It's December and, along with the festivities, comes a yearly dose of stress, at least for me. While I'm starting to feel better about the holidays for a few reasons (traditions in place I feel good about, Davan getting older), my enjoyment of the holiday season post having a kid has been well tempered by stress.
Kids get ramped up this time of year, making them sometimes harder to be around. Relatives expect certain things that families with kids may have a hard time dealing with (like a Christmas Eve dinner that doesn't even start until 7:00 when your two year old goes to bed at 7:00). There's the stress of presents - getting good ones and how much to spend and on whom. Don't forget that it's your job (or, at least I feel this one) to make the season special for your kid(s)! In addition to all this, there is all the junk food floating around this time of year, making it hard for your body to cope with the stress, not to mention reduced time for exercise.
It's no wonder that for five out of six years prior to last Christmas I ended up sick as a dog on Christmas Day. (I took a year off from being sick just after changing to healthier eating patterns and when Max had just moved in - and I mean just, as it was one week before - when we still thought things could work out with him.)
This year, I feel pretty good about the holidays. Yes, there is extra stuff to do, but most if it is fun. Yes, we still have Christmas Eve dinner at my MIL's, but it's usually at 5:00 or 6:00 and Davan does well being with her cousins for the evening now. Yes, the pressure of presents, but we have a clear guideline for them, so it's not quite so overwhelming. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for poor food choices, but with sticking to vegan and no refined sugar, I find myself just saying no most of the time and only indulging in homemade treats, which are much better on the system. Also, the one family obligation that we still find trying is going to my FIL's on Christmas Day in the afternoon and we won't be doing that this year, as he and his wife are going to be out of town. I think it's partially trying to us just because it is hit or miss. Sometimes they're here and sometimes not.
Here are some of our traditions that have helped me to get a handle on the holidays. First off, we do an advent calendar. This is one of the things that Davan most looks forward to about the holidays. It is some work, but not really too much, and I'm in charge of what goes into it. I love that it's helping to foster the idea that Christmas is about traditions and experiences rather than presents and chocolate. We have a homemade cardboard advent calendar with space for small items. When I first made it, I usually put in some sort of food treat. I don't do that anymore. Now, it's filled with slips of paper telling about a special advent activity for the day or leading Davan to a hiding spot with a wrapped "present." The present is either a Christmas picture book from the library to read together or, this year because I found these last year on sale after Christmas for 50 cents for a sheet of twelve, on several days there will be wooden ornaments to decorate. Other things I fill the calendar with are things like, "Let's put out the Christmas linens!" (a fast one for a busy day that Davan still loves), "Let's decorate!", "Let's make wrapping paper!", "Let's go sledding!", "Let's go downtown to see the decorations and meet Dad for lunch!" or "Surprise! We're going to see the Nutcracker!" With that last one, I found a group going to a school show of the Nutcracker for just $6 a piece and, as Davan was specifically asking about seeing it this year and I'd had to say no because of cost, I jumped on it. It will be a surprise for her.
Another tradition is the whole schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It just doesn't need much discussion anymore beyond exact times and if we'll be going to my FIL's or not. On Christmas Eve in the morning, we meet friends at a local coffee shop for coffee, chatting and a simple present exchange for the kids. If at all possible, we walk over and back with them, as they live nearby and the coffee shop is only a mile and a half away.
In the evening, we head over to my MIL's where we have dinner and present opening with that side of the family. The attendees are usually my MIL, my SIL, her husband and three kids, one of my MIL's sisters, her husband, their grown son and his wife along with their teenage son. For this group, we give the kids gifts, usually Old Navy shirts for all but the youngest kid who still gets a toy. My MIL gets some sort of gift that we try to keep to a dull roar cost wise, but changes year to year. The other adults, plus my MIL, get a container of homemade spiced nuts.
About the same time we get home, my parents show up to spend the night. Davan greets everyone, opens one gift - pjs - on Christmas Eve, and heads off to bed. My mom and I put out presents and visit. It's lovely.
In the morning we get up at a predetermined, negotiated time usually something like not before 7:30. Once everyone is in the house, we start with stockings. People can check out their stockings at whatever pace they like, giving the adults a chance to get coffee or other needs taken care of. Usually, though, we end up all sitting together and doing it. My mom and I, particularly, enjoy watching Davan enjoy her stocking.
In our house, the stocking gifts are from Santa. He also brings two family gifts. One is an active gift to be enjoyed together that day. Two past examples are an aerobe and a Hyperdash game. The other is a more sedentary gift to be enjoyed together that day. Past examples are a Lego set and Family Fun Cranium. Each person (Anthony, Davan and I) gets an individual gift that is from the others and this is usually our big gift of the year, so we try to choose it carefully. Additionally, Davan gets a new ornament. Last year, for the first time, I made one for her. This year, it'll be homemade, as well.
For my parents, it's pretty loose as to what we get them. They get a portion of the nuts, but then we usually get them something else. Last year, though, we didn't buy them anything. Instead, I learned two songs on the piano that were special for them and I wrote them a letter saying how I felt about them. What's great is that there isn't a lot of pressure as far as gifts for them go, they were very happy with last year's gifts. This year...I don't know yet. I haven't been hit with any inspiration.
The only other gifts we do are homemade with things already on hand. Davan always makes something for each person. This year, I'm making her the rag rug...or maybe it'll be for Bunny if I don't get going on it soon.
For food on Christmas Day, we keep it pretty simple. We make a list ahead of time of special foods each person wants on hand. We get enough of said food so that others can share, as well. Traditionally Anthony, for example, gets Coco Pebbles and cream plus maybe bacon for his. This year, he's decided against bacon, but will still get Coco Pebbles and, he's thinking, half and half. This year Davan and I are both staying vegan. Her choices are bagels, Rice Dream treats, and "chicken" patties. I'm going for Sunchips and homemade chocolate chip cookies, vegan and no added fat. My mom and Dennis each pick things, as well. We also stock up on any non treat items people want like fruits and veggies. We try to stay away from anything that will require a lot of time in the kitchen and people just graze all day as they get munchy.
Finally, now, for the second year, I'm coming to enjoy December again. Before Davan was born, I loved the holidays. Then they got stressful. The first several years she was around, we fluctuated a lot in regards to how we celebrated Christmas and I think that was stressful for a couple of reasons. Davan likes routine and, especially this time of year, knowing what to expect helps her to regulate. I would spend time fretting over what we were going to do and how we'd fit it all in. Now that we just stick to the routine for this month, it goes better. Plus, we like the routine. That makes it a tradition to look forward to.