Christmas, Parenting

Gingerbread: A Conversation Starter

I snatch the best ideas of others. One with unexpected results was giving gingerbread kits for Christmas. (For best results, wait until your youngest is at least ten unless your children work in pairs. Building requires skill and patience.)

Gathered around the kitchen table with busy hands, the boys cracked jokes, teased good-naturedly, and supplied us with joy we had not experienced recently. Our busyness and their reticence to share had increased as they aged.

We learned much about our sons. As their tongues loosened, unknown adventures were revealed. Two studied British Literature at a local private school. Ninety minutes of building and decorating gave us a semesters’ worth of funny stories.  The two who shared an art history class entertained us by deliberately attributing erroneous architecture vocabulary to their houses.

What did our sons learn along the way? Aim for the most candy per inch of gingerbread so you have the greatest reward on Demolition Day. Demolition Day was an event itself with special china and hot tea to accompany our gingerbread gluttony.


We continued building and demolishing during the college years until family time was too scarce.

Has a Christmas tradition enhanced your family’s closeness?


Uncle Rich Cookies

These were a favorite cookie named for a favorite uncle. Uncle Rich loved them as much as we did. (Actually, everyone who has eaten one loves them.)

Even better, the youngest child can be involved in breaking pretzels. With our three children, everyone had something to measure and everyone dropped spoonfuls onto waxed paper. 

1 ½ cup Spanish peanuts (Best if not substituted with regular peanuts)

1 ½ cup miniature marshmallows

1 ½ cup rice crispies

1 ½ cup pretzels broken into pieces

24 ounces white almond bark (Can only substitute chocolate almond bark or milk chocolate chips. I learned the hard way.)

Spread sheets of wax paper on a hard surface.

Combine the first four ingredients and set aside.

Melt the almond bark in the microwave. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, repeat. At the end, you may need to reduce the time to ten second intervals to prevent burning. (You can use a double boiler for melting if you prefer.)

Once the almond bark is melted, QUICKLY stir into the first mixture and QUICKLY drop by spoonfuls on wax paper. Racing to finish before the almond bark thickens is part of the fun.

They should harden in 10-20 minutes. Mails easily, freezes well, and will keep for over a week.


Pacing the Christmas Marathon

My firstborn was five months old when a friend said, “Don’t go overboard at Christmas. You have too many years ahead of you. We burned out.” She meant activities, not presents, which were not a temptation given our budget.

Our Christmases were quiet for a couple of years, and then, the activities began. By the time our children were in high school and would remember more, I was exhausted, and they were bored with some routines.

The traditions that have lasted are a decorated tree, carol singing, decorating homemade cookies, sporadic family Advent readings, Christmas Eve worship, Christmas Eve cookies and snacks, Christmas breakfast— with cranberry coffee cake—and our gift exchange routine. 

Daily family Advent readings, other Christmas sweets, making gingerbread houses, outdoor lights, indoor garland, and neighborhood caroling slipped away. Our Advent banner is no longer hung. Christmas movies and concerts are less frequent.

Most of the meaningful traditions have stayed. The ones I miss might still exist if I had carefully paced our Christmas marathon.

Do you have traditions which should be saved for later years when the children will enjoy them more or remember them better?

Christmas, Homeschooling

Christmas Break: Is Yours Long Enough?

Until high school requirements and online classes prevented a month of Christmas, we didn’t have formal learning from Thanksgiving to January 2nd.  However, our activities covered language arts, social studies, thinking skills, and art.

We made cookies. We watched and discussed movies. We made presents—decorated t-shirts and calendars and sun catchers and wooden baskets. We sang, sang, sang—Christmas carols from beautifully illustrated books. Our favorite for the early years was Tomie dePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols

We read, read, read.  Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights: The Story of the Christmas Symbols by Edna Barth explained cultural customs. The Lion in the Box by Marguerite De Angeli taught city life in the early 1900s.

Between Thanksgiving and Advent, we read classics such as The Night before Christmas and Polar Express. We treated the stories like other fiction. After those few days, we focused on the true meaning of Christmas without leaving the boys culturally illiterate or deprived of fun stories.

A needed break.

How much break time do you need?


Gift Guidance

For me, November was when I finished Christmas shopping, not when I started.

You may already know the excellent gift advice contained in the rhyme below because I have heard it from multiple sources in recent years. However, I want to give it to you just in case you missed it or need a reminder.

Give your children:

Something they want,

Something they need,

Something to wear, and

Something to read.

Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 (ESV)

What do your children want? What do they need?