It’s our final week in my “homeschooling Christmas” series! Although we had a full week left before Christmas, things quickly transitioned from busy preparation to vacation mode in our house. I think this was partly due to the fact that two snowstorms moved through Colorado — one on Monday and an even bigger one on Wednesday — which left nearly two feet of fresh snow on the ground and slowed down the holiday activities considerably. Those couple of snow-bound days at home were filled with sledding and snowman-making, more baking, and lots of family time around the fire catching up with Christmas movies we’d recorded on the DVR. And although we missed a couple of planned outings as a result, a wonderfully peaceful feeling set in. I felt truly ready for Christmas.
By now, we’d also moved into vacation mode with our homeschool: The only “school” activity we accomplished each day was our Jesse Tree devotional and ornament-making project. Since I had all three girls making their own ornament to add to the tree daily since Dec. 1, it was looking quite full by now, branches barely distinguishable among all the colorful paper ornaments.
This week’s devotions in Ann Voskamp’s “A Jesus Advent Celebration” were especially thought-provoking, bringing into the spotlight the most important gift we’ve ever received — our Savior Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation — and challenging us to consider whether we really treasure this gift the way we should and recognize that it’s the only thing that truly matters.
This new tradition of creating a Jesse Tree has been really meaningful to our family — a definite keeper! It’s kept us all focused and extremely grateful. I’ve seen the typical materialism of the season melt away, and the girls have been more thoughtful, more giving and more appreciative of every moment we’ve shared together. I feel very blessed by this experience!
Despite the snow, we did manage to get out and enjoy a few more Christmas traditions, new and old. Here’s a quick recap:
Homemade Christmas Gifts — Revisited!
This year, we had to add a second day of baking to the agenda in order to have enough cookies to give away. The snow days this week provided the perfect opportunity to hunker down and complete the baking project.
My eldest daughter Audrey took charge with this second round of cookie baking, and before I knew it, she already had the dough mixed and the first tray of cookies in the oven. We made a second batch of Dark & White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies (adapted from this recipe) and tweaked this Double Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe by adding crushed peppermint candy to the mix before baking. Then we packed the finished product in cute Christmas-printed take-out styled boxes from Michael’s.
One thing I’ll do better next year is plan to give the cookies out very soon after baking them. Because of the snow, not all the cookies were delivered until late in the week, at which point I had to tell recipients that they should be enjoyed right away. But other than this little glitch, the cookie gifts were a fun family project and a great way to bless others, especially neighbors that we don’t interact with often.
Christmas Zoo Lights — New!
It’s been many years since we’ve taken the girls to see the special Christmas lights displayed at the Denver Zoo — back then, we were just a family of four and the girls were still riding in a double stroller. This year, we planned to stroll the lights at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo instead — partly because it was free to members, but also because we thought it would be less crowded (and my husband always prefers to avoid crowds). We had originally planned to go on Monday evening, but due to the snowstorms and subsequent freezing temperatures, we waited until Friday, the eve of Christmas Eve.
With all the fresh snow on the ground, the scene couldn’t have been more lovely! We were among the first families to enter the zoo gates and made our way through the serene streets almost completely by ourselves. It was fun to see quite a few animals out in their habitats, including a curious moose, napping trio of lions, and a restless tiger and mountain lion pacing right up to the front of their enclosures. Indoors, we got to pet the giraffes (who are very friendly when being fed!) and watch the hippos swim laps and snarl at each other.
Of course, the night would not be complete without a visit with Santa & Mrs. Claus in the Santa Zone, which looked — and felt — a lot like the North Pole. Thankfully a roaring fire was burning nearby, and we were able to warm up while chatting with Mrs. Claus. The line to sit on Santa’s lap was only a few minutes wait, and we were free to take our own photos — nice!
The drive to and from the zoo was equally scenic: The surrounding neighborhood was filled with some of the most beautiful Christmas lights we’ve seen yet. And although we didn’t plan to do this so late in the schedule, there was something really special about sharing this experience the night before Christmas Eve. In fact, maybe we’ll plan for exactly that next year (weather permitting, of course).
Christmas Eve Candle-lighting Service — Revisited!
Most Christmases past when we’ve been out of town visiting family, we split up the Christmas Eve between a few different family parties. This year, we were able to attend the Christmas Eve candle-lighting service at our own home church. It was great to have the whole family (even four-year-old Elise) in the service together, worshiping with Christmas songs and honoring our Savior. Even though we didn’t have any parties to attend, we still got dressed up in our Christmas colors.
After the service, we came home and enjoyed homemade enchiladas (our substitute for fresh tamales, which is a Christmas Eve tradition in my family that we weren’t up to attempting ourselves) and made calls to family members across the country. I have to admit that by this point, I was starting to miss everyone, so it was nice to connect and share the events of the day.
We allowed the girls to open one gift each, which was their Christmas PJs from us, and then we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” by the fire. On those few Christmases that we’ve stayed home, we let the girls sleep in the living room. Once they were all tucked in, my husband pulled out the guitar and we sang Christmas songs together, wrapping things up with a family prayer. I felt very blessed in that moment!
Thankfully the girls are not early risers, even on Christmas Day! But our whining Siberian Husky made sure we didn’t sleep in too long, and the girls were up in a flash to check their stockings. After a quick bite for breakfast, we decided to open all the presents under the tree so the girls could spend the rest of the day enjoying their goodies and let us focus on the cooking.
I say “us” but in reality, it was mostly my husband — who is an amazing cook — that did all the work. He made Prime Rib & Lobster Tail (a last-minute addition thanks to a steal of a deal at the grocery store), plus two different pies for dessert! I got away with helping with the side dishes and setting the table. One tradition we kept was making my Grandma’s famous creamed corn — a decadent recipe involving lots of butter, sugar and half & half — along with trying something new, caramelized brussel sprouts with bacon and cranberries. No surprise that Grandma’s corn is still the family favorite. The fresh baked apple pie and creamy chocolate french silk pie my husband had made were also big hits!
My eldest daughter Audrey also got busy using one of her Christmas gifts — a cake pop maker — and made chocolate cake pops decorated like Christmas elves as well as some chocolate “snowballs.” I was happy to see her sharing the experience with her sisters, letting them assist with the decorating and sugar dusting.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the fire. The girls played with some of their new toys, we watched a few more favorite Christmas movies together, and we made more calls to family members. We never left the house — a Christmas first, I think! But it was exactly what I had in mind.
This Christmas we shared a lot of new experiences, and it was most exciting to establish some new traditions that helped us focus on the reason for the season. By incorporating the Christmas theme into our homeschooling days, we not only found more focus, but we turned Christmas to-do’s that usually stress me out into creative family projects. We got more done and we had a lot of fun in the process. We turned what is often a stressful and sometimes burdensome time into peaceful days full of joy and gratefulness — spent together as a family, making meaningful memories.
As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I realized that I also did miss my family and the close friends that we have shared Christmas with in the past. I think there’s still room to include some family visiting in the Christmas schedule (when finances permit), and to find a way to keep our Christmas traditions while sharing them with others. It would be nice if some of our family members would come spend a Christmas with us at some point too!
I am very thankful for the blessings God has bestowed on our family this year. I’ve learned a lot during this second year of homeschooling: I’ve been challenged and stretched, and I’ve grown. This Christmas was especially revealing to me, and I am very grateful for the experience. I feel closer to my Lord and my family than I ever have. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year holds for all of us!