We need a little Christmas, right this very minute (the 2020 Holiday Fun List)

I love the holidays. The more time I accumulate on this planet, the more I appreciate the brilliance of turning the weeks headed into the darkest day of the year into a season of anticipation, warmth, and light. This is one reason I’ve never been big on simplifying Christmas. Really, what am I saving my energy for?

Of course, this year will look different. But I believe that by being clear on the things I do want to do, that will make the season feel festive for me, and the absence of other things won’t be quite so dispiriting. So, with that in mind, here is my 2020 Holiday Fun List.

Get matching family PJs. We still have ours from last year (Pajamagram; the set with the blue henley tops and snowflake plaid pants). Indeed, I ordered new, bigger pairs of that set for the two members of the family who grew the most, figuring this update would suffice. However, when I asked the kids what they wanted to do for Christmas, getting new family matching PJs came up. So I ordered another round in a different pattern. We won’t do this every year (how many pairs of pajamas does one person need?) but since we spend 90 percent of our time sitting around the house in our pajamas right now, this year was a yes. Both patterns are not really Christmas-y, so we can wear them past Christmas morning.

Have the kids give each other presents. They enjoyed shopping for each other last year, and I like the idea of encouraging them to think about other people. So this is a keeper (even if the 11-year-old has noted, pointedly, that the 13-year-old is not using the headphones he gave him last year, so he is taking them for his own use).

See Longwood Gardens’ Christmas lights. We have our tickets! Sadly, no breakfast with Santa option, but as far as I could tell, they didn’t do the breakfasts last year either, so I can’t blame the pandemic for that.

Go to the Morris Arboretum’s holiday garden railway. We have our tickets for this too. Morris is in Philadelphia and restrictions are tightening, but I think that means they will be doing this outdoor railway/lights display without any food/drink options available.

Do our own pageant. My kids have been in the church Christmas pageant for a great many years. Since I doubt the church will host a crowded pack-them-in-the-pews family service (strange to think that a year ago, that didn’t seem reckless…) we need to come up with some other way to experience the Christmas story. There are different forms this could take. We could just read the traditional passage from Luke out loud. Or…well…there are seven of us. I’ve got a baby (even if he would crawl out of a manger). My eldest could narrate, and the middle three kids could shift between being an angel, shepherd and sheep set to becoming the three wise men. We shall see how elaborate I feel like going here.

Bake cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. Maybe banket too (a Dutch almond pastry my mom makes as a gift for people). My husband often gets into a weekend bread-making kick, so this will be the Christmas of carbs.

Visit Dutch Wonderland + the Choo Choo Barn. We make an annual trip to Lancaster. The Choo Choo Barn is a magnificent holiday train display. Dutch Wonderland has great lights — though this year it appears it will be drive-through only. We wouldn’t go just to drive through (my kids have expressed this after a few Halloween drive-through experiences) but combining the two could be fun.

Find a new (or at least another) light display. There are many options — ones at the local zoos, Six Flags, Sesame Place, downtown…I’d like to find one we’ll keep in our future repertoire.

Sing. So I won’t be singing in or listening to any traditional Christmas choral concerts this year, which makes me sad. But! My church has continued to have our choir’s professional ringers record service music — while wearing these hilarious beak-looking singing masks, and standing very far apart in a very large sanctuary — that gets emailed to the congregation. A few of us regular folks have been allowed to join them each week, and so I’m attending rehearsals and recording now and in December. It’s a very different choral experience to sing masked and no where near other people. It means you really need to know your voice part — there’s no getting it from your neighbor! But wow is it nice to sing again. I even enjoyed singing through all seven verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel the other night. I also plan to listen to my Christmas choral music CDs.

Celebrate my birthday and the baby’s birthday. We now have two December birthdays in our family. My husband and I are going to do a date night to celebrate mine — exact plan depending on what is open — and I need to figure out what the little guy’s first birthday will look like. Not that he either knows or cares, but I want to set the expectation that we *will* celebrate it, because the immediate post-Christmas spot seems like it could be a tough one for a kid (“Hey, didn’t you already just get a lot of stuff for Christmas…?” I imagine some readers with late December birthdays can relate.)

What’s on your 2020 holiday fun list?

Photo: Family pajamas. This little version was bought in anticipation of Kid #5’s arrival. And now he is celebrating with us! 

12 thoughts on “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute (the 2020 Holiday Fun List)

  1. If all goes as planned, our baby will be born via c-section on 12/3 so this will be a pretty low key holiday for us. But I still want to make it special. I was hoping to make sugar cookies and have my son decorate them, but my mom sent him some sugar cookies for Halloween and he doesn’t like them! So odd. So I will come up with something else as I don’t want to eat alll the sugar cookies (my husband isn’t a huge fan either). I got a cool Advent calendar with little drawers so will fill that with small treats and things like stickers. I’d like to find a light display to drive to – need to do some research on what’s available in our area. If it’s mild enough for outdoor walks, we’ll try to fit in as many of those as we can. Our son loved looking at non-scary Halloween decorations so I think he will love Christmas lights and such.

    That’s all I have come up with for ‘fun’ ideas, though. But if I feel less exhausted than I think I might after the baby is born, I’ll try to come up with some other ideas. We won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas with family so it will be a different holiday season but at 2.5, he’s too young to really know the difference so I think it will be fine from his perspective, and probably from my husband and mine’s, too, since December is going to be a big month of change for us!

    1. Lisa, I wish you all the best for your upcoming birth! Hope it goes well. My boys are 4 and 6 (3 and 5 when this started!) and while my 6 year old has noticed some of the things he’s been missing, my 4 year old has LOVED the pandemic. He has loved being home with us, watching movies and tv together, endless puzzles and LEGOs and games, lots of baking and cooking and “special” snacks because we are just too exhausted to slice a vegetable. We are planning a very low-key holiday as well and I know he will love every minute of it. I know you will be exhausted from the new baby, but from your 2.5 year old’s perspective, staying home with his family might be the best holiday ever! Good Luck!

  2. Our church is videoing our usual pageant script at locations around our town outdoors. A parrishoner with production experience is spearheading this including making sure the kids are following all the TV production Covid guidelines. I think this will be fun for them.

  3. I agree with not simplifying Christmas. We have many of the same tendencies so your reasons resonate with me. Also, your #5 and I share the same birthday. I love that you want to set the expectation from the start that it will be celebrated independently of Christmas! One gift or get-together to cover both occasions did not feel very special (was not always the case, but often did happen).

  4. My youngest is 6 and his birthday is Dec 25th. We live in Norway where most families open presents on the 24th. He has yet to discover that most people don’t like the idea of being born on Christmas and he still thinks it’s great. I always make sure to wrap his birthday gifts in very birthday-like wrapping paper and we do a birthday cake on Christmas day. He usually has had a party in early January.

  5. Love these ideas! One of my daughters and I both have December birthdays (21st and 22nd) and it’s fun to have sweet traditions celebrating them together. It’s a special bond for us. Our family also loves celebrating the 12th Day of Christmas. We have a special meal just our immediate family, the kids get one gift from us, and they exchange gifts with each other. We do “secret sibling” for that part and only start that shopping after the 25th.

  6. I need to see a photo of the beak masks! I am still working on our holiday list but I think it will involve lots of movies! Also watching the city Xmas-tree lighting on TV instead of in person, driving around to look at lights (maybe with hot chocolate?) and listen to some new Christmas albums.

  7. I love the “what am I saving energy for?” attitude toward Christmas!! So great. When you count the number of Christmases with the kids, and then think about the number when they’re really into it- why not go Big, if you can!
    I also totally identify with not blaming COVID for an activity ending. I recently contacted our Zoo bc they had a mini train year round. They said it’s out of service with no plans to return. Super sad, but out of service since Fall 2019; somehow it coming to its own end, non-COVID related, made me feel better!!
    We grow our family to 4 kids on 12/8 if not sooner!!! Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!!!!

  8. Oh how I love a full, joy-filled Christmas season packed to the gills with everything and everyone you love, but stripped of burdens or events that don’t serve you!

    My Dad, a longtime priest who LOVED Christmas with the glee of a little child, died in September. This has been an extraordinarily difficult season, but I’ve told the kids we are going to celebrate Christmas all that much more this year to celebrate the life and love of their beloved papa.

    That means we are going all-out with decorating, with baking, with Christmas movies (including his favorite movie of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life), with advent readings and candles, with the sounds of Christmas music and the scents of pine and cinnamon and cloves wafting through the house. We are doing a winter walk of lights through a botanical garden and a drive-through light show at state park. We are having hot chocolate in front of the Christmas tree and enjoying Papa’s favorite stocking stuffer (chocolate covered cherries), and we are making a family donation to his favorite charity. We are celebrating love and life and the great, great gift that’s at the center of Christmas.

    This year, I’ve also ordered 15 matching, custom-made masks in a red and green plaid for family around the country. The hope is that from NYC to DC to SF to Cincinatti, everyone can feel closer together when we wear our matching masks. They’re being delivered tomorrow, and I can wait to send them off to family for a fun surprise!

    It’s a strange year, and my heart is often heavy, but we are trying to fill it with love and light and celebration for our kids. And I know that would make Dad happy!

  9. I don’t do church anymore, but every Christmas I play choral carols top volume in the house and sing along to all the soprano descants. It’s the thing I miss most!

  10. I second the light display and baking cookies! My 5-year-old and I also thought about driving through a different local neighborhood every week to see the different light displays that people put up. Although this is not holiday-related, on December 13th or 14th I plan to watch the Geminids meteor shower with my daughter at a nearby field and bring some blankets and hot chocolate in travel mugs. It should (hopefully) be good this year since there will be a new moon.

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