Xmas Tricks and Treats

Here are some ideas and traditions that guide how we do Xmas in our family.  You can probably make use of several of these, especially if you have little ones.


New decorations appear each day.  This is a variation on "Making Halloween more suspenseful."  For example, each evening after the kids go to bed, I put out some Rudolph figures on the mantle until it's completely covered with scenes from the Bass and Rankin Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer tv special (1964).  You can do similar by adding a wave of ornaments to the tree each night, then claim the elves are responsible.  They're Santa's scout party, after all!

Different theme each year.  Who says you have to be traditional with the ornaments every year?  If the kid(s) is/are focused on a favorite movie or show, then build the decorations around that.  I could easily decorate our tree with Star Wars figures, for example.  Or use Stan's plush Adventure Time and Regular Show dolls.

Have a calendar.  There are plenty variations on Xmas "countdown" calendars, so pick whatever you like.  We happen to use a wooden Xmas tree Grandma painted.  You take a little charm off one of the pegs over each date on the calendar portion of the board, and you move that up to the tree at the top to decorate it.  When the tree is completely decorated, it's Xmas morning!  It teaches the kids about time by allowing them to visualize its passage, while at the same time building suspense.

Personalize the stockings.  Dani put felt adornments on all of our stockings that made them about us to some degree.  Here's what's on each of our stockings:

Alex - Three guitars arranged in chronological order on their year of design
blue D'Angelico New Yorker archtop
black Stratocaster (with Lace Sensor pickups) - my first guitar
green Steinberger GM


Xmas tree
gingerbread man


books - The plan being to include books among his Xmas presents every year (and in between).  As of this writing he has more than 700 books.
train - No real reason other than he plays with a Xmas train every year that our friends bought him when he was about a year old.
soccer ball - He started playing soccer this year.


star (because her name means "star"; her middle name is Nova even!)
gingerbread house

Pug (for the foster pug)

a Xmas tree
little fawn pug

Betsy - A cairn terrier we took in.

a silver bell with holly leaves and berries

Snowy - White kitten


Smokey - Grey kitten, Snowy's sister.

candy cane

Shadow - Grey kitten, Snowy's best friend.

Xmas tree

Retired stockings (I need to get these out of the attic to see what's on them):

Gus (our now-deceased German shepherd/akita mix)
BT (for the foster Boston Terrier; we haven't fostered as much since the baby arrived)
Cubby (deceased cat)
Cricket (deceased cat)


Xmas shopping starts December 26th!  Don't wait until immediately after Thanksgiving.  Buy things throughout the year (or at least make a list).  Hide them someplace safe where the kids (and spouse too, if you're shopping for him/her) won't look. 

Make lists and check them more than twice!  I recommend keeping a list of presents and their hiding places on the computer though, just so you don't forget.  I've bought things way in advance before and then couldn't find them again until months later.  Keep lists of what you've given them in the past for inspiration in the future.  Anytime someone says, "I wish I had a..." you jot that down surreptitiously on your phone or something until you can transfer it to your secret master list burred inside a file that looks like the last thing it would contain would be lists of ideas for Xmas presents.

Personalize the presents.  One of my mom's friends always used to modify greeting cards to personalize them for her.  She'd insert words or cross things out to and re-write them to make them specific to my mom.  The year Dani was going to get a hysterectomy right after Xmas (like literally the next day), I modified the the tradition Hickory Farms present.  The two lengths of sausage were relabeled "Fallopian Tubes."  The "Farmhouse Cheese" became "Farmhouse Uterus," and the "Smoked Cheese" became "Smoked Cervix."  Yes, she thought it was funny... because she's more twisted than I am!

Get matching presents.  For the last couple years, whenever Stan got a sword, Daddy got one too!  When he was three, I got him Finn's sword from Adventure Time.  Well, naturally Santa brought Jake's sword too so Stan could play fight Daddy.  The next year Stan got a blue lightsaber from Santa.  So OF COURSE Daddy got a red saber to battle with!

Get a "series" of gifts.  For example, if a present turns out to be a big hit with a kid (or a spouse, parent, etc.), get something else from that same line and save that for the next birthday or Xmas.  For example, a surprise hit for Stan a couple years ago was a Doctor Dreadful toy we bought as an afterthought one Xmas.  The next birthday he got another one.  You could similarly get the next book in a favorite series, another movie by the same director, etc.  I got my cousin the dvd set of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" one year.  The next year I plan to get him Gilliam's "Time Bandits."

Go classic.  If you're looking for ideas, here's a list of "classic toys" that are largely timeless and make great stocking stuffers:
Anatomy models: the human eye, skeleton, "invisible man"
Brain teaser puzzles: wood blocks, metal loops you have to untangle
Card Games
Chia pet
Chocolates and candy
Christmas ornaments
Connect Four
Diary / journal
Finger Puppets
Floor piano (from "Big")
Fridge magnet kit (e.g., the poetry set)
Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars
Hungry Hippos
Legos/building toys
Magic 8 ball
Magic Rocks (growing crystals)
Night light
Picture mug
Pogo stick
Sea monkeys
Silly putty
Snow globes
Swiss army knife
Water rocket
Wind-up Chattering Teeth
Zippo lighter

Presents aren't just for Xmas.  Because (as I mention above) we buy presents throughout the year, we keep a box of them set aside for special occasions.  This probably started with potty training, or at least that's when we were the most systematic about using presents as rewards, but we've also used it for other goal-oriented activities like learning to read or other milestones.


Cookies and milk for Santa.  This is an American classic.  You and the kids set out a snack just before you put them to bed, then you help yourself to it while you set out the presents under the tree and stuff the stockings.

Feed the reindeer.  Put out something for the deer just like you did for Santa.  My friend Leiann always puts apples and carrots on her lawn with her son before he goes to bed.  Of course, once he's asleep, then she goes back and collects them and takes a bite out of each.  The next morning they check in the yard and see that "the reindeer" have had a few bites before they move on to the next house.  When Stan was four (Stella was still in zero), we put out a mix of oatmeal and glitter on the front steps.  Once he went to bed, I went out with the mini-Dyson (handheld) and vacuumed up the middle of the pile.  In the morning it looked like the reindeer had nibbled away at the center of the pile.

One present before bedtime.  We haven't done this with our kids yet, but when I was younger, I got to open one present on Xmas eve to tide me over until the next morning.  You can let the kids pick, but I think it's best if you have a specific "Eve" present that's a stand-alone to keep them occupied for the evening, especially something like a doll or plush that they can take to bed.


Hide the presents in different places on Xmas morning.  I start out with a bunch under the tree, but then it turns out there are more hidden elsewhere.  This keeps the action rolling so that there isn't a flurry of unwrapping and attention-deficient bouncing to the next one.  If you have a fireplace with an open chimney, that's an obvious location to hide an extra present as though Santa forgot one.  I pulled that one on Dani a few times over the years.  You can also hide things in plain sight.  For example, one year I put a guitar case behind the tree.  Guitars are my thing, so she didn't think anything of it.  Turned out I had more presents in it for her once she thought she'd already opened everything!

Sequence the presents.  You can use the hiding techniques above to pace a build-up to a big present for the kids, spouse, etc.  Alternatively, you could include a note in each present that says which present to open next (or where to look for it).  Dani did something like that for me one Valentine's Day before we had kids.

Bonus: Birthdays = Hanukkah!  After Stan's 4th birthday, we had a mantle full of birthday presents.  Rather than letting him open them all at once, I let him pick one to open each night.  I made him wait until sundown (which is a developmentally-appropriate marker of time; otherwise he'd keep asking when he could open the next one).  This spread the celebration out over the next two weeks.

Copyright 2014 Ale[x]mas.
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