It’s January — here’s how I did on the Holiday Fun List

While I’m posting this list in January, I wrote much of it on December 31st during the count down to New Year’s. Several of my older children hosted friends for the evening, and my husband took the two little guys out to see a movie (so they would stay out of the big kids’ hair). So while I was charged with making sure everyone behaved themselves, I could also get a few things done.

So, with the holiday season drawing to a close, I figured it was time to look back at the 2023 Holiday Fun List. This is the annual list I create with big and little adventures that make the holidays feel more memorable. We did pretty well this year — so, here we go…

Run a Thanksgiving 5k with my son. We (16-year-old and I) did an annual turkey trot at the local YMCA, and we ran quite a bit faster than last year. If my son trained seriously he would be much faster, and faster than me, but the training tends to be more intermittent, so we still ran it together this year 🙂

Visit Dutch Wonderland (and some other outdoor lights). We went to Dutch Wonderland in late November, but it was a bit of a bust. Luminature at the zoo was pretty, though getting in was more complicated than it should have been. We saw Tinseltown downtown on the 29th — the lights were great but my 8-year-old was ornery to the point of being comical. I guess there are no clear wins on this one! I like holiday lights but bringing kids anywhere means there won’t be complete bliss. Oh well. Maybe I go to one or two solo next year (or only with enthusiastic children).

Go ice skating. Nope. But in my defense it hasn’t actually been that cold yet, and outdoor rinks can be kind of slushy and unpleasant in mild temperatures. We’ll do this in January/February.

Visit Longwood Gardens. We went on a rainy Sunday in November — nice lights and flowers, crappy weather. Unfortunately you have to get tickets quite a ways in advance so it’s not easy to predict what the weather will be. We also (briefly) saw the Brandywine River Museum holiday trains on this trip.

Eat breakfast with Santa. We did this at Maggiano’s. The kids were mixed on how this compared to the Neiman Marcus breakfast with Santa the year before (though, as I have noted, this one was a lot cheaper). I may keep looking around for Santa opportunities. One upside is that Santa got some intel on my kids, and found out the 16-year-old was singing “Let it Snow” in a recital that afternoon, and he had him sing it. I enjoyed that part.

Take a couple trip to NYC. My husband and I went to NYC from December 2-3. We saw lots of holiday lights (including the Rockefeller Center tree) and ate dinner at Aquavit, which is always a favorite of ours. We didn’t make it to an art museum, but we had a good time.

Actually buy a holiday party dress. I did, and I wore it to my husband’s office party. I got several compliments on it! I may bring it out again for a Twelfth Night party coming up.

Sing in my choir’s Christmas concert and for Christmas Eve services. Yep. There was a lot of singing this month. I also attended a high school choral concert, a voice recital, the middle school band concert, and the Christmas pageant, where three of my children performed.

Check out some holiday trains. We did Longwood, Brandywine, and Morris Arboretum, so that is a lot of trains! We did not make it out to Lancaster for the Choo Choo Barn, but my 3-year-old went with his Saturday sitter one weekend, and he’s the one who was going to be most excited about it, so I think that counts as a win.

See the Nutcracker. I took my two older boys the day after Christmas. I always love seeing this ballet. I’m glad some of my kids will still go because it doesn’t feel like Christmas without the Nutcracker. My favorite moments include the snowflake dance at the end of the first act (with the choir), and in the grand pas de deux at the end when the prince drags the sugar plum fairy across the stage as she is balanced on one toe shoe.

See the Rockettes. My husband’s extended family came for a few days after Christmas, and one of our activities was to go into NYC (yep, with 14 people in two cars) and see the big show at Radio City Music Hall. Despite living in NYC for 9 years, I never saw the Rockettes, I guess because maybe I thought it was too touristy but…it was really fun! The dancers were fantastic and the numbers were very theatrically well thought through. Plus there were two camels. On stage in NYC. How fun is that? I also enjoyed the number where the Rockettes are all dressed as toy soldiers and then fall over on each other in a very slow and controlled way. If you live anywhere near New York and haven’t seen the show, it might be worth putting on your holiday fun list for next year.

Construct the Christmas Lego set. My 14-year-old and 12-year-old and I created the Lego Alpine lodge together. We added it to the display of sets from the past 5-6 years. I also managed to do 3 1000-piece Christmas themed puzzles this year.

Get matching family pajamas. We did (this set) and all wore them from the 24th-25th. I know not all my children are overly enthusiastic about this tradition, but they humor me and the siblings who do like it. It’s so fun seeing people in similar outfits and even though we’re all different ages and sizes it feels something like a team uniform.

Do sibling presents. Yep — the kids did a good job thinking about what their siblings would want, and this helped stretch out the season a bit (we opened them on the 20th). This is a lot of extra work each year, but I do think it’s worth doing.

Decorate the house. I am so thrilled with my “fancy tree.” Sometimes I like to stand outside in the yard and look through the window and see it. Definitely a win, and since it’s an artificial tree, it can come out again and again!

Read my old Christmas magazines. This definitely helped put me in the Christmas mood early in the season. One feature piece inspired my “Camp Christmas” sonnet. I also now want to do a progressive party on my own property just like Martha Stewart did one year — though I’m guessing her number of outbuildings makes this more possible than for most of us mere mortals.

Play Christmas music on the piano. I didn’t do this as much as I hoped, but I did it some. There is only so much time, and it turns out that a lot of these other things on this list (and present wrapping) kind of conspired against my having much piano time.

Bake. My daughter and I made gingerbread cookies and Christmas cookies shortly after Thanksgiving. We then made chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa. My husband and my daughter got into making these “clone of Cinnabon” cinnamon rolls so that was nice for everyone else. It turns out you can buy fake butter sticks, so everyone has been cooking with those so I can eat the goodies too.

Read Christmas stories with the little guy. We did this early in the season, but he likes to pick his own stories, so I was only able to get one or so into the rotation each night. But I did make it through all the ones I really wanted to read, either with him of the 8-year-old. I remain a big fan of Christmas Farm.

Other stuff… One big addition: We went to Disney on Ice on the 30th! This was actually fun for the whole family (and trust me, I know not many things are). While some of the big kids might not have been quite so into Disney, the acrobatics and ice skating were pretty impressive on their own. This felt like a very full circle moment as we’d gone four years before when I was 37 weeks pregnant. I remember the kids loving it, but I was so uncomfortable…because it turns out I was in early labor. About 12 hours after we left the Wells Fargo Center, my baby was in my arms. We joked that he was sad to miss the show! So this year we took him and he liked it too. I bought four Olaf snow cones.

I did a few fun things to celebrate my birthday — drinks with one friend and lunch with another, plus dinner at a Mexican place with my big kids. My husband and I went to a Sixers game on the 22nd, which I quite enjoyed. Our December date nights were way better than average. Maybe something to aspire to in the new year.

I hadn’t set this as a goal, but we celebrated the 4-year-old’s birthday quite well. We had cakes and plenty of presents. On Christmas night, after I saw what he really liked, I was on the Amazon app ordering for his birthday, and through the miracle of prime delivery, most of it was there on time. I’m sensitive to his birthday being right after Christmas but I guess the upside is that his parents will always be off work, and his cousins were visiting too. We made sure to open the cousin Christmas presents on a different day to keep his birthday special.

Anyway, it’s been a fun few weeks with a lot of adventures. My kids were talking a bit about the let down (though we have two birthday parties …and then a family trip coming up in six weeks…) but given how long the season stretches out we’ll basically be back into the holiday spirit in 10.5 months. There will be another Holiday Fun List then! And in the meantime, now I need to create the winter fun one…

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8 thoughts on “It’s January — here’s how I did on the Holiday Fun List

  1. I have a kid with a Christmas day birthday as well. We try really hard to make it feel special. He has his own tree with only birthday presents under it- those presents have strictly birthday themed wrapping paper. Then he usually celebrates with friends sometime in January. This year I let him choose the menu for Christmas day- tacos and chocolate cake.

    1. @Sarah K – that sounds like a great tradition. We at least are a few days after so it’s not exactly on top of Christmas but close enough that it’s always going to be meshed together to a degree. I realized that the most obvious day to open presents from cousins would be on his actual birthday but it just felt wrong. That still needed to be his special day- his other siblings don’t have to watch their siblings open presents on their birthdays!

    1. @Elisa- we’ve been using Earth Balance – it comes in multiple forms, but one is a butter flavored stick, so that works for baking.

  2. I did ok with my list-not a total success, but a fair amount went well:

    1. Spend time with friends and family. I have 3 different events with friends that people have scheduled, plus a family celebration for my husband’s milestone birthday. It should provide a nice amount of good cheer without being overwhelming. Result: Success. Some things got added to the calendar, and one 7 day stretch at the beginning of December did end up feeling a bit overwhelming, But all in all, lots of good times with friends and family.
    2. Take a quick trip to Quebec City with my adult daughter. I don’t usually like to do vacation stuff in December, but my daughter really wants to head up there for a long weekend and check out any Christmas markets that they have. Trips with adult kids don’t happen all that often, so I’m going for it. It is a quick flight from our area, and if it is freezing cold, at least I know that there will be maple lattes to warm us up…..Result: We did not get to this. My daughter ended up traveling two weekends in a row in early December, and airfare from Philadelphia or Newark to QC was…outrageous. We’ll do something else later this year or try to nab fares to Qc for next December before they skyrocket.
    3. Head to Barnes and Noble and scoop up an assortment of holiday-themed magazines. This is a long-standing tradition for me-I will bring most home, but will grab a warm drink and peruse one while there. It seems to me that the number of holiday-themed magazines has dwindled-I remember that McCall’s and Ladies Home Journal had good holiday issues back in the day. Result: Success, although my frugal self wondered how one person could end up spending so much $$ on December magazine issues.
    4. Spend an afternoon at home curled up with said Christmas magazines, Result: A resounding success!
    5. Take some time to wander aimlessly around a few of our local shopping centers to soak up the decor. Result: Success, and I actually got a few random gift ideas for my husband by wandering around.
    6. Visit Trader Joe’s and Aldi to see what holiday treats they have. I became a huge fan of Trader Joe’s chocolate drizzled kettle corn a few years back, but then it disappeared. The following year, my wanderings led me to discover that the popcorn had migrated over to Aldi. I already have purchased a bag this week…Result: Success. I was proud of myself for buying only the popcorn. I discovered that I STILL had uneaten TJ’s peppermint bark in my snack bin leftover from last year, so resolved to look longingly at the treats without buying them.
    7. Order photo holiday cards-we have a great family picture from the wedding mentioned up above. I haven’t done this since we took a great picture of us in our Christmas pajamas a few years back. Result: Success!
    8. See if I can find a local Messiah concert. Result: Failure. However, I did manage to listen to a lovely Messiah concert that Duke University streamed for a few days for members of its Osher Living Learning Institute programs. I cranked it up so that my husband could enjoy it while he was paying bills and I was addressing holiday cards.
    9. Try to see the holiday trains at the Morris Arboretum in the Philadelphia area. This has been on my list for years, but it is a bit out of the way for us. Result: Another fail. I tried to combine that outing with a meal at Vernick Food & Drink in Philadelphia for my husband’s birthday, but discovered that I was a week early,
    10. Try not to stress out about the fact that I haven’t given any thought to gift ideas as of yet-and since I try to do a lot of my shopping from the comfort of my couch on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I really need to get started…..Result: I exhausted myself, but stayed glued to my laptop and got most of the gift shopping done on those two days.

    1. @Beth – this is great! I love your list and your verdicts. I’m sorry airfare was so expensive, that is a bummer. But I love the idea of going to B&N and getting December magazines – I am totally going to do that next year. Streaming the Messiah sounds like a win to me too – any way one listens to it is great. Thank you so much for sharing these!

  3. Forgot to add: It might be fun to ask Patreon group members if they are Team Holiday Cards, Team holiday letter, and/or Team Birthday and other occasion cards. Card sending seems to be turning into a fading anachronistic tradition, and holiday letters often inspire fierce debate. However, I still send out all three, and love getting holidays cards with letters inside (maybe I’m lucky that my friends are not obnoxious with their letters-and I try not to be obnoxious with mine). I do birthday cards at the beginning of each month for that month-I think it is a bit “warmer” then just sending a text, and I get positive feedback from friends who like being remembered.

    1. @Beth C – this is so smart to send birthday cards by the month. Quick and efficient but very personal and shows you thought ahead (a text is still caring but could be like hey, I just looked at my calendar). I’m unsure if card sending is fading or not. We got a ton of photo cards…but a lot fewer personal messages attached to them. So it’s interesting how people choose to split that.

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