What made your Holidays with family special?
October 6, 2009 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Christmas? Yule? Santa? Looking for direction in celebrating with my 2 year old son. How did you celebrate the holidays (which was maybe a bit nontraditional) ?

I haven't really any holiday traditions from my family (and no family on my side to celebrate with anymore except my mom who was never into the holidays). My husband and I are atheist so the religious component is out. I thought of maybe exchanging gifts with each other and get one gift/stocking from Santa? Did Santa make it magical for you? Did you not have Santa but it was magic anyway?
Did you go pick out a tree at a tree farm? Did you always watch a show/play a game on christmas eve?
If you didn't have a big family what made it really special for you?
Spending the day cooking a big Christmas dinner in the kitchen and not just enjoying with my husband and child doesn't sound too fun either. I am thinking big breakfast instead.

I am requesting any and all Christmas eve/Christmas/Yule time customs traditions that brought you joy.
posted by beccaj to Human Relations (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The most magical Christmas thing that ever happened to me was that one year I left some cookies out for Santa, and the next morning he'd left me a thank-you note! I couldn't read yet, but my parents read it to me, and I kept it for several years. Eventually I realized that it was in my father's handwriting... but it seemed pretty magical at the time.

Our other special holiday tradition was having breakfast on Christmas morning, and nobody was allowed into the living room (where the tree and presents were) until everyone had eaten. The anticipation made present opening time even more exciting. Among other things, my mother would always make Monkey Bread. (I would link to a recipe, but there's about a million of them out there. It's delicious and fun to eat, and very easy to make - you can use biscuits from a tube!)
posted by LolaGeek at 12:26 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by Lutoslawski at 12:28 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: I was brought up in a religious household so I had to make some adjustments when it came time to develop traditions for my (not religious) little family.

Santa has made it magical for my children. My oldest came about the myth in his own time and was perfectly happy with having had Santa and with no longer having Santa. When he finally demanded a straight answer from me (I had been saying, "What do YOU think?" for a couple years whenever he asked), we talked about the real St. Nicholas and what he did and how parents and families today helped re-create the magic by playing Santa for their kids. He really enjoys playing Santa for his younger sister - he comes downstairs after she's asleep and helps us set stuff up. I think this might be the last year for her, or perhaps last year was.

I take the kids to a greenhouse/conservatory that's a big part of our city every year for their annual Christmas photo. They dress up and we take the picture and then we wander the building. That photo is the one that goes out to family and friends. I plan on presenting them both with an album of each year's photo either when they leave home or get married or have their first child. I haven't decided yet.

We go to the same tree farm every year and cut our own tree. We love it. We watch Elf every year, and A Christmas Story. The kids help put the decorations on the tree (we talk about what the tree symbolized to ancient peoples and how it's lovely to have a bit of green inside in the winter) and we make gifts for their teachers throughout the month of December. We always, always get Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve and watch A Christmas Story while we eat. We also allow the kids to open one small present that night (the Santa gift doesn't show up until Christmas day, but we have lots of relatives all over the country who send gifts before Christmas).

I always do a slow-cooker meal for Christmas dinner. It allows us to have a great dinner but also lets me play with the kids all day, or watch movies, or visit with the in-laws or my parents.
posted by cooker girl at 12:32 PM on October 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

I always do a slow-cooker meal for Christmas dinner.

Brilliant idea.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2009

Did Santa make it magical for you? Did you not have Santa but it was magic anyway?

I grew up as an agnostic half-Jew, but Santa absolutely was magical for me. I'm a big proponent of Santa. cooker girl's suggestions sound phenomenal.

(Good Christmas magic movies: Jim Henson's The Christmas Toy, Santa Claus: The Movie)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2009

My wife has a holiday tradition with my boys -- in their official "picture with Santa," the boys are always dressed in pajamas.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 PM on October 6, 2009

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved making the Christmas decorations. Mainly these were paper chains made out of coloured paper. There was one of those candle-powered rotating angel things that I thought was fantastic. I also got to arrange the ornaments on the Christmas tree. This was Kid Heaven.

Cooking festive food was also a hit. Not the stodgy traditional stuff but gingerbread or complicated layered jelly based desserts. Even a two year old can make a good go of instant chocolate pudding with carefully arranged sprinkles on top, if you help them a bit :-) Making interestingly shaped biscuits (cookies) is enormous fun, as is icing them with different colours of icing. Smarties make good baubles on Christmas tree shaped biscuits.

Layered jelly based desserts taste nicer when served in tall-ish clear drinking glasses with long spoons (although perhaps not to two year olds).

Making Christmas cards for relatives is good fun, silver and gold pens are very useful for this, as well as glittery sparkly card stock.

Staying up late to drink hot chocolate wearing a dressing gown.

Playing with large cardboard boxes that presents came in (Toys are overrated!).

Some of my relatives get the kids to help bake cakes which they take round to people in the community who don't have their own cake-bringing relatives.

Oh and - definitely don't arrange things so that one person is busy having a stressful time cooking, while everybody else is doing special Christmas things. With my parents, the big dinner is cooked on Christmas Eve and we eat leftovers on Christmas Day. Last year my brother cooked: we ate a lovely festive meal on Christmas Day, but it was nearly all pre-prepared stuff. Yummy salads, posh cheese, good olives, and a trifle to follow. Far more special to everybody than slaving over a hot stove.
posted by emilyw at 1:03 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Christmas (and therefore Santa, though we did regularly attend Catholic mass) was a big deal for us growing up, and my sisters and I (and our parents) still love the holidays. Things I liked/still enjoy:

At some point we started reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" as a family, just before going to bed on Christmas Eve (we do gifts Christmas morning). We all sat on the couch and passed the book back and forth, leaving the shortest/easiest page for my youngest sister, and that's the page she still reads to this day actually.

We didn't open any gifts until my parents woke up, but we were allowed to go through our stockings while waiting for them on Christmas morning.

When we decorated the tree (which we all went to pick out together, at least until I went away to college), we each got to put up "our" ornaments (ones with our names, ones we made when we were younger, gifts from friends) and then everyone put up the rest together.

Christmas Cookies! At some point (sometimes on the same day we decorated the tree, but sometimes not, depending on how crazy the day was) we made lots of Christmas cookies, usually trying out a new recipe in addition to old favorites. These usually didn't last until Christmas Eve to be left out for Santa, but my parents saved some cookie dough so we could make a fresh batch to leave our for Santa.

On Christmas morning we opened gifts in our pajamas - and still do, though we also do Thanksgiving dinner in our pajamas, so perhaps my family just really likes our comfort.
posted by Caz721 at 1:04 PM on October 6, 2009

The best part of christmas was the time I spent with my immediate family. Each Christmas Eve, my mom cooked a simple meal of dumplings, shrimp cocktail, chicken wings, and champagne and we sat at a little table in front of the TV and played board games and watched christmas specials. The day after christmas we visited our extended family, which was a long, drawn out deal with multiple parties and a ton of relatives. I really like that christmas eve and christmas was kept simple.

But when I was little, the Santa/Easter Bunny factor in holidays was hugely awesome. On Christmas Eve my dad climbed up onto the roof and jingled some bells. One easter, my mom made "bunny tracks" with baby powder throughout the house and out the back porch. We left notes for santa every. single. year and always got responses ("What are the names of your elves?"). One christmas my dog "woke up" with a doggie elf hat on. My sister and I were CONVINCED. So yeah, Santa definitely made it magical.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:09 PM on October 6, 2009

My family's christmas traditions that were really memorable:

1) We used to go to a Christmas tree place and pick out a tree, until it became obvious that that was what was making my sister so sick every Christmas, so we got a fake one. I always hated it, but the process of setting the thing up every year got us into the spirit in its own way.

2) Santa in my family was weird. Kind of magical, definitely wonderful, but not actually BELIEVED in. There was this unspoken agreement though that if I admitted to not believing in Santa I probably wouldn't get any presents from Santa, and that was no good :).

3) Christmas day: 1) wake up, 2) open stockings (which were full of various $1 Random Crap my mother loves collecting throughout the year. Oh, and chocolate), 3) start cooking cinnamon buns (just the pillsbury ones). 4) Change out of pajamas and whatnot while cinnamon buns are cooking. 5) Eat cinnamon buns. 6) Open presents, one at a time. Usually with one of the ilttle kids picking and handing them to people as we go. What happened next (lunch/dinner stuff) was never a big deal for us.
posted by brainmouse at 1:11 PM on October 6, 2009

Oh, I forgot the leading-up-to-chrismas stuff, just in late December:

1) my family is all very musical, and we would sing Christmas Carols in as good 4-part harmony as we could (sight-singing). We're MUCH better than we were 20 years ago!

2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

3) Miracle on 34th St. Repeatedly. I LOVE that movie. I'm making my boyfriend watch it in December (he's never seen it! blasphemy!)
posted by brainmouse at 1:14 PM on October 6, 2009

Santa Claus needs a traveling companion. My suggestion, introduce Krampus into your holiday season.

A big, shaggy, horned ogre with a Gene Simmons tongue, birch rods to punish the naughty, and a sack to carry away bad children until next year is what's missing out of American Christmas. Screw toy-making elves, go old-school with you companion

December 5th is Krampusnacht. In the Alpine parts of Europe, Krampus comes on that night and makes his rounds. Krampus parades are huge in Austria. Then Dec. 6th is the Feast of St. Nicholas, when the nice-guy part of the team arrives.

Grüß von Krampus!

Also, mushrooms with red caps and white dots are traditional decoration. Of course, they're also psychedelic. But hey, you asked about magical Christmas. ;-)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:28 PM on October 6, 2009

Dad's an atheist, and Mom was a renegade Catholic when I was a kid. She's a regular churchgoer now but at the time we never went, unless her parents were around. And for Christmas, they usually were, so that meant Christmas got interrupted by getting dragged to a boring mass. (I hated that part.)

Still. I loved decorating the tree. (When I was very young we had real trees but at some point we switched to a fake one and unboxed it year after year.) I loved the music (especially Boston Pops albums.)

Maybe I loved the food the most. Mom's side of the family are all great home cooks, so the grandparents' visit meant lots and lots of awesome food. Heaps of spaghetti and meatballs, or lasagna. Fresh cooked scrambled eggs and bacon every morning they were there. Christmas dinner was usually a repeat of Thanksgiving, with the roast turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. And oh, the baked goods - almond filled Danish pastry, cinnamon rolls (from scratch), a bazillion kinds of cookies, including mountains of the cut-out shape kind that my grandfather, my brother and I would sit around the kitchen for hours frosting and decorating. And Mom would hang a decorative felt ribbon with 25 candy canes tied on it in our rooms so every night from Dec. 1 to Christmas we got to have a candy cane. (I live by myself, and don't get to visit family as much as I'd like at holidays, but I made darn sure I got that Danish pastry recipe and I make it myself every year.)

And television specials. Charlie Brown Christmas. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the permutations thereof. And, as this was the seventies, there was always a round of assorted celebrity variety specials. (This was where the budding Broadway theater fan in me learned about Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli, etc.)

The presents were fun too, of course, but with few exceptions they aren't what comes to mind when I think of the concept "Christmas." It was really the family, and the busy house done up with all the fancy lights and pretty music and tasty food.
posted by dnash at 1:31 PM on October 6, 2009

Regarding breakfast: now that I am 25, the best thing about Christmas morning is Breakfast Casserole (we make ours without mustard, as I don't like it. Originally, the lack of mustard was just an oversight on my mother's part, but then, having noticed her mistake, she put it in one year, and I cried at the breakfast room table on Christmas morning).
posted by ocherdraco at 1:32 PM on October 6, 2009

My parents wouldn't put out any gifts until after we'd gone to bed on Christmas Eve. That was awesome, because you'd wake up to this huge stack of gifts that magically appeared overnight.

A tradition that I actually started is having a cheese plate for Christmas brunch (during present-opening). You're eating a metric ton of chocolate from the stockings, so it's nice to have a low-effort source of concentrated protein on hand to balance it out.

When we were still doing the cookie plate for Santa, we also included a carrot for Rudolph. My parents would bite off the end and leave it on the plate.

When opening gifts, we go one at a time and alternate people, so it lasts for a couple of hours at least.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2009

Best answer: My parents started their own Christmas Eve tradition, which I plan to continue with my (future) children. It caught on with some of our extended family, too.

Every Christmas Eve, usually after dinner, "the elves" would ring the doorbell, leave two gift wrapped presents addressed to my sister and me, and then run away before we could see what they looked like. They always left us (matching) pajamas. It was awesome & we'd spend hours anticipating their arrival, trying to figure out how we could catch the elves in the act.

My parents continued the tradition long after we realized that they were actually the elves but my sister & I were happy to play along because it was such a big part of the holiday for us.
posted by pear at 1:55 PM on October 6, 2009

When I was about twelve I was reading someone else's Christmas memoirs, and I read that this person's aunts started giving each other this old ratty fake fur wrap every Christmas back and forth as a sort of gag gift. I was thus determined to start my own tradition in my family -- I dug out a toy cowboy hat my brother had when he was three, and decreed that it was now The Christmas Hat, and whoever got it on Christmas forever after a) had to pose for a picture in it, b) wear it at dinner, and c) add a decoration of some sort to it, before packing it up and re-gifting it to someone else the following Christmas.

That was nearly 30 years ago, and that hat looks completely and utterly ridiculous now. It's gone just around everyone in the whole family once -- early on, one of the things someone attached to it was a bell, and so now you don't even have to unwrap it all the way before you hear the tell-tale jingle, so every year we're all in the middle of unwrapping things and someone clear across the room suddenly freezes and says "oh, NO," and then we all know what's happening. It's also kind of a neat way to welcome people into the family -- my cousin just got engaged, and I got the hat last Christmas, and I"m seriously thinking of giving it to my cousin's fiance for Christmas this year, because now he's officially going to be in the clan.

It makes absolutely no sense, but it's delightfully silly -- and I think that Charles Dickens once said "It's good for everyone to be a child sometimes, and what better day than on the day when Our Creator was a Child Himself?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm a pretty strong atheist myself. While I do not believe my family would consider themselves atheists, religion was never an important part of our life. As such, I did not have any kind of religious tradition associated with Christmas. We would usually open one present on Christmas Eve, then open the rest on Christmas morning, each person taking turns to open one. From what I can remember my parents just labeled presents randomly as from Santa or From Mom and dad. Sometimes we went out and bought a tree, other times we just used a plastic one, there really wasn't any tradition to that.

As an atheist I often think about how I will handle holidays if/when I have kids. That is, will I introduce them to the standard fairy tales (Santa, etc.). I know though, that I was raised on a magic Santa and Easter Bunnies and enjoyed it, so I tend to think I'll continue with that. Also, I remember when I first started to suspect the fictitiousness of the tooth fairy I decided to hide the tooth without telling my parents and discovered it wasn't real that way. I consider it the first experiment I ever preformed (on my current career path to being a scientist) and would not want to take that opportunity away from my kids.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 2:51 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I never really believed in Santa*, and I'm totally fine with that; Santa just represents excess commercialism to me. Religion isn't a big thing in my household either. The central event(s) has always been the visit(s) to and/or from family. In fact, except for the gifts (which aren't excessive, and often practical) and the tree, Christmas time isn't really that different from our gatherings at other times of year -- we play games, read aloud, play music, and eat one or two large meals. The holiday is really just an excuse to get everyone together.

So, uh, guess it sucks you don't have much family. Why don't you call up some friends and have a big dinner together? You can get some socializing in, and have a nice meal without having to cook it all yourself. Or, at the very least, get your husband and son in the kitchen with you -- I actually really like spending all morning making food. Most everyone in my family likes to cook, so big dinners become a social, fun thing, instead of a one-person-slaves-away-while-everyone-else-eats-popcorn-balls thing.

*My one distinct memory of kinda-sorta-maybe believing in Santa is one Christmas Eve when I was five or so, maybe younger. My dad was having trouble getting me and my brother to go to bed, so he said "If you don't go to bed, Santa Claus won't come, and you won't have any presents. In fact," here he gestured out the window, "look, there he is, he's turning around. He's going back to the North Pole."

"I don't see anything."

"Because he's too far away. He's GONE. If you go quick, maybe he'll come back, so hurry up."

I was skeptical, but hedged my bets and went to bed anyway.

posted by Commander Rachek at 3:23 PM on October 6, 2009

Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, Santa sent one of his elves to stay at our house until Christmas Eve. Oddly enough, only my father could see this elf, who lived in a piece of pottery in our living room during his visit. The elf spent his time keeping track of the good (and bad) things that my sister and brother and I did. Whenever we started to squabble, my dad would call out, "Oh Elf, I hope you're writing this down!" All conflict would immediately cease. On Christmas Eve, the elf would head back to the North Pole to tell Santa whether or not he should stop by our house. Somehow we always made Santa's Good List!
posted by Boogiechild at 3:25 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

One fun thing when I was a kid was being allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve.
posted by eleanna at 4:23 PM on October 6, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

My mom was a nurse, so she had to work about half the Christmases growing up. The years she was gone during the day, my dad and my siblings and I would watch "A Christmas Story" all day. You know how it's on TBS all day? We're the ones watching it. I still have to watch it at least once on Christmas Day. And now robot and I have Chinese food for lunch.

Stockings - I got the GOOD shampoo, deodorant, and fingernail polish. This is a far cry from the rest of the year, when I got whatever was on sale. Most of our toiletries were actually wrapped up in our stockings every year, come to think of it - which I really liked. It was pretty thrifty on my parents' parts, too. I miss this part - now I have to buy my own, and it's never as special as when they were wrapped up. Scratch off lottery tickets, for whatever reason, always made it into the stockings, too.

We always went to a tree farm. I liked that part. I hated the decorating part. I still hate the decorating part. Now we just don't get a tree.

My dad always buys himself a present. And it's "the best present he got!" My mom always makes him chocolate chip cookies that only he gets to eat. My dad always puts a ribbon on his head and takes a picture.

Oh, and party mix (fancy chex mix) was the food of the day. My sisters could eat BAGS of it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:51 PM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for sharing. : ) I will def incorporate some of these. I really enjoyed reading them. :: sniff ::
posted by beccaj at 7:02 PM on October 6, 2009

I didn't do santa for very long: I asked my dad, he asked me what I thought, and I decided that Santa was fake. And went on to spoil it for multiple friends (oops.)

I do think that Santa's a pretty magical thing, though, and it's worthwhile to keep him alive as long as you can.

We could open stockings as soon as the last kid was up, but we had to wait to open gifts until my grandparents came over, around 10 AM (I hated waiting). All the gifts were opened one at a time, with chanting (Joe's opening! Joe's opening! in rhythm) and repeated jokes ("It's a new car!") that got so old they became charming. Might be weird, but we had fun. With 7 or 8 of us, it took a loong time to open the presents, so then dinner, rum pudding, and a family walk to a local seasonal attraction.

We did the Hanukah and Christmas both thing, so we'd wrap the christmas presents in Hanukah paper and vice versa.

New PJs on Christmas Eve were not our tradition, but I know several that did and it seems like fun-

Cookie deliveries for the neighbors, perhaps? A family near us always hosts a cookie exchange party (come with a plate, leave with a variety) that has become our source for holiday cookies, dunno if you guys are into hosting but that's always been a highlight, they serve soups and ham and it's a great reunion for old neighborhood friends and the like.

And I LOVE cooker girls's attitude toward Santa - that's fantastic.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:14 PM on October 6, 2009

My parents traditionally gave my siblings and me a new pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve. This was mainly so that we looked *somewhat* nice for unwrapping present pictures on Christmas morning. Even now that all four of us are grown up, my mom still ships them to us if we can't make it home for Christmas (and it's even extended to my sister's family).
posted by pianohands at 7:48 PM on October 6, 2009

Oh! I just thought of another one.

When my brother and I were tiny, my father would amuse us with very silly stories about a made-up friend of his named "Sam Yakaboochie".* (The only one I remember went something like: "You know how Evil Knieval jumped over six schoolbuses riding a motorcycle? Well, Sam Yakaboochie jumped over six motorcycles riding a schoolbus!")

Then, the first Christmas that my brother and I had pretty much definitively gotten done with Santa -- we were both in our "tweens" by then -- we were digging around under the tree Christmas morning, and we each found a present for each of us, and the tags said that they were each "from " Sam Yakaboochie. "...Daaaaaaad?" We said, eyeing him, but Dad just grinned and shook his head, saying, "oh, no, that's not from me, see? Right there on the tag, that's from Sam!"

And thus, within a year after Santa stopped visiting us all, he was replaced by Sam Yakaboochie, who still gives us each a present every year to this day. Maybe if there's a silly family story you have about a made-up character, having that character "give a Christmas present" may be fun.

* The truly incredible postscript: at some point my brother dated a girl in college, and when he called home to tell our parents about her, he asked to speak to Dad separately a moment, and when Dad got on the phone, my brother burst out laughing and said "guess what her name is!"

It was "Iacabucci."

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Every year we'd stockpile our carefully wrapped presents under the tree. Presents are pretty. However, on Christmas morning, there would always be one more present for my brother and me, which would match all of the following criteria:

1) It was never wrapped.
2) It was the thing we had been begging for since November, such as new bicycles or Atomic Pinball or, eventually, a Nintendo.
3) It had been reinforced heavily that "No, that's too expensive, we can't afford to get that for you." (With an option on "You don't need to be wasting your time playing video games anyway.")
4) It was marked "From Santa."

It was a beautiful setup, and I admire it to this day.
posted by darksasami at 9:32 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

We always had our big dinner on Chrstimas Eve, so that my mom didn't have to spend her whole Christmas cooking. Instead, we made huge batches of kolaches (with sausage) and a crock pot stew for Christmas day itself. I think this is less an important tradition, and more a sensible thing for my mom to have done - this way, she got to enjoy Christmas just as much as the rest of us did. She's stressed out by holidays.

Fun Christmas traditions:

1. When we were young, so young that I don't remember when it happened, my mom sewed us all our own stockings. They're just made out of felt, but they've got our names embroidered on them, and each has three cloth ornaments (for lack of a better word) on it, things like reindeers, angels, and Christmas trees. These stockings are so special to us that when my mom wanted to put them away last year so she didn't have to do stocking gifts, all four of us kids rioted and insisted they be out (though not that they be full, obviously. Nobody cared about the presents).

2. My dad always always always always puts oranges, gelt, and one of those enormous foot long candy canes in the stockings.

3. Every Christmas Eve, after dinner and before bed, everyone gathers in the living room, and we listen to an audiobook recording of Patrick Stewart reading A Christmas Carol. When we were kids, we never got through it before falling asleep.

4. Until recently, we all went to pick out the tree together after Thanksgiving. Not everyone can always make it now, but my parents gather up as many of us as is possible to go cut down the tree. We then decorate it while drinking hot chocolate and listening to music - usually some mixture of Christmas carols and more obscure winter-y songs.

That's all I can think of right now, but oh, I could talk about this subject for ages! Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, and mostly because of all the traditions that surround it. There is something so comforting about going home and doing the same things we've always done. I enjoyed Santa, and I still get presents from him, but he was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of magic.
posted by rosethorn at 10:34 PM on October 6, 2009

I'm atheist but my children are being raised Catholic so there is a bit of religion on holidays (we have a nativity scene and I don't care if we sing religious carols but we don't go to church). We do the whole christmas thing, decorating the house, getting a tree, buying presents. Buying and making presents for other people is one of my children's favourite things. Children really like rituals and traditions so now is a perfect time to start your own. We believe in Santa (I'm trying to nudge them towards Father Christmas but he isn't as common in Canada) and we take a horse drawn sleigh ride out to his cabin in the woods where we have cookies and hot chocolate, make a craft with Mrs Claus and visit with Father Christmas (who addresses the children by name). I made a stocking when my first child was small and kept thinking "just one more row" until the stocking was literally four feet long. Filling that monster is hard enough that I make all the children share it. We hang it in the window as we don't have a fireplace or mantel. In the stocking I always put a chocolate orange in the toe, chocolate loonies, scratch cards, a huge nutcracker for my son's collection (it's his "thing" and I write the year on the bottom), quality street chocolates from england in pretty wrappers, kinder eggs, and a bunch of dollar shop toys. A favourite gift I gave in the stocking was a bell (a high quality brass one) from Santa's sleigh. We try to see the panto each year too, my in-laws take them to their local, professional one and there is usually an amateur production in our small town I bring them to. My son also like to see the nutcracker ballet if I can get to it. A lot of the ticketed Christmas events fill up fast so get tickets now. Just this morning my son was asking if we could replace our roof with a flat one so Santa could land safely. Kids are so much fun.
posted by saucysault at 4:36 AM on October 7, 2009

Some nice stories in this old thread about what atheists tell their kids about Christmas.

I'll gauchely quote myself from that thread:
"My parents loved to tell the story of the year my dad got out one of his snow boots and left footprints in ashes and glitter coming from the fireplace and how utterly thrilled we were. I don't remember that at all, but it's one of their favorite holiday memories, suggesting a lot of it is for the parents."
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:05 AM on October 7, 2009

Like pear, we got a Christmas Eve gift, often pyjamas. One year the pjs were from my grandparents, and they were red flannel night shirts with pointy night caps. I decided that we should use them and dress as elves to hand out the presents on Christmas morning. We made red and green felt ankle and wrist bands with bells on them, and after that, every year my sister and I would dress in red and green and don our "elf costumes". The rule for passing out presents was that only elves could do it, and they couldn't give a present to themselves. We alternated which of us passed them out. Each present had to be opened and appreciated before the next. It drew out the anticipation in a very nice way. I also think it really geared back a lot of the jealousy that might have arisen, because my sister and I became part of the giver for every gift each other got.

We continued that pretty much as long as we continued getting together in that family unit and having presents. I still have my elf "costume" and plan to give it to my nieces and/or nephews when they arrive.
posted by carmen at 6:31 AM on October 7, 2009

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