Christmas books

Christmas past and Christmas future: Reviewing this year’s holiday to plan the next one

Christmas is a big deal around here. I’ve been mulling over what I liked about how we celebrated this year, and what I want to change. Here’s the breakdown:

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Hygge: I learned about this Danish word — hygge — after Christmas was over and the tree was already down. But for me, I realized, hygge is the true meaning of Christmas. Not the Christian story — we are not Christian, and lighting up the dark around winter solstice, giving presents, and bringing green things inside predate Christianity. Hygge seems to mean coziness, comfort, the absence of anything grating, and quiet connection — whether with loved ones or with yourself — from what what I’ve been able to put together. Candles and fire and golden light show up a lot in hygge pinterest boards along with cable knit socks and winter foods and reading chairs. Here’s the board I made.

Next year I want to focus more on the general sense of coziness, connection, comfort and quiet than on the specific day we open presents. I love presents, but I don’t want Christmas to end as soon as we open them. Next year, I want to the decorations and the Santa mugs out longer and keep celebrating.

Giving: This year, our little one still seemed too young for it, but next year we’ll make things together for him to give to the important people in his life. For me, giving is one of the especially warm-feeling parts of Christmas, and I want him to experience it too — to not just see Christmas as a big intake day. Also, this year we gave to a couple of charities, but it was haphazard. Next year, I want to talk about them and pick them out as a family.

Christmas tree: Last year we ordered a tree online from Green Valley Christmas Trees, and the tree they sent was the freshest, most beautiful tree I’ve ever had. The only problem was that it came in a big cardboard box that was hard to get rid of. This year we went to a local lot. It was okay, but nowhere near as nice, and it didn’t last very long. Next year, it’s back to Green Valley and we’ll just deal with the box.

Decorating the tree: Gavin came up with the idea of making a red and green paper chain this year. We put up only fairly robust ornaments and plastic lights, and the tree was looking a little sparse. The chain filled it out and we figured if it tore we could just tape it back together.  We sang Christmas carols (badly) while we were making it and gave our little boy his own short chain to play with. He not only let us make the chain in peace, he also left the chain on the tree alone, so we never ended up needing to tape it back together.

Christmas lights in a ball: Wrangling the tree lights this year was a snap, because last year we rolled them up in a ball. Unrolling them was easy — much easier than in the past when I had carefully worked all the lights back into their original packaging.

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Santa mugs: We got these a few years ago at Pottery Barn (you can find actual vintage ones on Etsy, though, and see a bunch on Pinterest, too). We get them out with our December decorations, and usually we drink a lot of hot chocolate in them. This year we were craving lighter fare, so we drank mint tea in them almost every day. For my little boy, I poured a little tea in the bottom of his cup and then filled the rest up with cool water, so it was barely warm. He loved it.

Christmas cards: I love Paper Source‘s designs, especially the cards that say, “Merry/Happy Everything!” And one of my favorite Christmasy things to do is sit in a coffee shop addressing envelopes and thinking about all the people I like and love who I’m sending them to. This year I started a little late because we were traveling around and after Thanksgiving, so I still have some cards to send out (for New Year’s! Or maybe Valentine’s Day…) Next year, I’m starting earlier.

Santa photo: The Petersen Automotive Museum had an old red convertible you could pose inside with Santa this year. It was the best Santa photo (and Santa photo experience) we’ve had so far. One of us ran around the gift shop or museum with our son while the other stayed in line, and once we actually got in the car, our little boy was in heaven checking out the steering wheel and all the buttons. They took a bunch of pictures, and even though our two year old was focused on the car most of the time, they still managed to get a picture where we were all kind of smiling at the camera. For $25 they gave us a thumb drive of all the shots and a print out of the best one, plus free parking. 

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Going out to see lights: We went out twice this year. We got a deal on Living Social for a 90 minute trolley tour of the Christmas lights on and around Naples Island in Long Beach.  They gave us candy canes and Santa hats and hot chocolate, and we rode around in an open trolley in our snow jackets. The tour included also a guided walk around Naples Island, and while we could have done that on our own for free, as part of the trolley tour it just seemed more special. Our two year old loved every part of the whole night from running around touching lights to drinking hot chocolate to getting two candy canes to RIDING IN AN ACTUAL TROLLEY!

Another night, we drove to Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo. El Segundo in general goes all out with Christmas deocrations, but in this cul-de-sac every house is covered in lights.  They shut down traffic and people walk up and down the street. A couple of houses have model trains running out on their lawns, and there’s a Santa you can visit, although my little one has only wanted to see him from a distance so far.

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Gingerbread house: Last year we assembled one of the Trader Joe’s gingerbread houses. It was…tricky. This year, we got a pre-assembled one from Whole Foods, along with a tin of candy and some pre-made icing. Much better. I just wished I had picked up a little extra candy. Next time, I think we’ll go with another preassembled house, but we might also decorate ginger bread men that we can eat right away.

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This year after we took the tree down, we all sat around the table and broke up the gingerbread house and ate it. It was disgusting, but fun. And as my little one pointed out, the candy part was good.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners: We ordered a beef tenderloin and a goose from Heritage Foods USA. Gavin made the tenderloin on Christmas Eve, and it was amazing. Delicious and juicy and tender. We’ll definitely get another one next year. It was also easy to make and didn’t need to cook forever, which helps make the night more fun.

The goose, on the other hand, took a lot of time to prepare and to cook. I think the recipe I used–Roast Goose with Caramelized Apples–was a good one, but I may not be that into goose. I loved the caramelized apple part of the recipe, though, and I don’t think they need to be made with goose fat to be good. I might try making them in the place of cranberry sauce, and using butter and oil for the fat next time. I also made potatoes roasted in goose fat, and again, I don’t think the fat needs to be from a goose for these to be good. You want to make sure you like raw garlic if you’re going to try these, though.

The next day, I made Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon to put on my left-over goose sandwiches. It was good, but not the ultimate cranberry sauce. I’m marking down Cranberry Sauce with Port and Tangerine to try next year.

Harry and David’s pears: Someone gave us these a few years ago, and we’ve ordered them every year since. They’re the best pears I’ve ever had, and they’re a special food I can look forward to around Christmas time that makes me feel good instead of kind of sick. I’m trying to ease up on holiday sugar consumption — it doesn’t make me feel that good in the end, although I do enjoy the occasional homemade Christmas cookie, I’m working on tilting the balance so that sugar is a once or twice a holiday season treat instead of a constant overload.


Christmas books: This year the books we read together over and over were Deck the Halls illustrated by Veronica Vasylenko, You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love and illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa, and Richard Scarry’s Best Christmas Book Ever!

Slightly less repeated, but also loved were The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg and Peter Spier’s Christmas.

A couple of my favorites that I think my little one might like better next year are Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry and Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Barry Root.

Christmas movies: The movies we liked watching together the best this year were The BIG Christmas Tree and Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.

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Advent calendar and stockings: This year we used the advent calendar as a decoration, and we skipped stockings altogether. Filling both (or either) up gets expensive, and if I just stick candy or chocolate in them, it ends up being a lot of sugar. I used to sew new decorations on our stockings every year, and I miss doing that. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll have a little more free time before Christmas and I’ll figure out what to put in the stockings that won’t break the bank.

Getting away: A couple of different friends in my Facebook feed took trips to the mountains after Christmas and played in the snow. It looked so cozy and like so much fun. I’d like to work that into our Christmas traditions.

Magda Pecsenye’s Christmased workbook: I didn’t buy it this year, but it looked so good and so helpful. I want to work through it next year. In the meantime, I’ve signed up for her emails to help me think a little more about what I want for next year’s Christmas.

Christmas books: Sampson, the Christmas Cat

Sampson the Christmas Cat
Sampson, the Christmas Cat by Catherine Stock

Sampson is a stray who smells the family’s Christmas turkey cooking and sneaks in through a window. The kids find him hide him from their mom, who is not a cat lover. They manage to cover for him until their annoying cousin comes over and blows a tickler in everyone’s faces. Sampson springs out to attack it, and maybe, just maybe he wins their mom over.

Christmas books: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Holly Hobbie

We love Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle books. Two pigs, one a homebody and one an adventurer, are best friends who live together in the country with a parrot named Tulip. In I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Toot (the adventurer) makes his way home from a family reunion in Scotland, but he’s held up by an ice storm and snowed over roads until finally a mysterious stranger in a sleigh gives him a lift on Christmas Eve night.

Christmas books: You Are My Miracle

You Are My Miracle
You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love

I meant to write about my favorite Christmas picture books in December, but getting ready for and recovering from Christmas kept me so busy that I’m only getting to it now. This book made me cry more than once as I was reading it. My son liked it, but I loved it. This might be a book more for parents than for children; it brings up all at once what it feels like to be a mom or dad in all its heart swelling glory.