Part of recovery is deciding what your life will be like. It’s part of taking back your power. Starting over also allows you to make new traditions. It allows you to begin a new life. Things may be hard starting over, having the first Christmas after divorce, or after leaving a relationship. However, I can say that even with very little money, you can spread much love and joy through your home.
After I left my abuser, I lived in public housing. I had gotten the apartment in a small town after signing up a few months prior when I had decided to leave him. We had almost nothing, I was a waitress and had very little money to spare. We lived on public assistance and minimal child support to supplement my wages.
Even so, I baked Christmas cookies and bought hot chocolate as gifts. I put them in gift bags and gave them to family and friends. I put aside some money and got some presents for my son. We had a tree and decorations that I’d had in prior years, though I can’t remember how I got it after I left my abuser. It was small Christmas but that year was extra sweet. It was the year that I began many of the traditions that I have now.
Since you may be in the same position this year, that I was in so many years ago, I thought I’d share some photos and traditions today. It’s also my goal to share what everyday life around here looks like. So, since it’s Christmas week, I thought I’d share some of our Christmas decorations through pictures.
Tradition #1: decorating the house right after Thanksgiving. I usually like to decorate the Saturday after Thanksgiving because it seems like the perfect time to do so. When I bought my house a few years ago, I decided to begin switching out for seasonal and holiday decor. I thought it was a good way to get into the spirit of the season or the holiday. By the time Thanksgiving is over, I am ready for Christmas celebrations.
This year, I am in a spirit of doing and spending less. So we just pulled out the decorations and put the boxes in their rooms on Friday. Saturday I printed out our advent readings. We rearranged the furniture to fit the trees on Tuesday. I didn’t begin to decorate until Wednesday.
Tradition #2: Two Christmas Trees. I like themes and I like to have two trees – one traditional and one whimsical. I do this because it makes me happy to see whimsical things but there is a part of me that likes to hang on to the way I think things are supposed to be. Also, a couple of years ago, I was struggling to be in the spirit to decorate or do anything really at Christmas. It was a rough year. I decided not to do any trees or anything at all. I thought there was no reason to do it.
Anyway, I ran across an old Facebook photo that I’d sent an old friend of a Hello Kitty Christmas Tree. It was whimsical and I thought of my love of unicorns. I had a brilliant idea to put together a unicorn Christmas tree. Every year I add something new or try something different, just to keep things fresh and interesting.
This year the second tree is blue, silver, and white. It incorporates a lot of the items that we had leftover from our wedding. We got married in February and since it was winter we had a winter theme. Lots of blue and silver snowflakes, tulle, and miscellaneous items. After Christmas, I’ll move some of the items to our main living space and take down the whimsical decor. I’ll cozy the house up with some blankets, pillows, and some snowflake crafts.
Tradition #3: Baking. I don’t do the same amount of baking every year but there’s always some baking. I like to give baked goods away in gifts, at work, at parties, etc. It’s especially nice to show up at a party with snacks in hand. It’s always nice to fill the house with the smells of fresh-baked cookies, fudge, and other goodies. This year was a little more baking. It ran across three different days. I made about ten dozen cookies from recipes I found on Pinterest. I also did two whole recipes of Chex Mix – my people love the recipe that I found and altered.
Tradition #4: Christmas movies and snacks. I watch Christmas movies pretty much all year. However, at Christmas time I like to get cozy and watch one or two whenever I have a minute. It’s so nice to get some hot chocolate, a blanket, and fuzzy socks with a Christmas movie that includes a heavy dose of predictable, cheesy romance. Christmas comedy makes the list too. Only at Christmas do we break out the clay-mation classics.
Tradition #5: Christmas music and Christmas crafts. Beginning December 1, I think it is acceptable to begin playing Christmas music and I usually do so when I am doing all the above Christmas activities. This year has been less crafty.
In the past, we have done snowflake wreaths from dollar tree supplies, glittery wooden snowflake ornaments, paper snowflakes, and ornaments for the trees. We’ve done gingerbread houses for a family activity on Christmas day – we actually did this one a couple of years. It’s whatever seems fun, simple, and low-key. It’s whatever you like. Pinterest has some fantastic ideas and instructions – I do these for every holiday that I have some extra time. Christmas crafts are a fun way to get the family to hang out together. Age doesn’t matter and even teenagers will participate when they get treats and fun.
Tradition #6: Christmas Cards. I love, love, love Christmas cards. I love cards for every holiday, everyone’s birthday, and just because. I love sending messages that say I was thinking of you and I love you. I love receiving cards. Getting a card has always made me feel remembered, loved, and appreciated. Since I love getting them so much I believe other people do too. At Christmas, I display them somewhere so I can be reminded that I am loved by some other humans this time of year. In years past, I’ve kept them sometimes, or tossed them other times. I had no idea what to do with them. This year I’m saving them in my scrapbook album.
Tradition #7: Memory Items. I have some items from when my son was little and from when I was little. There are few of these because, over time, things get damaged and broken. The things I have left, I put out remind my people to be careful, and remember years past. Above, behind the cards, you can see the ornaments that my son made when he was in elementary school. Below, are some stuffed animals from my childhood. Seeing them helps me remember that my grandmother displayed all our ornaments and Christmas school crafts in her home when I was a kid. THey’re all gone now, lost to time. But because she displayed them, I can remember them now.
Tradition #8: Wrapping day. I wrap presents on December 24. This tradition is a little different, maybe. I do this because when I was a kid, we lived in a bad neighborhood. Usually, our presents were under the tree at least a couple of weeks before Christmas. We’d shake them and look at the gift tags to see which were ours and wonder what other people got too. One year, our house was robbed and most of the presents were taken. I was sad and scared. I didn’t understand and my mother didn’t have money to buy more. As an adult, I remembered this and decided to hide the presents and wait to put them out.
Wrapping presents the day before was born out of necessity. I was a single mom, working, often going to school. My family had told my son about Santa and I didn’t want to break his little heart after they told him so I began to assist in the Santa myth. He usually went to his dad’s for Christmas even all day so I’d wrap while he was gone. Then put them in my closet until he went to sleep. Once he’d been asleep for at least an hour, I pulled them out and filled the stocking for him. Even though he’s grown up now and I don’t live in a bad neighborhood anymore, I still maintain the tradition.
Tradition #9: Charitable Giving. I believe that Christmas is about giving. I also believe that it’s about giving to those who need it, as well as to those we love. I also wanted to teach my son about giving when he was a kid. When he was little I’d take him shopping and let him pick out presents for other little kids then we put them in toys for tots bins. When he got older, I began just giving cash to charitable organizations.
This year, we did two Christmas shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Shoeboxes – an international organization. I’ll donate to Toys for Tots and to an organization that feeds the hungry. We’ll also do a special Christmas offering at church – our church has partnered with local organizations for the special offering.
Tradition #10: Christmas Eve Church. I began this a few years ago. A friend invited me one year even though I didn’t go to church regularly. I thought attending church wasn’t necessary and the people were especially judgey. I also thought I couldn’t go because I was a smoker, a single mom, and a sinner. That year, she convinced me, and for at least five years that was the only time I went to church. I love the hymns, the candles, and the message of acceptance that Jesus gives. It’s beautiful. I go every year no matter what. This year, we had to get tickets early to be able to go. There are also online services available all over the place where you can watch from home.
This year, in the afternoon, we’ll mask up, bundle up, and head over to the church. We’ll sing and hear the good news that Jesus was born for us. What better way to celebrate Christmas really. I’m glad we’ll be able to do that this year.
What’s new this year for me: scrapbooking our daily activities, virtual Christmas activities, Advent, and snow activities. I ran across something called a December Daily by Alli Edwards and decided to do a daily album in which I record what our regular life looks like this season. When it snowed the first time in December here, my husband and I went for a walk. I scared a buck and his doe and froze my toes. Each morning I read for Advent in addition to my regular readings.
All of these traditions have made this Christmas feel normal. I was watching a movie this past weekend and realized I feel cozy, loved, and happy. Doing less, relaxing more, and participating in traditions while it seems that the world is spinning out of control has made this the best Christmas season I can recall. I don’t think I could ask for anything more.
Even though we’re still social distancing and there’s news of the pandemic every day, we still are having great days almost every day. Living out our traditions and creating new ones and spending time together makes all the difference. We’re connected to each other and to the world.
What are your traditions? What are your favorite things about this season? What makes you feel loved and cozy this season? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.
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