It was Aila’s first Christmas and she was our best gift this year.
Turns out family holiday traditions don’t just happen out of thin air. They take a crap-ton of thought, intention, planning and straight up work. There is some miraculous, not-so-behind-the-scenes butt busting that happens to get all those presents wrapped and under the tree, stockings stuffed, dinner made, cookies baked, house cleaned (even if it only lasts for five minutes with my tornado son and small apartment) and decorated, tree up , and family adventures successfully carried out.
True to my overthinking self, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the type of spirit, lessons, feelings, experiences and memories I’d like to create in my family. I’ve landed on something like Christ-centered, service-oriented, magical, spiritual, love-filled, joyful, fun and family-focused. Or something.
I wonder: How to keep Christ at the center of Christmas in a whirlwind of fun activities, food and glitz? How to emphasize the love in a season of giving without succumbing to the materialism and commercialism so blatantly encouraged everywhere? How to enjoy time together without getting too caught up in an ever-growing to-do list? How to preserve traditions of two different families – one Christian, one not – while making new ones of our own? How to have traditions without getting stuck in a rut of doing things just because we always do them?
I dunno. But Andy and I talk about it lots and we’re trying! Here’s where we’ve landed this year…
Traditions We Keep Alive
Christmas tree cutting: I missed it this year because Carter was sick, but I love starting the Christmas season this way. The day after Thanksgiving, the Bay Area Bradshaw clan tromps up into the hills of a Christmas tree farm and makes a day of cutting down our trees together.
Christmas Creche Exhibit: One of the best ways to start the season with a strong focus on Christ. Stunning nativities from around the world are displayed in a truly beautiful setting with live music. Andy and I come multiple times each year and usually volunteer at least once. We love it!
Christmas decorations: We decorate our tree (it doesn’t take long, we don’t have many ornaments yet!) and house together. We also display the Christmas cards that loved ones and friends send our way. Smiling faces and twinkling lights add to the cheer in our home.
Hosting Christmas Eve dinner: I love hosting my family and close friends in our little apartment.
Progressive gift opening: Andy and I are blessed to live close to both of our families. We spend part of Christmas Day visiting and opening presents with both sides of loved ones.
Ugly wrapping, scrap wrapping, no wrapping and wrapping paper piles: Pretty self-explanatory. Runs on both sides of the family. Jump into the giant pile of wrapping paper.
This Year’s Tradition Fails
The Christmas Poo: We really hope this does not become a thing. Right before we were about to open presents, Carter laid a big, stinky poop. Andy went to change him and the next thing I knew he was yelling, “Red alert! Red alert!” I ran in to find Carter flipped onto his tummy, Andy holding one fat leg in each hand, suspending the poor guy spreadeagled in the air. There was poop everywhere. Please please please not again next year.
Lantern lighting: Seemed like a really good idea to join friends as they released lanterns in a high school field à la Tangled. I’ve always wanted to do this. I also like the corny song in the movie. However, after we finally herded dinner guests into our cars and pulled into the parking lot, I checked my phone and saw this message:
Dead tree: Our tree started to brown about two weeks before Christmas. It stopped drinking water. It turned crunchy and all the needles started falling off. It was a major fire hazard. But, we bravely – albeit stupidly? – left it up through Christmas.
Self-Buys: Andy’s family is big into the self-buy Christmas gift. As in, buy yourself a gift, wrap it up and then open it with a big show of exaggerated excitement on Christmas morning. It’s pretty funny, but I’ve always been the biggest hater on this particular tradition. This year I bought DVD stocking stuffers for Carter and Andy, so naturally, I bought myself one too. I wrapped it up, put it in my stocking only to discover on Christmas morning that not one, but two other people (Andy and my mom) also bought me the same movie. Andy almost busted his gut laughing at me. That’s what I get for being a hater. AND, that just goes to show self-buys are stupid. So I guess, this is a win-win for all.
New Traditions We Think We’ve Started
Children’s Book Advent “Calendar”: Stole the idea from a former teacher and mentor. Starting December 1, we unwrap and read one children’s Christmas book each night until Christmas.
Elf and The Holiday: Watch both of these every December. I’m siiiinnngggiiinnngggg…..
Cousin gift exchange: Or cousin’s children’s gift exchange to be more precise. Or first cousins once removeds’ gift exchange (I had to look that up). Carter will call them all cousins. It’s not all about the presents, but it sure was fun to be with my cousins and to see how excited the kids got. Lesson learned: little children want action figures and toy-things. Just try to get things that kids will love and stop thinking so hard about it. Hopefully this will come from more experience. Do not want to be that weird, ugly-sweater auntie.
Christmas in the Park: Downtown San Jose has a fun park filled with lights, displays, rides, games, trees, ice skating, snowman hot chocolate and fair food. Carter loved the lights, the bubble guns and the snow machines!
Also, this happened before we got to the park:
Union Square skating and lights: Andy and I went ice skating with friends in Union Square four days after we first hung out (yes, I remember days of the week and everything. We first hung out on a Friday, we went ice skating on a Tuesday). That night, we also rode glass elevators and snuck into the top floor of the Westin St Francis in Union Square. This became quite an epic winter of adventures and watching every dance movie known to mankind. We tried to repeat sneaking up to Victor’s Palace this year with Carter, but the hotel has gotten wise and requires a keycard for elevator use. Blast. Nevertheless, we try to go up to San Francisco every year to do something Christmas-y.
Flashback to December 23, 2008: Though I was unaware at the time, this was the beginning of Andy & Joanna magic.
December 18, 2015: This year’s visit to Union Square and a failed attempt to sneak back up into Victor’s Palace. At least the gingerbread house was amazing!
Ornaments: We have a pretty naked Christmas tree. We have to put it in a corner because we barely have enough ornaments to spread over its visible parts. Its backside is embarrassingly exposed. So, this year, we asked people coming for Christmas Eve dinner to bring us an ornament. We loved the thought and personality behind each gift. This year, we also started collecting ornaments from our travels. I finally decided to let go of the idea of having a matchy-matchy Pinterest Christmas tree in favor of a colorful tree with lots of meaningful ornamental memories. Good decision, me.
Caroling in bed: This year, Carter woke up at 6 am and Andy and I categorically refused to get out of bed until at least 7. So, we sung all the Christmas carols in bed to keep Carter entertained and distracted. We really really really suck at singing. Incidentally, in our home, despite Andy’s protests, Christmas music turns on the day after Thanksgiving and doesn’t turn off until New Year’s.
Family Christmas morning: Cinnamon rolls and other goodies for breakfast. Read Luke 2 while eating. Andy cried and bore his testimony of Christ to Carter as the little one was busily stuffing two fistfuls of waffles in his mouth. Present opening together just the three of us. Snuggles. Reminder to self for next year: buy bacon.
DIY gifts: We wanted family gifts to be really thoughtful and meaningful without deriving all their value from cost. This year, I made Carter alphabet magnets and Andy framed photos for me in a collage for our wall. Poor Andy didn’t get a DIY gift this year, he got a mini blu tooth speaker. We loved our DIY gifts; they were our favorites to give and open. Will make it up to Andy next year.
Gag gifting: My brother Dave got us a Squatty-Potty while we wait for his real gift which has yet to arrive. Clearly, he must be repaid.
Also, this gift was also from Dave. Highlight of Christmas dinner:
Puzzles: Andy really really wants us to start this one. He bought us a 100 piece Nativity puzzle this year that we finished in ten seconds while watching Star Wars. Hopefully next year’s will be a little more advanced for a couple of puzzle masters like us.
Ideas for the Future and/or Things I’d Like To Try
Nativity re-enactment: Lots of families we know play dress up and re-enact the story of Christ’s birth. Seems like a pretty fun thing for kids – and maybe even the kid-like adults.
White envelope gift: Inspired by this story. Ignoring her description of the “inner-city” kids; I like the idea and want to try it.
Christmas cookie party and gingerbread houses: This is purely selfish.
Train of Lights: We’ve tried getting tickets for the last two years but they’re always sold out. One day we will prevail!
More SF lights: Apparently there is a lot of cool lighting stuff that happens in SF in early December. From lit up boats to cable cars to houses, it seems pretty dope. Would like to experience some of it. This year it was raining so we gave up trying.
Ugly sweater: Worn plenty of ugly sweaters in my life, but never been to an Ugly Sweater party. Someone please invite me to one.
Fancy-pants party: Have always wanted to get all dressed up for a fancy Christmas party somewhere. I know, shocking. But, it would be fun just once.
Bradshaw Summer Olympics: Saw a hilarious video of people at a family Christmas party playing a ridiculous game involving ping-pong balls, tissue boxes tied around waists and a lot of gyrating and pelvic action. Was inspired. Andy and I want to hold an annual Summer kick-off field day BBQ with stupid games and even stupider prizes. Coming Summer 2016.
Love Christmas time. Already counting down the days until next year!