If you are like many parents, you look forward to Christmas with a mixture of joy and panic. You just can’t wait to see the happy faces on your little ones as they tear into their presents! You pray you got them something they will really love and enjoy for years to come. You imagine a perfect day worthy of a Hallmark movie, yet past experiences have somehow fallen short of your expectations. Sound familiar?
You can have a wonderful holiday! It just needs a little more planning, realistic expectations, and a good night’s sleep for everyone. Planning? Yes! Perfect moments rarely just happen, but are the result of careful thought and preparation. The age-old axiom holds true: “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” Maybe you’d like to print that out in bold and tape it to your refrigerator. Over the coming year we’ll focus more on setting goals and planning for success – as parents, as spouses, as children, as employees or employers, and even as human beings. But for now, we will focus on planning just one day, so you and yours may truly be blessed with a Merry Christmas!
Step One: Plan the menus.
Don’t just plan the main meal! Whether you will have guests or just the immediate family, they will need three meals, and maybe even two or three snacks. By planning all the meals ahead of time, you will ensure that you don’t run out of bread or milk or a necessary ingredient on a day when most grocery stores will be closed. Your plan doesn’t have to be fancy – just complete. If you are serving a big family meal, then the other two meals can be small and simple.
Here’s a sample menu of what I have done in the past, and will probably do again this year:
Breakfast: simple, help-yourself cinnamon rolls and juice or coffee.
Brunch: Sausage Muffins, Cantaloupe and Strawberries, Hashbrown Potatoes, Hard-Boiled Eggs, Champagne and a box of chocolates.
Dinner:Ham, Pineapple Dressing, Green Beans with Almonds, any left-over fruit from brunch, or the rest of the chocolates.
Snacks:informal – the kids ate whatever they got in their Christmas stockings throughout the day. Juice (slightly watered down) was available, as well as cheese and crackers, for when even the kids had enough sugar.
My kids never got sugary cereals, and we rarely had pop tarts, donuts, or other low-nutrient, high-calorie food. The first time I served a box of chocolates with brunch, the kids all looked at me as though I’d grown extra eyeballs and turned green. They couldn’t believe I’d let them eat something so non-nutritious! It quickly became our Christmas tradition, a celebration of mom’s ability to relax and let the kids be kids.
I serve breakfast and brunch on paper plates. It’s my holiday, too, and I don’t want to spend it all in the kitchen! As soon as my children were old enough, they were helping me with brunch. The sausage muffins can be made weeks ahead of time and frozen. The dinner menu was fairly simple, but I would use our Christmas dishes, setting the table and washing up by myself, so the kids could play. By the end of the day, they’d be pretty worn out and less agreeable, so I expected less from them.
Step two: Plan the Activities
Will you be going to church? Where, and what time? Will you be visiting relatives or friends or shut-ins? What other activities would you like to do during the day? Although you spent weeks selecting gifts and many hours wrapping them, the total time it takes the kids to unwrap them is usually under an hour. They’ve been so looking forward to Christmas for so long, they’re probably quite wound up. Don’t let them experience that let-down, “it’s all over, now what do we do” feeling before the sun has even cleared the eastern horizon!
You don’t need to be fancy. Your activities don’t need to involve more money spent or more driving. Have some variation, some sit-down-quietly type activities and some run-around-outside activities. Maybe you’ll want to play a family game together, then go out and make a snowman. Or make some popcorn and watch the new DVD together, then paint a group picture on the window with soap paint. Find something a bit out of the ordinary, and make it part of your tradition.
Step three: Let the Family In on the Secret
Little children especially do better when they know what to expect. Talk about the holiday with them several times before it arrives. Let them know what they’ll be doing, and when. You can even ask them for their input, see if the games you’ve chosen or activities you’ve considered are something they think they will like. If you are getting them all ice skates for Christmas, then you may want to flood the backyard several nights in a row about a week before, so they’ll be able to try out the new skates. If you’re trying to keep the skates a secret, you’ll need to come up with some excuse for the ice. Depending on their ages, you might try something like, “it’s a new landing pad for the reindeer”, or “a water main sprung a leak and flooded our yard while you were at school”.
My Christmas Traditions
Our day usually went something like this: We would have gone to Midnight Mass the night before, so mom and dad wanted to sleep in. The kids were allowed to get into their Christmas stockings as soon as they awoke, but they could NOT get out of their bedrooms. They could go into each other’s bedrooms, if they wanted to talk or play together, but no one was allowed to wake mom and dad until seven o’clock. When they were younger, we would have breakfast, then the gift exchange. Later, two of us would be attending Mass yet again, as we were needed to provide the music. I play piano, and all four of my children and my husband sing beautifully. While I was at Mass, the remaining three children would prepare the brunch. After brunch came the gift exchange. We take our time to exchange gifts. We drag it out, opening our gifts one at a time, celebrating with one another over each present. When they were preschoolers, though, it was the traditional rip and tear mayhem.
After the gift exchange, all gifts are returned under the tree for now. We pick up the wrappings, and make sure that no little pieces are thrown in the trash. I put the Christmas trash in a separate bag, and place it in a closet instead of the garage, just in case we have to go digging through it for directions to a new game, or some other small piece. The gifts often stayed under the tree until the thank-yous were written or spoken to the relatives, but this was not a hard and fast rule. The children were allowed to play with their new things right away.
We’d snack on chocolate or peanuts or cookies or cheese and crackers throughout the day, and finish off the champagne (mom and dad) and coffee and juice. Later in the afternoon, younger children and mom and dad took naps. Older children preferred to crash in front of the tv with a new movie. Don’t allow your young children to skip naps, thinking that “just this once” won’t harm them. They probably didn’t sleep well the night before Christmas, and they surely were up earlier Christmas morning than normal. They need the rest, or they may behave badly the rest of the day.
After naps we usually went outside to go sledding, or if there was enough snow, to play in it, build a snowman or fort, or stage a major snowball fight. The years we lived down south without snow, it was still important to get out for a bit of fresh air.
After dinner we’d gather around the piano to sing favorite Christmas carols, and then finally sit by the Christmas tree with all the houselights turned off, and just talk. My kids loved Christmas at our house! They have happy memories, and I do, too! This year, although they are all college-age or older, they will be coming home for Christmas yet again. We look forward to sharing the best of our Christmas traditions with my grandchild.
(These are also not-good-for-you delicious muffins. They are undoubtedly very high in saturated fats, but we only have them on special holidays.)
1 pound of sausage (we like it hot!)
2 cups shredded cheese
2 cups of baking mix (like Bisquick)
Mix all together. It’s very dry, and works best if you mush it together with your fingers. Little children can help with this, but do not let them taste the raw dough. Roll the mixture into small, one-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. They do not rise or spread, so the balls can be fairly close together. Bake at 325 degrees for half an hour, until done. They should be lightly golden brown, but not crispy. At this point, you can either eat them, or freeze them in air-tight containers for up to a month. Reheat at 325 degrees until thawed and warm through.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can crushed pineapple, juice and all
(about 20 ounces, I think)
4 cups bread, cubed
Mix in the order given. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve immediately. The left-overs are also good served cold for breakfast. Can use whole-grain breads. It is not necessary to remove the crusts. Day-old, slightly stale bread is fine, too.