Since we have not lived in the same town as any of our family for our entire married life, 14 years ago we started alternating the years we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with each family.
That meant that this year we celebrated Thanksgiving at Daniel's little sister's house, and then hosted my family at our house for Christmas. Of course when it works out, we overlap some – my brother came to Thanksgiving with us since he lives in Nashville, and we met up with some of Daniel's fam the day after Christmas for our traditional-to-us Hibachi dinner.
In 14 years, this is our FIRST time to celebrate Christmas on the ACTUAL DAY with my entire family. My sister is a labor-and-delivery nurse who works nights, and between multiple moves she almost always has to work some part of Christmas. Since my family is spread across several states, it is rare that we are all together on the actual day, so this year was extra special in that regard.
Two nights before Christmas (Christmas Adam), my sister and her family, and my parents arrived. We shared dinner and let our kids run wild. Jack was so excited to have his cousins here. He has been missing them terribly.
I had a little game for them to play before we all settled down. We passed a package around and every time our music stopped, the package was unwrapped one layer to discover a little prize. The kids had a blast and were happy to collect some extra candy and trinkets. The kids were bummed that my brother wasn't at the house yet, but started making plans on how they would play with him when he arrived.
Christmas Eve morning I made pancakes shaped like Christmas decorations by using cookie cutters. The pancakes were super thick, but tasted great. That afternoon my mom and I prepped for Christmas day by making homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast and homemade rolls and pies for dinner.
Daniel's dad and his wife dropped by for a quick visit that afternoon with gifts for our kiddos. Jack was excited to see an extra set of grandparents.
Some time during the day, the kids also found birthday party streamers and insisted on decorating our tree with the streamers for a Christmas Eve Party they planned out – we were informed there would be dancing, s'mores and hot chocolate (which we didn't actually get to do). I guess that is their idea of a good time!?!
For dinner, I decided to serve appetizers – we had Meatballs in the crockpot, Spicy Jelly with Whipped Cream Cheese on Crackers, Edamame, Mexican Street Corn Dip with chips, and Ham and Cheese Roll-Ups. It was all delicious (and not too hard to pull together).
My brother arrived after dinner and we collected everyone in the living room to open our Christmas Eve package of new pajamas, popcorn, and a Christmas movie. The kids rough-housed with my brother, ate popcorn, and watched part of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer before being sent to bed.
When it comes to Santa, Daniel and I do not play up the story of Santa at all. We answer Jack's questions honestly, or ask him what he thinks, but we don't really say one way or the other if Santa is real. This meant that Jack informed his younger cousin that Santa was NOT REAL.
I guess we should have had a talk with him. HOWEVER, they must have argued about it some, because at bedtime Jack told Daniel that he thought Santa was real. Sometimes I think it is ok to want to believe in something bigger than yourself, and I am ok with that (though we still probably won't play up the Santa thing).
After the kiddos were in bed, Daniel and I, and my sister and her husband, got to work wrapping all of the presents we had failed to wrap (meaning all of them!). Once presents were under the tree in our living room and stockings under the tree in our den, we visited for a bit before heading to bed.
Christmas morning, Jack was the first person to wake up. His cousins are early risers so I was surprised when he wandered into my room at 7:30.
He was giddy with excitement and wanted to tell me that there were stockings under the tree! Soon my brother-in-law came up to say that his kids were awake and I told all of the adults they needed to go ahead and get up.
Around 8am, the kids excitedly opened their stockings together. Following that we moved into the living room for presents. My sister and her husband leave out "Santa" gifts that are unwrapped – which included a bike for my nephew. At first Jack thought that the bike was for him, and we reminded him that he already had several bikes, and he moved on to opening his own stuff without batting an eye.
We spent the morning letting the kids unwrap their gifts. Isaac was hungry, so he kept shaking his head "no" and running out of the room, but he eventually got in the spirit of opening his gifts and is really into the new Legos that he got and also the Dinotruck that Jack received. He also thought it was funny to lay on all of Jack's presents and prevent Jack from opening stuff. A new Nerf gun for Jack is keeping both of our boys busy – Jack shoots and Isaac collects the darts like a dutiful little brother.
After presents, we shared a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls and our family tradition of sausage pinwheels.
My dad requested cinnamon rolls this year and it was my first time making them from scratch, but as usual, Pioneer Woman's recipes NEVER disappoint!
Once breakfast was wrapped up, I told Daniel that he was on kid duty for the day and I headed to the kitchen with my mom and sister. The kids and guys spent a bunch of time at the park and letting the kids ride bikes. They also played lots of games and let them run around like hooligans.
I have hosted big holiday meals before, which means I am in charge of planning and the heavy lifting, but it never ceases to amaze my how much effort these meals take and I am grateful for all of the people who have contributed to putting the food on the table over the years while the kids (myself included in years past) all run around playing.
Our Christmas meal included the usual suspects for us: Bacon-Wrapped Turkey, Sweet Soul Taters, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Dressing/Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole and homemade Rolls. For dessert (which we had for supper), we had Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie and Cherry Yum Yum.
After our fancy dinner, the kids spent most of the rest of the afternoon outside at the park. I hope it is a Christmas that they all remember. The adults all agreed that we wanted to get out of the house for a bit – for our own sanity, and also to let the kids burn off some excessive energy.
So we decided to head downtown to the Chattanooga Choo Choo – a historic hotel that used to be a train station. You can actually stay in old train cars that have been converted to hotel rooms. Daniel stayed there once as a kid, but we have not been since we moved to the Chattanooga area.
The Choo Choo did not disappoint. There is an ice rink outside where we let the kids watch people attempt to skate and the Zamboni machine that totally mesmerized them all.
There were also life size games of chess and checkers and jenga, but the best part of all is in the hotel lobby.
The elegant lobby is the old train station terminal with an amazingly high, opulent ceiling that housed a huge tree. There was also a baby grand and my brother sat down and played us a couple of songs. The kids insisted on playing too before we shooed them back outside.
Since it was Christmas day, Santa was not at the Choo Choo, but in terms of photo ops, I would definitely consider bringing the kids next year. It was truly beautiful.
That is where our Christmas day took a bit of a turn. Daniel took my parents home early because they were both tired. When the rest of us arrived home, we discovered that my dad was sick. My nephew was also complaining of nausea so he went straight to bed. It turned out that the two of them had a touch of the flu. Everyone was a little nervous considering there were 11 people in the same house to potentially get sick!
Thankfully I was able to Lysol just about everything, and only my dad and nephew were effected (at that time... my sister's family is still passing it around since they went home). Not exactly a great way to end Christmas day. Hopefully we will all forget that part.
After everyone settled down and most of the kids were tucked in bed, we allowed Jack to stay up with the grownups drinking hot chocolate, eating pie, and watching The Chronicles of Narnia for a bit. He was super sweet and told us that he had had a great Christmas.
The day after Christmas the mini plague seemed to have improved – though my nephew had been up most of the night. The kids played together all morning before my sister and her crew went home to Florida and Daniel and I headed to town with our boys to meet some of Daniel's family for Hibachi.
We have been doing Hibachi every Christmas dinner for the last seven years. As I mentioned earlier, my family is almost never together on the actual Christmas day, so it has worked out to meet up with some of Daniel's family. This is the first time in seven years that we met the day after. But sometimes you just have to be flexible and make things work.
I'm so glad we are continuing this tradition. Isaac was completely taken in by the displays of fire and our chef really talked to him a bunch and kept his attention.
Jack insisted on using chop sticks (and did a decent job with the kid version), but wanted to sit back about a foot from the table so that he wasn't too close to the fire. We enjoyed our visit while eating delicious food (that I didn't have to cook).
After eating, Daniel's sister came back to our house for a bit before heading home herself. Jack enjoyed playing Monopoly Jr. and Sorry! with my mom, brother and me. He is totally addicted and says that these games are his favorite. It turns out that Daniel has never played the game of Sorry! before and Jack has been schooling him (both teaching him and beating him). It turns out that Jack is quite good at board games. I think he won almost every game we taught him... more than once.
Daniel and I had to take advantage of having family stay with us to sneak off for one quick date. We headed to North Shore for a coffee and a stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge. We didn't realize until we got home that the cookie we bought to split was left forgotten on a counter somewhere. I guess we didn't need the extra calories!
My parents and brother left Tuesday afternoon. Our household has spend the week returning to our sense of normal. It took me a couple of days to wash all of the linens and towels (in hot water hoping to get rid of the germs). We have been chipping away at Christmas dinner leftovers and cleaning up. We still need to put away our decorations, but I want to savor them for a few more days.
We still have a few family members to see this weekend, but after this weekend, the holidays will wrap up and 2016 will be in the books. 2016 was a strange year, filled with both good and bad. It's hard to believe it is coming to a close. I look forward to 2017 and all that it has to offer.