Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hepworth Family Christmas Traditions

So, we're not really doing the Santa thing around here. We sing a song about Santa here and there. (Lincoln's singing, "You better watch out! You better not cry!. . . Santa Claus is coming, to town!" is pretty adorable.) Lincoln and Atley got a picture with Santa at the mall when we visited my family last week. However, we have already started telling Lincoln that Santa isn't a real person - that Mommy and Daddy are Santa. We had two Santa decorations out this year - but one got broken, and the other got lost, by Lincoln, presumably. Maybe that's a sign that nixing the Santa deal is a good choice for our family? Haha. :) We just feel like we want to prevent the world from having any ammo in saying that, "Santa was a myth your parents told you, and Jesus is too!" I don't personally have antagonism against Santa - in fact I loved that my mom always said, "If you don't believe, you don't receive!" I have so many fond memories of elaborate schemes to demonstrate Santa's "realness" to us, of waking up early to see what Santa put in our stockings, that he ate our cookies and his reindeer ate our carrots, and I loved it all. I didn't feel betrayed when I found out the truth, either. Santa has always been a symbol to me of the spirit of giving that is so wonderful this time of year - plus its great to have a way to give anonymously to your kids, too. However, I feel that obsession with commercial aspects of Christmas - is at an all time high. Antagonism against Christian traditions are as well. And so our family is doubling down on what is absolutely essential in celebrating Christmas - remember Christ and the gift of his life, to us. While we have gently nudged Santa to the curb, here are some of the Hepworth family traditions we have decided to keep around:
  • Each Sunday before Christmas (and this year, one after) we celebrate an LDS version of advent by reading scriptures and singing sacred Christmas carols as a family by candlelight. We light one candle the first Sunday, then two the next Sunday, and so on. Eric Huntsman - a BYU professor - has put together a wonderful list of scriptures and songs in this article. He also has published a book on celebrating advent from an LDS perspective, called "Good Tidings of Great Joy" that can be purchased at Deseret book at this link. (Not an affiliate link.) The hardback book has great images and information about advent and the events leading up to and after Christ's birth.
  • I read this article in the friend to Lincoln at the end of last month. It really touched me. It told about how a family celebrates advent, by not putting the baby Jesus out in their nativity set until Christmas day as a reminder that while people waited for Christ to come to Earth the first time around - we too, are eagerly awaiting for Him to come - again! We have decided to make this a tradition and have kept our baby Jesus stashed away from our main nativity set, and plan to make his entry on Christmas morning a big deal. Something we'll do and talk about before we open gifts.
Our nativity set up - everyone is eagerly waiting for Jesus.
  • If you were ever wanting a great countdown to Christmas, Eric Huntsman has also compiled this free print-at-home booklet with stories and suggested songs to sing. With how busy everything is this time of year, it is too involved for us to read one of these every single day, but it is nice to have it and to pick it up when possible. I also check out Christmas-themed books from the local library to read to my kidlets. We have a few Christmas books that we own and I would like to continue to build up our stash, but for now checking them out is working well for us.
  • Each year, we cut down a fresh Christmas tree ourselves. (Minus last year - because I was huge and pregnant with Atley and ready to have her any day. So, I strongly suggested insisted we get one from a lot instead. ;) )We got our tree permit from Big 5 - the only place to get them in Tucson.  This year, Squire's dad came up to visit us for Thanksgiving, so we were lucky enough to have him come with us to hunt for this year's tree! (Pictures coming soon.) We love the feeling of having a real tree in our home, and having one that we have searched for and cut down ourselves is even more rewarding. Squire has saved a cutting from each Christmas tree we have had since we have been married, and he is making them into ornaments, with the year wood-burned into them. Those are not quite done yet, for obvious reasons. I'm betting we'll have six wooden tree trunk ornaments ready to hang on the tree. . . next year. :) We let our trees dry up and then use them up as firewood over the course of the next year.
  • We don't obsess over doing everything homemade (if I had the energy I would, but I just don't.) But, I do like to do as much homemade as is comfortable. The ornaments on our tree were all gifted to us, or homemade. Our star and tree skirt are homemade. I didn't make everyone's gifts, but several family members received homemade items this year. I like to give gifts that required sacrifice of myself. Homemade gifts: #1 Limit the commercial aspect of Christmas and #2 Keeps things down to Earth and unique. Though let's be honest here, they also: #3 Make me super stressed out when I don't start early enough. Hence the fact that we don't do this for all of our gifts, and that we saved the popcorn strands I strung last year to reuse on our tree this year. For reals. Still a fun tradition in principle and worth keeping as much as we are able to do so without going crazy. Homemade gifts usually include a plate of homemade baked goods that we bring around to all our neighbors. :)
  • We decorate our house for Christmas with Christmas music a-blastin'! We have garland, and snowmen, candles, reindeer, mistletoe, and lights. Our main decorations though, are several different nativity scenes. We hope to continue to expand our collection of unique nativities as the years progress. Also, the kids have their own "Little People" nativity set my mom got for Lincoln a couple years ago. I put that out in his room so that he and Atley can play with it through the whole season and become better acquainted with the story of Jesus' birth.
  • We read the story of Christ's birth in Luke 2 at least once each season, either on Christmas Eve or for an FHE. Included as part of that is an explanation with the kiddie nativity set or - as we did two years ago - an FHE with friends where we all dressed up and acted out the nativity story live. We will incorporate the acting out of the nativity more as we have more children and they get a bit older.
  • We have made it a relatively new tradition (just on our 2nd year now) to have me play Christmas carols on my French horn until my chops give out in the evenings the week before Christmas. Man - Christmas music and French horns - they belong together. Playing my horn, "Phobe" as I call her - fills my soul with so much joy and happiness. If I get any extra time one of these days, I think I'll try my hand at joining a community orchestra. I need more regular horn playing in my life. But, at least I have Christmastime as an incentive. And my family loves to hear me play, too. They bring out shakers and drums and wooden flutes and dance and march around while I play. It's really great. Also, besides playing French horn, we sing and listen to Christmas music all the time during Christmas season. I love finding new songs to fill my home with the wonder of the season. Here are five songs that I am particularly loving this season:
*Pentatonix, "Little Drummer Boy"
*Piano Guys, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
*Cloverton, "Hallelujah"
*Eclipse, "O Holy Night"
*David Archuleta, "Angels We Have Heard on High"
  • On Christmas Eve, we open up one gift each, and they are the same every year: Christmas jammies! We do this so we can all be dressed in our cozy new jammies to welcome Christmas morning. Though, Squire and I have realized we have enough pairs of jammies and don't need a new set every year, so really this is going to be a tradition that applies to just the kids. Fun times.
  • Stocking stuffer traditions: For all of us - an orange or a cutie (Mandarin orange) in the toe of the stocking. We try to read the story of the Christmas orange sometime during the Christmas season to remember why we do that - and as a reminder to share our bounty with others. Also for no significant reason other than we love quality chocolate, Squire and I each get a 1/2 lb. box of See's chocolate as a stocking stuffer each year. Yum!! 
  •  Food. Great food. Particularly a delicious Christmas Eve dinner and a fabulous Christmas day brunch. Yes. Of course. :)
  • Every year, we reach out to people in need. We have done different things each year. Our congregation does something called the "Giving Tree" where we can give gift cards to help needy families in our ward. We have also done Sub-for-Santa through United Way. The Boys and Girls club have trees set up at Wal-marts and other locations in the community, to offer a similar service opportunity - to buy a Christmas gift(s) for a child from a low-income family. We donate extra food. Give extra change and cash to the Salvation Army bell ringers outside grocery stores. We visit people in need. We do what we can to make the season special for whoever we possibly can. Doing these things bring the greatest joy and sense of the true meaning of the season into our home. We hope we can instill the love of this tradition in our children. This year, I have been explaining to Lincoln that, "The best part about Christmas is giving!" as he has helped us in our service opportunities. I have told him several times and will make it a tradition to remind my children every year, that Jesus is the best gift we ever received from Heavenly Father. We give gifts as a symbol and reminder of the best present any of us have ever gotten - Jesus, and through Him - a chance at life with Heavenly Father if we repent and follow Him.
  • We don't do this with the kids yet, but Squire and I both take time to personally give a gift to Jesus each year. This can be a one time gift of service, but more often it is more of a commitment to change, give up a bad habit, or improve in an area where we need to be better in order to serve him and love God's children better. I think in the future, we will have a box that we can write down our gifts to Christ and either remind each other of them throughout the year or do a recap when decorating the following year? Still figuring the details out as it will apply to the family. But the goal setting on a personal level is already very much a part of our Christmas traditions.
I absolutely love Christmas. It is my most favorite time of year. I love the music and the tenderness of everyone's giving hearts. And traditions like these just make it all the more special to me. Merry Christmas, my friends!

And please, if you feel so inclined, share your family's Christmas traditions below!

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