Christmas traditions are strange animals. I know some people who do things like spend Halloween night getting their Christmas on, decorating up a storm, baking cookies, and putting trees up in almost every room.[1. True story: I know one couple who have multiple trees—and it’s just the two of them in the house!] Some go to special church services on Christmas Eve. Some like to watch specific Christmas specials or movies every year, like Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, or Die Hard.
Bruce Willis taking back Nakatomi Plaza aside, there aren’t a lot of Christmas traditions in the Armstrong house. Up until recently, our church hasn’t had a permanent facility, so we’ve not had Christmas Eve services (at least, not that I can recall). In order to best meet the needs of our extended family, we allow the kids to open gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day. But there isn’t really a ton beyond that. Except a couple of things:
Christmas dates with the kids. For the last few years, I’ve made a habit of taking my girls out for a Christmas date (usually the two together). Sometimes they choose, other times I surprise them with what we’re doing, but we always try to do something special and fun together. One year, when Abigail was small, we went to a Sesame Street Live production. Another time we went for a special lunch. Most recently, the three of us went out to see The Good Dinosaur and the girls were thrilled to have their own kids’ combos (because it’s the little things that matter). Hudson’s been a bit too young to do a lot of this kind of stuff with, but this year he and I will be doing something fun as well (I just don’t know what exactly yet).
Celebrating Emily’s birthday. Because Emily’s birthday is so close to Christmas (December 23rd), I try to focus more on that feeling special for her as opposed to Christmas. Although, admittedly, it’s hard to compete with Jesus, but we try (wait…). So we go out to the restaurant of Emily’s choosing, one that serves a nice prime rib or steak typically. We just hang out. We talk and tell bad jokes and try to enjoy one another’s company without the kids around. And a grand time is had by all.
Reading silly books together. Just as we don’t really focus on Christmas as a couple in terms of gifts or celebration, Emily and I don’t do a lot of the things that the Christian marriage books tell us we should be doing. Date nights outside the house haven’t been a longstanding tradition (though our couch dates[2. In which we either order takeout or make dinner after the kids go to bed and watch something on Netflix.] are pretty rad). We don’t have the same sort of study habits, so we don’t do the husband leading his wife through a Bible study thing (though we tried), or read Christian books together.
Instead, we like to read silly books together. Things that make us laugh, because this is how we actually grow closer together. So something new we’re trying this year is reading a book called Coal Dust Kisses, a heartwarming and humorous memoir about Christmas by Will Ferguson. This has been a lot of fun for us because it’s something we can just enjoy together with no expectations. Next year, in our spectacularly Canadian fashion, we might read Dave Cooks the Turkey, a silly story about the characters from Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe books and radio show, which you can also listen to below:
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That’s pretty much what we try to do as a family and as a couple. It’s not mind-blowing. It’s not epic. But it’s us.