HDYDI: How We Celebrate the Advent & Christmas Seasons

With every post, I always have someone in mind when writing it. This one? This one is for my kids.

The Advent season this year was full of  a few unplanned speed bumps, some awesome memories, sibling fights, late-night movies and lots of joy. I’m learning to let go of the “perfect” holiday and to just lean into what happens. That’s hard when you’re OCD. I joke that’s why God gave me five (soon to be 6!) kids because nothing says “forget your plans!” more than having kids.

When Scott and I married we thought our families were incredibly similar. The longer we’ve been hitched, we’ve come to appreciate that our families of origin were slightly different than we first realized. For starters, his family is Catholic and mine was Protestant so the rituals surrounding a big holiday like Christmas were different. To find peace and harmony we changed a few, ditched a few and created a few. Here’s how we celebrate the season at Team Whitaker. I would love to hear the traditions that mean the most to you!

Someday we’ll have a Jesse Tree or wrap 24 books to be read each evening December. Someday I’ll muster up enough patience to take the kids to the Trail of Lights or let them gorge on candy. Or not. You can only do so much during the Advent and Christmas season. Ignore what Facebook and Pinterest say you should do and love the traditions you do have. That’s what your kids will remember. And, for you young mommas reading this with lots of littles underfoot, all these traditions did not happen overnight. They’ve evolved over time. Do what you do well and forget all the rest. There is no award for best Christmas celebrated!

Pictures with Santa
We’ve been doing these every year since Will was born. We typically go the Tuesday before Thanksgiving after the kids get out of school. While everyone else is madly cooking, we’re enjoying the no lines at the Mall. We have the coolest Santa around (in Texas he wears boots and says Merry Christmas, y’all). The one year I took photos later in the season, I swore I’d never do that again. This way the kids get to chat with him, spread some giggles and we typically avoid a meltdown. I think this was the first year I didn’t have to do the “remember, Santa is nice” talk with any of the kids. Hooray for no tears!


Christmas Cards
There is much debate on the subject of Christmas cards. To send or not? We send them, and will, until I can no longer write. They are one of my very favorite traditions. Ever. Running to the mailbox to reconnect with people we know and love is the highlight of the season. The cards, the stories, the pictures – it is all divine. Scott jokes I have a sweat shop in the house the day we assemble them. Anna-Laura and Clare were my stampers, Will and John Paul were stuffers until they got fired, and Luke napped.

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The best thing we do with all the cards we receive is definitely this. I’m always amazed at what our photographer, my good friend and sorority sister, Shannon can capture.

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Decking the Halls
Tuesday’s post will be all about our halls, so more pretty then. Our plans were slightly altered this year since Scott and John Paul left the morning after Thanksgiving for NYC. Amazingly, the kids and I were able to decorate the entire house in less than two hours while Luke napped that day. I guess my new system of packing by room really worked! We cranked the Pandora and only had to break up one sibling argument. Downright amazing. We forgot to collect all the baby Jesus’ from the nativities until today. Oh well. Life.


Feast of St. Nicholas
I often say the church loved Santa Claus so much we canonized him. True story. On the eve of St. Nicholas’ feast day, the kids set out their shoes and we read a short story about St. Nick. This year, I almost threw in the towel because of bad kid behavior, but they came around and we read a short snippet from one of their saint books. The next morning, the kids awoke to candy canes and Christmas pajamas. A sweet St. Nicholas even left some gold coins and a beautiful angel ornament on our front porch. That was a total surprise to me!

The Tree Farm
While we’re still sad the sweet Salado Tree Farm closed, I think we’ve found a great replacement, the Elgin Christmas Tree Farm. It was colder than snot the day we selected our tree (we go for the Frasier Fur in lieu of cutting down our own) so that ended up being a super short 15-minute adventure. It took us a half hour to thaw out! We enjoyed some BBQ at Southside Market, but as great as it was, we’re still Rudy’s BBQ biggest fans. Of course, Luke did give us some tree drama once we got it home and decorated. A Christmas to remember, this one.

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Nutcracker with Nana
This was our third year to take the girls. We learn a little more each year (hooray for pre-ordering drinks for admission!) to make the trip even more enjoyable. We have some beautiful nutcrackers and ornaments, along with some sweet pictures to remind us of that special time with my mom. It’s a girls-only gig and our hope is to keep it that way. My mom and I went to many a Nutcrackers in Amarillo so to pick the tradition back up again has been particularly wonderful. Mom, thanks for making this tradition so meaningful and special to the girls, AND for the big girl who calls YOU Mom!

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It’s a Wonderful Life
Can it really be Christmas without watching this movie? Hold a hand up in the air if you agree. This year, we brewed some homemade hot chocolate, turned on the fire and settled in for a great movie. The classics are a reminder that quality family time is more important than any material gift you give your children. In an effort to keep it real, we also watched “Elf” and we’re trying to figure out when we can let the older ones watch “Christmas Vacation.” Slightly less classic than Jimmy Stewart.

I’m no Barefoot Contessa, but I do find some therapy in baking. The kids enjoyed a cookie decorating class by my friend, Kendra, as part of their 4-H food/nutrition project. Yes, that may have been their very favorite activity this season. After learning some new skills, we put them to work by making some snowflakes. Complete and total blast. I have always enjoyed cooking and baking for other people and doing it with the kids this year was even more fun. I’m finding that Anna-Laura is particularly helpful in the kitchen and often wanders behind me and says, “Hey, Mom, can I help?” And then she actually sticks around to help, unlike her brothers who just want to taste test and run.

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Christmas Lights
There are some beautiful ones here in Central Texas. If you’ve never been to Pedernales or the courthouse in Johnson City, get yourself over there! Just spectacular. And, nothing beats just spending an hour or so driving around your favorite neighborhoods. Driving by some of those houses really does put you in the Christmas spirit. I do have to admit, I’m a huge fan of white lights. You know, because it’s me. But, I do love looking at them all. The last several years we’ve wanted to drive off a cliff because there’s been so much bickering in the back seat. We’re trying our hand at it again tonight. I really hope it doesn’t end in a parenting fail.

Tomorrow, I’ll share how we’ve decked the hall here on Team Whitaker and at Austin Catholic New Media I’ll be posting about our Christmas Eve traditions.


  1. Wanda on December 23, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Merry Christmas Kathryn!

    We love sending out Christmas cards as well. I have 32 years of cards! This next year I am going to make a digital book for each of the girls with all those cards inside. We received a letter from a dear friend that I knew as a child who said he has saved all of those cards! Warmed my heart.

    I love reading about your traditions. Wouldn’t it be nice to do a link up for others to share one of their own? Hmmmmm.

    Merry Christmas to your wonderful family!!!!

  2. Joel on December 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    So, ehat exactly is it that you do with cards you get? Save them and read them throughout the year? Like, in July?

    • Kathryn on December 24, 2013 at 12:55 am

      We read one each evening and pray for that family.

      • Joel on December 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm

        That’s a nice tradition. thanks for sharing.

  3. Megan Ryan on December 4, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Kathryn, Have you written a blog on the best Christmas books for children? If so point me to that blog as I need to buy some Christmas books for my godsons and a colleague’s daughter.

    • Kathryn on December 4, 2016 at 11:35 pm

      I haven’t but a friend has. If you follow my page on Facebook I posted it there last week. If not I can post the link here in the morning.

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