Tag Archives: Christmas

Amanda’s Christmas Secret

69681668-3243-45d2-8de0-15cd197bc0dfI have a secret to share with you.

I went into this holiday season without a set budget for Christmas gifts.

So now that the big secret is out, let me explain.

I’m not proud of this tidbit.  Initially, I had a budget lined up (if little else), but that was before the recipient list widened considerably.

Due to many factors, there wound up being seventeen people on our Christmas list this year, and three December birthdays to plan for.  That is a whole lot of dough to spend, particularly if one is an “average” American.  Let’s just say we didn’t have several hundred dollars at our disposal.  (In that respect, I suppose our budget was, “As cheap as possible.”)

I briefly considered going the craft/homemade gift route, but realized I did not have the time necessary to create a thoughtful and creative gift.  Instead I opted to do one of four things for each recipient on our list.

We had family pictures taken and ordered prints. With a coupon coupled with an amazing online sale, this turned out to be a really great idea.  The recipients of this gift (grandparents, etc.) are always appreciative of a personal gift…especially where our kiddos are involved. Bonus:  we got family pictures for ourselves as well, which were long overdue.

We gave a donation.  Using points sites, we were able to give charitable donations in the gift recipient’s honor.  Bonus:  it made us feel like we were contributing to something greater than ourselves.

We gave an experience.  Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like taking someone out to eat at a favorite restaurant.  Bonus:  the restaurant is a favorite of all in attendance!

We gave gift cards and cookies, or traditional gifts.  Although these were among the more expensive gifts on our list, for these recipients, gift cards were preferred gifts, and the cookies added a personal touch, as well as something to “unwrap.” We were able to choose our denomination for the gift cards, which helped keep costs down.

Our kids (and Riley) are the primary recipients of the traditional gifts.  To keep things simple, I adhered to the, “Something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something you need” gift-giving philosophy, so each kiddo is getting just four small gifts from us.  Bonus:  We get to see their little faces light up when they see their gifts. (Although they are very easy to please.  Peanut, for example, would be thrilled with just the wrapping paper.)

Each recipient has either already received their gift, or knows of it, or (as in the case of our kids) can’t read yet, so this post should not spoil anyone’s surprises. But I do want to share one more thing.

We spent around $250 total.

While certainly far below the national average, that is still a lot of money to spend in the span of just a few weeks, and I blame going into it without a Christmas budget.  Note:  there are a couple of gifts under the tree for me from Riley and the kids, and those are not factored into the total…because I have no idea what was spent (though Riley and I are on the same page as far as family finances are concerned, so I doubt it is a huge sum!).

Bonus:  now we know just how important budgeting is.  And this has also served as a great reminder of the true meaning of the season…and reminded me how important simplifying the holidays is.

No Waste Holidays

Thanksgiving tableAbout a year ago I was at a potluck event. Afterwards one of the attendees surveyed the nearly-empty buffet and said, “That was just perfect.”

Up until that point, I mindless followed our cultures belief that more food is better. Shouldn’t we want to have abundance left after we’re done? That sounds foolish now, but I hadn’t even thought to question it until that night. Of course it’s enough that everyone has their fill…what more could we want?

I’m new to the No Food Waste movement. I’m not particularly good at it, either, but I’m better than I was, which I count as a victory. It’s an area where I’m continually working.

One of the times that I think it’s most difficult to think about no food waste is the holidays. Food is such a big part of our traditions.

Being a no-food-waster doesn’t mean that I need to get rid of my traditions. But they, as all other areas of my life, need to be examined in light of my convictions.

If you’re new at it, too, would you consider a few things with me as you plan your holidays this year?

1. Stop serving dishes out of mere tradition. I’m not asking you to stop serving your family’s favorite dishes. But what about the dishes that we serve because we always have, but remain almost entirely untouched at the end of the meal?

Serving fewer dishes also means less work, so it’s a win-win.

2. Reconsider the amount you need of each dish. If you cook a larger turkey than your family and guests need because you save the rest for future meals, awesome. But what about dishes that aren’t as versatile as leftovers?

3. Consider who you can invite to your meal. One way not to have food waste is by sharing your bounty with others. Who do you know that might not receive another invitation? As a single woman who lives away from family, I’m thankful for the various people who have welcomed me to their Thanksgiving table.

Photo by Satya Murthy

Christmas Prep

156362_904223042779_1338120_nI don’t think there has ever been a year where I have waited so long to start planning for Christmas as this one.  (Yes, even a Striving Stewardess procrastinates.)

That is not to say I haven’t determined various aspects of the holidays–the logistics, for example, likely won’t deviate from holidays of the past.  We know where we will be and when.

No, I mean gifts.  Experience-based or not, I have dropped the ball in this arena.  About as far as I have gotten in this is the budget and a few ideas for each person on the list.

I have figured out a common gift for extended family that will serve the four of us as well; now I just need to execute my plan!  The challenge I am running up against is buying for those in my own household:  my husband, two children, and yes, budget permitting, the pets.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas–as noted above, I absolutely do–but the budget is pretty tight this year.  Saving a lot throughout the year was next to impossible for a variety of reasons, so the gift budget is coming in at a pretty small sum; I won’t disclose the amount here (yet), but suffice it to say that it is what most people would spend on one gift for one person…not several gifts for several people.

Stay tuned to see what we wind up doing for gifts.  Experience-based?  Traditional gifts under the tree?  Forgo gifts altogether?  We shall see!

Are you ready for the holiday season?

Teachable Opportunities and the Holidays

unnamed (2)In case you missed it, I have two little ones:  an almost-three-year-old, and a newly-minted one-year-old.

One of the things I’ve struggled with this holiday season is how to effectively convey the spirit and true meaning of the Christmas season to two kiddos who 1) act as if they could not care less, and 2) don’t seem to get much of anything I tell them.

Things really came to a head during a recent conversation with Bean (the almost-three-year-old).  When I told her that Christmas was coming (and her birthday too), the first response I got was, “Presents Mama!”

Now, I know she’s a toddler, and the world obviously revolves around her.  Nevertheless, this was something of a wake-up call for me.  Was this really what she thought the Christmas season was all about?

Both Ronnica and myself have waxed poetic on rethinking gift-giving this holiday season, to say nothing of traditions, but my husband and I felt that more could be done to help convey our values to our kids a bit better.  You might call this a prime opportunity for a “teachable opportunity” for all involved.

This holiday season, in addition to the usual gifts, delicious food and family gatherings, we have put special emphasis on our Christian beliefs, as well as the traditions of others, especially when interacting with Bean. (Peanut is a little too young to absorb much, but he is pretty mesmerized by the tree lights and Christmas carols, so he probably gets more out of things than we think!)

The Advent calendar.  Never mind the fact that behind each door is a piece of chocolate, and that it doesn’t technically coincide with the official start date of the 2014 Advent season.  The point is, Bean is learning that waiting and anticipation are a vital component of the Christmas season, as we contemplate the One who was, who is, and is to come. Each day, Bean opens a door on the calendar, and we do a modified devotion from the book Celebrating Advent: Family Devotions and Activities for the Christmas Season by Ann Hibbard.  The possibilities for honoring Advent are endless; Ronnica also mentioned trying a new-to-me idea of the Jesse Tree, which we will implement next year.  Counting the days on the Advent calendar are a great visual reminder for my visual learner…and provide a tasty treat, too!

The Sunday School Christmas program.  Our church may be small, but its Christian Education program is mighty!  Learning the traditional Christmas carols, such as “Away in a Manger” (actions included!), and discussing what was talked about after each rehearsal have started many good family discussions.  Bean understands the basics of the Christmas story now–a step towards understanding that Christmas isn’t just about the gifts.

Charity activities.  As I write this, we are planning to go as a family to a community card-making event for folks at an area nursing home.  This season offers many opportunities to give back, and we hope this will be a fun, tangible way to expose the kiddos to that.

Discussing other traditions.  We live in an urban area, where Lutheran Christians are just one part of the equation, but even if we didn’t, Bean and Peanut are growing up in an incredibly diverse culture, and we want them to be aware of how others celebrate (or don’t celebrate) the holiday season.  This has been educational for us as adults, too!

How have you turned the holidays into a “teachable opportunity” for the kids in your life?

Simplifying Holiday Traditions: Amanda’s Take

156362_904223042779_1338120_nWhen Riley and I got engaged, we knew we would be required to complete premarital counseling.

What in the world does this have to do with simplifying holiday traditions?  Stay with me on this.  One of the topics that came up almost immediately was the holidays.

Each partner brings their own history and their own holiday traditions from their family of origin to a marriage; that’s not a secret.  What can oftentimes be an unwelcome challenge is how best to meld those traditions as a new family unit, and how to create your own.

Each family does things differently; the permutations and combinations are many.  You have no choice but to rethink your holiday traditions when you get married and/or start a family.  If you don’t, you easily become overwhelmed and unable to focus on what truly matters during this special time of year.

Growing up, we spent Thanksgiving with my father’s family, and celebrated Christmas at the same time; on the day after, we’d celebrate with my mother’s family.  Christmas was a whole other animal:  Dad is a pastor, so this time of year is a bit frenetic.  As such, we celebrated as a family of four with an early Christmas Eve supper and gifts before worship, and then got to celebrate with my mother’s family a couple of hours away on Christmas Day.

Obviously this changed when I married.  While we have to be open to changes each year, we manage to divvy up the holidays pretty well (if I do say so myself) between six different family units.  Fortunately, all our family are concentrated within approximately three hours of us in Kansas City, so it works pretty well for us, most of the time.  Family is one of our priorities, so we are happy to do our part to see everyone we can.

That said, all that preparation and travel can take a toll.  Here are a few things that have helped our family enjoy the holiday season and keep the focus where it should be.

Lists are your friend.  Not only is it satisfying to mark something as “completed,” but involving the entire family can help complete the task at hand and make for a great family bonding experience.  For example:  if getting a Christmas tree is on your to-do list, make sure everyone in the family is involved in picking out the perfect tree. 

Plan ahead.  When it comes to schedules and spending time with loved ones, I’ve found it easiest to agree as a couple what the holiday plan will be, announcing it together, and putting that plan into action.  That may mean some folks get seen the day after Christmas instead of Christmas Eve, “the way it has always been done,” but change happens; giving plenty of advance notice emotionally prepares everyone.  But that brings me to the next point…

Don’t try to do it all.  Prioritize.  Regardless of the time of year, you spend your time (and money) on what you value.  Determine together what is most important to you and your family.  If creating a magnificent feast is what you crave, then let go of the holiday cards.  If staying on a budget to become debt-free is what is important to you, then don’t blow said budget trying to create an unrealistic holiday experience.  Sometimes, you just have to say “no.”

Verbally and visually cue your family, especially if you have little ones.  This has been particularly helpful with my daughter, Bean, who gets over-stimulated very easily and is definitely the more regimented of my two children; neither of those traits is particularly conducive to holiday celebrations that involve a great deal of people, travel, and schedule changes.  I’ve found that starting to talk about the “event” a few days before and accompanying it with pictures of the people or places that will be seen helps her to mentally prepare…which cuts down significantly on those fun toddler meltdowns.  Since I’m the default family scheduler, prepping also helps my husband get a rough idea of what the plan is!

Above all, enjoy each moment.  Life is too short to try to emulate what society says is necessary to an enjoyable holiday.  Do what works for you and your family and roll with it!

Simplifying Holiday Traditions: Ronnica’s Take

Christmas treeChristmas is my favorite holiday. Yet it is a holiday season that can be overwhelming and too busy to enjoy.

I still have a long way until I’m treating this sacred season as I’d like. But here are a few things I’ve implemented that have helped me.

Get shopping done early. I talked about this last week, but this is one of my biggest keys to simplifying December.

Limit decorations to those you especially enjoy. I have more decorations than I use. At some point, I should clean out the non-sentimental ones, but I still think it’s perfectly fine to just use the ones that you especially like or mean something to you.

I do really enjoy decorations, so I allow myself to buy one new thing each year if I want.

Think beyond yourself. I struggle with this a lot in December. Of course, how we Americans celebrate Christmas encourages self-centeredness, but having my birthday this month makes it even harder to fight against my natural selfishness. But the Christmas memories that I treasure most are those when I wasn’t as focused on myself.

Don’t be afraid to turn down a party. Everything you and I are apart of feels the need to have a holiday party. That does not mean we have to go.

Hold off until after Thanksgiving. I do this because I want to keep Christmas special. If I have Christmas decorations and music earlier than that, it dilutes it. I know that Thanksgiving is an arbitrary cut off (and particularly American), but it works for me.

Listen to lots of Christmas music. Okay, perhaps that’s not everyone’s thing, but it’s mine. I rarely listen to music apart from the radio a few times a week, but this time of year, I do. I like the fun stuff, but my favorite songs are full of theological truths that help me remember why I celebrate Christmas in the first place.

These are a few of the ways I make December less hectic. What steps have you taken?