29 Ways To Make The Holidays Magical (Not Commercial)


What do you do when life gets hard before the holidays? Throw some glitter at it.

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

This year we’ll be celebrating our twelfth holiday season as a couple. In the decade plus that we’ve been our own circus, we’ve gone from casual celebration in a near-empty New York City to cramming four holidays, our son’s birthday, two families, and mountains of tradition into one short month. Things have gotten more and more intense, and by last New Year’s Eve, I just wanted to lay my pregnant self down and take a nap forever. (Which I could not do, because our son ended up in the hospital with RSV, pneumonia, and asthma for most of the next week. #TheHolidays.)

All that, plus a really tough 2015 for our family meant that I was determined to approach things differently this year. We decided to make this the year where we crafted our own (less commercial) holiday traditions, not to mention the year that we traveled less. We’re focusing on activities that bring us joy, rather than piles of presents. But mostly, we’ve decided to lean into fun, and sometimes even ridiculous. If December is about celebrating, let’s celebrate, am I right?

To help me brainstorm new ways to have fun this December, I asked y’all for your best joyful ideas, because obviously I wanted to steal the very best ones. Here are the non-commercial holiday traditions we’re playing with in our own (interfaith) lives this year, and the very best of your ideas to go with them.

Our Crazy Absurd Interfaith Not-Too-Commercial Holiday Traditions

(Totally Intense) Holiday Cards: If there is one thing that I love about the holidays (and don’t even mind spending money on) it’s holiday cards. My favorite part of the whole holiday season is seeing the faces of all of my far flung friends and loved ones faces and well wishes lined up on our mantel. I leave the cards up till at least the end of January, and then bundle them up into a little pile for the year. In the past few years, digital printing has given me a bunch of new toys to play with, including foil decorated cards, letterpress photo cards, and now a thing where I can make custom hot pink letterpress of my kid’s drawings? STOP IT. (None of those links are sponsored. I’m just really into mail.) Because holiday cards bring me such joy, I allocate one of the largest chunks of our holiday budget to it, because why the hell not? If you get a card from us, it might have gold foil, twelve pictures, an annual letter, a decorated envelope, and an envelope liner, so just enjoy that madness. I sure did.

The Crazy Holiday Photo: Because I love holiday cards so much, I normally try to schedule some sort of family photo for the holiday. It’s a good excuse to get us all together in the same frame, maybe even looking in the same direction. I don’t care if it’s a professional photo session or taken on an iPhone (we’ve sent out cards with both types of pictures), but this year we decided to make the snaps as fun and ridiculous as possible. Tiny gold crown for the baby? Check. Red lipstick for me? Check. Feeling like you’re hung over the day after photos because you had so much fun taking them? Checkcheckcheck. (Side note: our son knocked out two of his teeth the day after we took the pictures, so I have some serious gratitude that we took the time to take those shots.)

Nixing Hanukkah Presents, Leaning In To Hanukkah Food: If you’re not Jewish, here’s the back-story on Hanukkah. It’s… a super minor secular holiday on the Jewish calendar. It’s been elevated to the level of even-bothering-to-celebrate-it (because the Jewish calendar has a minor holiday several times a month) simply to compete with Christmas. That means Jewish families everywhere try to remember to just light a candle all eight nights (we have never once managed this feat), and give our kids presents to emphasize their Jewishness at a very Christian time of year. Long story short, in our family we could care less about Hanukkah presents, but we’ve been doing them since we had kids to go through the motions. The problem is, with a Thanksgiving birthday and celebrating Christmas, adding eight days of presents into the middle of December makes our kid think you got a present every day you came home from school. It’s overkill, and it fills our house with unneeded toys. This year, we’ve decided to try to do eight (well, realistically, maybe four) fun things instead. Most of them will involve eating, because… Judaism. Latkes and donuts here we come.

The Insane Fake Christmas Tree: Remember that part where I said our son ended up in the hospital just before dawn on January 2nd? Well, taking down our real Christmas tree that day didn’t help his already weak little lungs. After some research, we decided that at least for now, the dangers of a real tree for a kid with asthma outweigh the wonderful fragrance of pine. If we were going to do a fake tree anyway… we decided to go all out. Inspired by my friend Allison’s tree above, we went with this one. (Just kidding! I talked Maddie into that one. We went for this beauty.) Also, we’ll now spend $200 once on a tree, instead of every year. Score!

Chinese Food for Christmas Eve: There is nothing David misses from his days not celebrating Christmas than Chinese Food with the other Jews and Buddhists. Okay, just kidding, he really misses going to Vegas on December 25th. But I can’t give him that, and we can order delivery, so we’re going to make it a fortune cookie Christmas Eve.

Bonkers Stockings The Night Before: I love the theory of stockings (little gifts! Fun fun fun!), but I’ve begun to hate the practice of stockings (even more things I don’t need on a day of centered around objects). So this year we’re trying out the stockings on Christmas Eve before bed, to get the kids excited. There will just be one gift in each, something fun and a little silly, along with some fruit. Our toddler loves fruit. (Oh, and we ordered these amazing not Christmas-y patterned stockings.)

Holiday Jammies: My friend Jordan sold me on the kids in cute holiday PJ’s, and this year I’m really hoping to go for broke on that. That is, if I can get my toddler out of his Batman pajamas, which frankly, is a long shot.

One Present Each(ish): As a couple, we’ve never been hugely into holiday presents. Before I got together with David, I would have told you that presents were my love language, but over the years he sold me on the idea that random this-made-me-think-of-you presents can be more touching than “It’s Christmas so I had to get you this” gifts. But with kids added to the equation, the holidays started to mean more toys than we could deal with in our small house. This year, we’re aiming for about one Christmas morning present per kid from us, meaningful gifts for each other, and helping the toddler make or buy a gift for the other parent. Tear emoji.

Opening All The Presents At Once: In my family, the one hard and fast rule of Christmas is that each person opened one present at a time. The intention was good (no mad rush to rip open presents, ending in a childhood crash of emotions). The result—for me—has never been great. Our present opening stretches on for hours, making the focus of the day about gifts, not action. And the performative nature of opening a present with an audience has always been too much for my sensitive emotions. (Crying in the bathroom on Christmas? I do it.) So in what seems like a truly crazy act of rebellion, this year we’ll wake up, rip open the few presents under the tree, and then commence to playing with them. Perfect for a three-year-old attention span.

Christmas Brunch: After our hours-long present marathon, David and I generally head straight to the kitchen, where we spend hours cooking a complicated dinner. It’s real yummy, and it also makes Christmas feel like tremendously exhausting work. We’re still working out the logistics, but we’re planning to focus on a mid morning brunch, because french toast takes far less time then perfectly roasted game hen. That will free us up to have a dinner that’s a little less work and a little more fun. (Help! If you have tips on how to make Christmas dinner easy, I want them!)

Christmas Booze: Until David came into the family, I never had a Christmas cocktail. Yeah, it turns out holiday stress can be dialed down with a nice eggnog… or French 75… or hot toddy… or… Did I mention winter cocktails are delicious? (APW’s best ideas are right here.)

Christmas Crackers: The Harry Potter books introduced me to Christmas Crackers. (Anyone else think the Hogwarts Christmas feast sounds nearly perfect?) But my tiny English cousins really sold me on them. So now, each year, we have a drink, pop some crackers, read some jokes, and wear some paper crowns. It’s easily my favorite part of Christmas day.

A Movie on Christmas: There will never be an It’s a Wonderful Life marathon in our mostly Jewish household (though my favorite roundup of dysfunctional family holiday movies lives right here). But we are planning to pop something celebratory on the TV for our toddler Christmas afternoon, and maybe even sneak off to a mostly empty theatre to see something on our own. If not on Christmas day, then definitely the day after.

Boxing Day(ish) Open House: My favorite part of celebrating anything is celebrating with our friends. But Christmas is the one holiday where you’re supposed to stick to family only, making it just… not as fun for me. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve started to realize that a lot of our favorite people have… also gotten older… and stay in town for the holidays. This year we’re inviting everyone over two days after Christmas for lots of cookies and a little bubbly. The folks that stay in town tend to be our most low-key folks, so we’re not planning anything super fancy. We’ll probably get out my grandmother’s china, and maybe supplement with some paper goods from the Oh Happy Day party shop, and then pour everyone a cocktail before they have a chance to look too closely at the leftover holiday mess.

Those are the ideas that we’re playing around with this year. But we can’t fit in every tradition into our December (nor would we ever try). So here is a round-up of APW readers’ very best ideas. Mix and match and make your own holiday magic.

Pink Line

NON COMMERCIAL CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS

Go to church on Christmas Eve: “My actual favorite Christmas tradition is and always has been church on Christmas Eve. My husband grew up Catholic, and actually attended a boys’ choir school from eight to eighteen. He is now an atheist, but agrees to come to church with me on Christmas Eve, because I love it so much, and he is wonderful to me. And you guys. This is the only time I ever get to hear him sing, and his voice is just so, so beautiful. Years of training went into that voice, and now he’s mostly given up music, but sitting next to him while he sings Christmas carols is always my favorite moment of the holidays.”

Attend a Christmas-esque event: “I’m weird because even though I’m agnostic and my husband isn’t exactly Christian, I LOVE Christmas and actually like to go to church in December. One new-to-us tradition we discovered in our area is the Moravian Lovefeast. I like to go to the one for Advent because I find the expectant waiting of that season to be so interesting. Basically, we listen to a sermon and some hymns and then share buns and coffee. I also like going to the Christmas Eve service at my brother-in-law’s Quaker meeting. Even though I’m not at all religious, Christmas fills a deep need for me—light in the darkest time, hope, a focus on peace and community, the warmth of good friends and good food, revisiting the teachings of Jesus even if I don’t view him as my savior. I’m glad I’ve come to a place where I can let myself meet my spiritual needs while not negating my agnosticism.”

Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day: “I lived in Sweden for several years, and St. Lucia’s day was one of my absolute favorite times of year. What a lovely tradition! It was magical to hear the singing, and see the lights from the candles. I was lucky enough to participate in singing Lucia songs as well, and that will always be a favorite memory of mine.”

Keep the day before Christmas Eve just for you: “My favorite tradition for my baby family is actually the night before Christmas Eve. We spend Christmas with my family, Christmas Eve with his, but the night before is our night. We buy a fantastic bottle of champagne, make a charcuterie and cheese plate, put a Christmas jazz record on, and exchange our gifts. It is such a romantic, special quiet time for just us and we plan on keeping it as our special moment, even after or if our family expands.”

NON COMMERCIAL HANUKKAH Traditions

Give to others: “My mom makes latkes and spiced apple cider and everyone in the family gets seven presents. On the fourth night of Hanukkah, we go to Target or Toys R Us and pick out a new toy to donate to a kid in need.”

Take A Family Photo: “We take a family photo of my mom’s side of the family (since we all live close together) every year. We’ve done this since I was one year old (and I’m the oldest grandchild), so we have an amazing thirty year record of our family. ”

Decorate like crazy: “We decorate big time for Hanukkah (Happy Hanukkah streamers, dreidels, sparkly hanging things, electric menorah in the window, lots of silver and blue) so it seems more like it’s own separate event. There are a lot of traditions around candle-lighting (e.g., everyone has their own menorah, some family members push all the candles toward each other and build up the wax over the eight days). We usually host one big party with dreidels, candles, and latkes, and in the morning we stuff the leftover latkes into breakfast tacos. The best!”

Chinese food + movies FTW: “My favorite ‘holiday’ tradition as a Jew is watching movies and eating Chinese food on Christmas. It’s just fun to do our own low-key thing when so many others are celebrating this big massive commercial affair. Now I’m married to an atheist Christian, and we plan to visit my sweetie’s family during Christmas. I’d be lying if I said that I won’t miss my other tradition.”

have your own Christmas Day outing: “For Christmas, because even if you’re Jewish, you have to have a Christmas tradition if you live in the western world out of necessity (everyone’s off work and few places are open), this is what we do: for Christmas Eve, my parents and sister and I go see a movie (we pick which one we want to see at Thanksgiving), then come home and watch however much is left of It’s a Wonderful Life on NBC. On Christmas Day, we go to a family friend’s house (also Jewish) and my mom makes turkey soup with the leftover, frozen turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, and we play board games and watch TV and eat dinner. It’s nice and low key.”

SECULAR HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

Watch all the movies, and then watch some more: (Here is a big list of people’s favorite holiday movies.)

Eat food that you never eat otherwise: “My mom always used to get the Pillsbury Grands cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning (it was quite a treat because we NEVER got them any other time of year). The first Christmas I spent in Washington with my then-boyfriend, now-husband instead of going to California to see my family, I had purchased some Pillsbury Orange sweet rolls to make, and it turns out that’s what my husband’s mom used to make them on Christmas morning! It was such a coincidence and it’s turned out to be a small thing that we’ve been able to continue much to both our delight.”

Celebrate St. Nick’s Day: “One thing my family did that I don’t think many people do is celebrate St. Nick’s day, December 6. That’s when we get our stockings full of candy and little things. When we were little my mom coordinated a program at our church where she took all the kids and did a craft and explained to them who St. Nick was (a sixth century bishop who was generous to poor children and the origin of Santa Claus… seriously, say Saint Nicolas quickly and tell me what it sounds like). She’d also explain little holiday symbols like the shape of a candy cane like a bishop’s hook. Meanwhile volunteers would fill the kids’ stockings. A couple times, “St. Nick” wrote each of my siblings and me a letter saying the things we do that are good and the things we should work on. (By that time the older ones of us knew St. Nick and Santa were both Mom, but didn’t care.) And one horrible year, we were a bunch of little brats on St. Nick’s night, and we got coal in our stockings. We cried and it was a wake-up call to shape up before Christmas. And it makes a great story now, without the holiday entirely spoiled.”

Go see Star Wars: APW editor Stephanie explains this is “included because STAR WARS FOREVER and also because I was one of those people who went crazy trying to buy tickets the night they went on sale, and SUCCEEDED and will be happy dancing all the way to the theater.”

Bake cookies and desserts together: “Christmas cookies! This is my favorite way to feel festive in the days before the holidays. I collect cookie cutters and have probably a hundred or so, although there are several antique ones that have been in the family forever and are sort of the focus. This is the second year we’ve spent away from my parents’ house at the holidays, and one of the biggest disappointments last year was that I only made one batch of cookies (I usually make eight to ten batches of several different kinds). I have a tiny kitchen here and the cookie cutters are still at my parents’ place (I’m in the UK so not very practical to mail), but I think it will be worth the time to figure out how to get some more cookies underway, and to find people to eat them!”

eat, drink, and be merrily unrushed: “I’m an atheist (with a Jewish dad, agnostic mom, and Presbyterian minister for a grandfather; talk about complicated) and my hubby is essentially agnostic, but Christmas means so much to all of us. For me it’s about eating smoked fish and drinking wine by the fire, baking way too many cookies, spending some of the few truly unhurried hours that I ever get with the people I love. You can call it what you like, and perhaps it’s wrong of me to call it Christmas, but there is a real need to have that kind of time.”

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • Jocelyn F

    Best/easiest Christmas dinner is either lasagna or stuffed shells! You can make it ahead of time, everyone likes it and all you need to round out the meal is a salad and some bread from the store! We do it every year and it makes Christmas dinner so much less stressful

    • eating words

      Yes! My wife’s mom always makes rolled lasagna with homemade sauce. Plus salad and garlic bread. They’re not Italian by any stretch, but somehow that’s become their tradition.

  • Jenny

    My mom never wanted to spend Christmas cooking, so we did Christmas eve dinner (ham), and Christmas dinner was ham sandwiches and leftover sides and dessert. This year I think we are going to do something similar (brisket for Christmas eve dinner and leftover brisket tacos for Christmas)

    • Jessica

      brisket tacos for Christmas sounds awesome!

    • Meg Keene

      YUM.

      • Jenny

        Though I will be like 2 weeks from my due date, so the joke has been that we’ll end up ordering pizza (even though the current plan is my husband doing all the cooking- because yeah, nope I’m taking the turn that day gestating our kid :) ). Then when the kid asks why the tradition is that we have crappy pizza every Christmas we can say, you, it’s your fault :).

  • Mary Jo TC

    One idea of something to do with those holiday cards after January: I punch holes in them and use loose binder rings to make them into a kind of book. Then I can display previous years’ cards in a compact form along with this year’s cards. I never want to throw them out, but I don’t want them in a cluttered, disorganized pile either.

    • Angela Howard

      Thanks to Pinterest, I cut hearts out of the holiday cards to make a garland to hang for Valentines Day.

  • anne

    An easy Christmas dinner that we have some years is Thanksgiving casserole – – On Thanksgiving, you put together a casserole of stuffing and turkey leftovers just mixed together with a little gravy, with some turkey skin on the top for moisture and deliciousness. Freeze some leftover gravy and cranberry sauce in separate containers. It all goes into the freezer for one month, and when you take it out and pop it in the oven on Christmas afternoon it smells like a holiday! All you need to cook on Christmas itself is a green vegetable to go along with it.

    • Rhie

      This sounds so delicious, I might steal this idea and implement for the traditional Edwards-Stowe Thanksgiving in July!!

    • Lisa

      We make Thanksgiving casserole for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I never thought to save it for Christmas!

    • I’m hungry just thinking about this idea.

  • pajamafishadventures

    I come from a family that does the big Christmas dinner celebration (ham, homemade pierogies, PIE) on Christmas Eve which means our “easy Christmas dinner” is just leftovers.

    I’m all about the Christmas baking, the chance for someone else to buy me new socks (I’ll always be a little commercial) and like Meg my SO brought Christmas booze into my life which is wonderful. I’m trying to get a nice Christmas card picture but putting the cats in tiny hats and getting them to be in the same room long enough to take a non-blurry photo… I may need to rely on some photoshop magic.

    • Meg Keene

      You know, the big meal on Christmas Eve is way smart. SO MANY GOOD IDEAS. We could cook all day on Christmas Eve and have it be NBD, and then have left overs on Christmas.

      Of course I need to factor in the fact that crazy toddlers are crazy, but even still…

    • Eh

      Since we decided that Christmas Eve was for just us I have been making a big meal that day. It works out great for us since we go to my in-laws for supper on Christmas Day so it gives us tasty left overs for lunch and it gives us quick food for a few more days when we are busy visiting. And on top of that I get all of the tasty things I like to eat (specifically, my mom’s stuffing and cranberry sauce).

  • Amy March

    Is your family about ham? Ham, rolls, cheesy potatoes, and salad is our go to easy Christmas dinner.

    Or, if ham is a step too far, a large beef tenderloin (often on sale pre-holidays), rolls, green beans, and roasted tomatoes comes together pretty quickly.

    Or, if your primary understanding of celebratory is all the cheese, Martha Stewarts Mac and cheese is insane and can easily be made ahead. And it really only wants a side salad sharing the limelight.

    • Jenny

      Dear God that mac in cheese is just so damn good. We’ve taken to calling in crack and cheese because it can be a little addicting. Yeah, you really just need a simple veggie dish or side salad with it.

      • Ashlah

        Brb, pinning that recipe right now. I need a good homemade mac & cheese recipe. Thanks for the suggestion you two!

        • Jenny

          I’ve always followed the smitten kitchen version, which is adapted from Martha’s (but I’ve never checked to see how adapted). http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/05/marthas-macaroni-and-cheese/

          • Ashlah

            Stopping back in to say we made that mac and cheese last night (plus bacon and jalapenos, which I highly recommend) and it was amaaaazing!

    • Meg Keene

      HAHAHA. The jews in the family are NOT about ham. (David calls it “the least kosher of all foods.” He’s a vegetarian anyway, but still.) But the alternative plan sounds great. Also a roast or a roast chicken are pretty easy peasy. I just have to chill on the making the homemade rolls thing. I love them so much, but it’s just a…. lot.

      But let’s be honest, I can’t quit pie, so I better make it the day before.

      • eating words

        Make the dough for the rolls in advance, and then on the holiday just defrost and bake them!

      • Meg

        this is only slightly less embarrassing than when I had a muslim friend over and we were ordering chinese food and I was running through what we should get and they were ever so polite when I suggested pork fried rice *face palm*

      • Jenny

        Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but for the longest time I thought my aunt got up every holiday to make yeast rolls, finally I asked her for the recipe and she took me aside and said that she bought the premade dough in the freezer section, and those were her rolls. You take two dough balls out per number of rolls you want, put them in a muffin pan, they rise (there are quick rise and slow rise directions), and then you bake them. The name brand come in an orange bag (rhodes, roads?), but i’ve had just as much luck with the store brand of the same ilk. Game. Changer.

      • Laurel

        On our 1st married Christmas I wanted to have family over in the evening, but we had just recently moved and I needed something super easy since we weren’t totally set up. I bought several types of pre-made pizza dough and an assortment of toppings, and on Christmas evening we hung out and made mini pizzas! It was actually pretty fabulous. And the “mini-ness” of the pizzas let us get more creative with some of them (I think I did something with figs and goat cheese).

    • Kat

      “if your primary understanding of celebratory is all the cheese”
      This….this is the description I’ve been looking for my whole life! Everything makes sense now
      Lol

    • LisaG

      “if your primary understanding of celebratory is all the cheese”
      *raises hand*

  • another lady face

    when we were kids, we used to do the one present on Christmas eve night (when we were younger and super excited!) or Christmas day early in the morning (when we were older and the parents didn’t want to get up at 5am, we could open our 1 present and play with it until it was time to do the big event!). We made them do this until we were well into our teens! I loved it and want to continue the tradition. Also, the stocking presents were always ‘small stuff’ (candy, chocolate, socks, little trinket toys, art supplies, etc.)

  • Rose

    One year my family did tamales (purchased from the guy in the parking lot at the grocery store) for Christmas Eve dinner, instead of our more usual but much more complicated smorgasbord option. I think they basically just needed to be baked, and Mom made a salad or something to go with them. It was a pretty easy dinner, and tamales are a traditional seasonal food.

    • K Robertson

      Tamales are our traditional Christmas Eve dinner! (Also, this is not in the category of “easy holiday dinners” because it is time consuming, but making tamales together can be a fun family cooking project that even kiddos can participate in, if anyone is into that sort of thing.)

      • lady brett

        i love the idea of making tamales. might have to do that for the solstice feast this year.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh!! That’s traditional in our house on Christmas Eve (it’s traditional in many Mexican families on Christmas eve, and we grew up in a very hispanic area). We should remember to place a big order this year. You gotta know someone who knows someone, but blessedly we do.

  • Jessica

    Christmas Eve is when my family goes out to brunch, hangs out all day, eats enchiladas like it’s our job, then go to Church for the late candle-light service. The only thing that is mandatory is brunch. Last year we visited my aunt in the hospital (after her liver transplant) and my mom broke every plan we made because she suddenly didn’t want to do the things we talked about (like going for a long walk with our dog, who super needed it).

    Christmas Day is when we go to my in-laws house and give way too many gifts to our niece and my MIL cooks 2-3 different meals because one person has Celiac’s, two are vegetarian, one is lactose-intolerant, etc. I’m always confused why she doesn’t 1. Ask us to bring something to share or 2. try to find one meal that would satisfy all the things, but from what my husband says she just likes it that way.

    Christmas at our house involves no tree, very few decorations, and deciding on travel plans early. We don’t have kids, so stockings and that sort of thing aren’t really on our radar right now. Our gifts to each other usually involve one really impractical thing and one super practical thing, sometimes one more thing that is for the house that we just need a reason to buy.

    • kcaudad

      this year, offer to help make a few items for the holiday meal, or suggest meal options that don’t involve 3 separate full meals. help out your poor MIL because she is probably super stressed about the whole ‘perfect meal for everyone’ idea! We had to do this with my extended MIL because it was always stressed to her growing up to make it the ‘perfect’ holiday. after a few years or offering and sometimes demanding to help, we do more of a ‘pot-luck’ style meal where everyone brings something and we have lots of appetizers instead of a giant meal with all the sides. she is finally coming around and really seems to like having the self-imposed pressure be off and she actually gets to enjoy the day!

      • Jessica

        I usually take cues from my SIL, who sees her mom 4-5 times a week and has the relationship where she could do that without offending. I’ll talk to her about it later, but if I just bring something without being asked it will get put to the side, or everyone will think it’s super weird (like the time I brought prosciutto-wrapped arugula bites for an appetizer. Granted that may have been a bit much, but they were leftovers from a party I had gone to a day before. They were delicious.) My husband always asks what we can bring and the answer is always “wine and beer” since we’re the only two that drink on non-holidays.

        The wanting the holidays to be perfect thing is spot-on, but I’m not the person to try to fix or change it. That is not my place in this family.

      • Eenie

        I set up the meal planning google Doc this year for my family! My mom is still cooking most of the food, but she said having it planned and partially off her shoulders was very helpful.

    • Meg Keene

      I like that Christmas eve plan (less the service, if my parents are not around). Of course, two crazy kids make it crazy, but I still like it.

      • Jessica

        Yeah, it’s my favorite part of Christmas. We typically go to a restaurant in Minneapolis called Hell’s Kitchen, so we start the day in Hell and end it in Church.

        • Love Hell’s Kitchen!

  • Rhie

    Last year I made my Thanksgiving turkey the weekend before and it made my life a dream–we just sliced it up and only reheated what we wanted to eat that day, and we had the oven/counter space day-of for all the sides. Make your key protein ahead!

  • another lady face

    on year after a particularly hard fall with deaths in the family, we had my dad order pizza for the holiday meal. we all decided it wasn’t worth the stress to make the ‘traditional’ giant meal for just one day. and, it all worked out well! so, don’t feel pressured to do this huge big thing – maybe pick your families’ favorite easy dinner or brunch item(s) and make that instead of the ‘traditional’ foods. I’m sure a toddler would rather have mac n’ cheese any day!

    • Kayla

      We order pizza for Valentine’s Day every year. I highly recommend this strategy.

      • chrissyc

        Nothing says I love you like melted cheese. I get it.

        • Kayla

          Fact.

      • RoseTyler

        I’ve ordered one of the heart shaped ones for several years now.

        • Kayla

          This is a thing?! I had no idea. Ours are always just round.

          • RoseTyler

            yep …. they aren’t perfect hearts; but the attempt is there.

        • Caitlin

          This year we ordered three different heart shaped pizzas from three different places. It was really fun! Although my family’s Valentine’s day tradition is also fun, but more work: heart shaped meatloaf!

      • Rebekah

        Us too. It started our first year together with a pizza chain’s heart-shaped pizzas and has been an unofficial tradition ever since.

  • Christmas movie conundrum

    I was raised Catholic and my husband was raised Muslim. I converted but we still observe both Muslim and Catholic holidays. This is quite stupid and trivial, but I just can’t get my husband to get into Christmas movies. He has no problem coming to church with my family on Christmas eve, Christmas tree, presents on Christmas morning, etc….but for some reason the Christmas movie thing is too much. Watching Christmas movies has always been one of my favorite traditions, so I’m a bit sad about this. Just curious if anyone else in an interfaith marriage/relationship has had a similar experience? I saw Meg mentioned it above re: David…

    • Amy March

      Can you replace this specific tradition with just “watching any movie together”? It sounds like he is meeting you more than halfway, and I really think this is something you just have to get over on your own. Be a bit sad and move on, because you just listed a whole bunch of Christmas traditions he is going along with. Things change in life, and that’s okay.

    • Amanda

      is it essential to do it together? maybe get together with your siblings or mother or whoever you share it with, just for some one-on-one bonding with them, and give your husband a few hours to do anything he needs?

      • Christmas Movie Conundrum

        Thanks for your input, ladies:-) I’m a little sad about it but overall things could be much worse!

      • Yes! My husband doesn’t like The Family Stone (why???), but my brother and I love it, so we try to make it a point to watch it together and my husband is off the hook.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh yeah, we are NOT a Christmas movie family.

    • another lady face

      sometimes your just have to pick your battles and let other things go. We used to fight tooth and nail about TV shows and movies, especially after we got Netflix. then, we realized that there are a lot of shows that we both like separately that we just are not going to compromise on or be able to watch together. And, that’s okay. so, we watch a couple of shows together, then watch everything else alone or with friends when we have separate time. it works out so much better. I can watch my HGTV, and he can watch The Walking Dead when we are having time apart or when one person goes out with their friends, the other can binge watch the shows they like.

    • A.

      In my experience, it’s the rare person who can get into Christmas movies if it isn’t part of a nostalgic experience for them. My husband grew up celebrating Christmas, but through an exclusively Latin American lens, so he finds most Christmas music and movies extremely baffling–it’s not even a principled stance, it’s a “And WHY is this weird stop-motion-animation from the 1960s with vaguely racist undertones important to you again?” We’ve found a few movies that he does enjoy (he loves Scrooged, Die Hard, Love Actually…anything that’s Christmas themed, but not Christmas centric), but if I’m going to watch A Year Without a Santa Claus, that’s going to be with my dad. A

    • Christina Helen

      Maybe one thing you could try is watching the Christmas episodes of your favourite TV shows together? My partner and I do “Cocktail and Christmas Special Sundays” every Sunday in December (every year!) and we love it. We mix up a special cocktail, pick a TV show (e.g. Frasier, Doctor Who) and settle in for the evening to watch a few Christmas-themed episodes. This might give you the opportunity to watch Christmas-themed things together, and he might enjoy this more since Christmas episodes of TV shows are usually less sentimental than Christmas movies? (If you happen to be into the West Wing, that has some pretty great, not-very-sentimental Christmas episodes.)

  • Amanda

    i didn’t realize how stressful food is for so many people until i started reading AWP comments. food is my life blood, cooking is how i, and my parents and my partner, decompress. it’s where and how we spend our quality time. there are no worries when you’re cooking, only good smells and the pleasure of making something. christmas eve is all about prime rib with my mom, then christmas day, my father makes a stunning feast with all the trimmings that we eat around 3 or 4 p.m., followed by games then about a thousand kinds of cookies and tea. We eat off of fine china and sit together around the table. the family members who don’t like cooking just hang out together chatting and are treated to an elaborate meal. my best memories of the holidays (and in general) are in the kitchen helping my parents. it’s a joyful, sensuous experience to make something and to eat and commune.

    • pajamafishadventures

      I feel similar about food. Cooking and baking is what I DO. I stress bake when the going gets tough! Making food is my favorite thing.

      And also one of the reasons I hate spending holidays with my family. I just want to cook and enjoy cooking while my mom stands around and panics about finishing this and that and the other thing (and since it’s only ever our nuclear family, no guests) there’s no reason for it. So I end up doing 100% of the food work while someone else yells about an arbitrary timeline.

      • Amanda

        i SO hear you on the stress baking. also, chopping massive amounts of onion is CATHARTIC. i started cooking/par cooking/prepping all the thanksgiving sides at my apartment in the days leading up to the holiday a few years ago. it worked so well, it’s our new tradition. it keeps the standing-around-panicking person out of my hair (i have one of those too)…

        • RoseTyler

          HOW do you chop massive amounts of onion without crying like an infant? This is one of the few items i ALWAYS buy pre-prepped.

          • lady brett

            goggles ;)

          • RoseTyler

            seriously? Because that might make my day.

          • Lawyerette510

            yes, goggles work wonders when it comes to onion chopping.

          • MC

            I also wear goggles while chopping onions in the kitchen. And I imagine that I am a Very Important Scientist doing super cool experiments :)

          • RoseTyler

            nice! I might need to locate & invest in a lab-coat themed apron too!

          • Samantha

            Onion goggles are totally a thing, we got them as a shower gift, I will never live without them again: http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/onion-goggles/112667?Keyword=onion+goggles

          • Kayjayoh

            Very, very sharp knife, to start with.

          • Kayjayoh
          • Amanda

            #1: A sharp knife. A sharp knife. A sharp knife. A dull knife basically splashes all the enzymes around and it makes a gas that makes your eyes tear up. And learn to chop fast so the enzyme gas doesn’t get into the air. #2: Cut with the grain of the onion, then against it. (Again, looking to minimize the spread of enzymes. #3 when you do start to cry, rinse your knife, your hands, and stick your head in the freezer. kill the enzymes.

          • emmers

            Cold onions seems to make me tear less. Not sure if that’s scientific, but putting them in the fridge may help, in addition to Amanda’s suggestions.

          • Kayla

            Putting a lit candle near the cutting board really helps! I still get a little teary-eyed, but without the candle I’m a mess. I keep a candle in the kitchen just for this.

          • Jenny

            Food processor.

          • Chantal

            Chop them next to at hot stove. Promise! Something about heat and the enzymes.

          • If I light a candle and keep it next to me while chopping I don’t cry. And the house doesn’t get an overwhelming onion smell.

    • Jessica

      I love the actual cooking part, but the planning and making time and telling others how to help (my mantra: it’s ok that they chop onions differently, it’s ok that they chop onions differently) stresses me out. It’s a control-freak thing.

      • My mom, god bless her, does all the shopping and planning and meal organizing. Then she basically pours herself a glass of wine and points me to the kitchen to do the actually cooking. i just show up and bake. it’s the dream.

        • Jessica

          That sounds awesome! For everyone!

      • I love planning and cooking… I’m ok if people want to help, too, although I enjoy being alone in the kitchen. The thing that stresses me out the most is cooking at my MIL’s. She is very disorganized in the kitchen, which takes what would be a relaxing occasion and stresses me out. Also, she wants help (which is cool), and has very specific ways she wants things done…which wouldn’t be so bad, except that she can’t really explain what she wants. She just is kinda like “chop this” and you’re like “how big?” and she’s like “i don’t know, just little pieces” but my pieces are never the right size. I’m ok doing things to your specifications…but you have to actually specify.

        • Jessica

          Yeah, I’m not great at communicating that stuff either because it’s an intuitive thing for me. It’s hard to explain an intuition of sizes and shapes with my vocabulary.

          • Have you thought about demonstrating? Like making one chop of the onion to show the size and then handing it off? I’d rather do it right, I just need direction!

      • LisaG

        Are you my mother-in-law? It took her a good two years of living in the same town (and therefore regular visits) before she would let me do anything to help in the kitchen. And then she told me I cut the strawberries wrong.

        • Jessica

          Yeah, I know that my control-freakness does not lead to good relationships and, in reality, it does not matter how someone else cuts onions (or strawberries). If it really REALLY mattered I would work harder to communicate what I wanted.

          TL:DR: I try to keep a lid on my weird.

          • LisaG

            At least you’re aware of it and you’re trying. :) One thing that’s worked for my MIL is to (literally) walk away and leave the kitchen for a bit. I think it’s easier on her to not have to watch us doing it “wrong”. Over the past 2-3 years she’s gotten a lot better about it though and now she’s mostly just happy to have help. I think it’s also gotten better because she trusts me more now – she knows that I will get things done well, even if it’s not exactly her way.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh for SURE that’s how my husband feels about cooking. He loves it times a thousand. HOWEVER, we have a three year old and will have a five month old without a whole lot of additional help, so that complicates things. It also means you never sit down EVER, so adding hours in the kitchen on your feet after pulling off all of Christmas on your own is… a lot.

      In short, you can love cooking, but some life stages are way more stressful than others, and we happen to be in a stressful exhausting season of our lives!

      • Amanda

        I feel like #newbornlife is such a crazy, consuming time! Every family is different, of course, but my unit had a really strong ethic about getting kids in the kitchen. Even if it meant sitting in a high chair so my mom could keep an eye on us, or grating cheese as toddlers. My mom even runs classes in her bakery for local preschools. While you might be a couple years off with your own kids, we had tons of kid-friendly (technique-wise) cookbooks–I still have the measuring spoons that came with our favorite! Might be a great solution to your too many toys problem as well!

      • TeaforTwo

        Oh I feel this.

        Ever since my mother died I have cooked our family’s Christmas dinner. There are lots of happy helping hands around to chop and stir and wash up, and so it’s always felt social.

        And then the first babies came along. My two brothers had three babies in four months (a singleton and a set of twins) and that year, all of the adults were in the living room with the babies instead of chatting and drinking wine and chopping with me in the kitchen. I spent hours and hours alone in the kitchen cooking dinner for nearly 20 people, got stuck with all of the dishes, and wound up sobbing in the laundry room.

        Just a bunch of adults making a complicated meal? Fun. Add small kids to the mix? Let’s get takeout.

    • This is my family too. For my dad and myself, cooking is like therapy. Or perhaps like meditation. Even during the holidays, it’s never a stress point—except maybe last year, because I sliced my thumb on a mandolin and was very worried about bleeding all over Friendsgiving dinner, but that was more the specific situation, not the food. ;)

    • LisaG

      I love cooking too. Making food for other people is definitely my love language. One of the best things about going home for Christmas is getting to cook with my dad again and make our family’s traditional holiday foods.

  • Sarah D

    Such great ideas! I’m working on planning our traditions to start for our first Christmas as a family with a baby. Unfortunately we are going to be moving to Botswana a couple weeks before Christmas so that will change things a bit–it will be sunny and hot, and we’ll probably be camping in a hotel room without access to a kitchen. I’m hoping that I can find a branch to serve as a Christmas tree, and I’m planning to pack stockings, small ornaments and Christmas jammies to help with the ambience. Maybe a wine and cheese dinner in our hotel room to celebrate? Ideas for this situation would be much appreciated!

  • BDubs

    As far as making Christmas dinner easy, my mother used to make one part of the meal each day before Christmas, so a casserole one night, cranberries from scratch the next, etc, so all that had to be made the day of was the bird. I read a comment below that the protein can be made ahead too and refrigerated, so maybe pick something smaller to cook on Christmas Eve or Day and have everything else precooked and waiting in the fridge.

    • Meg Keene

      That is also a smart plan. I’m off work the week before, but the kids still have school (MOM VACATIONNNNN!) so I could totally make this happen.

  • Vanessa

    For the past 10 years or so my mom has made something that goes in the crock pot for Christmas dinner. She either cooks it the day before or makes it a week or two in advance, freezes it, and then puts it back in the crock pot on Christmas Eve. Waking up to the smell of green chili, or gumbo, or beouf bourguignon, has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. That way my mom doesn’t have to cook anything on Christmas day (we kids do breakfast) and people can sort of fill a bowl and eat at their leisure.

    • MC

      Just was going to say – CROCK POT! Super easy to put a good cut of meat in there with some chopped potatoes, wait a few hours, make a salad or some veggies or biscuits and then viola! Amazing meal. We make a million soups in the winter, too, which is awesome

    • Kayla

      Yes! Crock-pot meals and kids go together so well. You can do a lot of recipes with 10-20 minutes of prepping, and you still get a delicious meal that cooked all day. And you don’t have to time any steps (kids notoriously don’t care about your cooking timeline) or worry about little hands on a hot oven all day.

  • This is our first married Christmas,and I’m excited to start making new traditions. I ordered our holiday cards and i”m so excited to send them out :-) This year we’re spending Christmas again in his hometown, we’ll do the day with his family and then in the evening his close friends get together.

  • Heather

    The past couple of years my husband and I ( I love saying that. newlywed bliss-can’t stop smiling) we have made an effort to volunteer or donate to charities that matter to us. One year we adopted a family and bought them toys and toiletries (the little girl asked for a hair dryer), another year we donated food to a church that was putting together thanksgiving baskets, this year I am encouraging my co-workers to get involved and rather than giving each other gifts, we pick a volunteer project we can do together. Nothing makes me appreciate the true meaning of Christmas more than giving to those in need… I also have fond memories of having a holiday bake off with my mom. The result would be way too many cookies, rugelach, and holiday bread. I miss that time with her in the kitchen. My husband and I have been watching “A Christmas Carol” the George C Scott version since our first Christmas together. Perfect excuse to cuddle on the couch with a Christmas cocktail.

  • Gina

    Perfectly timed post, as this is our first Christmas we’re not going “home” for the holidays and I want to start some new traditions with the baby.

    ALSO–St. Lucia’s Day?!? Why didn’t I think of this?? I had the “Kristen” American Girl doll when I was little and I was obsessed with St. Lucia’s Day. Done and done.

    • I totally started celebrating St. Lucia’s day when I was an American Girl doll loving 8 year old. I kept it up until I went to college too, and if I have kids I’ll pass the tradition on to them too.

      • I love the idea, but one St. Lucia day in my pre-teen years my mom forced me to dress up in a sheet and statue of liberty crown and serve buns to my parents and grandparents, which I found to be completely embarrassing. I think I’ve been a little St. Lucia-shy ever since!

        • See for me, I was the one who initiated it, which made a huge difference. When I was young, my dad would help me pull it off, but as I got older I did it all by myself (and they even let me use real candles!), plus my mom managed to forget it was coming every year for an entire decade. She remembered that we celebrated it, but the specific date always slipped her mind, so it was a surprise every single year, which was pretty wonderful.

    • Lacey Williams

      It’s our first Christmas staying put, too! We moved to Portland about a year and a half ago, but last year we went “home” for 2 weeks (combo family wedding + family Christmas events + actual Christmas meant we were gone for half the month) so we missed all the Portland-specific Christmas things that happen around town. This year, we’re hitting the Holiday Ale Festival, the Zoo Lights, Peacock Lane, the Grotto, and the Christmas Ships Parade. We’re making our own Christmas, damnit!

      • Kelsey

        My go-to Portland Christmas tradition is Tuba Christmas. My SO used to play for it and now when we go home for the holidays it is a must see event.

    • Caitlin

      Great idea, I absolutely loved celebrating St. Lucia day while growing up! (I think I was the one who first suggested it in the original thread, but not the one quoted here). One of the best things about it as a girl growing up was that I got to be St. Lucia and for once not compete to be the leader of a tradition with my older brothers. Coincidentally, St. Lucia’s day is my father’s birthday, so it was a great day to serve my parents breakfast in bed :)

    • Kirsten Vogelsang

      just had to point out that the American doll is name KIRsten not Kristen :) my name is spelled Kirsten & growing up that doll was the only other Kirsten I knew so I was very protective of her since everyone also always calls me Kristen ;) best doll ever!

      • Kirsten Stevenson

        Same!!

  • Lawyerette510

    Christmas day dinner where I grew up in south Texas was always tamales, sometimes with chili or beans or queso and sometimes just with salsa. Christmas Eve we had the big meal, and Christmas Day was for a big breakfast, some leftovers, and some tamales for dinner.

    • Meg Keene

      I like that plan. We’re big on Tamales anyway, so that’s real real smart (as the three year old would say).

  • Nope.

    St. Lucia’s Day! We usually have a brunch open house on St. Lucia’s Day – I make cinnamon rolls (or BABKA for maximum interfaith holiday fun).

  • My family has always done enchiladas as our Christmas day food. I have no idea how it got started, because we’re totally white, but they’re easy and delicious and it works, so I’m gonna keep doing it for forever. Old El Paso enchilada sauce and corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, cilantro, jalepeños and onion. SO GOOD.

  • wakeuptheysay

    It’s interesting how the same things can turn out different ways. My family has always opened presents one at a time but instead of the focus being on the gifts I feel like it really puts focus on spending time together. We chat and joke a lot and it’s super awesome. It helps that there are no small kids around maybe?

    • Kari

      A few years ago on the open holidays thread there was a comment war between people who’d grown up opening presents one at a time or person by person. It got pretty heated!

      • tr

        My family has done it both ways over the years. Honestly, which works best just depends on the situation. When you’re talking about lots of little kids who all have twenty presents each? All at once is the way to go. When it’s all adults with four or five presents each? One at a time is great!
        Also, one at a time works best if everyone there is really “a part of things”….for in-laws who barely know everyone else, one at a time would probably be pretty awkward (especially if that means the in-law has fewer gifts to open).

    • M.

      Totally! And it’s interesting how we are all after the same kind of feelings (calm, appreciation, togetherness, less focus on gifts) and it works differently for every family!

      I grew up, albeit in a very small nuclear family, with a Christmas morning free-for-all. It definitely led to some emotional crashes (and I see it now with my young stepsister. Crazed unwrapping euphoria followed closely by THAT’S IT?! Major bummer of a reaction.) As an adult with my own baby on the way, I want to make it less of a buildup to early morning present-splosion followed by “Now what?” (I’m making the same change with my birthday). So we are switching to Christmas eve gifts, fewer gifts, one at a time (like my husband grew up doing), and just stockings AFTER breakfast the next morning, so there’s still a little morning magic. I am really looking forward to it, just writing about it makes me feel calm and excited to focus on the time together and spirit, as you say, rather than the gifts.

      • Sandy

        We did stocking immediately when we woke up (allowing Mom and Dad to sleep) and then one at a time presents. My mom wanted it that way so she could see how we reacted to the things she had chosen for us. As an adult, I appreciate how much the giving meant to her FAR more than the gifts she got.

        • TeaforTwo

          We did that, too. Santa always left one present in our stockings along with some candy, pens, and fruit.

          Because my mother is a genius, that one present was always a book or video that would keep us quietly entertained until my parents were ready to get up.

    • Eh

      In my family we were each given a gift to open and then we all opened it and showed off what we got and thanked the person (if they were there). My in-laws do a free for all. Everyone has a stack of gifts dropped in front of them and they open the gifts. It causes me anxiety and I find it rude that people do not thank people for gifts (I make a point of it). My FIL has made it clear that he does not want to do one at a time or everyone opening one gift at a time because it takes too long and ‘is boring’ (last year he went to my BIL’s house to watch his other granddaughters open gift Christmas morning – my SIL’s parents always come over to watch – and they open gifts one at a time and he complained about it and left early). I think it would be less boring and take less time if fewer gifts were bought. My dad and step-mum only buy one gift for each person while my in-laws buy multiple gifts. If everyone only bought one gift then we would each only get three gifts at that Christmas celebration.

  • Meg

    We’re not religious, but this post just inspired me to order an advent wreath. I was raised catholic, so lighting the candles for the month leading up to Christmas at dinner time was always so special. Candles are so cheerful as we enter these dark months!

    • K Robertson

      The advent wreath is my very favorite holiday tradition! I love Christmas but am an extreme introvert so the crowds and stress of it all gets to me, but coming home to light a candle and meditate on love, joy, hope and peace definitely brings the magic into the season for me.

  • eating words

    This will be our first married holiday season, and our first after my wife’s conversion to Judaism. We’ve already discussed doing fewer presents, but I think everything else will have to be figured out with lots of conversation: how to honor her family and their traditions now that she’s Jewish, how to begin to incorporate more of the Jews-on-Christmas things that I miss, all that stuff that our emotions and memories are invested in.

  • Kara

    Another great way to handle all the food is have a POTLUCK holiday. We’ve done this for years on my side of the family. Someone brings dessert, someone a side, another a salad, so forth and so on. We do this for Thanksgiving and Xmas.

    It’s a huge life/sanity saver! Also, disposables. Use disposable/compostable plates, bowls, glasses, utinsels, etc. Then there are basically no dishes to clean! Which is my favorite part :).

  • Christmas dinner is definitely a dilemma for us! We usually travel home from my parents’ on Christmas morning and spend the rest of the day celebrating at home as our own baby family (dinner, presents, movie & drinks). Last year I picked up pre-made scalloped potatoes (take and bake!) and bacon-wrapped sirloin from the fancy grocery store, thinking that would be easy. Every smoke alarm in the house was blaring by the time those damn sirloins were done. Argh! This year will be particularly interesting with an 8-month-old in the mix!

  • Essssss

    This will be our first holiday season without my dad, who passed away very suddenly just a month before our wedding, and our first holiday season as a married couple. We’re going to rent a vacation home with family members from both sides, some Jewish and some Christian, in a warm place. Part of me just wants to entirely forget it’s the holidays, though our secular-Jewish family-with-a-Christmas tree has always had a zillion holiday traditions. While I’ll miss many of them this year, I’ll share with the hope that they inspire, and that we keep embracing them in some, different form.

    -Gifts of experiences: Going to see the
    Nutcracker or a choir

    – Make snowflakes! Its easy to make
    elaborate, delicate decorations for the windows

    – Tamale making- I learned from a friend in the
    Southwest, and now we make a huge batch every year in December, have friends bring
    different fillings, and freeze many for easy lunches through the year

    – Cookie and candy making… and sharing! In cute bags!
    For all the neighbors! Smitten Kitchen has the only foolproof candy recipes I’ve
    ever found, and I love them all.

    – On Christmas eve we always drive around and look
    at the Christmas lights and listen to a Christmas radio show

    – Special traditional foods: Our friend grew up in
    India and often cooks an incredible Indian meal, complete with biryani, for
    Christmas day

    – Listen to Handel’s messiah on Christmas day

    – New Years Day open house- Another friend, who
    lived with us for much of my childhood, is from the Southern US and she would
    host a southern new years day feast with chicken and dumplings for health,
    collard greens for wealth, and black eyed peas for luck.

    – And extending the holidays even further, sometime
    between new years and Valentines day, our friends host a Christmas tree burning
    party with a towering bonfire on a cold dark night

  • A few years ago, I started going to visit Santa, and I’ve done it each year since. I know it’s silly, but it makes me feel cheerful, and usually makes Santa laugh (I always get a photo, and one Santa insisted that he should be sitting on my knee instead of the other way around). This year one of my BFFs and I are going to a local indoor skiing place to visit Santa there (the cost of admission gets you a visit to Santa and a couple of goes at tubing!). I still find it weird to have Christmas in the summer, even though I’ve been living in NZ for 5 years now, so cheesy things like this (and watching the yearly Santa Parade) definitely help.

    The other tradition I have is to do with gifts, but not commercial- my best friend back in the UK and I exchange the weirdest holiday ornaments we can find. Last year he got a Christmas Giraffe, and I got Elvis playing the Ukulele- but I don’t have a tree to put all the crazy on, so I love love LOVE the idea of the insane fake tree!

    • chrissyc

      Ha, I love that you take a picture with Santa. I know exactly what you mean about doing “cheesy” Christmas things since it doesn’t feel like Christmas. I recently moved from practically Canada to southern USA, so this year I brought out the Christmas decorations and music much earlier than usual to combat the (ridiculous) sunny, warm days. I can’t control the weather but damn if I can’t turn up the AC and display some snowmen!

      • “I can’t control the weather but damn if I can’t turn up the AC and display some snowmen!”
        <3 <3 <3

  • MABie

    This year, we are more into celebrating the holiday *season* than any particular holiday. We’re going to “The Nutcracker” (which our friend’s son dances in — double yay!), light shows, etc. We both love to cook and bake, so there will be a lot of holiday baking going on. We love to decorate our tree, and we each give each other 1 ornament each year, so I am looking forward to finding the perfect one for our first year as a married couple!

    We are 100% committed to getting holiday pictures of our pets. I NEED to find a place that does pet pictures with Santa so we can get a good one of our Great Dane on Santa’s lap (if anyone knows of such a place in the Atlanta metro area, holla at me!). Both cats will receive holiday bow ties, though I anticipate a 0% success rate at getting them to stay on.

    Thanks for all these great ideas, everyone!! I’m already more in the holiday spirit than I was 20 minutes ago. Ima go buy a gold fake tree now….

  • BSM

    One question to Meg and everyone: do you feel like you were really only able to take charge of your holidays because 1. you have celebrated so many together already and/or 2. you have kids? Everything you’re planning to do this year sounds AMAZING to me, but I haven’t figured out how to make these celebrations my own. Since I’m not close to my family and we live near my in-laws, we basically just get sucked into doing things their way, which I have many feels about, mostly not happy ones. Do people who haven’t been together so long (this is our 5th holiday season since we started dating, the 3rd we’re celebrating together, and the 1st as a married couple) or don’t have kids have suggestions on how to take ownership of the way you celebrate? Hopefully without hurting too many feelings :-/

    • MABie

      Since this is your first holiday season as a married couple, it seems like you might have a great opening to say that you want to start creating your own, independent holiday traditions as a family.

      How does your spouse feel about spending the holidays with their family? Have you had conversations about it before?

      We have been together and married for about the same amount of time as you, and we have done almost all of our holidays alone together. When I asked my partner early in our relationship if she actually enjoyed spending time with her parents at Christmas, it opened up a dialogue that ultimately enabled us to feel more comfortable just doing our own thing. (The answer was no.)

      Even if your spouse wants yall to do your own thing, it might be difficult for your spouse to set boundaries with their parents — at least, that was the case for us. And you might have to set the boundaries annually. It definitely hasn’t been a one-shot deal for us. But I willingly trade the momentary discomfort for having holidays I actually enjoy, and that I feel are my own! After three or four years of this, I finally feel like our holidays are *our* thing, and I don’t owe anything to anyone.

    • I think you just have to be really straightforward and communicate with family about what you will and won’t be doing. For us, it meant saying “we will love spending Christmas Eve with you, then we’re leaving early Christmas day morning to go home and do our own family Christmas.” I’m sure my mom would love for us to stick around longer, but thankfully she understands our need to do our own thing and have our time together as a baby family. I realize some families are not as understanding, but you have to do what’s best for you and your family!

    • emilyg25

      Nope. We’re celebrating this year the way we’ve always celebrated, even back when we’d only been dating a few months. We sit down in the early fall and decide what we want to do, and then we do it. We communicate early and often with our families.

    • Sandy

      I’m in a similar situation. One sticking point for us has been church. I’m catholic and my husband, of his own accord, became catholic after we married. His family is Lutheran. Add in divorced in-laws, and preferences for different Lutheran churches in the same very small town, and you’ve got a sticky situation. We’ve compromised in recent years that we do Christmas Eve at my MIL’s church and then my husband and I go to mass on Christmas morning alone. It stops the arguing and allows us time alone together to reflect on our faith.

      I’ve won zero other arguments on how to make our holiday our own. I wish I had more answers for you. ;)

    • Eh

      I live far from my family and close (an our away – which is still far enough away to make excuses) to my in-laws. When we were dating and engaged we celebrated with our respective families. Then he came to visit my family for a few days and then we went to see his family on our way home. Since we have been married (this is our third Christmas as a married couple) we have set aside Christmas Eve and Christmas morning as our time. The year we got married my MIL assumed that we would spend Christmas Eve at her house and sleep there because if we didn’t then none of her children would wake up at her house Christmas Day. Since that’s part of children growing up and we did not want to set a precedent we stood firm and now that time is our time. We go visit them in the afternoon and have supper with my in-laws.

  • Mer

    Last year I said “Oh I can’t wait until I have an SO or a dog or kid so I can send holiday cards.” About 2 seconds later I cut that out and said “F*ck that. I’ll send holiday cards if I want to”. So I made some photo cards (with only photos of me), wrote an update letter and sent it to everyone. The letter was really the best part. It was written in the third person and highlighted many of the ridiculous things I had done that year. People LOVED it.

    A few days ago I started drafting this year’s letter and started compiling some photos for the card. It’s AWESOME! and who doesn’t like getting mail?!

    • Victoria Gossman

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    • I decided to send my own single-person holiday cards last year and really enjoyed it. I sent nice letterpressed cards to maybe just 15 or so friends. Instead of photos of myself I printed out some photos from the past year of myself and the recipients and sent those, along with a note that was more focused on them/fun times we’d had together than on me. It was super fun and a nice excuse to get back in touch with people.

      • Brenda Roberts

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  • Kat

    My sister and I have spent years trying to convince my family that we should skip the traditional turkey + sides Thanksgiving, because none of us actually like turkey all that much and so why are we eating it out of obligation? We finally wore them down and so this year we’re doing Italian instead. My dad makes sauce the elaborate, old-fashioned way that his grandfather taught him; low and slow for about 20 hours. It’s unreal. I am so stoked for thanksgiving now. And it means my 80 year old, 100 lb arthritic grandmother won’t spend her whole day on her feet wrestling a turkey, bless her heart. Now we’re working to convince everyone that a Christmas fish fry is in order (we’re from north Florida, so it’s often 65+ degrees on Christmas). My family always seems so stressed out about preparing these elaborate holiday meals and I really hope this year will be less stressful and give everyone a chance to appreciate each other’s company more, especially since I no longer live in state, my brother is about to graduate college, and my sister is about to start college.

  • Katherine

    My favorite fun, no-stress holiday tradition is our Xmas Eve smorgasboard. My family buys some fancy cheeses, some salami, and some frozen shrimp to go along with all of the assorted (unopened) crackers and chips we’ve accumulated over the fall seasons and calls it dinner. It’s incredibly easy, requires minimal setup and cleanup, and everyone enjoys it more than our actual fancy dinner.

    • M.

      That what we’re doing this year for our “big meal”! Charcuterie board ftw. Feels fancy, tastes great, is essentially putting things in plates/on bowls.

    • Kyla

      My family always did this for Christmas Eve as we watched movies. Sometimes we had sparkling drinks and as I got older got to have the real deal bubbly. It was fun and super chill way to spend the evening before opening presents Christmas Day

  • jubeee

    I live about 5 miles away from where Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas morning )yes in Washington’s Crossing, PA) I am going to try to make it to the reenactment this year. I’ve always wanted to go and being this close feels like I no longer have an excuse.

  • RMC

    For whatever it’s worth, lighting Hanukkah candles can be a really beautiful and lovely tradition that is totally non-consumerist. Some of my favorite memories as an adult with my husband are nights we both get home late from work or school and light the candles together and take 5 minutes to breathe and enjoy the light.

  • Sandy

    A few years ago, my husband bought me an annual pass to our zoo for Christmas (possibly the best present I’ve ever gotten). It was good through the next calendar year, and we happened to have no family obligations on Christmas Day the next year so we went to the zoo, to enjoy something we loved to do together and to celebrate the end of the zoo pass in style. It was not terribly cold and there was lots of beautiful fluffy white snow on the ground (This is in Wisconsin, so my “not terribly cold” is likely different than yours). We were two of maybe 10 people at the zoo that day; secret tip to anyone who likes zoos, they are often better in winter because the number of other people there drops so much (also, rainy days) and the animals generally like the cold better than the heat (especially the North American ones, like moose and elk). While circumstances have not allowed us to repeat this, it is one of my favorite memories in our baby family.

    Now that we live away from family, and after this year will have the only grandchild, Christmas expectations are high. We HAVE to go home and we HAVE to spend all our time (and soon-to-be Baby’s time) with family. I find it ridiculously overwhelming and am kind of scared of how it will be next year with a one-year-old. Because of this, I love the suggestion of the night before Christmas Eve being a night for our family alone. I can see it being a touchstone of strength for me before facing ALL THE FAMILY. Maybe we can even sneak in a zoo trip, cuz hey, we’ll have a baby now and babies have to go to the zoo.

    (Note: this is a major bonus we’ve identified in having kids. Finally, all the nerdy things we want/love to do are “ok” because kids want to do them. Here come the children’s museums and the camping overnight at the zoo!)

  • VKD_Vee

    Wow, this post and round-up is straight-up awesome. I feel like I’m going to try and use some of these tips to turn into a Christmas person this year. I’ve always been incredibly grinch-y but this is my first Xmas in snowy snowy Canadaland and I feel like it’s time to either like the holidays or die trying… My town is actually building public skating trails (like going for a skate in the woods) which sounds pretty crazy

  • Kelsey

    My favorite holiday tradition did not start until my teen years. My father, although he tries, is a terrible cook. When my sister and I were around six or seven years old, my mom went out of town for work and my dad fed us chocolate cake and kool-aid for breakfast. As you could imagine my mother was FURIOUS and my dad’s excuse was that there was at least one egg in the cake and vitamin C in the kool-aid.
    Fast forward to 10 years later, my parents separated and my dad was trying to impress us with his first single dad Christmas morning. He burnt the hell out of our cinnamon rolls, to the point that we broke the spatula trying to get them off the baking sheet. Ever since that morning, whenever my sister and I come home for the holidays he always serves chocolate cake and black cherry kool-aid whichever morning we open gifts because he is convinced that is the only “breakfast food” he can cook.

  • This year’s Christmas letter will be brought to you by the number 2 (a 2-year-old and 2 babies). Two years ago it was brought to you by the letter D (diapers and dissertation).

    We’ve got our family photo scheduled for Friday morning. Which is why this morning, in between plates of waffles, the 2-year-old slipped on the kitchen floor and hit the dead-center of her head (which she severely bonks about monthly) on either the floor or the kitchen chair. We didn’t see it happen, only heard it, so we can’t be sure if when she’s talking about falling on the chair she hit the chair or she tripped on the chair. She doesn’t look nearly as much like a unicorn tonight as she did this morning, but she’s sure to have a wonderfully colorful bruise right in the middle of her forehead by Friday morning. And I’m not going to try to hide it at all. It tells you exactly what our year has been like.

    • And of course Christmas crackers. Definitely have those.

  • Victoria Gossman

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  • LisaG

    My favorite holiday tradition by far is my best friend’s family’s Christmas party. I’ve been helping them cook for it for the past 20 years or so and I’m basically an honorary host. My friend and I always make and frost the shortbread cookies. When we were kids the party was all about drinking glass after glass of Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider and then escaping to her room when the grown ups starting singing Christmas carols. Now we drink glass after glass of rum-spiked hot cider and usually stick around for the singing. I booked my flights this year just so that I would arrive the day before the party so I can make cookies with her.

    On Christmas Eve my parents, my husband and I go out to a fancy restaurant and then go to Mass. On Christmas morning we open presents and then make a nice breakfast. We’ve always opened presents one at a time, taking turns. In our family it’s a nice way to make the gift opening stretch out a little longer (I’m an only child, so there were only 3 people in my family growing up, now 4 with hubs) and make sure that each gift is seen and appreciated.

  • Lindsay

    re: easy christmas dinner – my mom used to make a huge baked ziti ahead of time and then bake it on christmas day. that day all that was left to do was make a salad and cut up some bread. it was non-traditional but SO DELICIOUS.

  • joanna b.n.

    This was fun to read and gets me in the holiday spirit! Mmm…

    As requested, my idea for making Christmas dinner easier is to do something in the Crockpot while you’re puttering around on brunch. Then you can do whatevs all day and come home/peel off the couch when the timer dings and eat y’all some easy tasty food.

  • S

    In terms of Holiday food, my favorites are 1. fondue – really easy, especially for a small group! Just make a salad, cook some meat (broiled flank steak is especially easy), and then melt some cheese. Easy but it feels super fancy. 2. Lasagna – involved enough to feel fancy, but not actually too complicated. and again, a salad and perhaps some garlic bread make a complete meal. 3. Cheese and dips! This is my family’s Christmas eve meal. Buy a handful of good cheeses, crackers, bread, et c. Serve with veggies and dips (ranch, hummus, et c). Last year we made smitten kitchen’s sweet potato coins with pecans and goat cheese as well. Steamed or roasted brussel sprouts, blue potatoes, carrots, and parsnips/turnips/white potatoes with balsamic vinaigrette is also a good easy meal that goes great with fancy cheese. Add in any of your favorite appetizers as well (even if that’s just Trader Joe’s versions heated in the oven!).

  • Joyce Wondolowski

    For an easy Christmas dinner just pick your family’s favorite but easy meal. Spaghetti and meat balls, chili, etc. Then make it a tradition. Your kids will look forward to Christmas spaghetti and meatballs. Or pick an easy meal and pair it to a movie. One year we made a Moroccan tagine and watched Casablanca.

  • Brenda Roberts

    .❝my neighbor’s mom is making $98 HOURLY on the internet❞….A few days ago new McLaren F1 subsequent after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, $17k Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a day ..with extra open doors & weekly paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over $87, p/h..Learn More right Here….
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  • CJPWes

    I just want to say that Christmas can be the friends holiday! Since I was about 10, my family has celebrated Christmas with two other families in town. The traditions have evolved over the years, but currently it looks like: individual family time on Christmas Eve (which for us involves wine, presents, and singing in a Christmas Eve service), then a big brunch with all the families Christmas morning (waffles, berries, orange slices, sausage, and mimosas), and a silly stocking-stuffers exchange (with many gag gifts re-appearing year after year in different people’s stockings). Weather permitting we do some kind of walk in the afternoon, go our separate ways for a brief nap, and get back together at another one of the families’ houses for an easy dinner – usually store-bought lasagnas or enchiladas. I happen to think it’s perfect. Of course this is now my family Christmas, and envisioning the time when my partner and I are doing Christmas with our own friends still feels a little blasphemous. Also shout out to Little Christmas Eve (the night before Christmas Eve), which is when my family throws our annual holiday party. Definitely a great day to add into the holiday mix.

  • Alyssa Coltrain

    My fiance and I are actually using the cookies and wine idea shortly before Christmas with my immediate family (whom we’re both very fond of). With ill relatives and coordinating extended family Christmases on both sides of the state, the idea of adding anything else that needed to be cooked for/cleaned for/etc seemed awful. Cookies from an earlier holiday event and some wine sounded like the perfect low-key way to get together.

  • Caitlin Loos

    For a couple of years now, my family has started tying together Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years like this: 1. Share with each other new year’s resolutions at Thanksgiving (because gratitude and intention go together oh so nicely), 2. find or make gifts that will help each other in achieving our resolutions in the coming year (yay for meaningful gifting!), and 3. come to new years eve with resolutions well established, and the tools and loved one’s support to achieve them. It’s awesome, and makes the holidays seem much more intentional and meaningful. I wrote a little article about it: https://medium.com/@caitlinloos/g-is-for-gratitude-and-great-gifting-91c92b95e107#.fsokeu2t6