Some early holiday thoughts

A couple of people have asked what specific holiday music I listen to, since I’ve made several references to my year-round passion for Christmas carols.  I have been accumulating CDs I love over the years and I recently made a playlist of my very favorites, which I happily share at the bottom of this post. The question put Christmas on my mind, though.  Christmas is my favorite holiday.  It always has been.  Much like in the rest of my life, I refuse to over-program the holiday season.  I do my cards and my shopping early.  We say no to a lot.  And, as a result, we can really sink into December, rather than sprint through it.








We have some important family rituals around Christmas (I had completely forgotten that I’d written about our traditions already, until I stumbled upon this post in the archives).  One thing I don’t do early is buy our Christmas tree: we don’t go until the middle of December.  We do go to the same farm every year, as a foursome on a Saturday morning, and the pictures from that outing are always some of my favorites.  Grace and Whit are each allowed to choose one ornament from the overheated greenhouse where you check out, and they look forward to and plan for this choice for months.

We always decorate our tree on a Sunday afternoon, sometimes with a few dear friends or family present (you know you’re special to us if you’ve joined us for this tradition!).  We crank up the carols, drink hot chocolate, and pull out the ornaments, spreading them over the coffee table, and Grace and Whit slowly trim the tree.  Almost every single ornament carries the freight of memory, and I adore the process of lovingly looking over each one.  This is a ritual that was a part of my childhood, and I’m happy to have recreated it with my family.








Each year I buy a personalized ornament for each child.  I’ve done photographs, silhouettes, and initials.  I’d love any ideas for this year’s special ornaments.  For the last several years I’ve found them on etsy.











One weekend afternoon in December we always bake and decorate Christmas cookies.  For the last several years we’ve danced along to carols as they baked: last year it was to The Lower Lights holiday CD.  It’s extraordinary to me to witness how easy it is to make a tradition and how important they are to my children.  We just randomly started dancing to carols one Saturday afternoon a few years ago, and now it is so vital a part of our family’s year that Grace talks about the “Christmas cookie dance party” all year long.  Attitude is all it takes to imbue the smallest activities with meaning.

Last year we were with my sister in Jerusalem for Christmas, which was a once-in-lifetime experience that none of us will ever forget.  This year, the children have lobbied hard to wake up at home on Christmas morning and I think we’ll make that a priority for a while to come.  As is our standard custom, we’ll celebrate the Solstice on December 21st, we’ll go to our church’s Christmas Eve family service (we missed it two years ago because we were in the ER with Whit), and we’ll mark the evening of the 24th with fantastic wine and carols around the dinner table at my parents’ house with our oldest and dearest friends.

There is so much richness ahead.  I can barely wait. I’m grateful that my bias towards under-committing continues into the holidays, that there are many nights where we sit and look at the lights on the tree, that there is still time to sign along to carols and talk about what different ornaments represent and bring baked goods to friends and write love letters to our grandparents.

And with that, here’s the playlist I’ve got on repeat these days:

Joy to the World – Amy Grant
Angels We Have Heard on High – The Lower Lights
Angels from the Realms of Glory – Annie Lennox
O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Sugarland
Universal Child – Annie Lennox
O Holy Night – Martina McBride
Silent Night – Stevie Nicks
Love Came Down at Christmas – Sean Colvin
The First Noel – David Archuleta
Oh Come All Ye Faithful – Amy Grant
In the Bleak Midwinter – Sarah McLachlan
Auld Lang Syne – Barenaked Ladies
Little Drummer Boy – The Merry Christmas Players
The First Noel – Annie Lennox
Do They Know It’s Christmas – The Tributes
Believe – Josh Groban
The Holly and the Ivy – Annie Lennox
River – Sarah McLachlan
O Little Town of Bethlehem – Annie Lennox
O Come All Ye Faithful – Josh Groban & the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

How do you mark this holiday season (whatever your specific celebration)?  Are there any particular traditions that are special to you?  And do you have any ideas for this year’s personalized ornaments?

16 thoughts on “Some early holiday thoughts”

  1. “Attitude is all it takes to imbue the smallest activities with meaning.” Yes! I couldn’t agree more. There is a line in Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul” (a book you should read if you haven’t) that says something to the effect of “even the most mundane of tasks can be elevated to the status of holy if approached in the proper spirit.” I think that’s what you’re getting at here.

    We, too, have a pretty low-key December at Casa Tomas. The Christmas cards I ordered are coming by FedEx today, and will probably be out the door shortly after Thanksgiving. We buy very few gifts, so shopping isn’t a big part of things. I always bake cookies. This year we’re going out to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree, something I always wanted to do as a kid but that my parents always protest was “too much work” (I might discover the same thing, but I have to give it a try once!).

    This year I’ve decided to have a tamal and posole party, but I’m going to wait until January to throw it, because the last thing December needs is one more thing to go to!

    PS: I ordered some of the children’s Xmas books you recommended a few years ago!

  2. You’ve pretty much described our approach as well. My kids are much younger, so we’re still establishing our own traditions. We started an advent calendar last year that was a big hit — some days are filled with little treats, but most have activities that we do as a family, or “dates” that each of us have one-on-one with each child. This helps the whole month feel like a deliberate celebration focused on family time.

    We also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th as a nod to my husband’s German heritage. The boys leave their boots out the night before and St. Nicholas fills them with oranges and chocolate, and in our house, Christmas pajamas. 🙂

  3. I totally forgot to mention out advent calendar tradition! Grace has one that has activities each day – I love it and so does she! Happy to know you’re doing something similar. xoxoxo

  4. I love this – a holiday how to! I completely bungled christmas last year by doing and buying WAY too much. This year I am focused on enjoying the holiday and not buying any crap that we won’t use and love. I haven’t thought about traditions I want yet – I am going to see what happens this year and wait and listen for what the kids ask for.

  5. We have many holiday traditions that we do with the kids already. We started cutting down a tree before the kids were born. Love the playlist! This was a great post 🙂

  6. This is the first year my daughter won’t be home for the month – and the third year we’ll head overseas for the holiday. My heart aches a bit, reading this, and is mostly just so happy you celebrate so deeply, as you do everything.

    So it is a time for new traditions for us, and to see, once again, that even thousands of miles away, our hearts all yearn for the same things over the holidays.

    Peace. Love. Joy. Light. to you, yours and all…



  7. We are still gathering traditions in our household- but what you’ve described is what I imagine when my kids are older. One thing I started last year that I’m excited to do again this year is a Christmas book advent calendar. I collect old and new Christmas books for kids and wrap them up. Each night he gets to choose one and read it before bedtime.

    And I love your Christmas carol list. Ours always include Ray Coniff, Johnny Mathis, and Willie Nelson.

  8. Oh you so need to add a Carpenters christmas song to your playlist. Seriously. There are some Christmas songs that were meant to be sung by Karen Carpenter.

  9. LOVE this post!! Each year, I feel like I doing a better job of focusing on the right things at Christmas and I will be adding a few of these fun ideas as well… One fun thing I started doing a few years ago is the “12 Books of Christmas.” I love giving books but always feel like they get shuffled under the tree on Christmas morning. I started wrapping a book a day for the 12 days before Christmas so that the books could get the attention they deserved. In an effort to reduce the ‘stuff’ though, I really like Alisa’s idea of a Christmas advent calendar. I might just have to wrap up books we already have- genius, really seeing as they haven’t been out for a year and will feel like new 🙂 And I also loved reading about St. Nicholas’ Day. My college roommate brought this tradition to me and we did it every year in college. I had totally forgotten about it. I’m excited to add this new twist to our holiday this year!

  10. hanging the lights outside before the rains begin is really the beginning. then we have to wait till Nov. 15th to turn them on (Nativity Fast begins in Orthodox Church).

    We bake gingerbread over the next ensuing weeks to give away on dec 6th (st nicholas day) this year it will probably be just me… my 17 year olds are on the edge.

    my son and my husband always pick the tree – usually first weekend in december.

    I am definitely needing some new christmas music. your post started me on the hunt for something new.

    I always make them a new pair of flannel pj pants and they get a new ornament each year to open christmas eve after our vespers service.

    stockings are shared before liturgy.

    this year my children are in grade 12. it all seems rather ominous…. I know there will be many more christmas days shared but, for some reason this seems to hold a sense of finality to it.

  11. What about calling one of gift shops at LegoLand? I am sure they have ornaments and maybe they could personalize them for you as well. Our tradition is to select an ornament each time we are on a family vacation. You could do the same with one of your family’s favorite places and most treasured memories.

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