By the time mid-December rolls around, people will often ask us, Are you doing anything special for Christmas?

Does the question sometimes make you stop and think?

Of course we want to bring our friends and loved ones together to celebrate. That’s a given. But because it’s Christmas, it seems like we should celebrate in a way that’s somehow different from our other gatherings during the year. And that’s what can stump us.

We want to do something especially meaningful. But what might that celebration look like?

To help inspire you, we asked some of our Focus on the Family Canada staff to share some of their family traditions – the unique ways that they connect with friends and family at Christmastime.

Maybe you’ll find a fun new idea to try!

Christmas shoeboxes – Dede

Dede and her family like to kick off the Christmas season by packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for children in developing countries. “We have a saying in our family: If you can afford to buy a new pair of shoes, you can afford to fill the box. So that’s the inspiration for what we do,” says Dede.  

During the year Dede collects items to fill the shoeboxes – something that’s second nature now for Dede, since she’s been doing this for over 20 years.

“It started when my children were very little, as a way to teach them about other children who have less, and how important it is to share.”

Now that Dede’s children have grown, packing shoeboxes has turned into a larger family affair involving Dede’s daughter, granddaughters and sister, who all live four hours away. Every November they plan a packing party for an entire afternoon and evening. With great anticipation each one brings the items they’ve collected over the year, then they pool the items and start the fun task of filling the shoeboxes.   

“It brings us such joy and excitement to see how all the boxes come together, and it’s such a wonderful way for us to connect,” says Dede. “We always look forward to getting together and sharing this special family tradition to begin celebrating the Christmas season.”

All in the kitchen for Advent – Jane

Jane’s three boys are all independent young adults who no longer live with her. Four years ago, when Jane was looking for a way to bring everyone together to celebrate the Christmas season, she decided to try an all-day family cooking session. Now their big family bake-off is a loved annual tradition.

“I was looking for something that was practical,” says Jane, “yet at the same time, a significant way to mark the beginning of Advent as a family.

“One of my boys is married, and the other two bring their girlfriends along. They are all either working or going to school, so they’re busy. After our cooking day, they leave with pre-made meals to see them through the most hectic month of the year. They love that.

“The value for me is those five hours I have with my kids, all working together. It’s much less rushed than the time we spend together from December 24 to 26. That can get a little crazy.”

So what does Jane’s family usually cook up? “We make two soups, a stew, a casserole and some baked goods – usually two kinds of cookies and cinnamon buns,” says Jane. “I buy all the groceries as my Advent gift to my kids, but they do the work. I make sure everyone takes turns so they all learn the skills. Everyone does the chopping. Everyone rolls the dough. Everyone makes the icing. It’s tiring for sure, but it’s a very special time.”

Grinch Night – Mark

For over 10 years Mark’s family has been hosting an annual Christmas party they affectionately call Grinch Night. For Mark, his wife, and their four kids, it’s a party with a clear purpose: they want to get to know people who might otherwise remain on the periphery of their lives.

“We try to invite a different group each year,” says Mark. “It’s a chance to get to know our neighbours, our kids’ friends’ parents, and other people like that – the people who are in our life, but we don’t know that well.

“It’s not really that elaborate; it’s a fairly simple affair. But people really appreciate it. I’ve actually got a Grinch outfit that I picked up in a garage sale. I wear that and greet people at the door. And my wife wears a green wig. One year she wore some long green eyelashes she found at the dollar store too. That was fun.

“We encourage guests to come dressed in green, and all the food we serve is green: green fruit, green punch, green baking. Other than that, it’s just a fun time hanging out together. And at some point in the evening we watch the old-school cartoon about the Grinch.”

It’s easy to do, and fun, says Mark. “Lots of people have heard about our Grinch Night, and people start asking about it in December, so that helps motivate us to keep doing it.”

Aunties’ Christmas party – Glennda

Glennda and her sisters love the Christmas season, and they love that Christmas provides a natural opportunity for them to strengthen ties with children in their extended family.

“As our nieces and nephews were growing up, my sisters and I spent lots of time with them,” Glennda says. “But when their children came along – our great nieces and nephews – we started to think, How can we reach out to them? We felt we needed to be very intentional about this – that if we left it to happenstance the kids might not develop that sense of connection to us.

“We started having the kids over for some fun Christmas activities when they were still quite young, and  at first we just had them with us for an afternoon, because we weren’t sure how the kids would respond to the idea. But now they’re with us all day and overnight – they stay with us for a Christmas sleepover.”

“We call it a Christmas party,” says Glennda, “but really, it’s pretty low key.”

For the sisters, it’s a special time to simply enjoy being with the kids, perhaps taking them out for lunch or to a Christmas light show, then relaxing at home doing simple things together like baking, making snowflake decorations, playing checkers, or doing puzzles or colouring sheets.

“Our great-nephew is now 16,” says Glennda, “and he’s asking if he can graduate out of the ‘kids party’ and have his own special celebration – just him and us.”

If Glennda’s great-nephew is making a request like that, it sure sounds like the aunties’ efforts to connect have been successful!

Journey to Bethlehem Meal – Cathy

Every Christmas Eve Cathy sets up a Journey to Bethlehem Meal for her family, laying out a buffet of fish, cheese, crackers, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, pistachios, dates and figs – the types of foods Mary and Joseph might have eaten. “I bake some bread rolls too,” says Cathy, “and I’ll probably add a soup this year.”

Cathy sees lots of benefits to this casual get-together. “Because the food is so simple, it’s easy for me to schedule the meal around a Christmas Eve service. And my young-adult kids love the chance to mingle and connect with one another more intimately than they can across the dinner table. That’s important to them now that they don’t see each other so often.

“It’s not unusual for us to have friends or relatives staying with us at Christmas, or to have one or two of our kids’ friends join us. Because it’s so informal, our Journey to Bethlehem Meal helps our guests relax, yet it also helps impress on them that, for us, Christmas is primarily about Christ’s birth.”

Cathy says she tries to add new elements each year. “One year we passed around some frankincense, inviting everyone to guess what it was. My adult niece decided it must be candy and tried to eat it, sending everyone into fits of laughter! So often that’s how it turns out: I try to add some solemnity to our evening, but it goes wrong in hilarious ways. At least, even in the midst of the chaos, we’ve built in some small connection to the Nativity story.”

 

Do those ideas inspire you to change things up a little this Christmas? However you choose to celebrate, remember that when you get together with friends and family, you’re already doing something special for Christmas!

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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