Posts Tagged ‘presents’

Christmas in Ireland

May 25, 2016

irish-christmas-cakeChristmas in Ireland, with all its religious overtones, is a time for family.  The religious nature of an Irish Christmas begins with Advent.  Starting four Sundays before Christmas Advent is a time to ponder the birth of Christ and get ready for the celebration of His birth.  It is a time for confession of sins and for expressing sorrow for wrongdoing.  One must be holy when expecting a holy Visitor.

Much must be done to prepare for Christmas.  Houses must have a thorough cleaning.  The grounds and all out-buildings get a good tidying also.  Christmas cards are sent to neighbors, friends, and family members.  Most of these cards have religious themes but Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowy landscapes may also be seen.

Christmas trees did not become a regular part of Christmas decorating until the 1960s.  Some people put their trees up the first week of December while others wait until Christmas Eve.  Electric lights, tinsel and a variety of purchased and homemade ornaments adorn each tree.

Even churches get in the spirit of the season by decorating the pillars and the altar with garlands of holly leaves.  A nativity scene is also part of every church’s display usually found near the altar, in the back of the church, or outside in front of the church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day final preparations are made for the Christmas celebration.  As expected, unmarried children, no matter their age or how far away they live, arrive at their parents’ house.  Most, if not all, Christmas shopping is done; but many shops stay open later than normal for those last-minute shoppers.  The house fills with glorious odors as food preparation begins in earnest.  The family goes through the house giving it a final tidying before the celebration begins.  Some of the more religious families fast on Christmas Eve until dinner when a simple meal of fish and potatoes is served.

Many families wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree.  Candles are placed in the windows.  For many the Christmas season is about to begin, with the lighting of the candles.  Traditionally the main candle is lit by either the youngest child in the family or a daughter named Mary.  Some children hang their stockings before the family goes to Midnight Mass; others wait until after mass.  After returning from mass the children go to bed.  After the children fall asleep the parents place the children’s gifts under the tree or around the room often arranged in piles on chairs with the child’s name on the chair.

Christmas morning children awaken and rush to see what Santa Claus has left for them.  Most gifts are practical, but as Irish affluence increases the gifts become less practical.  Some who did not go to Midnight Mass, and some who did, attend “First Light” Mass at either 6:00 AM or 8:00 AM.  After mass the men and boys enjoy games of hurling (a game similar to field hockey), Gaelic football (a game like soccer), shooting competitions, and hunting rabbits with greyhounds.

The women prepare the Christmas feast and deliver gift baskets to less fortunate neighbors filled with the ingredients for a “proper” Christmas dinner.  The Christmas table is covered with a linen or lace tablecloth and set with the best china, polished silver, and cut-glass stemware.  The traditional Christmas dinner may consists of roast goose or turkey (often served with ham) stuffed potatoes heavily seasoned with black pepper, mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy, and one or two vegetable dishes.  Desserts may include Christmas cake, Christmas puddings such as bread pudding or plum pudding, mincemeat pies or tarts, sherry trifle, soda scones, fairy cake, and cookies.

After the Christmas feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing and playing musical instruments, and telling stories.  Irish history was once passed from one generation to the next via stories told at family gatherings like Christmas.  Therefore, it is not surprising that some of these stories are of family ancestry, the famine, Irish heroes and villains, the countryside, as well as the Nativity.

Nollaig Shona Duit  (Merry Christmas!)

For more information about the Irish Christmas season visit

These recipes sound so good and Christmasy.

January 24, 2016

Last week I saw this book at my local library; Christmas Cookies Are For Giving by Kristin Johnson and Mimi Cummins.  As I leafed through the book these two recipes looked so good that I would love to try them.  Perhaps someday I will.  If you try them please let me know how they came out.

Cranberry Decadent Cookies

Dried cranberries and cinnamon transform this reverse chocolate chip cookie into a holiday favorite.  The coffee granules subtly enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup solid vegetable shortening, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.  Sift together flour, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda, and set aside.

In a large bowl beat butter shortening, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully combined before additions.  In a small cup, mix together the vanilla and the coffee until the coffee is dissolved, then add to the butter mixture; beat to combine.  Gradually add dry ingredients, mixing until combined.  Stir in white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and dried cranberries.

Drop 1 tablespoon of dough at a time onto baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until firm.  Let cool for 1 minute then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 1 month.  Makes about 48 cookies.  These cookies are excellent for shipping.

Cheddar Crunch Apple Squares

The recipe reminds me of something my grandmother used to say every time we ate apple pie: “An apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.”  Apples and cheddar make a perfect marriage in these tasty bars.  Recipe courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. – Mimi

1 box (12 ounces) vanilla wafers, or 3 1/3 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1 ½ cup flaked coconut, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cup shredded Wisconsin cheddar cheese
½ cup salted butter, softened
2 cans (21 ounces) apple pie filling

Pre-heat oven of 375 degrees F.  Make crumbs in food processor or with rolling pin and combine with coconut, cinnamon, cheese and butter to form a crumbly mixture.  Press one half of this mixture firmly into the bottom of a greased 9 x 12-inch baking pan.  Spread apple pie filling on top of bottom crust.  Top with remaining crumb mixture, do not press down.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack in refrigerator and cut into squares about 2 x 2 inches.  Serve with cinnamon ice cream or warmed honey.

Store for up to 2 weeks in airtight containers in the refrigerator.  Makes 24 squares.  These bars should be hand-delivered.

Count your blessings this Christmas

December 14, 2014

It recently came to my attention how blessed my family and I are.  I do not know why I did not particularly notice it before.  I mean God has blessed us and is blessing us daily, but this year it finally hit me how blessed we are.

Two years ago at this time I was out of a job.  God blessed me with a job for Christmas.  I had an hour and twenty minute commute.  God blessed us with a house only fifteen minutes away from my job.

Now the house we are staying in is being sold.  God blessed us with another house more affordable than the last.  What a blessing!

We are a large family, my wife and I and our seven children.  It takes a lot to feed everyone.  We were blessed to have several organizations offer to bring food stuffs.  One of them even brought presents for the family.  What another blessing!  God is so good to us.

This year we are counting our blessings.  Why not count your blessings this year.  Whether you have a lot of presents under your Christmas tree or just a few, a lot of food on your table or just enough for those around it, count your blessings.  You may find that you are blessed beyond your wildest dreams.

Merry Christmas!

Have a debt-free, stress-free Christmas

October 24, 2014

It is that time of year again where thoughts are turning to Christmas. What presents do the children want?  Who sent us cards or gave us gifts that we should reciprocate this year?  How much will it cost?  I just finished paying for last Christmas!

How many times have we approached the Christmas holidays with intentions of not over spending only to succumb to advertisements shouting, “Spend, spend, spend!” What can we do to stop, or at least minimize, this emphasis on breaking the bank?

The primary way to keep from going overboard this Christmas is to set up a budget and stick to it.

Set up a category in your Christmas budget for gifts. Include every person you plan to give a gift and the maximum amount you wish to spend.  Then make a game of it.  See how many people you can go under budget in your Christmas shopping.

Do not forget to budget for incidentals like wrapping paper, tape, stamps, and cards. Things like these can sneak up on you and break the bank before you know it.

Another big item to put in your Christmas budget is food. Include everything you need for your Christmas baking: flour, sugar, baking chips, etc.  Add everything you expect to serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  If your family is like mine you will have foods, rich foods, which you would not normally have so it is best to budget for them so you are sure to have the money to pay for them without going deeper into debt.

Setting up a Christmas budget will help keep you from over spending this Christmas. Be sure you budget for every little thing you can think of.  You may even include a miscellaneous category to cover anything you forgot.

Have yourself a carefree little Christmas without all the worries that over spending can bring throughout the new year.


Our family likes to start off Christmas day with a breakfast casserole like the one below. Since this is not a usual breakfast fare we need to make sure our budget has the money for the ingredients we do not have on hand.

Sausage Breakfast Casserole
6 slices bread
Butter or margarine
1 lb bulk pork sausage
1 ½ cup (6 oz) shredded Longhorn or mild Cheddar cheese
6 eggs, beaten
2 cups half and half
1 tsp salt

Spread butter over bread slices; place in a greased 13x9x2-inch
baking dish; set aside.

Cook sausage until browned, stirring to crumble; drain well.

Spoon over bread slices; sprinkle with cheese. Combine eggs, half
and half, and salt; mix well and pour over cheese. Cover casserole
and chill overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before baking.


We like trying new recipes at Christmas time. This recipe turned out to be a great variation on the traditional pumpkin pie.

Double Layer Pumpkin Pie
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup + 1 tbsp cold milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tub (8 oz.) whipped topping, thawed
1 prepared graham cracker crumb crust (6 oz.)
1 can (16 oz.) pumpkin
2 pkg (4-serving size) vanilla flavor instant pudding
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, 1 tbsp milk and sugar with wire
whisk until smooth. Gently stir in 1 ½ cups whipped topping. Spread
on bottom of crust.

In a second bowl, stir pumpkin, pudding mix, and spices into remaining
milk. Beat with wire whisk until well blended. (Mixture will be thick.)
Spread over cream cheese layer.

Refrigerate 4 hours. Serve with remaining whipped topping. Makes 8 servings.

Spritz cookies are easy to make with many variations. A single batch can make several dozen cookies.  Here is a basic spritz cookie recipe with some variations to try.

Basic Spritz Cookies
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Place butter and shortening in large mixing bowl. Cream together
on medium-high speed. Add sugar gradually. Beat until light and
fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well using
medium speed.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in separate bowl. Add to
butter/sugar mixture in three additions, mixing well after each
addition. Dough will be stiff.

Assemble and fill cookie press with desired disc. Press cookies on
ungreased, uncoated baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to
12 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Do not overbake.
Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

Chocolate-Almond: Decrease vanilla to 1 teaspoon; add 1 teaspoon
almond extract and 3 tablespoons cocoa.

Egg Nog: Add ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg to flour.

Orange: Substitute 2 teaspoons orange extract for vanilla; add 1
teaspoon finely grated orange peel.

Raspberry-Nut: Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons coconut extract for vanilla;
2 tablespoons seedless red raspberry jam. Sprinkle with chopped nuts
before baking.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014


Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website,

A Memorial Day “Merry Christmas” to our soldiers whereever you happen to be!

May 25, 2014

This weekend in the United States is Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is the day we remember those who fought and died protecting us and the freedoms we enjoy today. I think we should also remember the men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces. Many times these holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are hard on our service people because they are away from home and may be feeling a little forgotten by those at home.

This website,, shows pictures taken of our soldiers celebrating Christmas. These pictures span the time between World War I to the present. The Spirit of Christmas truly does show up at all times in all situations.

This year while you prepare your own Christmas celebrations please remember the soldiers away from home perhaps fighting to keep you free and send them a Christmas package. Here are a couple websites that can help you do so.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 8

October 26, 2013

A Simple Christmas

Think about your dream Christmas, your ideal Christmas celebration. Don’t worry about lack of money or lack of talent. Just imagine what you would do, where you would go, how you would celebrate your perfect Christmas. Most people’s ideal Christmas has four characteristics. It is simple, not elaborate. It is not expensive. Everyone gets along with each other; and the celebration is relaxing, not stressful.

Why don’t we have our fantasy Christmas every year? There’s two reasons. One, most fantasies involve a little magic. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend on decorations or gifts or entertainment. We also don’t have an unlimited about of talent to create the all around perfect Christmas. Two, life’s unpleasant realities are filtered out of our fantasies. The teenagers aren’t so cooperative and interactive. Uncle George doesn’t lay of the alcohol. Mom spends all her time in the kitchen preparing the meal and cleaning up after everyone with little if any help.

Those aren’t the only deterrents to the simple Christmas. Look at all the television ads, the women’s magazines, and television shows aimed at homemakers. They persuade people to make their Christmas as elaborate, as expensive, and as busy as possible. Another deterrent is people’s aversion to change. They want to have the same Christmas they had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They have traditions and rituals that they want to keep even though the traditions make Christmas more complicated. Also Christmas makes people nostalgic. They want to enjoy the same activities they participated in as children and share those activities with their children. Family obligations are a third deterrent to a simple Christmas. It can be hard to plan around a bed-ridden family member who relies on you for all their needs.

The following exercise will allow you to examine your fantasy Christmas and help you see what aspects of it you can incorporate into your Christmas celebration.

Exercise: A Christmas Fantasy
The following fantasy exercise will give you a clearer idea of what you are really looking for in Christmas. When you are through reading these
instructions, close you eyes and imagine Christmas two years from now. We have chosen this length of time because it’s far enough away to give you some distance from your current celebration, but not so far away that a lot of your circumstances will have changed.

When you are ready to begin, choose a quiet location where you won’t be interrupted for ten or fifteen minutes. Imagine any kind of Christmas you wish as long as it is deeply satisfying. You can confine your fantasy to Christmas proper, or include the whole season. It may be very much like you present celebration or entirely different. You can magically include your favorite friends and relatives and make them behave any way you wish. You can celebrate in any setting. You don’t have to keep a single traditional Christmas activity, or you can keep them all. This will be Christmas the way you have always wanted it to be.

As you begin to fantasize, there will probably be a jumble of possibilities competing for your attention. If you find yourself with multiple fantasies, keep returning to the ideas that make you feel most satisfied.

Once you have settled on a particular fantasy, stick with it until you have enriched it with lots of details. Imagine the physical setting, the activities, how you are feeling, and how other people are feeling. What kind of food is there? How was it made? Are there any gifts? What are they like?

When you have completed your fantasy, write it down on a separate sheet (or sheets) of paper. Feel free to elaborate as you write. Then answer these questions:

1. Of all the ways your fantasy was different from your usual celebration, which difference was most satisfying to you?
2. Which parts (if any) of your fantasy would be most feasible to actually do next Christmas?

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 6

October 8, 2013

Inside The Christmas Machine

Mention gift-giving to a group of people and you’ll get a variety of responses.
While they get pleasure from giving gifts to the special people in their lives,
they have problems with the Christmas gift-giving thing. One problem they have
is they feel they have to give elaborate, expensive gifts. Commercials on the
television and radio, store ads, and store displays shout, “The more you buy and
the more you spend show how much you love the ones on your gift list.” They
just can’t afford giving these gifts. Another problem they have is that
exchanging gifts at Christmas has very little value. They’re either trying to
give something to someone who already has everything or they’re not able tailor
each gift to the needs or desires of the recipient. One of the biggest problems
people have with Christmas gift-giving, however, is the spiritual aspect of
Christmas is drowned out by the commercial aspect. Stores are saying, “Spend,
spend, spend.” Children are saying, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” Rarely outside of
churches will you hear, “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Happy birthday, Jesus!”

So, how can we simplify Christmas gift-giving? One thing we can do is break the
10 unspoken self-defeating gift-giving rules:
1. Give a gift to everyone you expect to get one from.
2. If someone gives you a gift unexpectedly, you should reciprocate that year,
even if you had no previous intention of giving that person a present.
3. When you give someone a gift, you should plan to give that person a gift
every year thereafter.
4. The amount of time and money you spend on a gift should be directly
proportional to how much you care about the recipient.
5. The gift that you give someone should be equal in monetary value and/or
personal significance to the one you receive from that person.
6. The presents you give someone should be fairly consistent over the years.
7. If you give a gift to a person in one category (for example: coworkers or
neighbors) you should give gifts to everyone in that category. And these gifts
should be similar.
8. The gifts you give your children should be equal in number and monetary
value, while at the same time suiting the unique qualities of each child.
9. Men should not give gifts to their male friends, unless the gifts are
alcoholic beverages. Women, however, are encouraged to give gifts to their
female friends, and those gifts should not be alcohol.
10. Homemade gifts are more “meaningful” than store-bought ones.

A second thing we can do is give token gifts. Either make them yourself or shop
for them at garage sales or thrift stores. Some families make a game of this by
seeing who can give the most interesting gift for the least amount of money.

Giving gifts of time and energy is a third way we can simplify our gift-giving.
Give coupon books that the recipient can redeem for various acts of kindness or
gifts of time, or offer to do a chore for a month or some other period or time.

A fourth idea is give a donation to those in need or to the recipient’s favorite
charity in lieu of a gift. Even teenagers go for these gifts.

No matter what you come up with to simplify your gift-giving, gifts given with
love and sensitivity give Christmas fresh meaning.

The following exercises will help you examine and simplify your gift-giving this

Exercise 1: Gift Inventory
In the space below, list all the people you gave gifts to last year. Be sure to
include friends, neighbors, coworkers, and children of friends or neighbors.
Put a dollar sign by each person you spent more than ten dollars on.

Exercise 2: Four Gift Fantasies
1. Imagine yourself in hte following situations and check the ones that are
most appealing to you.
A. You open the mail one morning and discover that you have inherited $250
to spend on Christmas presents this year.
B. You are given two weeks of absolutely free time to devote to making
Christmas gifts.
C. Every member of your family is excited about exchanging simpler and
less expensive gifts.
D. Everyone in the nation decides to eliminate gift-giving from the
celebration. There is no holiday advertising, no gift-giving obligations.
People celebrate Christmas by joining with family and friends, by feasting, and
with family and community Christmas activities.

2. Judging by your reactions to these imaginary situations, what changes would
you ideally like to make in your family gift-giving?

Exercise 3: Gift Memories
1. Think back over past Christmases and remember a gift that you received that
gave you great pleasure. What did you especially like about that gift?

2. Now remember a gift you received that make you feel anxious, confused,
angry, or disappointed. What was it about that situation that bothered you?

3. All in all, what kind of gifts do you feel best about receiving and giving?

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and
Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 5

September 25, 2013

The Christmas Family Reunion

Picture this. The house is brightly decorated with greens and candles. There’s a fire in the fireplace. The kids are playing with their gifts in front of the tree ornamented with lights, tinsel, and all sorts of bright baubles. Christmas carols are playing in the background. Laughter is heard as the adults relax and get caught up with each other. Every room is perfumed by the wonderful food that was the Christmas feast. Sound like your Christmas family reunion? Probably not.

There is so much that has to be done before the gathering. The hostess has to clean and decorate the house, plan the menus, buy all the food, and coordinate schedules. The guests have to buy and gather gifts, make arrangements for pets, make financial and travel arrangements, pack, stop mail and other deliveries, and secure the house.

Then comes the gathering. The house is rarely big enough for everyone attending so inconveniences are sure to crop up. The hot water runs out before the showers are finished. There’s always a line for the bathroom. The children are noisy. Some people stay up too late, while others get up too early. And the kitchen seems to always need cleaning. How people react to each other during these inconveniences determine whether the celebrations goes well or not.

People expect the Christmas celebration to bring everyone closer together. They fail to realize, however, that no family reunion is perfect. Everyone brings baggage to the reunion, family squabbles, neighborhood spats, and even office politics. If this baggage isn’t checked at the door, tensions at the gathering may run high.

Non-traditional families have other issues. Singles, because of movies, television, cards, and their own ideal Christmas, see Christmas as a time for couples or families to be together. Single parents face Christmas with a missing partner; their children missing a father, or mother.

How can we survive the Christmas homecoming? Concentrate on the people and the celebration, and you’ll find your enjoyment of the celebration enhanced. You can also anticipate as many problems as possible and take steps to deal with them before they occur. The exercises below will help you prepare for this year’s Christmas family reunion.

Exercise 1: The Perfect-Family Syndrome
No family is perfect, but if you can accept your family as it really is, you’re going to have a more enjoyable celebration. This first exercise helps you take a look at your family members and explore your hidden expectations for them.

1. In the space below, write down the names of family members that you have complicated or mixed feelings about. Leave a blank space after each name.

2. After each name, write down something that troubles or disappoints you about that person. Here’s an example. Mary did this exercise and made the following comments about her family members:
Person What I don’t like
Dad Drinks too much
Mom Too uptight and busy
Louise Overly talkative
Mark Too withdrawn

3. If you have little reason to believe that people are going to change the characteristics that bother you, look again at each person’s name and tell yourself, “I accept the fact that this person will probably . . . ” filling in the way that person will most likely behave.

Mary did this part of the exercise and told herself that she would try to accept the fact that her father often drank too much at Christmas. She realized that her mother chose to be so busy and that, even though any number of people offered to help her, she was running the show. Her sister Louise had always talked too much and always would. And her brother Mark often backed away from the family, probably for the very reasons that she did. While she experienced some disappointment in realizing these things about her family, she felt clearheaded about what the visit would be like.

4. Now think of one thing that you especially like about each of the people on your list. Write those desirable qualities down by their names.

Exercise 2: Family Strengths

When people are able to focus on their family strengths and not dwell on their weaknesses throughout the holiday season, they find that Christmas is many times more enjoyable. Whether you have specific family problems or not, this exercise will make you more aware of your family’s strong points.

Read the following statements. When a statement is a great family strength, mark it with a star. If it is a lesser strength, mark it with a check. Leave it blank if it does not describe your family at all.

We have common spiritual beliefs or accept each other’s different beliefs.
We know how to have fun together.
For the most part, we communicate with each other well.
We openly express our love and affection.
We have similar life-styles and values or accept each other’s differences.
We do not have serious money problems.
We have common Christmas traditions or make a special effort to respect our differences.
We have compatible styles of child-rearing.
We don’t have serious alcohol problems.
(If you have few positive responses, make a special effort to fill in the “other” category.)

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and
Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 4

September 17, 2013

Children – What They Really Want

Christmas is for children. They add so much joy and excitement to the Christmas celebration. As we watch our children we remember forgotten childhood memories of Christmases long past. The magic of Christmas returns as we enjoy Christmas with our children. Children also give us a chance to examine our holiday activities, which ones to keep and which ones to drop, and start family traditions.

With all this joy children also bring added concerns. Children, it seems, become preoccupied at an early age with receiving gifts. This preoccupation, along with the myriad commercial pressures, make it difficult for parents to create a simple, values-centered family Christmas. We’ll attempt here to alleviate these concerns.

We agree that children really don’t need all the toys and gifts they claim to want. They don’t want them either as evidenced by their boredom hours after receiving the gifts. So what do children really want and need for Christmas?

Children need a relaxed, loving time with family. This means more to them than a tree loaded with gifts. Yet it is much more difficult to provide. With all the added work, planning the Christmas celebration, decorating the tree and the house, cleaning the house, and shopping for gifts, one of the first things to get pushed aside is spending time with the children, with the family. It is important for families to set firm priorities even if it means not participating in other activities. Each December I set aside one Saturday with my children baking cookies and making fudge for Christmas giving and eating. I found that if I didn’t decide ahead of time which Saturday was baking day, we would lose that special time together.

Children need realistic expectations about gifts. Many children go through the toy catalog as soon as it arrives in the mail marking every toy they want. “I want that,” follows each toy commercial whether the child likes the toy or not. If the focus of a child’s Christmas is gifts, they experience a sharp let down when the gift giving is done. Parents need to get their children excited about other aspects of the Christmas celebration and spread that excitement throughout the entire season. Establishing value-centered family traditions help lessen the focus on gifts.

Instead of the fast-paced holiday season, children need a slower, evenly-paced season. In the 1800’s Christmas had a much shorter buildup time. Many people didn’t start preparing for Christmas until mid-December, but their celebration lasted for a week or more. Even as short as twenty years ago the Christmas season didn’t begin until the day after Thanksgiving. Now the preparing for Christmas begins before Halloween and the celebration ends midnight Christmas day. Consider holding off your traditions until a week or so before Christmas or doing one or two traditions a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas and continuing the celebration through New Year’s Day or Epiphany, January 6. Slowdown the pace of your holiday season. Your children with thank you.

Children want to look forward to the same events happening every year. In my house, my children look forward to watching as many of our Christmas DVDs and videos as possible, baking cookies, including frosted sugar cookies, doing the advent calendars on the VeggieTales and Garfield websites ( and, tracking Santa on Norad’s Santa Tracker website (, and reading the Christmas story before opening gifts every year. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things we do, but you get the idea. With these traditions that we’ve established, my children have the chance to do something they enjoy every year. Strong traditions give children a sense of comfort and security. They know that in an ever changing world these Christmas activities will always happen. These traditions don’t have to be elaborate. Simple activities will suffice. As you can see from my list, none of the activities are exacting. They don’t cost a lot of money. Ask your children what they would like to do to celebrate Christmas. They can help you know what traditions to keep and what traditions to eliminate, or at least do less often.

Children, they can add so much to the enjoyment of the Christmas season. They can also add many concerns. The exercises that follow will help you help your children enjoy Christmas this year and every year.

Exercise: Helping Children Enjoy Christmas

1. Of all the needs of children at Christmas, enjoyable time with their families is most important. Think back to last December. Excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, did you spend (underline the correct word) more, about the same, or less happy, relaxed time with your children in December, compared to other months?

2. If your answer to the above question was “less,” look through the following list and check the suggestions on how to spend more time with your children that seem most feasible for you.
Taking extra time off from work
Simplifying our holiday preparations
Entertaining less
Attending fewer parties that are just for adults
Being more relaxed about how the house looks
Cutting back on outside commitments
Making fewer gifts
Watching less television
Traveling less
Seeing fewer friends and relatives

3. Which holiday traditions do your children seem to enjoy most? (If you are uncertain, take some time in the next few days to talk with them.)

4. What holiday traditions or family activities do you children have to look forward to after December 25? (If you have none or very few [try some of the] suggestions [listed after the exercises].

5. Check the statement that most accurately completes this thought: Gift-giving plays the following role in our family celebration:
It is by far the most important tradition.
It is one of several important traditions.
It is of moderate importance.
It is of relatively minor importance.

6. On a sheet of paper, write each of your children’s names and jot down a few sentences that describe his or her attitude toward Christmas presents last year. (If one or more of your children seemed overly concerned with gifts, you may wish to review this [blog].

Suggestions to do after December 25:
Celebrate each of the twelve days of Christmas with simple activities geared for children.
Create a family calendar for the month of December showing when things will be done.
Put together a puzzle or play games.
Put a container filled with candy or some other treat on the tree not to be
eaten until the tree is taken down.
Celebrate the new year with family games and activities.

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

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