On Christmas, if we’re lucky, we can take a little time to just be with our loved ones. We run around like crazy leading up to the event to make it perfect, but really, it just takes some time off and a place to gather, some food to share, and good cheer. It doesn’t mean all the challenges of life disappear, but there is an opportunity to enjoy the fact of your loved ones and to be grateful for the things in your life that make you want to have a life.
What traditions do you have to celebrate the holidays?
If you’re like me and living the life of blended families, you may celebrate Christmas several times over. On Christmas Eve, I visit my brother’s home to share a meal and exchange gifts with his teenaged children. My sister in law is a great cook, and she makes some delicious food and homemade cookies, and this event is the first time I really get a feel for Christmas.
On Christmas Eve night, after bringing Free to her dad’s, I return home to the smell of turkey cooking with all the fixins. Newman’s kids come over to open presents with us and have a lovely evening of laughter, good food, and a movie.
I will spend Christmas morning snuggling with my guy, feeling grateful to share my life with him (our second Christmas in our own home!) and knowing that our children are happy and healthy. In the early afternoon, I pick up Free from her dad and head to my sister L’s house for a Christmas feast with my relatives and her husband’s family. My sister and her husband hold off on opening their Christmas gifts until the 26th to wait for his daughter from a previous marriage who, like Free, spends it with her other parent. That works out perfectly for me and Free (and my other sister and Grandma and Free’s other cousins and Newman) to converge on the morning of the 26th to open presents.
To tide the children over on the evening of the 25th when Santa hasn’t yet delivered to this particular home, Free and I have a tradition of making Christmas crackers ahead of time for the kids to open.
Christmas crackers are a UK tradition we grew up with in Ireland.
Two people pull at either end, and with a loud “snap,” the cracker breaks, leaving one person with the prize!
I buy some of the new and polished variety each year for the grownups as there are cute little gifts inside (like Christmas paper crowns!) that are always a lovely surprise and remind us of Ireland.
With the children’s version, however, I make my own. I’ve been doing it for years, and now Free has also been doing it for years! It’s easy for kids to help make them, and it gets them into the spirit of giving.
To make these, you need to gather the supplies ahead of time. I usually buy small treats and candy at Target or Christmas Tree Shops; make sure they’re small enough to fit inside!
You must save toilet paper rolls for a few weeks prior to Christmas to make the crackers. I don’t try to recreate the “snap” as it always scares Free.
Place a couple of small prizes in the toilet paper roll; there’s no need to wrap them separately.
Take the lighter tissue paper and wrap it around the toilet paper roll, making sure to cover one end and then twisting the other end to keep the prizes in.
After you have the one-sided cracker, wrap the whole thing in wrapping paper, making sure to hide the tissue paper (which older children can use to figure out who will win the prize!) by wrapping the outer paper a little longer.
Tie both ends tight with yarn; this is the part that children will need your help with. You can trim and make it pretty if you want, but I like letting the kids own the project, which means they will come out all different but lovely and colorful in the end. Make enough so that everyone has a chance to win. The kids are usually great about sharing their extras, especially if they have doubled up on prizes, so everyone’s a winner.
If you’re making crackers for the adults, chocolates and nips of liquor make perfect stuffers! My sister J. usually makes some for us to share. Last year, I even made a bigger version of the crackers to give out Twinkies, which were on their way out of stores.
This year, we are starting a new tradition. Late on the night of the 25th, when other guests have left, when my sister’s husband has retired upstairs to watch TV, when Newman is at home for some quality time with his children, and when the four littlest cousins have all gone to bed, the women in the family (my mom, my two sisters, me, and my sister’s stepdaughter, who was newly initiated last year) will stay up to help Santa deliver gifts and to have a homemade gift Yankee swap.
It scared me when my sister suggested this new tradition, but now I’m so excited to share my gift and see what everyone else came up with. I think this may be the part of the holidays I’m most excited for, other than seeing the little kids open up their gifts. I love having the chance to sit around and catch up with the women in my family, to hear stories and tell some, to laugh and listen and love.
Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you enjoy your old traditions or start some new ones!