Before my daughter was born, I was a bit of a self-proclaimed Grinch when it came to the holidays. I didn’t have the best childhood memories of the holiday season (or anything else, for that matter), and once I entered adulthood, I spent a lot of holidays alone. “The most wonderful time of year” was, for me, a constant reminder of what I didn’t have: a healthy, happy, cohesive family.
This became especially true when I was told at 25 that I was infertile. Still single, I hadn’t believed I was in any rush to have kids—until it felt like that choice was being taken away from me. Suddenly I was facing the holidays as a single, childless, infertile woman from a broken family—as all my friends celebrated with the families they were building, and the ones they had been born into.
My feelings towards the holidays changed the year I adopted my daughter. She was 10 months old when her first Christmas rolled around, and I was determined to give her the joyous holiday memories I didn’t have myself.
So I started building traditions for us; some with our “framily” (the friends we call family) and some with just the two of us. Here are the traditions I’ve created as a single mom to make the holidays magical.
We Have a “Making Christmas” Day
The Saturday after Thanksgiving has always been our “Making Christmas” day. We start with breakfast at our favorite spot downtown, then we visit Santa for pictures and the revealing of my daughter’s wish list (which usually consists of the sweetest things, like more time with Mom, or food for the homeless—I love her little heart so much!)
Then we head to the Hallmark store and each pick out an ornament for our tree. Because I had never decorated for Christmas prior to the birth of my girl, we’ve been building up our ornament collection together—something I absolutely cherish. Then we do all our Christmas shopping, easy enough because our list isn’t huge—mainly just her teacher, biological siblings, and the children of friends we typically spend Christmas Eve with. Last, but definitely not least, we pick out our tree and decorate it that night before sitting in front of a fire with hot cocoa to admire it all.
It’s always a big day, a holiday in and of itself. And while there are some things we probably won’t be able to do this year (since COVID has us avoiding restaurants and crowded spaces), I still plan on giving the day all the fanfare it deserves.
We Make Ornaments Together
Every year, my girl and I make our own ornaments to send to family and friends. Previous homemade ornaments have been made from Crayola foam and popsicle sticks, but this year, I’m excited to get her input on what our homemade ornaments should entail.
With more time at home, we might just get a little more intricate—clay ornaments we mold and paint ourselves? Pictures we create ornament frames for and then decorate? I’m not entirely sure what the plan will be but I’m excited to see what we can come up with together.
We Make Some Epic Gingerbread Houses
In the past, we’ve always gotten together with some framily to make gingerbread houses together. That’s probably not going to happen this year, but I still want my girl to experience the fun of decorating.
I’m thinking that if it’s just the two of us or maybe even a virtual build-a-thon, we may skip the kits we usually get and spend the extra time together designing and creating a gingerbread house from scratch. Sure, it could be a disaster—but a disaster that involves lots of frosting, candy, and laughter is never truly a fail.
You Bet Your Jingle Bells We Welcome Elf on the Shelf
In this extra lonely holiday season, you had better believe our elf is going to step up her game. I’m already working on a tiny little elf mask, and she is going to come armed with sanitizer and lots of good jokes about staying healthy while still having fun.
I’m thinking our elf is also going to come equipped with Happy Holiday Passes this year: certificates that will entitle my girl to things like one day off school, or the creation of hot cocoa kits, complete with marshmallow packages and chocolate dipped plastic spoons. That elf may be the most normal thing we get to do this holiday season and my mama’s intuition tells me that this may be the last year my girl believes in the magic. So yes, it’s going to be an elf-tastic December for sure.
We Give To Others Through Angel Gifts
I’ve worked hard to raise a little girl who understands that the meaning of Christmas is about so much more than presents. In fact, I don’t put a single gift under our tree until Christmas Eve—specifically because I don’t want her obsessing over the things instead of the time together and the spirit of the season. But one thing we do try to do every year is pick an angel from a Salvation Army tree to buy presents for.
We usually pick a girl around my daughter’s age, and then not only do we buy the things on her list—we also buy at least one thing my daughter wants herself, and then we give it to this child instead. It’s a tradition I love doing with her, and while we may have to do the majority of our shopping online this year, it’s still something I’m looking forward to.
We Read One New Book Together
On the first of December every year, I present my daughter with an advent calendar and one new Christmas book. The book is always something I’ve found that has meaning to us, and one that I’ve written a special note in. Our first Christmas together, for instance, I gave her The Grinch, to celebrate how she had helped my heart grow.
Last year I gave her Red and Lulu, specifically because we had visited New York for the first time earlier that year and she was a bit obsessed. We read from our Christmas book collection every night of December, before taking a piece of candy from the advent calendar, saying goodnight to our tree, and turning out the lights. It’s one way we keep the holiday spirit going all month long.
We Rock Christmas Jammies and all the Holiday Movies
We watch a lot of holiday movies in the month of December, but I usually gift my girl with at least one new one for our collection on one of the weekends leading up to Christmas. With that gift, I always give her a package with matching Christmas pajamas for us both—and sometimes for our dogs, because I’m fun like that. We make a big batch of popcorn and two bowls of peppermint ice cream alongside a tray of hot cocoa (because of course) and we curl up on the couch to watch our new movie together that night—often with the fireplace going.
With the Christmas tree smelling up the house and the Christmas lights providing a faint glow, it always feels about as Christmas-y as Christmas can get.
This year, since we likely won’t be able to spend Christmas Eve with our framily, I may save this tradition for then—something fun we can still do together that night, even if we can’t be with the ones we love. I suppose that’s kind of how I’m looking at the season as a whole: we may not get to do everything exactly as we always have, and we may be left to our own devices more than normal, but we can still find ways to make the holidays magical.
Even if it is just the two of us celebrating.
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