Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, especially for people who love to entertain! Opportunities abound for gatherings, parties, soirees, whatever suits your fancy! So, if you have an entertainer on your gift list, it’s the perfect time to give them a gift that makes entertaining easier and a little more fun. So, I’ve rounded up for you the top-ten must have items for entertaining. At price points ranging from $5-$100 you’re sure to find just the right thing to bring a smile to the hostess extraordinaire in your life. Or maybe you just need to pick up a couple of these things for yourself to get through the holiday season! So, without further ado, let’s check this out -…
Have you ever found yourself tearing up and thanking the Lord for bringing something into your life at just the right time?! That was me earlier this fall. I was crying out to the Lord, desperately trying to find a way to keep my family from succumbing to the power of the Christmas rush. Christ was missing from Christmas. I craved something different, something fresh, something – – – authentic. Christmas was starting to slip into the stores and into the media featuring immaculately set tables, families opening giant flat screen TV’s and scenes of traffic jams and shopping madness. When did this happen?!?!?
As I child in the 80’s, I know you still had to be intentional about keeping the Christ in Christmas but I don’t think any of us could see how much more difficult it would get. It’s been 50 years since A Charlie Brown Christmas hit mainstream network television proclaiming the point of Christmas to be the birth of Jesus not a flock of pastel, aluminum trees. I can still close my eyes and see Linus, clutching his blanket reciting the famous passage from Luke. Now, you’re hard pressed to even find a religious Christmas Carol on a holiday special.
As a parent, it hurts my heart. I want my kids to enjoy the magic of Christmas, we aren’t anti-Santa but, most importantly, I want them to understand the true magnitude of the day not just the materialism. So, that’s where I found myself, trolling the internet, desperate for not just resources but a total overhaul of our approach to Christmas. That’s when God led me to an Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy is a total paradigm switch on Christmas. It takes the four weeks leading up to the big day and devotes them to the life changing ideas of Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All. Wow. Isn’t that what Christmas should all be about?
Advent Conspiracy provides tons of free resources to help you implement the program at home. It starts with a family devotional packet you can use to guide your discussion each week. It’s full of fantastic illustrations and convicting examples that hit the heart of each topic and it’s easy to bring it down to the level of toddlers. As part of their Family Resource Bundle, they also have great printable cards, gift wrap and gift tags that all point to the bigger purpose.
Some of my favorite activities are found under Sunday School in the Church Resources Bundle. There’s a letter with Santa scratched out and Papa God written in its place. Just like a mad lib, you can help your kids fill in the blanks and work through the mental shift of give me more, more, more to being thankful that they have everything they need plus so much more. It also helps them pause and consider the needs of kids who don’t share their good fortune. They also a fantastic worship jar idea where you can fill it with different ways to worship and pull one out throughout the season. And guess what, everything is 100% free. My favorite price tag!
Reprioritizing your Christmas
If you’ve read my previous posts about pre-scheduling your Christmas, Advent Conspiracy is on the same page. They aren’t about turning Christmas into some heavy, pensive season. They want you to have fun, celebrate and make memories with your family. So plan to bake cookies, or look at Christmas lights, or go to a Christmas concert. But they are also going to challenge you to give more of your time and money to those who are less fortunate. Consider things like serving at a food bank or a soup kitchen or spending less on your gifts so you can give the gift of fresh water to a community in another country. A lot of their suggestions are geared for slightly older kids but I think with a little noodling you can bring them down to the toddler level.
Keeping the Story of Christ Always in Mind
Separate from the Advent Conspiracy, we are doing several things to keep the Christmas Story our main focus.
First off, I’ve purchased an inexpensive but realistic plastic nativity. I plan to place this at kid level in my living room. To start, it will only have animals in it (borrowed from our farm set – I’m nothing if not resourceful). I’m going to place Mary and Joseph on one end of the house and the wise men on the other. The shepherds, I’ll put somewhere in the living room, near to the stable.
Similar to “Elf on the Shelf,” these groups will move slowly, a little each night, toward the stable. Mary and Joseph will arrive Christmas eve, Jesus and the shepherds on Christmas day, and the wise men will arrive a few days after Christmas. Each day, there will be a fun, game element to finding where the different groups have moved to during the night but it will give us a new opportunity to talk about the story and what’s happening.
Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems. There are other people out there fighting the same battles too. Once you come to terms with the fact that you can’t overhaul Christmas for everyone – even your extended family – and focus just on redirecting the celebration for your own family, you’ll feel a big part of the weight lift off your shoulders. So, try some of these ideas with your own family. If they don’t quite work, try something different next year. The point is to keep trying and to keep bringing it back Jesus. Share some of your tried and true ideas for keeping the Christ in Christmas below!
It’s early November and I have one thing on my mind – Christmas. Not because I can’t wait to turn up the Christmas carols and bust out the tree but because I’m determined to slow down and enjoy Christmas. In this world of holiday parties, Santa sightings and gifts that cost hundreds of dollars, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the holidays. The season becomes a blur of stress and commitments with the only thing to show for it being a credit card bill as long as your arm.
As moms, we’re expected to make Christmas magical for our kids – to make lasting memories and traditions. What if we took that charge seriously? What if we dug into the real things that make this season special and got rid of the fluff. What if we had our Christmas “work” done by December 1 so we could actually focus on the things that matter? It’s not a pipe dream and I’m here to tell you how to do it!…
We all have cherished Christmas movies or holiday specials and it’s a Christmas tradition to watch them every year. For many of us, it’s an exciting rite of passage to share them with our new families. I love movies too but the only bummer is they aren’t exactly interactive. That got me thinking, what if we made Christmas movie night into more of an event! Here are some ideas to turn your favorite Holiday Special in to an exciting event for the whole family!
A Charlie Brown Christmas (25 min)
Perhaps one of the most iconic of the Christmas Specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a great starting point for a young family. It’s short in length and it highlights to true meaning of Christmas with a distinct Christian message discouraging materialism and holiday perfection. Plus, it’s Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang so it’s hilarious and the soundtrack is to die for!
Turn this show into more of an event by decorating your own Charlie Brown inspired Christmas tree. Visit a local tree farm for a small, misshapen tree or find a large bare branch. I recommend aiming for more of a table top tree that won’t take up much space. Then work as a team to decorate it with homemade ornaments and garland made from found items in your house. Tin foil stars, popcorn garland and paper chains will bring your family together while breathing new life into a discarded item.
The Polar Express (1 hr 40 min)
Also a favorite for the pre-k/kindergarten crowd, The Polar Express chronicles the journey a few lucky children take to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus via train. Trains are always a hit with kids and, if you’re like me, you’ve got a whole box of wooden train tracks waiting for some family fun!
Pick a couple of other toys to represent your house and the North Pole (you could also build them in advance out of Legos) and work together building different tracks to connect the two. You could start by building the curviest track and then the longest track or a track that goes over a mountain of pillows. Think extreme train building! Of course, you can all celebrate reaching the North Pole with a festive candy cane.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (25 minutes)
Also a timeless classic on the shorter side, the Grinch that Stole Christmas is all about spreading Christmas Cheer. This Christmas favorite ends with the Grinch and the citizens of Whoville hand-in-hand singing a merry Christmas song.
Use this classic as an opportunity to spread some Christmas cheer in your neighborhood. Team up with another family and hit the pavement caroling. Pay attention to elderly neighbors who may not get many visitors or have a lot of interaction with kids. I promise, lifting someone’s spirits this way will make your heart grow three sizes!
Elf (1 hr 37 min)
A new classic, the story of Buddy the elf’s adventures in New York City reconnecting with his father is a hit with all ages. Even Buddy’s scrooge of a dad can’t help but come around by the end of the movie. One of the running jokes throughout the whole movie is Buddy’s amazing ability to decorate an entire house with paper chains and snowflakes made mainly out of plain old white printer paper. Take a cue from Buddy and spend some time as a family decorating your front window elf style. Make different paper snowflakes, paper chains, and paper dolls and string them across your window to welcome holiday visitors.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1 hr 37 min)
A great option for an older family or for extended family when you get together, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation hilariously captures the reality of the holidays. It has been so sewn into the fabric of American culture that we even say some has “Griswolded” their house when they decorate with an overabundance of lights.
Celebrate this uniquely American tradition by touring the local neighborhoods that are known for impressive displays. If you do a driving tour, you can also listen to Christmas music and stay warm. If you aren’t sure where to go in your town, check the local paper or use your social media to source suggestions. There has been a huge up-tic in the fancy automated displays that sync with music that are lots of fun to check out! Warm everyone with a festive hot chocolate bar to enjoy while watching the movie when you return!
Hope this gives you some ideas to spark some togetherness activities that go along with your favorite Christmas movies. If you have a good idea for a Christmas movie activity, please share it in the comments below!
I was relatively new to the idea of a cookie exchange when I received an invitation to my first one a couple years ago. I had a lot of fun and those ladies really brought their “A” game but, when I left with plates and plates of cookies, the part of me that’s always trying to not sabotage my weight loss goals wondered if I should ever do it again. The party was fun but having all those cookies in my house sure wasn’t helping matters.
The next year, I decided to give neighbor gifts for the first time. I remembered getting thoughtful plates of homemade goodies from neighbors as a kid so I got to work whipping up six or seven holiday classics. Man, was that a lot of work! That’s when it dawned on me, why not combine these two ideas? Do a cookie exchange with the intent of getting a few cookies for your family but also some cookie plates to share with others.
So, the first “Bless Your Neighbor” Cookie exchange was born and it was a huge hit! I chose to do it as an event through women’s ministry at church but it could easily be done with a group of friends or even a group of families. I loved this event because it brought together women of all ages. There were lots of mother/daughter teams, older women, and plenty of single ladies as well. I think it’s fair to say the holiday cookies speak to just about everyone.
Here is what we did to make it festive fun:
Set the mood
This is the time to go over the top Christmas. If the place you’re meeting isn’t already decorated for Christmas, make the effort to give it a holiday spruce with lights, garlands and table cloths! Get your Christmas music playing and, of course, provide festive drinks and munchies. Hot cider or a hot chocolate bar would be excellent for this event and, for snacks, stick to savory offerings since the cookies will provide a lot of sugar!
Bring on the cookies!
I asked each lady to bring 4 dozen cookies. The goal was that each participant would leave with a dozen cookies for their family plus two boxes of a dozen cookies each to give to someone else. That left an extra dozen for munching at the party or in case any were smooshed in transport. I let the ladies know in advance that there would be prizes for the prettiest cookie, most unique cookie and the most creative cookie. There are lots of categories you could award so pick the handful that seem good to you. I purposefully avoided anything having to do with taste because I knew we wouldn’t have enough extra cookies for everyone to taste each type.
Last year, I had a couple of families show up with cookies that were free of certain allergens. I’m so glad they did this because it opened the options for everyone. This year, I’m putting the guests with sensitivities in touch with each other so they can coordinate their own little exchange as part of the bigger event. You can ask them to bring slips of paper with a list of ingredients to include with the cookies. You may want to provide Ziplock bags and disposable gloves to ensure the allergy free cookies aren’t contaminated by the regular cookies if they are put in the same box.
Provide the trappings
I think one of the main reasons this was such a hit was the arts and crafts component. I stopped at the local restaurant supply store and picked up a big stack of the cardboard boxes caterers use for boxed lunches and then provided ribbon, stickers, tags, washi tape and even some ink and stamps to decorate them. The ladies went wild and no two boxes looked the same. It was a great way to personalize the gifts and made time for everyone to mingle, chat and catch up. Remember when you are picking up supplies, each participant will need at least 3 boxes each and decorations enough for all of them.
This may be my favorite activity I’ve hosted in years. It hits so many priorities for me, bringing people of different ages together, providing an activity for them to get to know each other over, and doing something kind for others in your life. If you give this event a try, please share it below! I’d love to see pictures of you all with your cookies!
Oh, the dream of a stress-less Christmas! It’s just wishful thinking, right? If you’re anything like me, you’re probably already starting to feel a little overwhelmed and stressed out. After last Christmas, my husband and I vowed we’d never let the holidays roar past so quickly without taking time to enjoy them again. This year, we’re trying a new scheduling approach to make sure we slow down and make some memories. Here are the steps we followed to make sure we didn’t miss the meaningful moments!
Identify Scheduled Events:
Brainstorm all the activities currently on the books. Using this free printable December 2016 calendar (from iMom.com), sit down with your spouse (and kids if needed). Get every activity on the books now so there aren’t surprises. That means every family obligation, Christmas program, church activity and holiday party – every single one.
Identify Unscheduled Activities:
Now, brainstorm all the unscheduled activities you’d like to do in December at some point. This can include a drive to look at Christmas lights, caroling, ice skating, holiday baking, decorating activities, shopping, etc. A lot of these activities are the real memory makers and the traditions that define your family’s holiday season.
Now, cut it all WAY back!
Start with the scheduled activities. The nice thing about the holidays is invitations often come with the disclaimer that the host “knows this is a busy time of year and understands if you can’t attend.” Take advantage of that. If you’re honest with yourself there are three types of events – ones you want to attend, ones you know you ought to attend, and everything else. Cut out the everything else. Don’t feel like you need to do it all. Especially things that aren’t unique to this time of year. Did your girlfriend invite you to her Tupperware party? Its okay to decline and say that you’ve got too much going on right now.
Next, look at the unscheduled activities. What do you really want to do and what’s really important to your family this Christmas? Chances are there are some things on that list that are just there because you do them every year but no one loves them. This is also the time to be realistic about your DIY aspirations. Were you planning on sewing each member of your extended family a personalized apron? Is that how you want to spend your time? Would a cute apron from the store with a personalized touch do the trick? Pare down that list to get to the real heart of what makes Christmas, Christmas to you.
Schedule your unscheduled activities:
The last step is the most important, schedule those activities that don’t have an assigned date and time. Use a free Saturday morning to decorate cookies with Grandma. Pick an evening to get the kids in PJ’s right after dinner and go look at Christmas lights. Set aside a regular night every week to honor the true reason for the season with an advent devotional. Once these are scheduled in, when additional activities come up – and we all know they will – you’ll be able to pick and choose what you want to do and reschedule as necessary. If you’re schedule still looks hectic, I encourage you to go back and take a closer look at step 3 and 4. Looking back at Christmases as a time of jam packed activities and stress is not what you want for yourself or your family.
Place your final calendar in a spot where everyone can see it, like the refrigerator door so you don’t forget obligations or fritter away time. Okay, this probably won’t make your holiday totally stress-less but I hope this gives you some ideas for dialing back your holiday busyness. If you have a way that you keep holiday stress to a minimum, please share it with me in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you’re doing at your house!