Day in Chicago
It's been a Post-Thanksgiving tradition since Joshua was born that we spend a day downtown. And this year, we had almost 70-degree weather! I never thought I'd do this, but we pulled Joshua out of school last Monday and took advantage of the "spring-like" weather! Since Joshua started first grade, we don't get many opportunities to have a Family Day on Mondays anymore. But this past week, with the weather being so nice, it was hard to resist.
Josh and Jenna got to take turns ringing the Salvation Army bell.
Placebo effect of a candy high!
After that, we took the elevator to the 8th floor where we oohed-and-aahed at the huge Christmas tree in the Walnut Room (and oogled at the people that were having a nice meal in the restaurant! This year's tree was pretty awesome!
(one day, kids, we'll dine down there...one day...)
Then it was lunch time. This year, we went to a nice cafeteria on the 7th Floor, called Seven on State. This is the first time we had lunch there (we usually go to the cafeteria in the lower level with all the commoners...haha!). It's definitely a lot nicer, more spacious, and the dishes are culinary creations of some pretty well-known chefs. I had Chef Ming's steak sandwich and a delectable seafood gumbo!
Eating at Seven on State.
The Christmas tree at the Daley Plaza.
I love how there's a Nativity Scene at the market. Keeping Christ in Christmas!
This year, I made my own Advent Calendar. Thank you, Pinterest! It was fun making it, and creating the different activities for each day. Since my kids don't really like candy, I don't have to put little treats in the pockets. Besides, I'd rather they not expect a treat every day. Instead, they look forward to the fun activities that they get to do that day. Some include, having Brinner (code for breakfast for dinner!), having a picnic dinner by the Christmas tree, hanging Christmas lights in the bedroom, etc.
I also tried my hand at making my own Advent wreath. I couldn't find purple and pink candles, so I modified. I used purple and pink construction paper to wrap around votive candles that I had. I found an Advent reading schedule along with the lighting of the Advent candles on Focus on the Family's website. I'm sure if you google it, you can find something similar.
Mary & Joseph
Something else that I started this year was taking Mary and Joseph from my nativity set and hiding them. I want to explain to the kids that Mary and Joseph had to travel really far to get to Bethlehem. So, right now, my nativity set has no M & J, and every morning, the kids have to find the happy couple (or weary couple, as I should say...can't imagine being pregnant and having to sit on a donkey!). They get a real kick out of it! I first hid them at the furthest point of the house, and they're slowly making their way towards the manger scene. On Christmas Eve, M & J will finally get to the stable and make the nativity set almost complete. Come Christmas morning, the kids will find Baby Jesus there! And Jesus completes everything, doesn't He!
Here's my Willow Tree Nativity Set, minus Mary and Joseph!
Christmas Card Prayers
As our family receives Christmas cards each day, we take time to pray for the family or person who sent us the card. It's a great way to acknowledge the friends that God has blessed us with!
Other ongoing tradtions include:
I enjoy this season because I get to bake! Not that I'm a great baker or anything, but I love trying new recipes. And there's something about having Christmas music on, and spending the day creating something new and yummy to share with family and friends. Joshua usually enjoys helping me, and I'm hoping that this year, Jenna will too.
We typically give a plate of cookies to our neighbors, Tony our mailman, the staff at our pediatrician's office, and to the kids' teachers. Of course, we set out a plate of cookies while we're hosting Christmas get togethers, or just for hunger cravings in the middle of the day!
Let the baking begin!
My first 6 dozen cookies - Christmas Spritz Cookies (thanks to my mother-in-law for giving me her Pampered Chef Cookie Press), making more cookies today!
Every year, we have our Annual Ahrens Family Movie Night where we invite our kids' friends over for dinner, movie, and popcorn, and watch a Christmas movie. The kids come in their pajamas, bring blankets, and stuffed animals, and have a good ol time having a movie/slumber party! Instead of giving tangible gifts to all our friends, what would parents with kids desire most in this season (or any season, for that matter!)? Jared and I thought it would be appropriate to give our friends the gift of time. So, really the movie night is an excuse for them to drop their kids off at our house, so that they can spend a few hours together doing whatever...Christmas shopping, date night, napping...just some alone adult time! It's a fun tradition, and a way we can serve our friends during the Christmas season. (If you must know, "Elf" is the movie-pick this year!)
Picnic dinner of pizza before the movie.
When I was a teacher, I would rally my friends, and even Jared's parents, and go caroling at my students' homes. Yes, you heard me! I would go to my students' homes and surprise them, and start caroling either outside their front door or in the entry way. Caroling was one of the highlights of my year, and I miss it terribly! I miss my students, and I miss seeing the look of surprise (and to some, horror!) when they realize that their teacher is at their house AND singing to them! I don't do this anymore, but maybe when my kids are older, we can resume this tradition again.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Day
Every Christmas and on Christmas Eve particularly, we give the kids each a book. In the book, Jared and I write a note to the kids, and give a brief synopsis of how they've grown, what they've accomplished, and how proud we are of them. It's a neat way to document their year. So, Joshua has 7 books now since he was born, and it's a wonderful momento for him as he grows up, to see the different books that we've given to him over the years, the blessings that were written to him. And maybe, one day, he'll be able to share these books with his children.
Also on Christmas Eve, the kids get their new Christmas pajamas to put on and sleep in that night. It's fun to pick out pajamas for the kids, because their interests change every year. Joshua has graduated from Thomas the Tank Engine/Wiggles to Legos and Superheroes. Jenna, from Elmo to Princesses. One year, it would be fun to put them all in matching pajamas!
This is a pic from last year...Joshua with Legos Star Wars pjs and Jenna with Tinkerbell.
Christmas morning, we always read the nativity story. And something that we value is that the kids only get 3 gifts. We tell them that since Baby Jesus got three gifts, they get three gifts as well. Fortunately, they understand and accept that.
It's challenging trying to live counter-culturally, especially now that Joshua is exposed to kids from school who are bragging about the 100 things on their Christmas list, and how they're going to get everything that they want for Christmas.
Joshua gets that Christmas is about Jesus and not about presents. And even at such a young age, I see the importance of surrounding your child with friends who are like-minded. For example, I carpool with 2 other families to school. One of the kids is from a Christian family, and the other is not. As I'm driving all 3 of them to school, I get the privilege to eavesdrop on their conversations. In one incident, they were talking about Christmas, and the one kid who's not from a Christian family said that Christmas is about getting all the presents that you want. I literally held my breath as I waited to hear how Joshua was going to respond. And my heart soared when I heard him say, quite vehemently too, "You're wrong! Christmas is about Jesus and celebrating his birthday! It's not all about presents!" And then, Joshua's other friend chimed in with support, "Yeah! It's not about presents, it's about Jesus!". I wanted to stop the car, and give high-fives, and do my happy dance! I remember lifting up a grateful prayer at that moment for the fact that Joshua gets it, but also for the encouragement and beauty of being around fellow-believers who can and will stand up for each other. In some odd way, I feel so much better knowing that Joshua is at school, but he's not alone. He has friends who will look out for him, who will stand up for him, and will fight alongside with him. Even if he's only 6, there is value in Christian community! And I believe that God has placed Joshua's classmate in our carpool, and in our lives, for a reason. Who knows? Maybe Joshua and his other friend's convictions and beliefs will rub off...isn't it neat that our own kids can be witnesses for Christ, even at this age!
So here you have it. Some of our Christmas traditions. Ultimately, it has been and always will be our desire is to teach our children how to be more others-focused, not only at Christmas time, but at all times. Even in our Advent activities, there are more activities about serving others than there are about things done for ourselves. I pray that my children will have the eyes and heart of Jesus, and seek to love others.
May you be blessed this Christmas, and may you be a blessing to those around you!