When I had my first child, I was surprised what a letdown Christmas was. Granted, at his first Christmas he was only 6 weeks old, so you can’t expect much more than him laying there in a holiday-themed outfit posed with gifts or smiling family members. And the second Christmas at a year and a half wasn’t much better. By the third Christmas, I had another newborn added to the mix and was just plain frustrated.
I tired really hard to capture the magic of Christmas for them, keeping in mind it is something you need to start young if you really want your children to experience it. Instead it seemed like we tried to pack everything into just a couple days, and the aftermath was more about material stuff than anything meaningful.
Christmas to me has always been about spending time with family, giving of time and gifts, and a great time to shower others generously with a mixture of both. It’s a magical time of year — from the twinkling lights, to the legend of Santa Claus and Rudolph, to the beauty of God’s greatest gift of His son. I love both the secular and the religious sides to this holiday, and I was determined in the winter of 2013 to do things differently.
I saw somewhere, possibly Pinterest, about a family that wrapped up 25 books. They opened one each night beginning on the first day of December — kind of like a literary Advent Calendar. And I love Advent Calendars. Who doesn’t like a piece of chocolate every night?
So I got to thinking, why does it have to be just chocolate or only books? I was looking for a way to make the wonder of Christmas stretch into longer than a two day extravaganza. I wanted to turn it into a season — that’s how I started our family’s tradition of 25 days of Christmas.
The preparation was both fun and challenging because I wanted to incorporate books, movie nights, activities outside the house and crafts. This way by the time Christmas Day arrived we could focus the actual holiday, not attempting to cram everything we didn’t manage to get around to in the weeks before. It also took the pressure off deciding what to do and when, because it was already planned out.
It was such a big hit. The kids loved it, my husband appreciated all the planning and now it is just what we do. I’m looking forward to planning this year’s 25 days of Christmas.
How to Plan Your Own 25 Days of Christmas
Great Holiday Books
I wanted to incorporate both secular and religious books, as well as books that would appeal to the different ages of my children. I also included book versions of traditional holiday movies. As my children get older, I’d like to add some chapter books, like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But in the meantime, the following stories do a great job capturing their attention and getting them excited about all the different aspects of the season.
- The Story of Christmas – Beautifully written and captivating for all ages
- The Story of Christmas – I have a fondness for Little Golden Books. They remind me of my own childhood, and have a great pricepoint. This particular copy contains all the traditional artwork I remember and is a great length for short attention spans. My children love this story, so I may invest in a nicer edition at some point.
- A Merry Bunny Christmas (a Max and Ruby story) – I have a couple books on this list that involve my children’s favorite characters. They usually have already seen the episode on television which excites them because they know what comes next in the book.
- Frosty the Snowman – This musical version was a gift from family member when our first was only 2 years old. I love being able to make it a part of this annual tradition.
- Who is Coming to our House – We have the board book version of this story told from the perspective of the barnyard animals that may have been present in the place where Jesus was born.
- The Christmas Story – Another Little Golden Book favorite from my childhood that I now get to share with my children. I usually read this closer to the day of Christmas
- The Night Before Christmas – I admit, this story is longer than I remember, but still a fun read.
- Peppa’s Christmas Wish – All three of my children have loved Peppa Pig from a young age, and I’ve enjoyed this addition to our 25 days of Christmas. It gets read more than once during the holiday season.
What would the holidays be without a few crafts thrown in?
- Ornaments – What grandparent doesn’t love a handmade ornament for their tree? I am not really all that creative on this front. I usually just grab a couple DIY options from Target’s dollar section and call it a day. I seriously love Target.
- Cookies – Edible crafts are some of my favorite things. As my children are young, and all of our patience tends to wear thin in the kitchen, this is what we do: store bought sugar cookie dough and an assortment of holiday themed sprinkles and frosting. One day, I may get more ambitious. Or not.
Activities Outside the House
There are so many amazing activities in the Midlands this time of year. Many are free, and others are doable with some careful planning. In no particular order here are a few of our favorites. If at all possible, try going during the week (if available) to avoid crowds.
- Saluda Shoals, Holiday Lights on the River– This event is paid for by the car load. It is a drive through light show, with at least one part set to music. We wait until their Nights of Wonder, in no small part because we feel get more for our money. The Nights of Wonder includes hayrides, slides, s’more roasting, hot chocolate, Santa and more. You do pay for the extra activities, but for us, it is worth it to go on nights when there is more available to do. Since we have small children, one of our favorite parts is being able to get our of the car and either walk or take the hayride to the Wetlands boardwalk to enjoy all the lights.
- Little Bethlehem – This walk through, living Nativity is one of my favorite Christmas activities. There are live animals, music, story telling, a fire pit with flat bread and hot chocolate available, as well as crafts. The best part? It’s free (although donations are appreciated). Located in Gilbert, it is a bit of a drive for some, but worth it.
- Riverbanks Zoo Lights Before Christmas – If you are a zoo member, your family gets one visit to this night time event for free. (Explorer and above get unlimited visits.) At night, the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights, and many of the attractions are available too – such as the train ride and the carousel. It’s a unique event my children love.
- Christmas Lights Viewing – Sometimes we do this in conjunction with another activity, but it can be enough to do on its own night. We drive around looking at Christmas lights, and the kids anticipate it more each year.
- The Polar Express – If you are up for a drive, a train station outside Asheville, NC puts on a recreation of the memorable children’s story, The Polar Express. They read the story throughout the train ride, serve milk and cookies, and visit Santa’s Village. Each child walks away with a silver bell and a golden ticket. Dressing in pajamas is encouraged. We took this ride with our children last year, and they loved it.
- McAdenville – this small town outside Charlotte is sometimes called Christmastown, USA. The entire town is lit up for Christmas, and cars line up to drive slowly through the millions of lights. It’s free to walk through, and other than gas money, there is no cost to go through town and view this holiday spectacle.
- The Nutcracker – This traditional ballet is performed in a couple different Midlands venues, and I’m looking forward to taking my 4-year-old daughter to see it for this year to see it.
We all love the classics, and I try to incorporate newer movies when I can. When I package these up for our 25 days of Christmas, I usually include a pack of popcorn as a treat.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas – We watch both the original, animated version and the live action, longer version with Jim Carrey. The live action is by far my children’s favorite.
- Frosty the Snowman – This animated classic was a favorite of mine growing up, and my children enjoy it just as much as I did.
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Another holiday classic that truly gets kids excited about Santa’s arrival.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas – Who doesn’t love the Peanuts crew? This 1965 original never gets old.
- The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause II – If you are looking for a great, feel-good holiday movie that everyone can enjoy, this is your movie. It is not just another typical cartoon, though. There is a nice mix of comedy, drama and great holiday fun to turn this into the next holiday classic.
- Home Alone and Home Alone II – We haven’t added these to our list yet, but this holiday season might be perfect to introduce these fun movies to our kids. Filmed in the early 90’s, the fun and antics are timeless and still bring laughs to children and adults today.