ... have helped us focus on family ... have helped us experience Christ in the celebration of His birth. It's a wonderful time of year!!