Have a 'Holly Golly' Christmas

Christmas for us always spans the whole month from Thanksgiving through to Christmas, yet in a way is often over by the 15th. We were actually in SF a week longer than normal since the boys' school didn't finish until the 21st but we still celebrated our Christmas the weekend before so the boys would have plenty of time to play with their toys.

We got our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving and the boys really enjoyed getting all the ornaments out and helping to decorate. We have 2 plastic boxes of stuff, as well as a separate ornament box, but that's it. I would love to get some more Christmas decorations, but really don't want to deal with storing it. We like to get everything taken down and put away before we leave, especially since we don't get back this year until almost a week into January, it will be nice not to have to deal with it upon our return. I posted our free Christmas tree on our local Buy Nothing facebook group and a mom was so excited to pick it up for her kids, though embarrassed that she couldn't buy one herself. She said, 'my 11 & 7 year old picked a 'handicapped' tree from Lowe's that was 50% off so we were able to get a very small tree for $15 It's my youngest's first Christmas and it would mean so much to have a picture perfect tree for her first Christmas photos.' She told later that day that when her older two saw it, they were SO excited. I've tried to share a lot of this with the boys especially so they continue to learn the reason for the season.

We decorated probably 20 paper bags and filled them with warm socks, toothbrush set, granola bars, chips, water and fresh fruit and handed them out to anyone we saw in need, which unfortunately, is pretty easy to find in SF. Last week, we went downtown to see all the lights, the SPCA animals in the windows and ride the glass elevator at the St. Francis. Papa came along and we even stopped at the Fairmont on the way to see their huge gingerbread house (the boys definitely weren't as into it this year). It's a nice annual tradition and so fun to see all the holiday decorations, and we toted along a big bag of the brown bags that the boys did a good job of handing out on their own.

Our church also has some great ways to give back and I tried my best to get the boys involved. We give gift cards to SafeHouse so they each turned one in, and we also collected a bunch of requested items for stockings for another organization. I loved a new addition this year, a giving tree decorated and left on the sidewalk in front of the church. We brought various sets of gloves and knit hats, labeled the size and put in a ziplock bag and then clipped onto the tree. The boys were grudgingly helpful with this project, but that's okay, hopefully they'll get the meaning in coming years.

One of our favorite things to do is to wrap a big box and fill it with snacks and drinks for our delivery people. We get a ton of deliveries for about two weeks after Thanksgiving so the boys helped me make a big sign thanking them and telling them to help themselves. We did it for the first time last year and it was such a hit. Some people don't take anything but many do and we're often left notes of gratitude. George is really into the idea and was very helpful in checking to make sure the box was stocked each morning. I'm bummed I didn't get a photo this year as it will be a fun way to track the boys growth each year.

I love doing gingerbread houses and the boys were very excited this year about it. I debated going somewhere to do it but we just picked some up at Target and did them at home. I got three, thinking Colette would be into it, but she wasn't at all

Every year, they do the tree lightening in Golden Gate Park and put on an awesome free party from 4-8pm with lots of crafts, cookie decorating, entertainment and best of all, rides! The kids love it and it helps that we get there right at 4pm as by 5, it's pretty crowded. Dedee came along to help us wait in lines and we got to ride everything we wanted to before it got dark. Coco loves the pirate ship, and we had a little trouble on this crazy scary ride that swung all the way around (often leaving you hanging upside down). I was riding with G and W was riding with another girl and screamed, 'stop the ride! stop the ride!' and thankfully they did. G looked terrified and I told him to close his eyes but it was definitely scary because you're not as secure as when you're locked in a rollercoaster. We were buckled in and then in a cage so we weren't gonna fall out, but it certainly felt that way! They also had a snow hill with sledding, Coco rode with W and looked a bit scared but seemed to have fun. She also really wanted to go on the big slide so we waited and waited (with Dedee took the boys to do the rock climbing wall) and she loved going down and wanted to go again... too bad there were about 100 people in line!

The best was there was a juggler/comedian there that we went to watch  -- George adores this kind of humor -- the guy was engaging the kids with all kinds of slapstick humor and George couldn't get enough. I got a video a bit too late but he was on the ground laughing, it was so much fun to see.

This is the first year we took Colette along (and first year for Dave to join us) to the Nutcracker Sweets, a 45-minute performance. The boys did pretty well, but not so much for Colette. I think she liked it but talked non-stop asking questions about everything. It's actually very kid-friendly and their two rules are no cameras or recording, and no shushing kids. Coco wanted to dance in the aisles and ask a million questions so after Dave took her out several times, they didn't return. I think I need to do a better job of prepping her next time, that she needs to stay in her seat or on our lap and that we'll try not to talk. We'll see. William always loves it and George likes it okay but by the end is bored (just like I was at his age) so next year I think we'll do a special outing and just take William. George heard about this and asked if we were going to lunch after and if so, he wanted to go to the real Nutcracker too...

We did go out to lunch about the Nutcracker Sweets, to Tony's Pizza, one of the best in the city. It had been a long morning already, but Dave was a trouper and agreed, when I suggested we try to go see Santa now, as we were all dressed up. I had heard about Santa at Japantown, that it was a low-key operations with crafts and a take-your-own-photos approach, and surprisingly, known for it's short line. We parked in a 30-minute meter and had plenty of time to see Santa and even do some crafts. Coco wasn't scared at all!

I took the boys to the Dickens Fair last year and it was so much fun, this year, somehow, Dave agreed to go and we brought Coco too. We found some outfits that fit the theme pretty well I think! We had fun exploring all the old-time displays, George and Dave made a fairy house, we watched some shows, rode the carousel and Coco loved the ballroom where everyone was dancing. We finished up with sausages for lunch.

On our Christmas Eve, we went out to burgers and then drove around the city to all the best spots to see the Christmas lights and again, it was the first time Coco and Dave came along. We had a great time and it was so fun to show them the famous Tom and Jerry house. Dave said when he was getting Coco out of her carseat, he told her Santa might live here, then as they're walking over, the garage door opened and all you could see was black boots, then the red pants... Santa! Dave said Coco grabbed him so tight. What perfect timing!

Our Christmas Day turned out great. The boys were up just before 7. This is the first year we didn't have Jessica's help wrapping all our presents, but Dave and I also did better about sticking to our 3 present rule - 1 from Santa and two from us. I had a bunch of small stuff, mostly stuff for the trip like travel games, fun warm hats for Colorado, etc., that I had to wrap for the stockings, but I did most of the wrapping one night when Dave was out so it really wasn't that bad. It's funny that since Dave helps the boys figure out what they want, and they know the gift rule, they pretty much know what they're getting. We talked about maybe having them make a list of 5 things and then we'd make the final decision so we had some more control (even though Dave does lead them a bit). This year William wanted a remote control monster truck, Lego Garmamec man and a new part of the castle to add to what we have. George was set on Lego Llyod's dragon, a Playmobil castle and an accessory to the castle that we already have. Coco kept asking for 3 new baby dolls (she already has 3 so that wasn't happening). She loves her peppa pig figurines and I saw they had a camper van at Target so we went with that, a little sink that works for her to wash dishes and several new dress-up dresses. The boys of course loved their gifts and Coco's were a hit too. We just cleaned out our play kitchen and got rid of a bunch of stuff, so I was a bit hesitant about adding more with the sink, but it was a big hit, it's really cool how it works! The kids had fun playing all day with their toys, Dave did lots of Lego assistance and I built the Playmobil castle... which is huge, too big for us to keep out anywhere that it would actually be used so we offered to sell it and George could choose a new gift, which he was surprisingly fine with. No takers yet on the castle so we'll see if we're actually able to sell it.

It's so hard to get young kids to really understand what Christmas is all about and to engrain 'giving' into the process as opposed to just thinking about presents for themselves. Dave and I actually don't exchange gifts at Christmas -- we're both adamantly against more 'stuff' and while Dave actually does give me presents for other occasions, for Christmas we usually don't. We've discussed this a bit as we do want to make sure the kids know Christmas is not just about them. I've made a tradition of getting Dave the new family photos on canvases that we update in our bedroom each year. This year I wanted the boys to learn about giving too, so we sat down and talked about the idea of coupons. They still don't have an allowance (but will soon!) but still, we'd love to keep the focus off monetary gifts and have them get creative. I gave them a few ideas and then helped them separately create coupon for each family member. Dave helped them with mine. My favorite is probably from George, I can turn in the coupon, apparently DAILY, and they'll stop fighting immediately... I haven't used it yet, but I need to!

It is so fun to be at Disney during the holidays, in fact, I really want to go to Disneyland for Halloween time at some point. And this year, the way it worked, we were at the parks from Dec 22-24. Not ideal from a crowds standpoint, but so fun with all the festivities and exciting to be there on Christmas Eve (even though it's not the same excitement for us since we've already celebrated).

We arrived to Naples around 9pm on Christmas Eve and Linda welcomed us with her delicious chili and chocolate chip cookies. We got settled in and got the kids to bed and when we woke up the next morning, around 10am, we headed over to Linda and Gary's  for a day of celebrating. A big breakfast, then opening some presents, pool time and hanging out until dinner. What a great day! The kids loved their new toys and will give them something to play with while we're here.

I love all the holiday activities and the traditions we're building and it was fun to include Colette in more of them as she gets older.

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