Once we made it through the hustle and bustle of buying, making, baking, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, and re-buying things I forgot or ran out of (like wine), our Christmas was good.
We had so much fun because this was the first year that Eleanor really got it. She knew all about Santa Claus. We decorated gingerbread houses, baked cookies, bought special Christmas outfits for the kids, visited Santa, bought presents for her immediate family and wrapped them. She loved all of it.
One of our favorite Christmastime activities this year was an interactive Advent calendar by Jacqui Lawson that my Mom sent us. There's a couple options, but we got the London one since Keith and I have fond memories of that city. There was no temptation to skip ahead, since it only lets you open that day's door and previous days. We also had a "real" paper Advent calendar that we opened at dinner with Keith, but Eleanor and Declan and I would open the computer Advent calendar first thing in the morning. Then Eleanor would spent the next 10-20 minutes opening old days or the same day over and over again. It was a cute calendar that brought back fond memories of my time in England, and it was also a nice way to ease into the day.
Christmas Eve we hosted a small family gathering in the afternoon. In the past we've had it later, but with the kids and the fact that I like to fit in church service at some point, it seemed easier to have it in the afternoon and then everyone could disperse to any other gatherings/activities they desired. It did feel lower maintenance to have it in the afternoon, and to serve the food buffet style instead of a sit-down meal.
Before I knew it, our open house party was over and Mom, Eleanor, and I headed to the traditional Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland. Keith and Eleanor and I have been to the church several times before Declan was born (that's a whole different post) and I really like their approach to religion and spirituality. I was a little leery of a Christmas Eve service there, however; there's not many parts of traditional religion that I like, but I have always loved Christmas Eve carol services. It seems like the month of December and the actual holiday pass by so quickly, I really value attending the Christmas Eve service and taking an hour to calm down, breathe deeply, and think about family and what the holiday really means to me. So although I wasn't sure what to think beforehand, it was a lovely service--traditional, true to their word--in that there were plenty of Christmas carols and the story of Jesus's birth. Yet untraditional when the homily mentions, "Some Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God incarnate" and they mention that the Christian advent wreath is based on the pagan wheel of fire.
So I did enjoy the Christmas Eve service, as always. Then we went back home, my parents and older sister stayed a little while after Eleanor went to bed and then they headed home themselves. Keith and I took turns holding Declan and wrapping presents, and finally got to bed around midnight.
Our first (and best) Christmas present was when Eleanor AND Declan both slept in until 9 o'clock on Christmas morning. The next best moment was hearing Eleanor call, "Is it morning time? I want to go look and see if Santa left us presents!" and watching her eyes light up as she opened presents. We took the present opening very slowly, letting Eleanor set the pace as she opened a present and really looked at it and even started playing with a few before moving onto the next present. Even taking our time, Eleanor got worn out. We'd saved the Santa presents for last and she had one more to open when she called a halt to the proceedings.
We stared at her incredulously. "Do you want to wait until after breakfast to open your last present?" we asked. She confirmed her intentions and we trooped off to breakfast.
Halfway through breakfast Eleanor suddenly sat up and said, "I never got my ballerina fairy baby doll!" She'd gotten everything else that she'd asked Santa for, but not that.
"Well, you have one more present," I reminded her. "Do you want to go open it?"
We got up from the table and ran back into the living room where she opened her final present, triumphantly holding her ballerina (not fairy) baby doll aloft.
The rest of Christmas Day passed in a pleasant haze of delicious food, good company, and relaxation. We played with Eleanor's toys, held Declan, opened presents with my family, and watched as much of A Christmas Story as we could fit in between other activities. I also really enjoyed Boxing Day, when Keith slept in and Eleanor, Declan and I came down to the living room in our pajamas and spent several hours opening and playing with her toys.
Our first Christmas as a family of four was a fabulous success. I'm already so excited for next year, when Declan is 14 months old and Eleanor can help even more with the baking and decorating and present-buying. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!