Holiday Traditions to Celebrate the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The sweet nostalgia when reminiscing about growing up during the Christmas holiday is undeniable. Decorating the tree, putting up Christmas lights, writing letters to Santa, anticipating that one doozy of a gift you asked for…the thing you had to have!

Most of us most likely encountered our family instilling a certain routine during this time: what we eat, what we do, who we see, what we gift, etc. Traditions have been set in our bones that we then pass on to our own children and grandchildren.

I’ve compiled the most common holiday traditions, focusing on Christmas, that I hope will ignite some sweet nostalgia for you. I will also be highlighting some other common holidays throughout December and into January that I want to enlighten you on and perhaps inspire you to start new traditions in your family!

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day (December 24 and 25)

Let’s not pretend that food isn’t a really exciting time when talking about holiday traditions. I’ve listed some common dishes and meals that are typical when celebrating Christmas and have included some recipes, so you can get a jump start on including them in your days this year.

Delicious Dishes

Breakfast: The most common breakfast that people are waking up to Christmas morning is monkey bread or cinnamon rolls. This is a delicious, addicting and gooey creation that gets you hooked and coming back for more, not to mention the savory smell that sweeps across your home. Here’s a Pinterest recipe for monkey bread: Easy Monkey Bread.

Lunch: Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should skip it; instead, I’m simply reminding you to make sure you have room for dinner. When it comes to lunch, it appears most common to eat small deli sandwiches, salads, or hors d’oeuvres like veggie trays and fruit trays.

Dinner: Ah, the main event. My mouth is watering thinking about it! Below are the most common dinner items and try not to rush to your kitchens to cook a full-blown Christmas dinner:

  • Honey Baked Ham – it appears that some either purchase one or make their own, but there seems to be a consensus that ham is popular. I personally have made my own, and it was perfect! Here is the recipe: Copy Cat Honey Baked Ham.
  • Turkey – some go full-blown second Thanksgiving.
  • Prime Rib & Lobster – I have personally been to a dinner like this before, and while it is not my traditional Christmas dinner, I wasn’t complaining about it.
  • Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
  • Sweet Potatoes/Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots
  • Brussel Sprouts

Dessert: As if dinner didn’t put us in the mood. Christmas cookies take the cake; it is a tradition itself with people getting together with family and friends to make recipes that have been passed down for generations. Here are the Top 10 Christmas Cookies.

Cocktails: Eggnog (which can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic). For those who don’t prefer eggnog, there are always great alternatives in the alcoholic world like peppermint vodka or non-alcoholic world like hot chocolate.

Getting in the Spirit

Some of the best traditions are the activities leading up to Christmas to get you in the Christmas spirit! Here is a list of magical things to really get your sleigh bells ringing, as well as some great traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:

  • Elf on the Shelf: moms lose sleep over having to re-position the elf. To help you out, here are some elf ideas: Elf on the Shelf Cheat Sheet.
  • 25 Days of Christmas: Often celebrated with an advent calendar, but another great idea is with books. Take 25 books and wrap them up, one for each day leading up to Christmas (maybe even have the elf bring them!) and read as a family each night.
  • Decorating the Christmas Tree: a lot of people have great traditions when it comes to this. Here are a couple ideas: having multiple trees and giving them themes (ex: one is all snowmen, requiring the whole family to put on pajamas and listen to Christmas music while decorating, and, when decorating, invite others over who have a different background or may have never experienced decorating a tree to share traditions.
  • Watching Classic Christmas movies like Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch, and, of course, A Christmas Story
  • Wayne County Lightfest 
  • Driving around neighborhoods to look at lights
  • Building gingerbread houses
  • Go to Bronners to get new ornaments
  • Go Christmas shopping
  • Readying the “good china” for your Christmas dinner
  • Going to church
  • Watching the Christmas Day Parade (or attend it!)

Additional Holidays to Celebrate

While much emphasis is placed on Christmas, there are numerous holidays that gain just as much attention and are celebrated by many! Here are a few of them, as well as a few holiday traditions that go along with them:

Saint Nicholas’s Feast Day (Saint Nicholas Day, December 6)

This holiday has strong German influence and is celebrated by placing shoes outside your bedroom door or hanging empty stockings over the fireplace. Saint Nicholas then comes within the night to leave you treats and gifts. Americans who celebrate have adopted this practice during Christmas Day.

Boxing Day (December 26)

This holiday originated in the UK, and much like “black Friday” known here in the states, this originated as a shopping holiday. This day is now spent doing one of three activities:

  1. A Boxing Day Party: Extended family and friends come over with salads, sandwiches, and wine to relax
  2. Donating Time: Volunteering at a favorite local charity
  3. Hiking or Playing Sports: While everyone else may be shopping, get out and enjoy some fresh air!

Hanukkah (December 22 through December 30, 2019)

Also called the Festival of Lights, this holiday is an eight-day celebration that is well-known on the Jewish calendar. Each night of Hanukkah, one of the candles on the menorah is lit by the “head candle,” so that by the last night, all eight candles are lit. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning toy that has Hebrew lettering on it and is played with money or candy. There is also a feast each night, as well as gifts.

Three Kings’ Day (January 6)

Celebrated mostly in Spain or Latin America, this holiday marks the adoration of baby Jesus by the three kings, otherwise known as the “Three Wise Men.” A cake, known as a “Rosca de Reyes,” is the traditional dish made on this day. It is a very sweet, cinnamon-type cake that can have a variety of fillings. Most people gather and read the bible, and if you are feeling froggy and happen to be around some freezing cold water, it is tradition to jump into it.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate with your family?

A Letter to My Out-of-State Siblings This Holiday Season

Dear out-of-state siblings,

The holiday season is quickly approaching. However, I can’t help but feel a small twinge of sadness. Can you feel it, too? Do you watch the snow fall or see a holiday display at your local grocery store but know it’s just not the same as it used to be?

Of course it’s not. You’re not here. I’m not there. We grew up together, but we’re no longer together. Your absence brings with it a small twinge of sadness. I feel it every day, but it is especially prevalent during the holidays.

Now, I understand this is what you sign up for when your siblings move out of state. Jobs, relationships, school…the reasons for your departure may vary. At the end of the day though, you’re putting down new roots in a place I’m not.

But did you ever think this would be how our adult holidays would be spent? I never thought that far ahead. Questioning the future didn’t seem necessary. Our childhood memories are vivid but distant. I long for the days of the past.

Do you remember waking up early to watch the parade? We were bundled up, hand and foot warmers tucked away, walking through downtown Detroit with absolute excitement. Our eyes wandered up the tall buildings and across the lanes of traffic. It was as if we were moving through a dream.

Though we may be states apart, we can still feel that same sense of excitement. I promise to watch the parade on television if you promise to do the same.

Do you remember those early mornings, sitting on the stairs, waiting for our parents to wake up? We couldn’t wait to open presents and stay in pajamas all day. We were witnessing the magic of the holidays and soaking up every second. I never thought about the day when that wouldn’t happen.

Though we may be states apart, we can still experience some of that holiday magic. I promise to stay in pajamas all day if you promise to do the same.

Do you remember the nights we’d spend making treats for the holidays? We would unwrap Hershey Kisses and sneak a few when nobody was looking. Sprinkles would be falling to the floor as we haphazardly decorated sugar cookies. Every cookie was a masterpiece too beautiful to eat yet too delicious to let sit.

Though we may be states apart, we can still indulge in cookie decorating. I promise to stick to the tried-and-true, passed-down-to-us recipes if you promise to do the same.

Do you remember family get-togethers, snuggled around a fire, staying up way past our bedtime? We’d laugh and share stories and never want the evening to end. There was magic in the air that we were desperate to cling to. Shutting my eyes tightly, I can almost see myself holding out for one more joke, one more smile.

Though we may be states apart, we can still have a family get-together. I promise to cheers my hot chocolate to you through Skype if you promise to do the same.

Above all, I find myself nostalgic for the way things used to be. These timeless memories, forever preserved in my mind, are the ones I hold on to. They bring me joy and remind me of how much we have been through, together.

I will never stop telling my children about the memories I hold onto dearly. The ones where their aunt and uncle weren’t an aunt and uncle; they were a sister and a brother. We were young, we were full of magic, and we savored every moment.

I promise to create the same kinds of memories with my own children now. We will watch the parade, make cookies, and laugh until our bellies hurt. We will sit around, cozy and warm, and might even start a new tradition or two. I will watch the magic unfold through their eyes and wonder which memories they will be nostalgic for when they are older.

Though we may be states apart, we can still celebrate the holidays as though we are together. I promise to keep the memories alive if you promise to do the same.

Wishing you were here,
Your still-in-the-home-state sister

16 Holiday Children’s Books to Enjoy with Your Family

Is there even a better time than the holidays to snuggle up and read a book by the fire? Our family is big on traditions, and one of our most favorite holiday traditions is to gift our children a few new holiday children’s books each year.

Our collection started with board books and has grown to include funny stories, historical fiction, and meaningful stories that bring tears to all of our eyes. We celebrate Christmas, but our collection also includes stories from other faiths and traditions. Our collection now takes up a whole box that is stored in the basement with all of our holiday decorations. Each year when we decorate our house, out come the holiday books to be displayed in a special basket by our fireplace. We are all so excited to read each book. Like old friends, they comfort us, warm our hearts, and get us ready for a festive season.

It was hard to narrow it down, but here are 16 of our family’s favorite holiday children’s books:

1. Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Written by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon

Illustrated by Mark Siegel

Oskar, a young refugee from Nazi Germany, is sent to America on a ship with only an address and photograph of his aunt. Oskar arrives in Manhattan and must make the long walk from the harbor to his aunt’s house. Along the way he meets many kind strangers who welcome him to his new home and give him new hope.

2. Little Santa

Written and Illustrated by Yoko Maruyama

Santa’s son spends every Christmas Eve alone while his father travels around the world delivering toys to other children. Then one year, Santa sprains his ankle, and the boy is called in to action to put on the suit and deliver the gifts. Santa surprises his son at the last house with some extra help for a child in need of a special gift.

3. Stick Man

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Stick Man lives in a tree with his family. One day a dog carries him away in a game of fetch. Other problems take Stick Man farther and farther from home. Desperate to get home for Christmas, Stick Man helps Santa who, in turn, helps him get home just in time to celebrate with his family.

4. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa

Written by Donna L. Washington

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

When Granna Rabbit is sick for Kwanzaa, Li’l Rabbit sets off to find her a special treat for the big feast called Karamu. When he can’t find anything good enough, he is surprised by his friends who help make his Kwanzaa even more special.

5. Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border

Written by Mitali Perkins

Illustrated by Sara Palacios

Maria, Juan, and their mother travel to the border of California and Mexico to see their grandmother. La Posada is a special day around Christmas when border control allows families to enter enforcement areas and be close to their loved ones. When Juan’s gift doesn’t fit through the fence, Maria comes up with a creative way to get it over to their grandma.

6. The Missing Letters: A Dreidel Story

Written by Renee Londner

Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk

One night at the dreidel shop, the letters come to life. The heys, nuns, and shins are jealous of the gimels. They hide the gimels but then learn the story behind the dreidel and realize that Hanukkah would not be complete without all of the letters.

 

7. The Spirit of Christmas

Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman

Through beautiful language, rhythm, and rhyme, we learn the true spirit of Christmas is spending time with those we love.

8. Red & Lulu

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares

Red and Lulu are cardinals who live in an evergreen tree. One day while Red is out, the tree is cut down and hauled away with Lulu in it. Red chases the truck as far as he can but loses it and then gets lost in New York City. He almost gives up hope when he hears a familiar song that leads him back to Lulu and a beautiful new home.

9. Eight Wild Nights: A Family Hanukkah Tale

Written by Brian P. Cleary

Illustrated by David Udovic

With both humor and rhyme, this book tells the story of a big Jewish family celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah. Everyone will be able to relate to the roller coaster of craziness and joy that the holidays can bring!

10. An Orange for Frankie

Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco

Frankie is the youngest son in a big family. Although they don’t have much, Frankie’s family is known to help and feed those in need. Frankie even secretly gives away his only sweater to a shivering homeless man. Every year Frankie looks forward to his Christmas orange. He’s so excited that he forgets to leave it on the mantel as he’s told and loses it at church. When he comes clean about the sweater and the orange, his family is so moved by his generosity that they all share a slice of their orange, so Frankie doesn’t miss out.

11. The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Written by Wendy Pfeffer

Illustrated by Jesse Reisch

It’s interesting to learn about the history behind the Winter Solstice in this informative book. Ancient myths and holiday origins all revolve around the once mysterious shortest day.

12. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins

Written by Eric Kimmel

Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Hershel is a traveller who arrives at a village under the siege of goblins who have taken over the synagogue and challenged anyone trying to celebrate Hanukkah. With courage and bravery, Hershel out-wits each goblin one by one and brings joy celebration back to the village.

13. How Santa Got His Job

Written by Stephen Krensky

Illustrated by S.D. Schindler

This story goes way back to follow a young Santa through his first few jobs that gave him the skills he needed to be the big man in red. Children will love to see Santa as a chimney sweep, postman, and circus performer and then learn how he meets a group of elves that help him put all of his talents to use in his dream job!

14. The Sound of Kwanzaa

Written by Dimitrea Tokunbo

Illustrated by Lisa Cohen

The Sound of Kwanzaa is a simple introduction to the principals of Kwanzaa told through rhythmic language and colorful illustrations.

15. Wombat Divine

Written by Mem Fox

Illustrated by Kerry Argent

Wombat is so excited that he is finally old enough to be in the nativity play. But, at tryouts he gets discouraged as each exciting role goes to someone else. Then, as the very last decision, the director gives Wombat the perfect role for his sleepy self.

16. The 12 Sleighs of Christmas

Written by Sherri Dusky Rinker

Illustrated by Jake Parker

When the elves realize that Santa’s sleigh is in bad shape, they compete to create the best new and improved sleigh for him to use on Christmas. Teams of elves present Santa with sleighs that resemble big rigs, snow plows, floating ships, and more, but it is the littlest elf that creates the perfect sleigh for Santa.

And there you have it! Our wish for you and your family is that you enjoy some quality reading time this holiday season.
Maybe you will enjoy a book off this list or maybe you have a favorite of your own. If so, let us know what your favorite holiday books are!

Maintaining a Budget with BJ’s Wholesale Club

Recently, my husband and I committed to cutting our household costs and finding ways to save money. We decided it was time to get back on a budget. One of our biggest expenses is gas. My job requires a lot of driving. I mean a lot! We also have kids who participate in several extracurricular activities, and of course my husband needs to get to work, too.

This is why BJ’s Wholesale Club is an integral part of our budget plan. One of the biggest perks of BJ’s Wholesale Club is the fantastic savings they offer on gas. The first time I pulled in to fill up my tank, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The gas station across the street was charging $2.69, and the sign at BJ’s said $2.19. I had to double check just to make sure I had selected the right type of gas. That’s a savings of fifty cents per gallon, my friends. You can bet that I checked the price at every gas station from BJ’s to my house to see what others were charging. BJ’s gas prices were among the lowest around. We’ve now been able to hit our weekly gas budget thanks to BJ’s.
Are you wondering where else we’re saving money? The gas was a big one, but that’s not the only way to save at BJ’s. My husband and I are obsessed with the fact that you don’t have to buy in bulk. That’s major for us! We’re tired of throwing away food week after week. Instead of throwing out the excess, we are able to buy our regular use items in smaller sizes, and guess what, we didn’t throw anything away this week! Don’t get me wrong though, there are still items we have to buy in bulk (hello, baby wipes!), and we can easily pick those up at the same time. It’s so nice having a variety of choices when shopping, and we don’t have to go to multiple stores to get everything we need.

Also, did you know that BJ’s Wholesale Club is the only warehouse club that accepts manufacturers’ coupons? Yes, you heard that right. On top of that, members can add coupons to their membership card from the BJ’s app or online. They make it super convenient to save. Now you can clip those coupons with purpose! After watching a few women in front of us save a significant amount of money this way, we committed to taking the time to review the online and paper coupons ourselves.

BJ’s Wholesale Club helps our family stay on budget by offering fresh, quality products at amazing values. We couldn’t be happier, and I encourage you to visit one of BJ’s two Michigan clubs, located at:

    • The Madison Heights club is located at 29101 John R Road
    • The Taylor club is located at 15523 Eureka Road

Also be sure to take advantage of BJ’s Wholesale Club’s Founding Member offer by visiting BJs.com/Michigan.

 

We have partnered with BJ's Wholesale Club to bring relevant and important information to DMB readers through this sponsored post.

No More Toys: Some Alternative Gift-Giving Ideas This Holiday Season

My kids have the worst birthdays (October and November) when it comes to gift giving. By the time the holidays roll around, our house is so packed with toys from their late fall birthdays that it looks like Toys R Us or an in-home daycare. My oldest is now at the age where she asks for everything she sees on TV, and everything she wants just so happens to have a million teeny-tiny pieces.

What doesn’t get eaten by a dog or sucked up in the vacuum ends up under the couch, and you know it will never be seen again. It’s an organized mom’s nightmare. We are running out of room, and over half of the toys we have go unplayed with because my kids have too much. Yes, they are spoiled, but that is a whole other issue.

If your kids are anything like mine, you need some non-traditional gift ideas for the upcoming holiday season. Consider the following alternative gift ideas for the special kids in your life.

Clothes and Pajamas

Not the most exciting gift but definitely practical. As a mom, I really appreciate when my kids receive clothes or PJs as gifts. My oldest is even starting to appreciate clothes and loves to pick out her outfits for preschool. An added bonus is if you know what the child is into and use that when picking out a gift! (Dinosaur shirts and Frozen pajamas for the win).  Pajamas get especially worn out, so we really love receiving those for gifts. Don’t be afraid to ask mom or dad for the size the child is wearing. When buying a gift, I usually size up (especially in pajamas), so they can wear it longer. Keep in mind what season you are buying the outfit for though.

Experiences

My girls are so lucky to have a really large extended family. A birthday party with just family consists of about 25 people, and that’s a lot of presents! If your family is big like ours, consider taking the birthday boy or girl out for a special outing. A movie or out to their favorite restaurant (my daughter would choose Rainforest Café every time) would be a fun option for older children. It will give you one-on-one time with the child, and it will make their day to do something special with you. They will remember the time spent with you much longer than they will play with any toy!

College Account Contribution

Maybe it’s just because I’m a teacher, but this is my favorite gift. College is expensive (coming from someone who is still paying off my last degree), and we don’t know what the cost will be in the next 15-20 years. Programs like MET (Michigan Educational Trust) and MESP (Michigan Educational Savings Program) make it easy to contribute either online or via mail. Every dollar counts when it comes to higher education, and it’s never too late to start saving.

Another great option is to open them a savings account. Diversified Members Credit Union with locations in Detroit and Novi has an awesome savings program for kids! If you open up a savings account with a minimum of a $100 deposit, every year on your child’s birthday, the credit union deposits $50 in their account. If you do it before their first birthday, that’s $900 towards college!

Memberships

Depending on where you live, a membership to certain metro Detroit attractions is an excellent gift idea for the whole family. We get our money’s worth out of our Detroit Zoo membership every year! Some other options to consider are Greenfield Village, Michigan Science Center, Sea Life Aquarium or the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. This is a great gift for the whole family that will last all year. Consider the ages of the children you are buying the membership for. For example, a Greenfield Village membership wouldn’t be enjoyed by a toddler as much as older child would. Most of these memberships are good for an entire year from the redemption date not the date of purchase. So, if you wait until the spring to redeem your zoo membership your family receives for Christmas, it will be good until the following spring, not the purchase date.

Charitable Donations

A dear friend of mine did this, and I loved the idea. For her son’s first birthday, she asked for donations to a local organization instead of gifts for her child. As previously stated, our kids (and most of the kids I know) have too much. What a wonderful message to share with your children about helping others who are not as fortunate as them. I think this is a great idea, especially for older children who may be able to understand why they aren’t getting a boatload of presents. I think this would an awesome thing to do then volunteer at the organization you are donating the items to. With the holiday season quickly approaching, your community’s Good Fellows organization does a lot for local families in need.

While I know some people can’t get over the idea of not giving toys to children for their birthday or holidays (grandparents, I’m talking to you!), maybe consider one of these options for a special child in your life. The memories they make or the lesson they will learn will last much longer than the latest and greatest toy. Many of the alternative gifts mentioned above are great opportunities for families to spend time together, and what could be a better present than that?

Don’t You Dare Step on My Christmas Spirit

I am the queen of Christmas Spirit. The tree goes up Thanksgiving weekend. I sing Christmas songs from the moment the radio starts playing them. Full afternoons are spent baking cookies. Visits to see Santa. Driving around to look at the lights. The 25 or so days leading up to the big one are filled with anticipation, magic, and excitement.

So can someone please explain to me this idea behind being a Christmas Grinch? It seems every year a group of people surface who try and ruin it for everyone else. They say things like, “You shouldn’t let your kids believe in Santa” or “How about you don’t buy people gifts at all?” Are people really deriving joy from stepping on someone else’s Christmas spirit?

Give Me All the Decorations

Every year, the seven or so large plastic tubs migrate from the basement to the main floor for an extensive decorating process. I have décor for nearly every room in the house, including the bathrooms. I string lights outside even when the weather is not ideal, though I try and plan ahead for one nice day even before the turkeys are roasting. And although I have more than my fair share, I still take a trip to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland to get a few new things.

Although I trim several artificial trees, I also buy a real tree every year because that’s what we did growing up. Sure, it’s a lot more work than some plastic needles on a toilet paper tube. Daily, I boil a big pot of water and nearly scald myself trying to pour it into a basin underneath the eaves of a sap-laden tree only for those needles to fall away from their branches within a few weeks like pine-scented confetti. You best believe that I’m not Clark Griswolding it through the forest to find the perfect tree. There are kind people who have done the work for me and will even give it a fresh cut before I take it home.

Now, as much as I love my Christmas decorations and enjoy them throughout the month of December, come New Years Day I pack it all away, turn the outdoor lights off, and the home is back to normal. Just because I’m crazy about Christmas doesn’t mean I need it to last into March. Come on people, just unplug your outdoor lights. Don’t be a lunatic.

Yes, My Kid Believes in Santa

Here are some common reasons I hear to be anti-Santa:

  • You’ll spoil your kids.
  • It gives them unrealistic expectations about how life works.
  • The idea of Santa is scary.
  • I hate Christmas.

To which I reply:

  • You are the Santa, so you’re in control. My Santa doesn’t have millions of dollars for presents or time to fill stockings with plastic garbage. So…he doesn’t.
  • Unrealistic expectations about what? You know there’s a time when you have to tell them Santa isn’t real, so I surely hope they aren’t expecting the big man to show up after they move into their own place. If they are, I hope you have a big ladder.
  • The idea of Santa is what you make it. If you make it seem creepy, then that’s what it will be. But if it’s coated in magic, that’s all your kids will know.
  • I can’t help you with this one, Scrooge.

The True Meaning of Christmas

In my experience, an avid Christmas naysayer argues that the true meaning of Christmas is gone. They say people have strayed too far from the original meaning of Jesus’ birthday, or being with family, or giving to those in need. Frankly, there are a lot of people who are taking those pieces and turning it into the ultimate definition of Christmas spirit.

I’ll be the first to admit that my church attendance record is non-existent. But I do know the importance of recognizing the “reason for the season” even if I don’t walk through the doors of a sanctuary. I try to find other ways to celebrate this aspect of the holiday by participating in other things. We go to see a live nativity, which tells the story of Christmas, at a local church. Interspersed with Jingle Bells, we sing the traditional Christmas hymns. We make it an important part of our celebration even though we don’t attend a service.

Giving back during the Christmas season is one of my favorite parts because it gives us a chance to help others and to express gratitude for all that we have. Sharing my joy with others either through donations or deliveries is something small I can do to brighten up someone else’s season.

No matter how you choose to celebrate, just know I’ll be cozied up in my pine-scented home, watching the marathon of “A Christmas Story” for the 32nd year in a row, and gobbling down sugar cookies because that’s how I like my Christmas. I won’t trudge all over your jack-o-lanterns, Easter eggs, or Shamrock Shakes, so kindly don’t stomp all over my Christmas spirit.

Attitude of Gratitude in 2020

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Did you know that there are about 30 beautiful days of untapped potential left until the new year?

30 days to thoughtfully consider your intentions for 2020. 

30 days to develop and hone an attitude of gratitude!

Most people roll into the new year with a pile of resolutions, many that never come to fruition. This often leads to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Instead, charge into 2020 with an attitude of gratitude, giving yourself the gift of positivity this holiday season.

Lay the Foundation

Enjoy the holidays, minimize the stress, and reap the benefits of 30 days worth of WINs.  Why not hit 2020 feeling on top of the world, resolution or not? If you are the resolution type, you will have laid a foundation for success. If you are anti-resolution, you are kicking off 2020 with a fresh perspective.

Be Realistic

Before you start making a list of all the things you are wanting to change or accomplish, think about your routines and your lifestyle. For example, if you are struggling to sleep at night, try setting an attainable goal such as a flexible bedtime time and aim to be in bed within 30 minutes of that bedtime over the next 30 days…allow for success! Try something that you could potentially accomplish, such as keeping yourself hydrated, showing gratitude, or allowing the laundry to wait until tomorrow. If you are hosting a Chiristmas cookie exchange, intentionally and intuitively enjoy sugar and sweets rather than stick to a rigid diet. The idea is to be mindful and intentional with your WINs. Add things that are attainable and satisfying to you. Even shooting for 25 squats at some point in the day, a yoga video on demand, or making healthier food choices are all steps in the right direction as long as they make you feel good! Taking things in stride over the next 30 day; rather than letting something unimportant eat at you, let it go. Small steps to a big WIN. 

WIN!

What’s a WIN? The dictionary defines a win as a success or victory. In other words, a WIN for you is your personal success or victory! It’s a feeling of gratitude, appreciation, and love for yourself. The Wins are designed to build you up. Choose one for each category and go for it for the love of you!  

The WIN can be broken down into three categories: W: Well-being, I: Intention, and N: Non-attachment. These are all small components but when practiced regularly will equate to your personal WIN.

Well-Being

Well-being, according to the dictionary, is a state of being comfortable, happy, or healthy. Do what is small and simple to aid to your well-beingMaybe that means adding a 15 minute walk to your day, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or engaging in meaningful conversation with your spouse for a few minutes a day. Feeling gratitude for yourself reflects appreciation for all the hard work you do. Take a moment to fluff the pillows before bedtime and enjoy the warmth of your bed before drifting off to sleep. Go outside and quietly notice the trees or sky. Maybe it’s feeling more comfortable in your own skin. Acts of service often fall into the well-being category. If preparing a healthy meal for you and your family makes you feel happy and healthy, roll with it. Well-being is personal and varies greatly from person to person.

Intention

Like mindfulness, intentions can shape your day. Start with two minutes and build up to five if it serves you. Upon rising, or in the shower, or while parking your car, consider your intentions for the day, almost like a mini-meditation. Small and simple. For example, “Today I will be joyful.” Naturally, not every minute of every day will be filled with joy. However, taking the extra measure to consider the intention will naturally lead to mindfulness. You are not failing if you don’t have a smile on your face the entire day; you are human after all! Notice how setting an intention makes you feel; embrace the changes of your feelings.

Non-Attachment

Any yogis out there have likely heard the term non-attachment. It’s a pretty deep concept. This is only scratching the surface, but in a nut shell, it can be explained by not allowing people, places, or things have a hold over you as this potentially leads to poor choices or going against your intentions. For example, judgements can often cloud the mind. Don’t be afraid to let some things go rather than spiral over minor infractions. Maybe even dare to accept it and move on. Try to be patient with yourself as it’s not always easy to let go or accept. 

Remember, the idea is not to be perfect and not to check every item off the list every single day but instead to maintain your WIN about 80% of the time. That 80% is pretty likely to grow over the next 30 days.

Cultivate your new attitude of gratitude. Watch yourself flourish and kick off the new year as an even better version of your already awesome self!

4 Ways Holiday Hosts Can Accommodate Food Allergies

The holiday season is here! For most families, this is a time to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate with a big meal. But for families who have children with food allergies, it can be a very stressful and trying time of year. We live in a food-centered world, and it can be hard for food allergy families to feel comfortable and relaxed at a party where allergens are present. Will their child grab something from the appetizer table? Will Aunt Sally try to fatten them up with some unsafe food? Will their cousins contaminate all of the toys with their messy hands? Or will they feel left out when dessert is served, and they don’t get the same thing as the rest? These are just some of the many thoughts that plague food allergy families as they approach the holiday season.

So how can holiday hosts help? First of all, let’s acknowledge that hosting a holiday event is a lot of work! There is planning, shopping, cleaning, and cooking that all has to be done before the big day. It can be difficult to think about adding in one more task or having to change what you are used to doing. However, if you plan ahead, you can be a food allergy ally and help your food allergy guests feel safe, comfortable, and accommodated in your home! Here are four easy ways you can help:

1. Ask Questions

If you know you are going to be hosting a family with food allergies, it is always helpful to be the first to reach out and open the line of communication. Being the first to say something can be awkward for the parent of a food allergic child. They worry that they will be perceived as overprotective or viewed as an inconvenient guest. So let them know that you are accommodating by touching base in advance with some general questions such as:

  • What is your child allergic to?
  • What precautions do you normally take when you attend parties?
  • Are you comfortable if I cook for them, or would you prefer to bring your own food?
  • Are there any store bought items that I can have on hand that your child enjoys?

2. Remove Allergens from the Menu

At busy holiday parties, it is so easy for mistakes to be made. Even the most diligent parents can get distracted from watching what their food allergic child is doing or touching. Plus, there is the added threat of that token older relative who just loves to hand out food to children. So make the environment extra safe by removing your guest’s allergens from the menu. Nobody will miss the mixed nut bowl if they know they are keeping a little one safe! If removing allergens from the menu doesn’t work for your party, then think about making a designated kids snack table with all safe snacks. Then make sure to let everyone at the party know that there is a child with food allergies and to be mindful.

3. Think Ahead and Prepare

It also helps to give your house a good “once over” if you know you will be hosting someone with allergies. Most hosts clean like crazy before having company over but go a step further and make sure to check the couch cushions for runaway snacks and to use antibacterial spray on any surfaces where there has been food.

Another thoughtful gesture is to have an allergen-friendly dessert. Dessert is often a sad time for children with food allergies. While everyone else eats cake and ice cream, they are usually left with whatever mom scrounges out of here purse that resembles a treat. Luckily there are some great local bakeries that do an amazing job in preparing safe and yummy treats for all:

4. Be Able to Adjust as Needed

Even the most diligent hosts will miss a detail. If you aren’t living the food allergy life, it’s hard to know all of the ins and outs of how to cook for someone with food allergies. So it might be the case that your guest shows up and sees something on the menu that they aren’t comfortable with. Perhaps their child has a sesame allergy and you didn’t know that hummus is full of it? Or maybe another guest is bringing a salad to pass and didn’t get the “No Nuts” memo. If something like this happens, just adjust the menu and roll with it! Usually there is an overabundance of food at holiday parties, so putting one thing away for another day won’t make much of a difference.

There are 32 million people living in the United States who suffer from a food allergy. And as we have seen in recent years, food allergies are drastically increasing in children. So if you are someone who likes to host events, chances are you will run into the predicament of hosting someone with food allergies. Challenge yourselves to step out of your comfort zone, adjust your menu, and make your holiday event safe and inclusive for all!

It’s the Thought That Counts: Holiday Gift-Giving Wisdom

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The season of giving is upon us! Cue all the wrapping paper, bows, and ribbon a girl can fit on her living room floor! (Can we just take a moment to thank the person that put the grid lines on the back of wrapping paper? What a game changer!) If wrapping isn’t your jam, a stack of gift bags and tissue paper is a completely acceptable substitute. After all, it’s what’s inside that matters anyway, right?

Speaking of what’s inside, let’s talk about gift giving. I personally love giving and receiving gifts. It’s actually my top love language. (More on that in a minute). For all those who stress about them, let me help you. It’s not about finding the absolute “perfect” gift or the most expensive one; giving is about taking a moment to think of the recipient and what would be fun or special to them. Show the person that you care. When it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts.  

Speak Their Love Language

I’m sure many of you have heard of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. If you haven’t, go take the quiz and see what your top love languages are. You can get an overview of each if reading the book doesn’t fit your jolly schedule of chaos right now. They will give you perspective that completely translates to gift giving. Now, I’m not saying you need to have every person on your shopping list take the quiz and report back. What I am saying is take the quiz for yourself, understand each language, and then think about the recipient and what they probably speak. I bet you can quickly figure out that Aunt Nancy speaks quality time. So, for her, a gift of an afternoon of pedicures for the two of you would be appreciated more than a solo one. It’s the thought that counts. 

Ask for Some Inspiration

“Ask and you shall receive.” Let’s modify that by saying, “Ask and they shall receive what they want or need!” Is there something special in getting a gift for someone that’s a surprise? Of course. But, let’s face it: sometimes “mom brain” takes over, and we get stumped. We want to give them something they will use, so why not just ask for some ideas? Asking isn’t a cop-out. You still get to decide what you give. And who knows, maybe the suggestions will spark an idea for another gift that would be great for them! It’s the thought that counts.

Encourage Them to Splurge 

Some people look at gift cards as a lazy gift or that they’re too easy, but I beg to differ. I think a gift card is an awesome gift! When I get a gift card, it gives me permission to splurge on something that I WANT, not necessarily need, and that is a beautiful thing. Maybe your bestie loves Pumpkin Spice Lattes but a regular stop in the drive-thru isn’t in her budget. (Let’s be honest—those babies add up quickly!). Give her a Starbucks gift card for a little indulgence and simple pleasure as she starts her day. Maybe your brother is going on vacation in February to escape the Michigan winter? Give him an eBags gift card toward a new suitcase, so he can get one that stands out among the approximately 787 black bags on the luggage carousel when he lands in paradise. It’s the thought that counts.

Remember to Give Back 

As you cross off each name on your list, please don’t forget to give back. It’s truly one of the best parts of the season. The holidays can be hard for people for a multitude of reasons. It’s our job as a community to lift up the hearts of those who need it and spread joy.

Here are some examples of ways I’ve given back over the years if you need a little inspiration:

  • Participate in a giving tree at your local church 
  • Adopt a family 
  • Visit a nursing home to sing Christmas carols  
  • Wrap presents for a toy drive
  • Bake cookies for a neighbor

When my son was born, I wanted to do something special and start a tradition that he could be a part of as he grew up. I saw the cutest idea on Pinterest (because where else does one find good ideas?) where you wrap 25 books and open one each night in December to read leading up to Christmas. Instead of doing it for ourselves, I decided it would be more fulfilling to provide that for a family who needed a little boost. So, on the last week of November every year, I deliver a stack of books and a basket with some reading essentials—a fuzzy blanket, hot chocolate, and snacks—to a local family to kick off their December with snuggles and quality time. It’s the thought that counts.

“It isn’t the size of the gift that matters, but the size of the heart that gives it.”

Eileen Elias Freeman

 

Avoid the Holiday Hullabaloo and Start Your Own Traditions

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Every year right around November when all of the stores start to decorate for the holidays, something else returns: holiday anxiety. I aimlessly stare at the calendar and think to myself, How are we possibly going to finagle all of the holiday events again this year? From multiple Thanksgiving dinners to office/work parties and to pre-school extravaganzas. Don’t forget about cutting your own tree with the family, baking for multiple cookie exchanges, taking pictures with Santa, and attending every single one of the family holiday parties. All of these things are wonderful but exhausting. This year, I am empowering myself and you to avoid the holiday hullabaloo and start your own traditions. 

The ghost of holidays past vs. holidays now

When we first got married and didn’t have kids, being in six places on one holiday was just part of the go-to tradition. Now that we have our own little ones though, driving all over town on these days simply steals the magic from them and us. Putting on smiling faces after a tremendous melt down because nap times were missed seems like a sick joke.  Chasing my curious kids around a beautifully decorated, kid-free home and avoiding the glass ornaments from being broken is a huge feat. Pleasing his side and my side of the family induces challenging conversations where one side always loses. Well folks, I’m here to say it: NOT THIS YEAR! 

Instead, I am strongly encouraging my family and yours to start your own traditions. Start creating the magic that your kids will remember about your own little family. Rather than my kids remembering all of the arguments their parents had in the car running from one side of town to the other, having to wear fancy, stuffy clothes, and having to pose for every picture, I want them to remember having their mom and dad both home and enjoying the day peacefully.

I’m not saying to skip out on everything holiday-related and leave your extended family high and dry. What I am saying is that it is more than OK to turn down some of the things you’ve gone to for years if they’re no longer working for you, your spouse, and your kids. It is OK to be honest with your family and friends and simply say,”This year we are trying something new. Thank you so much for the invitation, but we are sitting this one out as this is what is best for our family this year.”

Balancing the Yuletide

Putting your own family first during the holiday season may feel hard to do, but it is more about balance than it is about bailing. Maybe inviting your family over on a different day, rather than on the actual holiday, is a better solution? Maybe taking the load off of the elder family members who have always hosted and hosting one of the traditions at your home may be more accommodating for your kids? And for the love of all things cheerful, turn these events into a potluck style situation! Ain’t nobody got time for cooking an entire meal and ensuring that their house is ready to go when they have children! Keep calm; everyone will understand! 

Out-of-the-box traditions

Now that you’ve decided to free up your schedule a bit from November-December, what are some NEW traditions that you could start with your spouse and kids? My family and I had an interesting Thanksgiving experience a couple of years ago when it came to food at a family event. My picky eaters (a.k.a. my husband and son) were starving by the time we left the family gathering. Of course, fast food was on their minds, but we live in what some would call a one horse town where those options were closed for the holiday. So, we stopped for slurpees and bread sticks at the local gas station, and we decided we will continue to do this every year. 

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Another fun idea is to consider local gems. Perhaps visiting Campus Martius in downtown Detroit is a lovely start? Their lighting display and ice skating rink is memorable all in itself! In fact, there are so many free, community events that one could seek out during the holiday season that could easily fit into his or her family’s newfound holiday freedom. For instance, my little family has attended Armada’s Holly Days Tree Lighting and Light Parade hosted by the local Lions Club for the last two years and plan on doing so ever year as long as we are able.

Traditions for the little ones and beyond

When you have small children, keeping it festive at home during the holidays is truly what helps decrease the stressful hullabaloo. A friend of mine recently purchased a pickle ornament for their Christmas tree. They hide it inside their tree on Christmas Eve. Whoever finds the pickle ornament first on Christmas morning gets to begin opening their presents first.

One tradition we have that is 100 percent kid-friendly (and a tad messy): we invite the cousins over to make gingerbread houses a few weeks before Christmas. This allows for way too much candy consumption, a chance to see those that we wouldn’t be able to see in the weeks to come, and just purely enjoy each other’s company. These delicious delights double up as a cute, handmade decoration to keep on display all of December.

Even the baby is able to participate in making gingerbread houses!

Speaking of Christmas, my three-year-old and I started something new last year and made reindeer treats for Santa’s fleet. We threw trail mix in a bag with some left over candy corn from Halloween. This was a simple, fun household hit that we will surely do again.

In addition, we transferred my husband’s long-time family tradition of eating homemade waffles with ice cream from Grandma and Grandpa’s house to ours. We did this in leiu of having to trek it to their house early Christmas morning with the kids. At first, this felt strange, but overall, our parents and siblings very much understood how important it was for us to be home with our kids on Christmas morning instead of out and about.

Just do it!

Be the family who wears the matching jammies and cozy socks. Watch your favorite holiday family movie with a sinful amount of snacks on Christmas Eve. Let the kids sleep in your bed while they wait for Santa. Just keep it small, simple, and intentional. Make traditions that are easy yet lasting.

Cease the holiday!

Ultimately, the key is this: have those difficult conversations with extended family about altering or bailing on the annual traditions before the holidays turn into an annual hullabaloo. If all else fails and you’re feeling uncertain about totally switching things up with your extended family, commit to starting one or two new traditions with your own family unit. Remaining truthful, gentle, and genuine with yourself, your spouse, and your children, and your extended family and friends will make the holidays more memorable for all parties involved.

Wishing you a wonderful, stress-free holiday season for you and yours! 

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