From A to Z, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Our 26-step roundup provides great ideas, recipes and outings.
by Julie Bookman, Kirsten Gromatzky, Kate Wallace
Advent calendar: When, you might ask, did the tradition of counting down the days until Christmas begin? The first advent calendar was printed in Munich, Germany, in 1908 by Gerhard Lang. Lang worked as a printer and designed the advent calendar after observing the German Lutherans counting down the days from December 1st to the 24th by marking sidewalks each day with chalk.
Baking: Christmas could hardly be Christmas without cookies. Make these delicious butter cookies and have fun with your kids making works of art in holiday shapes.
1 cup of butter, softened
½ cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of vanilla
3 cups of flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
Blend the wet ingredients and slowly add the dry. Mix together well and refrigerate dough for at least two hours. Roll out dough on floured surface and cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Bake on greased cookie sheets at 425 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Let cookies cool. Frosting: Mix small amount of water into confectioners sugar to form a paste that spreads nice and even; sprinkle with colorful sugar crystals.
Christmas carols: Bundle up and go door to door, singing of good cheer. Wear hats and ribbons. Carry lanterns. For printable lyrics to popular carols, visit christmas-carol-words.com. Keep your chorus merry by jingling some bells as you stroll and sing.
Deck the halls: If you buy your Christmas tree from a tree farm or a special lot set up for the holidays, you often can ask for tree trimmings and get them free, or for just a few dollars. Arrange along your mantle, or use thin wire to bind trimmings together to decorate a rail or banister. Another simple way to enjoy seasonal fragrance wafting through the home: arrange several oranges in a festive bowl, but before doing so, stick the pointy ends of cloves into the oranges; your kids will love this and can even make some simple designs with the cloves.
Elf: Did you know that the Elf on the Shelf tradition was started right here in Atlanta? The concept was created by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell of Marietta in 2005. Families near and far have adopted the tradition in which a modern “elf on the shelf” sits somewhere around the house, watching over children. The elf then travels back to the North Pole each night and reports naughty and nice behavior to Santa, then reappears the next morning in a new hiding place. Visit elfontheshelf.com.
Feed the reindeer: Don’t forget to feed the reindeer on Christmas Eve. Our special reindeer food is a cup of dry oatmeal and a few shakes of glitter. Sprinkle in the yard or near your deck or doorstep; the sparkle will help the eight reindeer find the food.
You can’t feed them, but you can get up close to live reindeer if you visit the Chattahoochee Nature Center (chattnaturecenter.org) or Pettit Creek Farms in Cartersville (pettitcreekfarms.com).
Giving: It’s such a joy to give. Here’s a ditty penned by Mark Lawton Thomas.
The Gift That I Want
Don’t give me a gift
with strings all attached
Don’t give me a gift
with schemes yet unhatched
Don’t give me a gift
that’s not quite sincere
like the one that I got
and get most every year
Just give me a gift
that’s shiny and new
The one thing I want
is “I love you.”
Hanukkah: The Jewish holiday takes its name from a Hebrew word meaning “to dedicate.” Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec. 8. Head over to The Children’s Museum of Atlanta’s to experience the “Meet the Holidays” program on Hanukkah. Children can participate in crafts and story times. Dec. 15, noon, story and craft; Dec. 16, 2 p.m., craft; 3 p.m., story. Program included in regular admission price.
Ice skating: Our ponds don’t freeze up so well, but that’s OK. Throughout December, the whole family can enjoy ice skating at special outdoor rinks that pop up and play holiday tunes. See our roundup of places to glide the ice (both day and night).
Jolly: Pay it forward and make someone’s day jolly. Compliment a stranger. Stopping for a coffee? Why not pay for the person behind you? Find another unexpected way to brighten someone’s day. Slap a big smile on your face and watch how it spreads to others.
Kwanzaa: Inspired by the African “first fruit” harvest festivals, Kwanzaa celebrates African-American heritage. The observance dates are Dec. 26-Jan. 1. Seven Principles frame the holiday: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Kwanzaa is celebrated by lighting one of the seven candles (each representing a principle) each night.
Lights: Load up the car for a night of togetherness while you gaze and gawk at beautiful light displays all around the metro area.
Mistletoe: The mistletoe has been associated with magic and mystery for centuries. Kissing under a mistletoe is a tradition that harkens back to the Greek festival of Saturnalia and primitive marriage rites.
Let your kids help make this modern version of Meringue Kisses.
You need: 3 egg whites; 1½ tsp vanilla extract; ¼ tsp cream of tartar; ¼ tsp peppermint or other flavored extract (optional); dash of salt; 1 cup white sugar; about 40 chocolate unwrapped candy kisses.
What to do: Beat together egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar, extract and salt until mixture can form soft peaks. Gradually add in sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Drop by tablespoon and set each at least 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet. Press a chocolate kiss into center of each “glob,” and use table knife to cover each kiss with meringue. Bake at 275 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Nativity scene: When you get right down to it, this is what Christmas is about. Take a moment to remind your children that Christmas is rooted in the birth of Jesus. Visit a three-dimensional or “living nativity scene” near you.
Ornament: Do you like to make them yourself? Try this one.
Styrofoam balls (available at craft stores and Walmart); ribbon;
straight pins; hot glue gun and glue sticks; gumdrops; scissors.
Squeeze a dab of hot glue on a foam ball and attach a ribbon with a straight pin through the hot glue.
Loop the ribbon around and glue and pin the ribbon in place.
Glue gumdrops in place, alternating colors until the entire ball is covered. You may need to cut a gumdrop in half to finish out the circular shape.
Hang your ornament on your tree, in a stand or from a chandelier.
(For more easy and frugal holiday ideas, visit MyBlessedLife.net.)
Paper snowflakes: Decorate your house and tree with pretty paper snowflakes. Simply take a piece of construction paper or colorful tissue paper, cut it into a square and then fold over to make a triangle. Fold twice more into smaller triangles and then snip away on all sides (except on the main fold). Unfold into a beautiful snowflake – voila! Your kids can make them more festive by coloring or sprinkling with glitter.
Quiz: Test your holiday smarts. Hunt for the answers below.
1. “Good tidings we bring, to you and your _______”
2. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Jingle, Twinker, Cupid, Blitzer. Which three are not among Santa’s reindeer?
3. What was the original title of the 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas”?
4. Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Charlie: Which one wins the decorating contest in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?
5. In the song “Jingle Bells,” who was seated – “a day or two ago” – alongside the song’s narrator?
6. Christmas math! How many gifts would you have if you received all of the gifts in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?
Rudolph: Gather the family for the annual telecast of the 1964 Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” narrated by Burl Ives; CBS plans to air it on Dec. 4
(8 p.m.). Catch Atlanta’s own live puppet adaptation of the heartwarming special at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
Sweets: Try this cute and easy recipe with your kids.
Candy Cane Sled
To make one sled, you need:
1 graham cracker
2 ounces white chocolate bark
2 regular-sized candy canes
1⁄8 cup sweetened coconut
Candies to decorate (gumdrops, peppermints, red hots, etc.)
Break a full graham cracker in half for a small sled or trim down only a small amount for a medium sled. Melt white chocolate in microwavable bowl until smooth. Dip graham cracker (sled) into melted white chocolate until coated on both sides. Place white sled on top of 2 candy canes. Sprinkle sled with sweetened coconut. Decorate sleds with holiday candies (gumdrops, peppermints, red hots, etc.).
Source: Candy Making for Kids by Courtney Dial Whitmore (Gibbs Smith, $14.99)
Twinkling trees: The first-ever Rich’s Great Tree (now Macy’s Great Tree) was placed atop the flagship department store in downtown Atlanta and lit up on Thanksgiving night in 1948. The sky-high tradition has moved to Macy’s at Lenox Square. The tree is aglow with light strands measuring several miles in length. To choose your own tree, it can be fun to ride out to a tree farm; visit Christmas-tree.com/real/ga.
Unity: This is a time of year for being with family and friends, for singing together in church or around the piano, for snuggling together by the fireplace and the Christmas tree.
Visions of sugarplums: To keep children’s hearts happy so they slumber peacefully, “nestled all snug in their beds,” be sure to read them holiday storybooks, such as The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. Starting with The Mitten by Jan Brett and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, you’ll find a roundup of 30 great Christmas children’s books here: childrensbooksguide.com/featured/30-best-christmas-books.
Wassail punch: Warm up a cold winter day with this traditional holiday drink.
2 quarts of apple cider
2 cups of orange juice
2 cups of pineapple juice
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of lemon juice
Pour in together and bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves, garnish with orange slices and enjoy.
Xylophone: Do you have one in your house? The Angel 25-note chromatic version is sold at Walmart ($25), while Little Tikes Tap-a-Tune and the classic model from Fisher-Price are each less than $16. Keep the xylophone out this month so you can all try playing “Jingle Bells” and other easy holiday tunes.
Yule log: No fireplace? Flip to the yule log display on TV. It’s a film of a burning log in a cozy fireplace that plays on repeat with a holiday soundtrack. In Atlanta, you can find it from 8 p.m. on Dec. 24 through 6 p.m. on Dec. 25 on Direct TV 338, Dish 188, Comcast on Demand and the GMC network.
Make a simple yule log appetizer: Mix together 3/4 cup pine nuts or chopped pecans with bright-red craisins and about a tablespoon of dried Italian herb blend; add small amount of olive oil just so it all blends. Take a goat cheese log and roll it into mixture. Serve with simple crackers.
Zzz’s: It’s just so exhausting. You’ve got to get to sleep so you can jump out of bed and do it all again!