My Family’s Simple San Antonio Holiday Traditions

I love the holidays—like, love them. The Central Market H-E-B radio commercials are talking about me when the guy says, “Are you into Christmas? I mean, really into Christmas?” I tend to do things overboard and get carried away. I’m mindful of that when it comes to holiday traditions. I truly have tried to keep things simple and pure, and the traditions on this list have naturally evolved over time for us. They also represent the true spirit of the holidays: cherished family togetherness.

A couple we have grown out of or revolve around our religious beliefs, but regardless of your faith, I hope to inspire you to slow down over the holidays and spend some quality time together making memories as a family.

1. Advent Calendar

Starting December 1st, the kids look forward to opening their Advent calendars every morning. Personally, I prefer that the “gifts” inside be little trinkets, religious reminders of the season, Christmas jokes (think: “What is a snowman’s favorite cereal? Frosted Flakes!”), and occasionally, small candy (good old-fashioned sugar cubes are like gold in our house). It can be a ginormous pain in the rear to find 25 days (times two) of trinkets or toys small enough to fit inside the calendars’ cubbyholes and pockets—but this is when I remind myself that funny jokes and stickers are good enough and that I should go back to basics of the season.

2. Advent Wreath

Also starting the first Sunday of Advent (early in December) we place our Advent wreath in the middle of the dinner table. At dinner, during our usual saying of grace before the meal, the kids take turns lighting the candles. It is not only a special reminder of prayer during the holiday season, but for me it is a deeply nostalgic reminder of me and my brother fighting over who got to light the candle first, just as my stepchildren do now. There’s nothing like kids bickering while brandishing a lighter—not to mention the constant attempts to run your fingers through the flames super fast so you don’t get burned, or attempting to roast your vegetables over an open flame.

Our Elf on a Shelf (see #5 below) has moved aside our Advent Wreath to make room for his own roasting over an open flame.

3. Cutting Down a Christmas tree

Yes, we trek out to Devine Acres every December (hopefully it’s nice and chilly!) to pick out our very own (hypoallergenic, I might add) tree from the Christmas Tree farm, watch Dad cut it down, strap that bad boy down to the roof of the suburban, and head back to San Antonio. I blogged about this great family experience, complete with Pancakes with Santa, a couple of years ago, and we are still carrying this tradition forward.

Christmas 2014: still going strong with this tradition

4. Tree Trunk Ornaments

When we get home from chopping down our Christmas tree, we have to cut a couple of inches off of the trunk to freshen it up for maximum water intake. We save this tree trunk ring piece and all sign it every year. They have made great keepsakes, and when I eventually get around to drilling a hole in each one, they will make great ornaments too! Pretty sure you can do this with your store-bought tree too, if you can’t convince hubby to trek to Devine to cut down a tree.

5. Elf on the Shelf

I was admittedly slow to this party (for good reason) and was sort of forced into it by my stepkids, who told me that an Elf had showed up at their mom’s house and asked when one was coming to ours. Ugh. So I grumbled, went to Target (and surprisingly found one in the book section facing the toy aisle in plain sight—still don’t understand the logic behind that), and opened my Pinterest app. But as with most things, once I’m in, I’m in. Surprisingly, my husband was gung-ho about our little Elf on the Shelf, named Lego, so I’ve had some relief in coming up with and executing Elf antics. Luckily, Lego does not come to our house until the day we cut down our tree, so that saves me at least a week in December from moving him around! I’ll admit the joy the kids have each morning looking for Lego, and the fun my husband and I have at night planning for the Elf, has been worth the hassle factor with this tradition.

Our elf is a mischievous one. We should have ordered a nice one.

6. Gingerbread House

I whip out my 50% off coupon at Michael’s each December and purchase a Wilton’s gingerbread house kit, as well as a couple of extra bags of candy for decorating (e.g., Red Hots, peppermints, and Christmas colored M&Ms). I pull out the ol’ snowflake-covered wipe down tablecloth, and we get to work on construction. Our houses have historically turned out very, ummm, interesting and colorful to say the least. They are little holiday masterpieces, and it’s great fun.

If you want to expand the gingerbread fun, host a gingerbread house party for your little ones’ friends! My niece has started her own tradition of having the Gingerbread Lady (yes, there is such a person!) come to her house with all the gingerbread and icing fixings for her friends and cousins to each build their own house. It’s fantastic holiday fun, and you don’t have to worry about the mess afterward!

Even Dixie loves our gingerbread house tradition!

7. Christmas Movies & Hot Chocolate

Christmas tree decorating would not be complete without Home Alone (or Home Alone 2: Lost in New York—take your pick), Elf, or Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows. We continue this routine every free night we have in December. We have been known to redecorate the tree (or at least rearrange ornaments) during Christmas movie nights just for extra effect. Except for that one time when the tree fell down and ornaments went flying everywhere… That redecorating effort was necessary. Fa-la-la-la-la! (Not the only f-word I used that evening.)

8. We do #7 in our Christmas Jammies!

Matching Christmas PJs, people. There’s nothing like family bonding in snowman-covered fleece jammies. I even have little matching footie PJs for our baby girl when she celebrates her first Christmas with us next year. Unfortunately, we will not be making any YouTube rap videos about our jammies while in our jammies.

9. Alamo Draft House Christmas movies

Whether it’s Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or Elf movie parties and quote-alongs, we take the movie watching to the movies! So much fun! Everyone in the theater is in such the holiday spirit, it’s contagious. Even the biggest Scrooge will have fun. Alamo Draft House hands out fun movie-related props such as reindeer ears and bubbles for you to blow and cotton balls for snowball fights. Kids big and small will love it. My only complaint is that no one wears their Christmas jammies.

10. Collect Christmas toys for the less fortunate

Whether it’s by taking ornaments from our church’s Giving Tree each year or heading up a toy drive for St. PJ’s Children’s Home, we bond together as a family by helping others during the holiday season. There is nothing more rewarding than having your children shop for other children in need. Find the St. PJ’s Wish List here and watch your children learn the true meaning of Christmas.

Just some of the toys we collected last year for the children of St. PJ’s. Can’t wait to do it again this year!

I hope some of these traditions will help you find the true meaning of the holidays with your family this holiday season.

What are some of your family holiday traditions? I would love to hear them!

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