Happy New Year! I’m a little sorry to see this holiday season near its end, since it has been such a special one for our family. My husband even told me this was the best Christmas ever, and hearing that made me feel so happy–knowing all the planning, decorating, cooking, baking, and everything else I did to bring Christmas cheer achieved the intended result of bringing joy to my family. As the Christmas season winds down, I review what I did and what I didn’t get around to, what worked and what didn’t, and generate new ideas for the next year. After feeling that I did so well with our celebrations this year, I even feel like I just can’t wait to do it all again next year!
I try to keep the Christmas spirit among us through the entire twelve days of Christmas, leading up to the Epiphany. It helps that we have family that usually arrive at our house on the second day of Christmas, and stay for a few days. That’s the night I host a Christmas dinner at our house for my and my husband’s parents. I change up the sides and desserts from year to year, but we always have Cornish hens. This year, I served my standby appetizer of cream cheese and pepper jelly–it is the easiest and quickest thing, and you really should just always keep some cream cheese and a jar of pepper jelly in the house in case you need to throw together a quick appetizer–and some Prosciutto-wrapped cheese. Then, we had broccoli-cheddar soup. For sides, I made smashed potatoes using baby Dutch yellow potatoes, and roasted carrots. Last year I made a pretty elaborate cake from a recipe I had to translate from Italian, but with all the cookies and little cakes I already had, I decided just to serve those for dessert. Every dish was a hit, and the fellowship was even better. (I’ll share some of those recipes with you here soon.)
Our Christmas tree stays up at least until Epiphany, and usually through the following Sunday. This year, aware of the particular curiosities of my toddler and knowing that no amount of baby-proofing would make a full-size Christmas tree possible for us, we opted for a small tree on an end table. It was cute, easy to carry home from the Christmas tree lot, and I think it brought us as much cheer as a much larger tree always has. This was the first year I made a fresh garland for the indoor banister, so we had plenty of greenery to enjoy.
I asked for branches at the lot where I bought our Christmas tree, and used them with the greenery I gathered with my husband and daughter on Thanksgiving morning. This was a good way to use some of the green and gold accents that wouldn’t fit on our small Christmas tree. The books you see between the posts are some of Bitsy’s Christmas books. I liked the idea of displaying the books to add to the decor, but I think I will scrap that idea next year. This put the books out of her reach, so we were more likely to read the books she brought me from her shelf.
I think the thing my husband enjoyed best about this Christmas was all the baking. Sweets are his love language (forget the other five!) and I kept them coming from about a week and a half before Christmas day and I’ll still be baking through this Sunday. Last year I found some Linzer cookie cutters at an after-Christmas sale, and I’d been eager to try my hand at making them this year. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but they turned out great! They’re my mother-in-law’s favorite, so I was sure to have them on days that she came to the house. They are a little more involved than other cookies–mix the batter, refrigerate two hours, change the shapes in the cookie cutters, sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar before placing them on top of the bottom cookies, spread just the right amount of jam on the bottoms–but the task isn’t so onerous that I’d be deterred from making them again. These are going to be a new Christmas tradition in our house, and that little set of cookie cutters will be used for years to come.
While I honestly do feel proud of the things I did to make Christmas special for my family and myself this year, I have to attribute my joy, strength, and peace to Christ in the manger. Having a very meaningful Advent, preparing for Jesus to come is what helped me and motivated me to plan and do all the things we did to celebrate. The Year in Our Church from Loyola Press is series of emails I subscribe to throughout the liturgical year. Including their daily Sacred Advent and Sacred Christmas email reflections in my routine this season helped me to find peace through the sometimes stressful aspects of preparing my heart and home and celebrating Christmas–the cleaning, the cooking, the planning, the shopping, coordinating schedules, hoping our items ship in time for gift-giving. Taking time for daily reflection and spending quiet time in conversation with Jesus helped me to celebrate the right way. The Year in Our Church emails also help me have a good Lent, which will be here again before we know it. (This blog is in no way affiliated with Loyola Press. I’m only sharing a personal recommendation.)
Advent is about new beginning, and seeing Christmas anew through Bitsy’s eyes made this year extra special for our family. This is her second Christmas, but of course last year as a tiny baby she didn’t get what was happening. This year, though she still doesn’t understand that Christmas is coming and her new toys and books are from Santa, she still got excited about a lot of activities. I showed her our nativity and talked to her about it, read her some Christmas stories, and she enjoyed watching Christmas movies. One of my favorite moments of this holiday season happened in church on the last Sunday of Advent. Bitsy saw the Nativity on display at church and though the baby Jesus was not yet in the manger, she pointed to it and said, “Baby!” Maybe this was her own innocent, childlike way of loving the baby Jesus and joyfully anticipating his arrival. I think next year will be even more special, as she will have a better understanding of what is happening and can really get excited for the coming of Christmas. Until then, I’ll be trying to keep the comfort, joy, and peace of Christmas alive in my heart and home as long possible.