I always love baking with my kiddos, but holiday baking is particularly special. In the weeks before Christmas, we pull out a few of our favorite once-a-year recipes.
In fact, just this morning, as my 5-year-old and I were stirring up Santa’s Whisker cookies, she revealed her own insight into holiday baking: “Mama, these cookies are really special aren’t they? We only make them at Christmas time, because if we made them all the time they wouldn’t be so special anymore. And they’re also special because they are one of your favorites.”
Here are three of our “special” once-a-year favorites (just click on the links for the recipes):
Santa’s Whiskers - These are a favorite with my kiddos who love to sample on the coconut and cherries while we stir them up! And I love that you roll them into two logs, freeze them a bit and slice them. Perfect for enjoying some now and baking the rest fresh for Christmas!
Candy Cane Snowballs - These are just plain fun to make! Seeing the kids come up with clever ways to get the candy canes crushed is always amusing! Just be sure to double bag them in heavy freezer bags before setting your kiddos loose with them (and check on them periodically!) The first year we made these, the kids pounded them on the kitchen floor and the crushed candy cane pieces poked holes in our baggies, leaving our floor one big sticky mess!
Dipped Pretzels – I love this one for it’s simplicity! Just melt some almond bark and let the kids have fun with the dipping and sprinkling! We first made these a couple years ago as a stocking stuffer for daddy…but now it’s impossible for us to wait that long, so they’ve just become a seasonal treat!
Here are links to some of our other tried and true recipes that sometimes make a holiday appearance.
Be sure to take lots of photos with your kiddos in the midst of your holiday baking! And don’t forget to write down the precious things they said, the laughs you shared, or the little mishaps that happen along the way. (Today our mixer broke just as we were getting started, so we had fun mixing our dough by hand…literally!) Though I hope I’ll always get to enjoy a little Christmas baking with my kiddos, I know that someday they’ll be home making memories with their own little ones. So, with the photos and recipes and stories that we’ll collect over the years, I’m planning on sending my kiddos off with their own Christmas Treat Cookbook someday… complete with the photos and little snippets of memories from our years of holiday baking!
We’re always looking for new recipes to try! I’m thinking that next year we should focus on candy-making! Do you have a family favorite? Please share!!
This is one tradition that kind of snuck it’s way into our Christmas celebrations. In fact, I never even considered it being a family tradition…until the year that my daughter noticed it!
I guess it started years ago, when my husband first started leaving a card with his handwritten, heartfelt sentiments in my Christmas stocking. We’ve been writing Christmas cards back and forth to one another ever since.
And then, on the Christmas morning when my oldest was four years old, we’d opened all the presents and just finished going through our stockings, when all the sudden, my little girl just breaks down crying. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was wrong. After all, she’d gotten the two gifts she wished for on from her simple Christmas list, along with a few others. And then finally she exclaimed: “I didn’t get a card in my stocking!!”
I felt horrible! It never even occurred to me to put a card in each of the kids’ stockings too! But looking back, I suppose I should have realized the significance. After all, when our little ones want to express their love for us, what do they do?
They scribble a few lines on paper.
They color us a picture.
They make a special drawing.
They write us a note.
And then they proudly come to us, bearing their masterpiece, exclaiming, “I made this for you, mommy!”
Of course she’d miss the card in her stocking! I had forgotten to express my love for her in the way she best understood giving love at that time…not in boughten gifts, but with my handwritten masterpiece.
I did the only thing I knew to remedy the situation that Christmas…I promised to make her her very own card that afternoon while she napped. She never let me forget either! She went and laid down in her bed, but came out of her room once to remind me, “Don’t forget to make me a card while I nap, mommy!”
Christmas cards have always been on the top of my list of stocking stuffers ever since!
And you know what? Someday the gifts will all be gone. The toys will broken or set aside and forgotten. The clothes will be outgrown. But the words of love and affirmation that we give our kids will help shape who they are.
Our Christmas cards to one another have been precious to me too! I’ve saved them in a box along with other little keepsakes. But, in doing our Christmas Stocking Time Capsules this year, I was inspired to dig out our cards from Christmases past so we can place them inside our stockings when we pack them away this Christmas. That way, when we hang our stockings next Thanksgiving weekend, they will be part of blessings that we remember.
My daughter actually started this tradition for us a couple years ago when she was only 5. She came to me one day and said that since her little sister adored the Cat in the Hat, she wanted to make her her very own book for Christmas. So, we printed off some coloring pages online and she used the computer to type out a few lines of text to go with each one. When it was all colored and ready to be assembled, she carefully cut the pages to fit in a photo album and proudly wrapped it up for her baby sister.
Since then, the kids have always made Christmas gifts for one another. My favorite part is that when it gets close to Christmas, the kids aren’t talking about what they want for Christmas…they are asking, “What can I make for my brother and sister this year?”
And on Christmas morning, those are the only gifts that are opened as we wait for the egg casserole and some sort of yummy cinnamon bread to finish baking. The rest are saved for after breakfast, so that their gifts from the heart can be savored and enjoyed and not lost among other shiny packages that wait under the tree.
This year’s homemade gifts are already finished, wrapped and waiting.
When my oldest received this sewing kit for her birthday, after her initial ooh’s and ahh’s, her first response was, “Now I can sew something for my brother and sister for Christmas!” And that’s exactly what she did! The first and only projects she’s made thus far, she’s lovingly giving away.
My middle girly decided to make these donuts for the play kitchen for her sister. They are actually made from a pair of socks and were supposed to be no-sew, but she opted to sew the beads on…because that’s what we had on hand, but also because she wanted to try sewing with a needle just like she knew big sis was! You can find the tutorial for no-sew donuts here.
Then for her little brother, we lucked out when we came across the airplane project that was part of this year’s Build and Grow Clinic at Lowe’s. Not only has Little Brother has been fascinated with airplanes since he was a wee little one, but it also turned out to be a very cool ”daddy – daughter date” on the day she made it!
And Little Brother? He wasn’t about to be left out. During a stroll through the craft store with me, he grabbed hold of some strings of beads, so we went with it and made bracelets. It of course required some assistance to string the beads since they were so tiny, but it proved to be a successful project as we talked about big and little and he helped make a beautiful pattern with them.
Now I’m just wondering how long it will be before someone accidentally “spills” their secrets!
I’ve probably spent at least one evening each year of my life driving around looking at Christmas lights, so that in itself is special enough to make it a family tradition! But then, a couple years ago, I found the golden Christmas Express tickets from Confessions of a Homeschooler. And it turned what was once a “special” night into something almost ”magical”. It really is the little things in life, isn’t it?
One evening before Christmas, while my kiddos head off for their evening baths, I sneak into their rooms and leave a golden ticket and a silver bell on top of their pajamas.
And when they return to find it, the neighbors may actually be able to hear their shrieks! For they know that instead of heading to bed, we’ll head to the car with snacks and hot cocoa and sing Christmas carols while we cruise the neighborhoods to get a glimpse of all the Christmas light displays. So simple, but so memorable!
When I put together a list of advent activities for our family last year, I was inspired to pair a fun activity with a way that we could reach out and serve others. Sometimes it involved serving those within the four walls of our own home, while at other times we reached out to those our community or to those whom God happened to put in our paths that day. Where I could, I tried to make our fun activity and our act of service relate to one another.
- Donate toys and then enjoy a family game night.
- Pack a special lunch for daddy to take to work and then enjoy a Christmas tea party lunch.
- Donate food and then dress fancy for dinner.
- Bake cookies and then deliver some to a friend.
My hope is that it will help us keep our perspective so that we don’t let the busy-ness of the season overshadow what’s really important. I want to be sure that while we’re having fun making beautiful holiday memories as a family, we also pause to think of others before ourselves.
Here is our complete list of activities. (You can also view last year’s here.) Some are specific to our area, but perhaps it will inspire some ideas if you’re wanting to create your own! You’ll find the acts of service printed in red, and the fun family activities in green.
And here are a few links that correspond with select items from the list:
This will be our third year of doing Advent Devotionals with the kids. We’ve used Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Journey, as well as Amanda White’s Truth in the Tinsel, and both are wonderful resources that I’m sure we’ll use again and again!
This Christmas, I’ve decided to go with Truth in the Tinsel again. I ended up saving all the girls’ ornaments from last year, though some of them fared better than others.
So this year, I decided to fill our Advent bags with our premade ornaments…except for five or six of them, which will hold the supplies for ornaments that we’ll recreate.
I think it will be the perfect solution for us…we’ll still get to enjoy the whole Truth in the Tinsel experience, but not spend so much time crafting since I’ve got one in school full-time now. Plus, we’ll have a chance to get to more of the extension activities, which we didn’t always do last year. And the newly released printable ornaments will be perfect for my littlest guy to color on our non-crafting days, so that he has a full set of ornaments to hang on the tree this year too!
You can see how we set up last year’s Advent bags here.
And, if you’re joining in Truth in the Tinsel, here is a link to a fun cookie-cutter star ornament that we’ll be making for Day 21 instead of the original.
Do you have a favorite Advent Devotional that you use with your kids?
For my kiddos, it’s a big deal when you can sleep anywhere other than your own bed. But it’s extra-special when you can fall asleep under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.
We’ve done this for a couple of years now. But this year, we’re adding one small element to it. Though our tree has been decorated for almost a week now, this Friday night, as we settle into our sleeping bags, everyone will get the chance to reveal the 2012 ornament they chose, tell why they chose it, and hang it on the tree. (See Tradition #2 for more info on our yearly ornaments!)
Ever since the first Christmas my husband and I shared, we have always selected a meaningful ornament to add to our Christmas tree each year. So, unpacking our box of ornaments is more than decorating, it’s retelling our story.
There’s the theater building ornament, which reminds us of the year that my husband surprised everyone by enrolling in an acting class, as well as the production of Jekyll and Hyde that we saw in a small community theater during our anniversary getaway that year.
There’s the one of Charlie Brown jogging, which reminds us of the countless hours we spent watching the 2004 Olympics, as well as the year I finished the NYC marathon (the last item on my checklist before children).
And then there’s Kermit the Frog on a bike…which reminds us of the year my husband and I splurged on mountain bikes, only to find out it meant different things to us. I dreamed of nice, leisurely rides on the wonderful paved trails of our park system, while he dreamed of offroading through the hills and cliffs and forests where I couldn’t seem to keep my bike upright!
When our children were born, we began collecting meaningful ornaments for them as well. Cinderella to represent our daughter’s many hours of princess dress-up, an airplane to remember our little guy’s first love and obsession with them, or a little Curious George book to remember one’s beginning with independent reading.
In years past, we made a family outing of shopping for our ornaments. But this year we tried something a little different…something I think we just might continue.
I took each of the kiddos out separately to choose their ornament. And we made a little date out of it…just the two of us. Ornament shopping…talking…laughing…and stopping off at Starbucks afterwards for a hot cocoa.
When each returned home, they were given instructions not to share their ornament selection with the others. Instead, they secretly wrapped their boxes. Then, when it comes time to put them on the tree, they’ll each get a chance to unwrap their ornament and share with the rest of us why they chose it.
And as for my husband and I’s ornament? It would have been fun to select one on a date with him as well, but then I’d have been the only one who already knew what all the ornaments were on our “big reveal” night. So instead, prior to his going shopping, we discussed what this year’s ornament should signify, what big thing we want to remember about the year. And that, without question, was his mission trip to Haiti…which changed all of us in some way! I’m anxious to see what he selected to add to our collection!
Do you have any fun family traditions around your Christmas decorations? I’d love to hear them!
I have to admit…we’re already listening to Christmas music and reading through our stash of Christmas books. The kids have been busy secretly making gifts for one another, and I am honestly hoping to have all my Christmas shopping and gift wrapping finished up by December 1st so I can relax and truly enjoy celebrating the birth of Christ with my family. Over the next few weeks, I thought I’d share some of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions…some are things that we’ve done for years, others are ones that we just began last year, and a few include traditions that we decided to tweak a bit this year.
But for us, the holiday season always starts with the packing of a shoebox!
A few years ago, we packed our first shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. Today, each of the children pack one of their own.
I pick up a few school supplies and items as I find them on sale throughout the year, and then just before collection week, we make a special event of going shopping so the kids can each pick out a few special things they want to add to their boxes.
I’ve enjoyed watching the kids grow and mature in their giving in just the few years that we’ve been involved in the project. Shopping trips that were once filled with the sounds of ”I wish I could have one of these” or “Can I keep this one for myself?” have slowly evolved into, “I want to give this” or “I want them to have my favorite candy”.
But it’s so much more than simply packing a shoebox with a few simple material things. The first time I packed a shoebox, I felt a huge weight and responsibility. The reality that what I packed in the box may be all that the child would receive worried me. What if I didn’t pack what they really needed? What if it wasn’t enough? But then, I saw the stories that came out of Operation Christmas Child. And I knew. God orchestrates it all.My shoebox will get into the hand of the one who will be most blessed by it.
Just watch this video, and you’ll see what I mean…
Packing a shoebox blesses us as much as it blesses the child who will receive it.
So again this year, we pray for the children who will receive them, recall where our boxes went last year, include drawings and notes full of well-wishes and love for those who will open our boxes this year, and anxiously await word of where in the world they ended up!
Are you interested in being a part of this amazing ministry? National Collection Week is going on NOW: November 12-19th! Here are some links you might not want to miss:
OCC Impact - Every story that comes from those who’ve received a shoebox touches my heart and soul. I can barely begin reading a story or watching a video before the tears come. It’s so exciting to see what God can do through a simple shoebox.
How to Pack A Shoe Box - a printable step-by-step packing list complete with instructions, gift ideas, and box labels.
Follow Your Box - By making your shipping donation online, you receive a barcode to attach your box, which allows you to receive information on the destination of your gift as well as information about the children in that country!
Well, since the end of this 31 day journey also happens to be Halloween, I thought I’d touch on adding children’s books to our holiday celebrations. Many of our family traditions center around the holidays and the seasons. Therefore, many of our treasured picture books center around the holidays as well. I’m still building a collection of our favorites, but it’s fun to tuck them away for the majority of the year, and then pull them out again just as the holiday approaches.
And this year, I found a new favorite that I want to add to our collection:
Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White. It is seriously adorable and has become one of my all time favorite books, so if you get the chance, you’ll have to check it out!
Anyway, yesterday afternoon, we baked a pumpkin pie and got all ready for and evening of pumpkin carving! Once dad arrived home, we carved pumpkins, ate our still-warm pumpkin pie, and read this story.
And I’m willing to bet that when we get ready to carve pumpkins again next year, I’ll have two little girls who will make sure that we remember to bake a pie and read Too Many Pumpkins!
Here are a few other ways that we’ve tied children’s books into our holiday celebrations:
I’ve been working hard this year to find some new favorites to bring into our Christmas celebration, and hope to share some of them with you as the season draws nearer. So although I won’t be posting everyday anymore (Whew! My family will be glad to have me to get back on task!), I hope you’ll check in now and again. And when you do, I’d be delighted if you’d leave a comment and share some of your wonderful children’s book finds with me!
Thanks to all of you who shared in this journey through children’s books, and encouraged me along the way! Not only did we spend more time at the library during these 31 days, but I think my daughter set a new personal record for the amount of reading minutes that she’ll be turning into her teacher this month too! But none of that compares to the amount of time my littles and I spent snuggling while reading and rereading book after book!
Richer than Gold You may have tangible wealth untold; Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me. ~ Strickland Gillilan