I remember a few years ago when I dreaded Christmas. As a twenty-something, the holiday lost its appeal among the struggle to find the perfect gifts, rushing from house to house and cramming events into a few weekends. It was more chore than joy.
Then I had kids, and the magic came back.
If you have children at home, you already know Christmas Eve is full of cheerful anticipation and excited chatter. With my family's jam-packed schedule, the day before Christmas is as busy and just as much fun as December 25.
Though we celebrate in little ways throughout the month, the serious fun starts early on Christmas Eve with a breakfast feast. With the rest of the day filled with snacking and a supper they might be too excited to eat, breakfast is the only time my daughters are guaranteed a complete meal.
So, we fill them up early with baked French toast or homemade cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon and fruit -- strawberries and green grapes for seasonal color. Hot chocolate served in real mugs topped with marshmallows makes for a special treat to round out the meal.
Once the kitchen is clean, we dress the girls in matching dresses and head to my mother-in-law's house listening to Christmas music all the way. There is no snow but this short trip does take us on a bridge over a river and through a few wooded areas. I'm sure you can guess which classic carol is a must for this drive.
Once there, we snack, eat a casual dinner, and open gifts. We spend a little more time playing with new toys, kids and adults, before going home for Operation Santa Claus.
This is when it gets busy, yet not stressful.
The girls get back into their pajamas, and we get out the sugar cookies. They are baked and carefully decorated a couple of days earlier. Each girl picks out two favorites to place on the Santa-face plate. I fill our Christmas mug, made by me at a paint-your-own pottery shop just for this occasion, with skim milk.
We take a quick glance at the North Pole News on TV to see where Santa is headed next, and say goodnight.
The girls go to sleep with visions of sugar plums, while mom and dad start the task of toy assembly, cookies in hand.
Our Christmas Eve routine was not planned. As much as I would like to take credit for the day, it has evolved naturally without much effort from me. There’s no long list of must-do tasks I created to make the holiday perfect, and I think that is why it works so well. Everyone else in the family is on board, too.
If I forget something we've done in the past, my oldest daughter is there to back me up.
"We have to feed the reindeer, Mommy!" she exclaimed last year before jumping into bed.
"Oh no! I forgot about them," I said, dejected.
"Well, let's just do it now," she said matter-of-factly.
That's how the tradition of sprinkling rolled oats and glitter in our yard in our pajamas when it's freezing outside began.
No in-depth planning from me, but a simple statement from a little girl reminding me it doesn't have to be perfect to get done.
And that is the magic of Christmas.
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