December—the most favored of months, though it never feels big enough to carry all that I want to press into its generous arms. I adore everything Christmas, as this December recap will testify, and we went to the max with the Christmasing (<— a new word that I’m digging) this season. It was truly the most wonderful time of the year, and I wish it could go on, but am so thankful for the countless blessings of these cheery December days.
// READING LATELY //
This month, we plowed through dozens of Christmas picture books with the kids (we own more than fifty and read every one PLUS some Christmas library books). My personal reading was also dominated by seasonal reads including two Advent devotionals (reviewed below), a biography of the real Santa Claus, a book that was quite literally a comfort read, and another that filled my hygge cup to overflowing.
In the non-seasonal department, this reread, read alongside our community group, made for some excellent discussions. I found both this novel and this one very touching, though neither fully lived up to its potential.
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, by Asheritah Ciuciu: This advent book is designed for family use, but I read through it on my own this year. The book guides readers through four weeks of Advent, and each week begins with an interactive devotion (to go along with lighting of the Advent candles) followed by daily reflections on the various names of Jesus. The book also offers a daily Scripture and prayer, discussion questions, supplementary Scripture readings, and suggestions for Christmas-themed family activities. The writing is simple but lovely and set the tone of my heart this December as I sought to know Jesus a little more deeply this season. The book itself is lovely: compact with an embellished casewrapped cover, sturdy pages, and a format that delights the eyes as well as the heart. I have a feeling I will be returning to this book for many Decembers to come.
My Rating: 5 Stars.
Honest Advent, by Scott Erickson: I wanted an Advent devotional that would bring out the WONDER of Christmas this season, and this brought that in droves. Artist Scott Erickson begins with the premise that nostalgia and tradition—both prominent during the Christmas season—can steal from the wonder we long to experience as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, because wonder thrives in the absence of traditional narratives. Erickson shakes up traditional ideas about Christmas through evocative imagery and reflections that go beyond the usual pristine Christmas images we’re all familiar with. Each of the twenty-five devotionals features a Scripture reading accompanied by a powerful illustration, thought-provoking essay, and simple prayer. This book was an incredible gift for me this season, opening my eyes to the Christmas narrative and its mystery in some new and entirely unexpected ways. The illustrations are raw and a little edgy, highlighting the unsavory aspects of Jesus’ humanity as well as His incomparable deity. Some of the sections left me feeling a little uncomfortable, but every one tugged my spirit closer to the Lord. I’m struggling to find words for just how deeply I was affected by this book—it’s simply incredible and I will be gifting it to many loved ones next Christmas season.
My Rating: 5 Stars.
The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas, by William J. Bennett: Santa Claus is one of the most iconic figures of Christmas, but despite his ubiquitousness each December, few of us know the true story of the saint who inspired the tradition. I enjoyed learning about the life and legacy of the fourth century saint in this quick and informative book that offers a biography of Saint Nicholas, then dives deeper into some of the legends that have built up around him, as well as the legacy he has left. We see how Saint Nicholas was adopted by various countries and cultures, and how the mythologies around him have evolved into what we believe about Santa today.
While portions of the book are fairly dry, this was a fun book to read Christmas week. I was intrigued by the various legends and the more recent Santa-related history, such as how Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas and Coca-Cola advertising both played prominently into current Santa lore. The author beautifully weaves faith elements into the narrative, showing how Santa Claus and a Christ-centric Christmas can comfortably reside alongside each other. This reminded me a lot of The Autobiography of Santa Claus, which tells most of the same story but with more color and a more kid-friendly approach.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
In addition to these adult Christmas/Advent books, I read two Advent books with the kids this year—the same two we’ve been reading every December for the past several years: this beautiful one from Ann Voskamp and this one that is less poetic but a big hit with my kids. Each night we lit our Advent candles as we read, and we all enjoyed the daily ritual that turned our hearts to the most important part of the season.
// WATCHING LATELY //
**We didn’t make it through all of our favorite Christmas movies this year, but did fit in Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life, Polar Express, The Grinch, The Star, and Noelle, in addition to several of the classics (Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown) and a number of Christmas specials on Disney. We also watched The Chosen Christmas special, which was awesome. And in non-Christmas territory, Luke and I finished up a show we’d been enjoying for a couple of months:
Behind the Attractions ~ I enjoy all things Disney, ESPECIALLY Disneyland itself, and I love getting behind-the-scenes glimpses at the things that I love, so this show was made for me! This ten-episode documentary offers viewers the inside scoop on some of Disney’s most popular rides and attractions. Through interviews with Imagineers and Disney historians, loads of historic pictures and video footage, and plenty of humor and trivia factoids, we learn about the origins of these rides, the inspiration and efforts that went into each one, and how they were shaped by culture and in turn shaped future innovations (within Disney and beyond).
Every single episode is a home run, but my favorites were the episodes I’d originally been LEAST interested in watching (The Castles, Disneyland Hotel, and Hall of Presidents) because these particular episodes offered so much Disney history and lore. I was also quite intrigued by the footage of the various Disney parks, as I have not visited any but the original Disneyland (but now am dying to tour all of them). Watching this show was the next best thing to being in the Disney parks myself (maybe better because I got to do it from the comfort of my crowd-free living room), and it was heartwarming and inspiring to hear stories from individuals who are incredible at what they do and truly passionate about their work. This show is a must-see for Disney fans or anyone who enjoys seeing creatives at work.
My Rating: 5 Stars.
// LOVING LATELY //
Harney and Sons Gingerbread Tea ~ We had a white elephant gift exchange (with nice gifts, not joke gifts) at our community group Christmas party, and I did as I always do with gift exchanges: I brought a gift I would be happy to come home with! Our group all teased me when I “stole” my own gift, but was quite pleased to receive the book and tea I’d purchased and wrapped, and I have been savoring this delicious tea each morning. Harney and Sons makes the BEST tea that not only tastes amazing but comes in beautiful tins. This gingerbread flavor is competing with the hot cinnamon spice for my favorite H&S tea. If you’re a fan of bold teas that taste like dessert in a cup, you’ll want to get your hands on this tea ASAP.
Fisher-Price Nativity Set ~ Last year Santa filled the twins’ stockings with pieces from this Nativity set. It didn’t get much playtime last Christmas, but this year it was their absolute favorite toy of the season. We set it up on the low book case in their room, and playing with the figurines was their primary diversion all December long. Charleston and I took turns explaining each character and using the figurines to act out the Christmas story. I love that this is a holiday “decoration” that they can touch and not just look at, and that it brought the true Christmas story to their level in ways that are relevant and fun.
LEGO Advent Calendar ~ For the second year in a row, we got Charleston a Lego advent calendar instead of a chocolate one, and once again he loved it, jumping out of bed each morning to open the daily door and assemble the next piece. We went with the Star Wars calendar this year, something Luke was quite excited about.
Melissa and Doug Advent Tree ~ The twins are still a little young for their own countdown calendars, but they enjoyed playing with the ornaments on their Melissa and Doug tree. They didn’t understand the concept of adding just ONE ornament each day, so this was more of a toy than a true countdown, but it did its job of helping them get excited about the approaching holiday.
Christmas Cards ~ We send out a Christmas card each year, and I love how this year’s turned out. We framed it and displayed it alongside all of our past cards, dating back to Charleston’s first Christmas when we began our card tradition. We’re starting to amass quite a collection!
Of course we also love our display of Christmas cards from family and friends. We received a record number this year!
A New Star ~ When we visited Disney in November, we spotted a Mickey and Minnie tree topper that I loved. I didn’t think Luke would go for it, so I didn’t say anything at the store but later regretted not buying it—especially when Luke mentioned that he had spotted it as well and ALSO wanted to buy it. (Note to self: get better at communicating.) We were bummed, especially when we were unable to find it online. I mentioned this to my mom in passing, and a few days later the star showed up on our doorstep! My parents are just the best, and we all adore our new tree topper. It didn’t make it onto our tree this year, but we look forward to having Mickey and Minnie gazing down at us from the top of our tree next Christmas.
Scripture Writing ~ I did a Scripture Writing challenge this December, and it was a memorable addition to my quiet times this month. I’ve not engaged in the practice of writing out Scripture in the past but plan to do more of it moving forward.
// MONTHLY CHARLIE-ISMS (and SULLY-ISMS!)//
I didn’t write down too many funny sayings from Charleston this month, but the ones I got were pretty good.
+ “I don’t like Star Wars that much because I’m not a fan of realistic movies.”
+ During prayer time a few days before Christmas: “God, I hope you feel loved and have a lot of fun on your birthday. Which is in…about FIVE days.”
+ “I’ve been using the hot water when I shower and realizing it makes my hair more like I want it to. Maybe winter’s just my season.”
+ “Our family is identical to Daddy’s family: they had two sons and one daughter, and we have two sons and one daughter. And if Sully dies, we will be identical to your family, one son and one daughter.” Me: “Well, let’s hope that NONE of you die!” Charleston: “Well, if I die I will be happy in Heaven. But I’ll miss you.”
+ “You know what one of my favorite things is to do? To wave to strangers and be friendly. It’s like it makes life funner to be friendly.”
+ “Do we own Arlo or is he rented?”
+ To me (with my fully grown feet): “Your new shoes fit you perfectly. But that’s not good because when your feet grow, they won’t last you as long.”
Now that Sully is talking we have some Sully-isms to add to the mix this month!
+ Pretending to cry: “Waaa! I baby Jesus!” Me: “I don’t think Jesus cried quite like that.” Sully: “Jesus not cry? He say ROAR?”
+ “I feed Kinda Joy Santalope!” (While feeding Kali a bite of cantaloupe.)
+ Pointing to Kali: “That Kinda. Kinda Joy!” Pointing to himself: “I Sully Joy?” Me: “No, you’re Sully Luke.” Sully: “I Sully Luke. And (pointing to Kali) that Kinda Luke too?”
Kali isn’t doing too many full sentences yet, but a fun phrase she’s adopted is saying “thank you so much!” every time she wants to say thanks (often without reason).
// HAPPENINGS & HIGHLIGHTS //
At the beginning of December we attended a gender reveal party for Luke’s sister, Amanda, who is due with her second baby in March. The party, thrown by Amanda’s coworker, was darling with a “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” Theme. Our whole family was really hoping for a baby girl but CERTAIN it would be another boy, so we were all shocked and thrilled when the big balloon was popped revealing pink confetti! I’m so excited to be getting a niece and especially for Kali to be getting a girl cousin!
For me, Christmas doesn’t truly begin until the tree is up. On the first Friday of December, we went to the Christmas tree lot at our local YMCA to get our tree. The kids were eager to run between the trees and were thrilled by our first Santa sighting of the season. The twins’ enthusiasm waned a bit when Santa came close, but we were still sure to get a picture.
Decorating our tree is a big deal in our family. We take a time-lapse video of the tree going up and are dilligent about getting pictures of each of the kids hanging their first ornaments, plus their new ornaments for this year from Grandma. This was the first year the twins were able to help with the decorating and they had a blast pulling out all the ornaments, inspecting them, and playing with the ornaments that play music or make noise. A couple favorite moments of the evening were watching Kali attempt to help the Barbie ornament drink from the Starbucks cup ornament, and seeing Sully try to put the baby booties of his first ornament on his feet when I told him to “put the ornament on”. . . I suppose I should have specified “on the TREE.”
Every year we get a new family ornament to commemorate a significant milestone or memory of the year. After fourteen years together, Luke and I are starting to accumulate a decent collection that represents trips taken, family members added and lost, our first home, and more. This year we added a cross to our collection, signifying Charleston’s baptism as well as my own spiritual rebirth after an incredibly dark season that God carried me through. What a joy to think of this ornament—signifying these precious memories—adorning our family Christmas trees for years to come.
For our “official” visit to see Santa, we took a trip to Bass Pro Shop. Earlier in the season Charleston noticed that Santa is in a lot of places. . . too many places (I was wondering when these questions would come) and determined that some of those Santa’s must be elves. However, he was fairly certain that Santa at Bass Pro was the real deal! He and Santa had a great chat about cookies and what he would like for Christmas. Kali and Sully were a little hesitant at first but soon warmed up to Santa and eagerly gave him high-fives and posed for pictures.
I have all of our annual Santa pictures framed, and display them together each December. It’s so fun to reflect on the Santa visits of past years. (Check out the side-by-side of Charleston at 23 months and Sully at 26 months—same outfit, same expression! Though Charleston was teary with Santa that year; Sully was just stoic.) This year we set our Santa picture display up in the playroom, surrounded by the Christmas stuffed animals that have been with me since I was young and that my kids now treasure.
We went back to Bass Pro the following weekend for more Santa pics, with cousin Collin this time. The “Santa” part of the experience wasn’t so great (afterwards Charleston said, “are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m thinking that probably wasn’t the real Santa this time.”), but we got some cute smiles.
We spent a Saturday morning at the Christmas Festival that took place in our small town. It was freezing that morning, and we didn’t have much time before having to leave for another event, but it was so fun and festive to see our town all decked out, to walk through the decorations and check out the vendors, and give the kids a chance to play in the snow. Events like these are what I love most about living in Texas.
For the past several years we have had a tradition of opening gifts of Christmas pajamas and a book on Christmas Eve. This year I decided to do the book & jammies gifts a few days earlier to spread the gift giving out and to give the kids a few extra days with their Christmas gear. All three Christmas books this year were a hit (Dasher, The Night Before Jesus, and Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.) When they were done opening their gifts, Kali proclaimed, “All done Christmas. I like it!” Little did she know it was just the beginning!
On Christmas Eve Eve, we did our cookie baking. Charleston wanted to make gingerbread cookies and M&M cookies this year. We also made sugar cookies from the cookie kit our church sent home with every family the previous Sunday (how cool is that!). The twins weren’t much for making the cookies, but they sure enjoyed taste testing them. (TWICE I caught Kali sneaking one from the kitchen!)
That night we made the trek down to South Austin for a drive-through lights display at Circuit of the Americas racing track. It was such an awesome experience: it was a pretty long wait to get to the display (about an hour), and it was fairly pricey, but completely worth the time and money investments. The lights, music, and festive vibe were awesome and all five of us had an amazing time—definitely something we hope to make an annual tradition.
We knocked out every one of our Christmas Eve traditions this year. We began the afternoon with a Christmas Eve service at our church, which was beautiful as always.
That afternoon, Luke, Charleston, and I assembled and decorated a gingerbread house. The twins were very disappointed when we wouldn’t allow them to eat it.
On Christmas Eve night the kids put out milk and cookies for Santa and some carrots for the reindeer. Charleston wrote the sweetest note to Santa, I was impressed with how well he did with no help.
Christmas morning was a delight! This was the first Christmas all three kids really “got” it and I loved seeing the three of them work together to open gifts, play with them, and share in each other’s excitement. Highlights of the morning were Charleston running out of our room (where he’d slept) wrapped in paper as his gift to me (he hid the paper behind a chair so he could wrap himself up first thing while I nursed the twins, before presents); Charleston’s face when he spied the Hot Wheels car wash Santa left; the twins’ confusion over the missing Santa cookies (they were more interested in the sweets than the gifts); Kali and Sully wandering around in their new helmets and sunglasses with Charleston in the goggles from his spy kit; and the fact that Luke and I gifted each other the same Kindle. After all the gift opening and playing, we had a breakfast of cinnamon rolls topped with candles for Jesus’ birthday.
Charleston was the sweetest gift giver this year: he used his own money to buy stuffed animals and Legos for the twins, and he “shopped” his room for gifts for the rest of family that he wrapped in homemade paper and blue painter’s tape. In addition to a few little trinkets, he gave me an envelope filled with all the cash he’d had in his wallet, along with a note telling me to spend it wisely. Gosh, I love this kid.
That afternoon we went to my in-laws’ for lunch and presents. The kids had fun playing with their cousin Collin and all of us just loved our gifts and the time with the family. The evening ended with the four kids pedaling around the yard in their new Big Wheels cars. It’s hard to remember the years we spent celebrating Christmas without any kids; this is a whole lot more fun, and we’re looking forward to having a second little cousin joining us next year.
Luke and I celebrated thirteen years of marriage on Tuesday! Our plans had to be postponed because Kali and I both got sick the day after Christmas, but we will look forward to a true celebration soon. In the meantime I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that our marriage is a teenager, but am so thankful for each year we’ve had together.
What a December this was! And what a year! Tomorrow I’ll be recapping all the highlights of 2021, so stay tuned for more!