As a little girl, there were so many things that my parents did to make the holidays and Christmas so incredibly magical for my brother, sister and I. For one, my birthday is December 23rd, so we would celebrate all together as a family with dinner at home, or something out. Then I got to enjoy the evening opening presents and eating cake and ice cream. The next day was Christmas eve.. another day to party. Some of my favorite memories are from the night before Christmas. I remember as a kid, especially in Birmingham, (my first house) getting so excited for the events of the day and evening. See in our household, and maybe yours, Christmas Eve day was filled with baking goodies to enjoy that evening and throughout the holidays. We went a little crazy with the cookies we would make and because it’s tradition, we still do it to this day! We would make sugar cookies with homemade frosting, ( red, blue, green, and yellow), Ritz cracker cookies, Russian sugar cookies, chocolate and peanut butter balls, and our all time favorite- chocolate covered pretzels with all kinds of different sprinkles. We laughed, talked, and sang while we decorated and baked. This was pretty much an all day thing, but we loved it! My mom also made (and still makes) the most amazing cheese ball… it is by far one of my favorite things to eat at the holidays! The funny thing is that she started realizing a couple years ago that one cheese ball was not enough for all of us Heftas to eat! (that was my maiden name, btw). This is still one of my favorite traditions for the holidays and I am looking forward to making all of these wonderful cookies on the 24th with my family.
I mentioned earlier that we made all of the treats to enjoy over the holidays on the night of Christmas Eve. After we baked and cleaned up our crazy messes in the kitchen, it was time to get ready to go to church for one of my all time favorite services – the candle lighting service! If you’ve never been to a candle light service, you just have to. There is something so incredibly beautiful and peaceful about being in a crowd of people with candle light surrounding you, while you sing silent night or the pastor speaks a word over you. At that moment, everything else around you – the fears, your thoughts, the rushed anxiousness you have… it all disappears. It is in that moment, you just get to breathe and be. I have always loved this service and, even as a little girl, it was one of those things that I looked forward to every year.
After we would get home from church, my brother and I ( my sister also in later years) would run to our rooms to get changed into our PJ’s, grab all of the blankets that we had, and make a palette on the floor next to the big fireplace. This was where we would spend the next couple hours with family eating all of the goodies that we had baked earlier in the day. I have always loved fireplaces and the beauty of the flames burning within and the warmth it provides, it creates a picturesque scene for me of winter and peace. I still always want the fireplace on when I arrive back home. No matter the temperature outside, that fireplace is coming on!
While we sat by the fireplace, we would read the story of Jesus’ birth. My dad would begin with a beautiful eloquent speech, something many times now-a-days makes me cry because of how incredible the story is and my dad’s heart as he shares. He would then begin to read the beautiful story of the nativity. At the time (and even as I’ve grown older) I loved hearing this story and thinking about that night so long ago. When shepherds were out in their fields and a bright light suddenly shone upon them. Angels were all around, and they lead the shepherds to a baby laying in a manger, by a star.
As my relationship with Christ has grown, this story means so much more to me and pretty much always makes me cry. To think that our God loved us so much that he would send his son to earth to live as a man and grow to understand, and have empathy for where we are in life is truly amazing. Being almost 30 years old now, I can’t even imagine the huge weight yet humility Mary would have felt when she was chosen to bare the Son of God, to be his mother (while being so young) watching him as he grew – all the while knowing that he was the son of God. I would be a complete mess.
(Not a very flattering pic of my mom, but this is a good depiction of how my dad takes pictures.. he likes the candid shots).
After reading the nativity story, our parents would surprise us with a book for that Christmas! My brother, sister and I loved reading books and frequented the local library probably 2 times a week. Okay, maybe once a week. The book that meant the most to me, and still is one of my favorite books, is Max Lucado’s “You are Special”. If you’ve never read this book, you are missing out! It is the story of God’s love for us and how he views us all the time… “He is the potter, I am the clay”… and in this book, God is Eli the Carpenter. He doesn’t see the mistakes and all the things we see. He sees us for who we are, who we can be, and He loves us. When we begin to see ourselves through His eyes, the views and thoughts of others no longer take precedence. I loved this book so much that I even used it in my speech class for one of my projects in high school- I got an A+, my teacher loved it!
My dad was also wonderful when it came to playing the role of Santa. Erik, Emily and I, would leave cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots of course for the reindeer. We would go to our bedrooms so excited for Christmas morning, many times having a hard time going to sleep because of all the excitement (and maybe the sweets). But we would somehow go to sleep, ready for fun in the morning. We’d wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning and want our parents to be up and start Christmas. As we’ve grown, we have definitely pushed the time back on Christmas morning. Well, all of us except my sister, Emily! She would still (up til this last year) wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning wanting us to all be ready to come downstairs and celebrate. Emily graduated college a couple years ago… she’s in her 20’s, yet still has that child-like heart for Christmas! Not gonna lie… it was not as cute as it was when she was 4 or 5, pulling us out of bed. Anyway, when we awoke and raced out to the living room, we would see that “Santa” had come! He had eaten the cookies, drank the milk and had taken the carrots outside for the reindeer to eat. And in case that wasn’t enough – there would be soot coming into the main room from the fireplace to make it look like Santa had visited. My dad was pretty cool!
We opened presents on Christmas morning and would all sit around the Christmas tree, many times on the floor in our pj’s. We would go around and open presents, one at a time… we’ve always done it like that and I love it! I love getting to watch my family unwrap gifts and see the looks on their faces when they get something they’ve wanted or really like. Another favorite of mine is all the food we got to eat on Christmas day and morning. My mom has made this “breakfast pizza” every year for Christmas morning since forever… I don’t remember a time not having it on Christmas. It is so good! Be on the lookout for some of these recipes. I will be sharing them in January to help sweeten up the month a bit.
I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane- What are some things your family does for the holidays? Leave your answers in the comments! I would love to learn more about you!
Don’t forget to check back here in January for some of the recipes!!!
Thanks so much for stopping by! Merry almost Christmas~! Erin Ruscel