It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, probably not; as I write this it is 43 degrees and rainy, so there are no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. However, the Christmas season does feature a lot of only-once-a-year festivities, and the opportunity for celebrating old traditions and creating new ones.
A few years ago, to make sure my family emerged in January with lots of Christmas memories, I began creating a holiday fun list (see 2014, 2015, 2016). Much like my summer fun list and fall fun list, the goal is to create a list of seasonal activities that some proportion of my family would enjoy.* As this list has evolved, I’ve realized that it shouldn’t be a to-do list or my calendar in December. For instance, I did not put my husband’s office holiday party on this list, even though I will probably enjoy it, as much as one enjoys an office holiday party, because it’s going to happen regardless. The point of this list is to nudge me to do things that wouldn’t automatically happen, but will make this festive season more festive.
So, without further ado, here we go:
Come up with a new Thanksgiving dish that can be “my” dish. I am hosting Thanksgiving this year for my parents and siblings plus families. We all have our traditional contributions. My sister-in-law makes amazing rolls from an old family recipe that I suspect involves a stick of butter per roll, but hey, it’s Thanksgiving! My older brother makes apple sauce. My little brother makes fudge. Costco makes pecan pie (though G made an awesome pecan pie last week, so maybe we’ll get that homemade too). I have a cranberry sauce recipe I really like, and a stuffing recipe I trot out most years. But it’s time to add something new to the repertoire! I’m looking through Cooking Light, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, etc.
Run long on Thanksgiving. In 2011 (7 weeks after my daughter was born, I might add), I ran a 5 mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. I will probably not sign up for an actual race because of hosting logistics, but I would like to get a reasonable run in before consuming the above-mentioned rolls. Maybe I’ll get my husband or little brother to join me too.
Do a literary Advent calendar. We’ve done this for the past few years, and while we do run out of steam by about December 18 or so, it is nice to read through all our Christmas stories. I’ll wrap up 24 children’s Christmas stories, and we’ll open one and read one each night. Bonus: this might make the whole bedtime process somewhat smoother. Or at least a girl can hope.
Welcome Sassy the elf. Someone (I think my husband) purchased the whole Elf on the Shelf package in 2013, and Sassy the elf has been visiting us in December ever since. I am not a huge fan, but I have managed to convey to Sassy that his (her?) movements must be confined to the kitchen and living room, which helps somewhat.
Read A Christmas Carol. My fable has a part where the heroine views differing visions of her future, so this actually has a professional benefit. Why not see exactly how Dickens portrayed the concept of someone seeing visions of his life? I also plan to read The Little House on the Prairie Christmas stories book. I welcome other holiday book suggestions.
Bake cookies. We will definitely bake and decorate sugar cookies, but I’d like to find a second recipe that can become a family staple too. If people have suggestions for favorite Christmas cookie recipes, please share links!
Take a few half days off work to do Christmas shopping. Going to the King of Prussia mall on a weekend puts me in a bah humbug mood pretty quickly. I am just going to plan to work a few half days during December, and do my shopping when the stores are less chaotic. (I plan to do a lot of shopping online too).
Have the kids give presents to each other. In the past, we haven’t really done this, but I think it’s time for the kids to experience the thought process of figuring out what other people might like.
Go out for a nice birthday dinner. I have a December birthday, and while that has had its annoyances, the upside is that the world in general is in a more festive mood than if your birthday is in, say, early March. This celebration will probably happen after my birthday, since on my birthday itself I’m flying through O’Hare, which is no one’s idea of a good time.
Sing in a Christmas concert. For the first time in seven years, I can put this back on the list! I’ll be singing in my church choir’s Christmas concert. We’re performing Bach’s Magnificat, plus parts of the Christmas Oratorio, and a few other festive pieces.
Go to NYC with my husband. We have plans to go into NYC for a holiday party, and provided the weather is decent, we may walk around and see the lights and store windows, and go out to eat somewhere.
See the Nutcracker. I may not take any children this time, since we’re traveling over the school break, and that’s when we normally go. But that has some upsides too. I give myself permission to watch this as a video if I don’t actually make it to a live ballet performance. Maybe a matinee ticket will be a birthday present to myself.
Visit Santa at Longwood Gardens. I bought these tickets last month on the first day they went on sale. Actually, in the first five minutes they were on sale, which was approximately 3 minutes before they sold out. We’ll eat breakfast with Santa, and then get to see the greenhouse with all the gorgeous poinsettias too.
See my kids in the Christmas Eve service pageant. I signed my three big kids up for this again. Last year one was a reader, one was a wise man, and my daughter was the star of Bethlehem, an experience which may now have spoiled her for all future roles.
What’s on your holiday fun list?
*Few activities are ever fun for the whole family simultaneously.
36 thoughts on “My 2017 holiday fun list — what’s on yours?”
Two recipes for you: Nick Malgieri’s chocolate spice cookies (https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chocolate-spice-cookies-236085) are my all-time favorite holiday cookies. I’ve been making them for years, and everyone loves them.
And as for Thanksgiving, I made this cornbread stuffing (https://www.thefullhelping.com/simple-vegan-cornbread-sage-stuffing/) last year for the first time, and it got such rave reviews from my family that I’ll be making it every year from now on. It’s labeled as a “vegan” recipe, but I used my own cornbread recipe, which definitely isn’t vegan. The recipe is simple but really delicious.
P.S. *Loving* the podcast! My Tuesday commute is much nicer now thanks to you two.
@Meg- thanks! So glad you like the podcast. It’s been so much fun to produce!
If you don’t mind changing everyone’s lives at Thanksgiving, you can make this sweet potato recipe. No one will be able to eat them any other way again, but they won’t be mad. This is easily doubled. And should be doubled, because it’s that good.
-One 49 ounce can of sweet potatoes, drained (I actually use fresh sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed, and just eye-ball it to fill my casserole dish)
-one bag of fresh cranberries, washed and drained and sort out the bad ones
-one stick butter, melted
-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
-3/4 cup oatmeal
-3/4 cup flour
-1.5 tsp cinnamon
Combine brown sugar, oatmeal, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl. In a 2.5 quart casserole dish, combine sweet potatoes and cranberries with half of the sugar mixture. Combine the rest of the sugar mixture with the melted butter and put it on top of the sweet potato mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
@Catherine – this looks intriguing! Mixing sweet potatoes and cranberries would have a nice mix of sweet and tart. Plus some crunch with the topping. I may give it a whirl.
Laura and Catherine, Maybe this could be my contribution to the family Thanksgiving dinner!
OOOH I may need to make this too.
I made my holiday fun list too! Some of it is stuff we will mostly likely do, list or no (like family cookie frosting while watching the classic tv specials like Frosty and Rudolph) but a few new things we want to try too like graham cracker “gingerbread” houses.
I’m down to ONLY making 14 kinds of cookies this year, from my peak of 21 (I know, it was a lot). Some of my favorites:
Raspberry coconut layer bars: http://happinessinthecrapiness.blogspot.com/2013/12/christmas-treats-raspberry-coconut.html
Triple Chocolate Cookies: http://happinessinthecrapiness.blogspot.com/2016/12/triple-chocolate-cookies.html
Chocolate chip cookie dough truffles (not hard, just time consuming): http://happinessinthecrapiness.blogspot.com/2013/12/christmas-treats-chocolate-chip-cookie.html
Reindeer noses (super easy, my 4 year old loved helping with these): http://happinessinthecrapiness.blogspot.com/2013/11/christmas-treats-reindeer-and-turtles.html
And caramel butter bars, if you are up for more butter…: http://happinessinthecrapiness.blogspot.com/2014/12/caramel-butter-bars.html
@Diana- 21 kinds of cookies! Oh my goodness. I hope you hosted a party after all that. Lot to wade through here…
I tend to go a little crazy with Christmas cookies…that said, I love these:
– https://ourbestbites.com/2010/11/candy-cane-kiss-cookies/ (SO good)
– the more traditional hershey kiss peanut butter blossom cookies (my husband’s favorite)
– Spritz cookies
– http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/peanut-butter-marshmallow-squares-406380 (easy (I use the microwave) and kids can help, and tasty/calorie-heavy enough that I limit them to once a year). You can add rice krispies to make them crunchy, too.
@Allison – these all look good. And they’re making me hungry!
I make buckeyes w/my kids every year – https://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/buckeyes. Super easy, can be made in advance and stored in the freezer, and delicious! They’re also part of the holiday gifts we give to the kids’ teachers so that they can say they contributed to the gift as well.
@Nolo – buckeyes could be good. I do love some peanut butter and dark chocolate. Especially if it has a tiny crunch (as it sounds like this does).
If you don’t have The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson in your rotation with the kids, you should add it in.
We read it as a family every year and usually have to take a couple breaks because every one is laughing so much.
Yes! It is such a great read. We love it as an audiobook because we are all laughing so hard to read it aloud well.
Thank you for reminding me to order an advent calendar.
Our other things are tree and cookies and make nice dinner. Last year we had a roast and it was amazing.
We have literally never done the Santa thing. Huh. It didn’t even occur to me that I’d deprived my daughter of this seminal experience until now. Thankfully, she seems unscathed.
@omdg – there is a very narrow window when kids are not terrified to sit on Santa’s lap, but still believe he will bring them what they ask for. I am pretty sure not all my kids will be in that window this year, but I can always hope!
Two of my favorite things on the Christmas list is 1) going to the cookie exchange party, and 2) going for a holiday light tour at one of the most amazing neighborhoods in our town. We usually hop in a car, turn on a Christmas radio station, and just drive around (getting out if the weather permits), and then end up coming home & drinking hot chocolate.
@Irene- ooh, that sounds nice. I haven’t found a really good light display around here. I’m sure some neighborhood has it, so I need to go find one. Also, I’m a sucker for houses that look like they’re decorated for Christmas photo spreads in magazines. I have fantasies about my house looking like that some day, but I’d have to hire someone else to make it happen. And kick my family out.
About 10 years ago we drove past a row of old (?) houses near Philadelphia with amazing lights. We could see it from a major freeway, if that helps. I assume it was only more awesome if you went TO the neighborhood and looked there 😉 They had outlined every house feature with tiny white lights.
@ARC – those were probably the boat houses! They’re visible from I-76 as it passes through Philadelphia, and given the pace traffic often moves on I-76, you probably got a really long good look at them: http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/boathouse-row/
In west philly a lot of people decorate their houses. My daughter and I walked around on New Years Eve a few years ago looking at the lights. It was really beautiful.
YES! I think that was it. Very cool. It’s definitely one of my magical memories because it just popped up unexpectedly as we were driving.
I love reading your season lists! We did a lot of these last year in Philadelphia –
1. Annual holiday tea with friends. My best friend and I have been doing high tea around the holidays since we started med school and now our group has expanded to about 8 people! Well worth it for the food, tea, bubbles, and company!
2. Holiday dinners with classmates. All of us are from out of town and don’t necessarily go home for the holidays, so I usually host about 10 of us for a potluck dinner.
3. It sounds very anti-holiday, but since my faith’s festival season in in September/October, I use the holiday time to really buckle down in lab. No distractions, no unnecessary meetings, just me, my cells, and unlimited time to do experiments.
@DVStudent – I totally agree on the holidays being a great time to get stuff done with NO ONE else around. And if it’s not your faith tradition, you don’t need to feel remotely bah humbug about the whole thing!
It’s baby’s first Christmas but he’s too little to get it. I would like to get a real tree, bake cookies, have a casual get together, and go and see the lights. My husband is performing in a few Christmas concerts so that gives us some built in activities.
My parents are coming to visit next week for 2.5 weeks so this is a perfect time for us to contemplate our Holiday Fun List too! Thanks for the reminder.
These are my favorite family holiday cookies – I double the spices, and we roll them in colored sugar before baking. I found the recipe when my daughter was allergic to dairy and they are SO easy to make. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/10757/moms-ginger-snaps/
Based on your story with Longwood Gardens, I booked us a holiday concert with a local symphony and bought tickets for this monstrosity of lights called Global WInter Wonderland 😉
One year we asked each person for 3 things, and that was too many, so I think we’ll try 2 this time.
Roasted Brussels sprouts with chestnuts has a great holiday feel/flavor.
Butternut squash soup or risotto are also pretty simple and seasonally-appropriate!
I love your literary advent calendar idea. We did 6-7 books last year and opened one each night together with my then 2-year-old. It was during a particularly demanding work rotation for me and I was really motivated to get home before bedtime each night to open and read our book! Do you mind sharing your list again this year? We absolutely loved the Christmas Tree Farm!
Do you buy the Literary Advent Calendar as a set with all the books and if so, which ones are good ? Make your own by purchasing the books? Sorry, my children are grown (so have not looked at children’s gifts/ideas for awhile) BUT loved reading with them and hope to pass this on to grandchildren one day…Thank you.
@Nancy- I just purchased my own books. The collection has grown over the past 3 years – I don’t buy all new ones by any means. I pick out the favorites from previous years, and then add in 5-10 new ones (and not including ones that weren’t so good.) I’ve heard of people doing a frugal version of this by getting a lot of books from the library (and doing it week by week – it feels like it might be mean to keep that many Christmas books out for 30 days!).
Here is my list from last year: http://lauravanderkam.com/2016/11/the-literary-advent-calendar-2/
We do this as well, and have been slowly building up our collection of winter/holiday books over the years. As my kids have grown, I’ve given away the baby board books and the ones we (OK, *I*) really don’t like. I also “supplement” with books I steal from their regular collection about love, kindness, etc. Each year I only buy 4 new books – one each for my daughters’ birthday dates, and new ones for the 24th and 25th, which are part of their Christmas presents. Typically 2 of them are holiday or winter themed, and 2 are just regular picture books. I don’t use library books because I don’t want to keep them for so long unread when others could be enjoying them. I often buy used in good condition on Amazon which makes it cheaper to buy nice hardcover picture books.
You might enjoy Christmas with Anne of Green Gables. It’s a compilation of stories from the Anne books. Did you read them as a kid?
Laura, are your fun list items things you pull from your 100 dreams list or a separate thing all together? When and how do the 100 dreams list things transition over to being selected as to do”s.
@Debbie – good question. I guess the 100 dreams is more of a someday/maybe list. Things I’d like to do at some point. If some are seasonal, great! They could make it onto a seasonal fun list. But I think of the seasonal fun list as more things I’m actually committing to do in like the next 2 months.