It has been a tremendous relief to me, over the past few years, to hone the ability to think of "Christmas" as not just one day but as really a series of events and experiences that unfold over the course of about a week. Certainly the building up to that, starting just after Thanksgiving, constitutes the Christmas season, but I just mean the focus, the point of all that preparation is that central week (and not just that one big day). This has helped me not feel depressed when the day itself is over in a flash.
Christmas, then, starts after we are out of school for winter break. With Christmas late in the week, it meant that break started on Monday which was another detail that helped make it possible to relax, enjoy, and still get things done. Step One was the baking and construction of our annual gingerbread houses. After about 12 years or so of doing these, I've found that rolling the dough thin thin thin (in the 1/8" neighborhood) works best -- but I'll note that the recipe I use bakes up super sturdy (even though it is made with all-edible ingredients, once you bake it there's no eating it -- it's just too hard).
I've also got the royal icing down so that it does set up pretty quickly, which is a more important detail if you're working with children since the waiting-to-decorate part is the hardest.
Dean went fairly free-form this year; sometimes he's more about the candy and other details, but this year he was just having a great time with the piping bags. Another critical ingredient to success (for me, anyway) in making gingerbread houses with a child is changing what you're idea of 'perfect' means. I used to be aiming for Martha, to be honest, but now I believe with all my heart that perfection is having a wonderful time and having your child eager for the experience again next year (and I believe these are two very opposite ends of the scale).
I need to remember to pick up another small string of LED lights; I only have one and we decided not to run it between the two houses and instead decided to ditch the lights. I do like how they look when they are lit from within, but even without that detail I'm delighted with how these turned out. And they smell wonderful!
We developed the tradition over the years of opening our gifts from far away family and friends on Christmas Eve. This both helps us truly focus on these dear people and the special things they've sent, and it also helps Dean deal with the incredible excitement and anticipation that's at a fever pitch by the 24th.
You could have heard a pin drop when Dean opened his gift from Gina and her family. Gina regularly spoils Dean with bountiful packages full of football (soccer) magazines, the likes of which just are not available here in the states -- in fact, this Christmas parcel also included several fabulous ones that came with a hat, and a calendar, and stickers (they give away a lot of premiums in those English mags!). But to have sent him an official Liverpool jersey was beyond our wildest dreams. Dean shares Liverpool love with Gina and her family, but we can never thank them enough for such an amazing gift. Dean is looking forward to wearing it to school next week! Another tale of the miracle of blogging, and the incredible connections to people whom we never otherwise would know or treasure....
Dean also received some beautiful books from family, and dug right into those that evening. Eventually, though, it was time for bed and a few other family traditions.
In about 1967, my mom designed an advent calendar; she made one for our family and one that was raffled off in the church bazaar. Pockets with tiny felt figures, one to be drawn out and placed on the tree each night of Advent, with Santa to be drawn and placed on the 24th. Although these calendars are ubiquitous now, they certainly weren't back then and my mom's design was entirely original. This is my re-making of her design -- a few of the felt figures are her originals and the rest I remade from memory (or added my own).
Stockings hung by the chimney with care,
with a cookie for Santa and carrot for his reindeer.
Apparently the offerings, as well as the relative goodness of each of us during the course of the year, were enough to merit some very full stockings on Christmas morning! Those, of course, get opened and enjoyed first.
Dean's dog robe was one of his gifts last year. He made his way slowly and thoughtfully through his gifts, with one surprise gift to both Dean and Ken from me --
Rockband! Neither had asked for it but it has turned out to be a big hit all around. I love those kinds of gifts -- the ones you weren't even thinking of but love.
After presents, our traditional Christmas breakfast of eggnog french toast. We have a lot of special meals, including fish on Christmas Even (shrimp, and then swordfish this year) and then a big dinner Christmas night (maple and dijon glazed roast pork). Appetizers mid-day, enjoyed amidst the toys and treats just received.
(Don't worry -- it only looks as though the tall candle is too close to the figures hanging from the wreath on the chandelier!)
Had to try my hand at Rockband (and part of Biscuit's stocking contents are there on the floor...).
I received some lovely gifts, and amongst my favorites are this set of cookie cutters (isn't the packaging wonderful?). I was delighted with the number of Etsy/blogland gifts that made it under the tree.
And the cutters themselves. SO looking forward to a batch of gnomes.
We had snow, and warmth, and good cheer. And I think we'll do it all again in about a year -- with the note that we really, truly, and totally are going to aim to have all the gifts wrapped by Thanksgiving. Really. We mean it this time.