Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year but I’ve come to appreciate the time with family and friends even more recently. After many Christmases spent away from my family or catching last-minute flights to come home for a few short days, I’ve learned to value the little things and time spent with those I care about most. I was lucky enough to have a few extra days “off” this season and a shorter distance to travel. So here I sit on Christmas Day, feeling fulfilled after a weekend full of love and laughs, reflecting on the holiday traditions that make it so special to me.
Christmas Eve with my relatives
For as long as I can remember, my entire extended family on my mom’s side would gather to celebrate together. Before we lost my grandparents a few years back, there was a time when we had four generations gathering together each year. The significance of this has never been lost on me. My grandpa’s birthday also landed on Christmas Eve so we would get together before dinner to have birthday cake and he would open his birthday gifts. After dinner, the Christmas giving would begin. It has always stuck with me how my family ensured my grandpa and his birthday had their own special moment.
Now that he’s gone, we still take the time to remember my grandpa and his birthday. He loved his sweets, a trait that has definitely been passed down to me, and every year he was gifted a sampler box of Whitman’s chocolates. I will never see a box of Whitman’s without thinking of my grandpa. Each Christmas Eve, someone brings a box of Whitman’s with my grandpa’s name on the tag. So while my grandpa is no longer there in person, he continues to be there in spirit.
Christmas Eve with my family
After the last Christmas Eve gift has been opened and we’ve all overindulged on my cousin’s amazing sugar cookies, my family and I go back to my parents’ house for the night. While the activities vary year to year, the spirit is the same. There’s usually a Christmas movie playing in the background and nine times out of ten, it’s the A Christmas Story marathon on repeat. Sometimes we have a game night, dividing into teams in a family feud. This year, we made and decorated gingerbread houses: a messy but rewarding feat. The night almost always ends with my sister’s fiance going to bed within an hour or two of arriving home and my stepdad following suit shortly after, leaving my mom, sister, and I to share a bottle of wine and some cheesy, feel-good holiday movies.
No matter how old I get, Santa magically sneaks in during the night, leaving my sister and I each a larger gift and a Christmas stocking stuffed with smaller items. I still have a hard time falling asleep the night before, the anticipation of Christmas morning keeping me awake. When I was younger, it was the excitement of wanting to know what Santa was bringing and hoping I could stay up to catch him in the act. Now, it’s the feeling of waking up at my parents’ house and spending a day with my family that keeps me up. We still aren’t allowed to go upstairs until everyone is awake so nobody sees their “Santa gift” before everyone else. This usually involved me waking up at 6am and incessantly pestering my sister until I can drag her out of bed. Some things never change!
After we’re done opening gifts as a family, taking turns so we can see what everyone unwraps and receives, we have a special Christmas breakfast. In an age where we’re all so busy and my family is rarely even in the same state for a meal, I love having the time to share a meal all together. My mom always prepares a home-cooked meal and we all stay in our pajamas to enjoy a relaxed, family breakfast. A few years ago, I asked my mom if we could have mimosas and a new tradition was born. I’m a big fan of brunch and mimosas always seem festive and fun. But really, I think the mimosas just make the breakfast seem more of a special occasion and what’s more special than a quiet morning spent together as a family.
I’ve received some amazing gifts over the years but it’s these traditions that represent the true spirit of Christmas to me.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Have you adopted any new traditions in recent years?
Instead of the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m challenging you to 12 days of winter fun! Because only in Minnesota is the state’s biggest outdoor beer festival held in the dead of winter…
1. Practice your backward crossovers at Wells Fargo WinterSkate
2. Howl for FREE Cherry Berry during the 4th quarter of a Minnesota Timberwolves game
3. Cheer on Minnesota native Cameron Naasz at the Red Bull Crashed Ice season opener
4. Go fly a kite at the Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival
5. Watch some fireworks or your favorite holiday movie at the Holidazzle Winter Wonderland
6. Don your ugliest Christmas sweater and participate in your favorite winter fun run
7. Celebrate the “State of Hockey” at a Minnesota Wild game
8. Get your drink on at the Winter Beer Dabbler, Minnesota’s biggest outdoor beer festival
9. Attend the Tree Lighting Ceremony at 50th & France
10. Fly down The Big Hill on a snow tube at Green Acres
11. Rent a party bus, spike your hot chocolate and check out Holiday Lights in the Park
12. Lace up your warmest boots and explore Stillwater’s Ice Castles
What are your favorite winter activities? What would you add to your winter bucket list?