The weekend after Thanksgiving is our big Christmas season kickoff. We start playing Christmas tunes in the car, in the house, outside... wherever we are. We also head to Silveyville Christmas tree farm. Sometimes the day after Thanksgiving, sometimes a few days later. We sip hot apple cider, eat popcorn by the outdoor fireplace, ride in Santa's sleigh, take photos under the measuring stick and of course, pick out a beautiful Christmas tree (usually for my parents). There is even an adorable "Charlie Brown Lot" filled with small, but still perfectly awesome trees.
- We have a large extended family spread not only across California, but in several other states including Nevada. Each year that we spend Christmas at home, we make a trip to Reno beforehand to visit family, play in the snow, go sledding and bake cookies. Nana Shirley always makes sure the kids have fun new Christmas Eve jammies and Grandpa helps the kids gather fresh snow for slushies (but never the yellow stuff).
- Under the tree we keep a box of Christmas books. When mommy reads the Christmas Story to the kids, we talk about how little they had and how special it was to have the three wise men bring gifts. We also talk about how fortunate we are and how some kids don't get any gifts. Just as baby Jesus received three gifts when he was born, we have limited the kids gifts to three from Mommy & Daddy and three from Santa Claus. This really helps us from going overboard, both in the number of gifts and in finances.
- But of course the kids like to buy gifts too. We take them to buy one gift for each sibling and one for each parent. The Davis Art Center has an awesome weekend-long craft show with a Children's Store. No adults allowed! Each child is escorted by their own helper that keeps track of the list and makes sure the kids spend within their budget. They have so much fun and love having something to put under the tree that is a secret from mommy and daddy.
- You simply can't talk about Christmas without talking about all the movies! My dad is all about "N.L. Christmas Vacation" and "Elf", stepdad is a fan of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and hubby loves some old school claymation like "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer." I am particular to "It's a Wonderful Life", but my kids would rather watch animated specials. "Harry Potter", "The Santa Clause" (with Tim Allen) and "The Polar Express" are all magical movies that we watch as a family during this season. We all agree that The Polar Express is not only an awesome book and movie, but if you can get a real life Polar Express experience on a train, that can hardly be beat!
- All of this leads up to Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. The Christmas Eve service at church is always packed - with people who regularly attend, people visiting from out of town, people looking for meaning during the holidays. Children rarely sit still and listen and sometimes run around (um... particularly my social butterflies!). It is always beautiful and friendly and capping the service off with Silent Night sung in the candlelight is amazing. After church we always rush to Uncle Bud's house because who wants to be late when Aunt Maria is cooking paella?! The chicken and rice are tender, the garlic fought over and the octopus make the kids laugh. The food and company are wonderful and we look forward to the after dinner gift exchange. It might be secret santa this year or maybe a story where you pass gifts left to right a million times or maybe you're stealing the present from under grandma's nose, hoping no one steals it back, but its always hilarious.
- Christmas Day arrives and we are dashing out the door for breakfast at my brother-in-laws. The kids are probably tired from being up too late at the gift exchange, sleeping in the living room and waking to find Santa has visited the house, but you wouldn't know it with all their energy. They run and jump, talk and shout, giggle and play. We're off to Nana and Papa's house now and Christmas dinner is a blur with cousins and aunts and uncles. With 11 kids under age 15, it's like a scene from Whoville with all the noise, noise, noise! When we put the kids in the car at the end of the evening, they are sure to fall asleep, so mommy puts their jammies on while daddy loads presents in the car.