A Full Plate is a column about family life and the home by contributing writer Laura Fenton, who explores the intersection of sustainable living and home design through a mother’s eyes.
I have a confession: In years past, my family’s holiday celebrations often started with Christmas Eve and ended with Christmas Day. In the rush of juggling work, parenting, and housekeeping, I never had the time to make the holiday spirit last all week, leave alone all month (even present-wrapping was left for the eleventh hour, after everyone had gone to bed). There was a lot more room for joy on my holiday agenda.
This year, with so much time at home, I’ve decided to stretch the season out and sneak a little bit of magic into every single day. This feels especially important because we missed Thanksgiving with family this year. So, I’ve got my joy-making scheme turned towards the month of December—and my fingers crossed that we’ll find a way to safely see our family come Christmas. In the meantime, I’ve dreamed up lots of little, everyday ways to decorate and celebrate with my family of three—you are welcome to steal some for yours. And don’t feel daunted by the long list; just do what you can (my own holiday mantra is going to be “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”).
1. A DIY advent calendar
I ordered a simple wooden advent calendar, and my son and I painted it this past weekend. I picked up candies and a few small treats (including bang snaps, stickers, a LEGO minifigure, and chapstick) to tuck inside, so he’ll have a little treat every day in December until the big day on the 25th.
2. Candlelight every night
We light candles nightly for family dinner—and these past eight months, we’ve never missed a dinner together—but for December, I am doubling down: We’ll have candles on our coffee table and in our bathroom. I love the sweet smell of natural beeswax candles and the cheer that colored tapers bring to the table.
3. Seasonal scents
I find scent to be a powerful way to set a mood, and I plan to fill my home with the smells of holiday baking. For the times when the oven is not on, I will whip up a fragrant simmer pot. I also have my eyes on a citrus-y room spray from Santa Maria Novella whose scents are superb and this evergreen-infused dish soap.
4. Citrus explosion
Speaking of citrus, it may be overkill, but I just placed an order for 32 lbs. of oranges and grapefruits. Piled high in a pretty bowl, citrus fruits do triple duty as décor, tasty snacks for grown-ups and kids, and (fingers crossed) an immune system boost to keep colds at bay.
5. Greens galore
Multiple trees? Why not! That’s what I am planning to do: the main event tree, plus a few tiny evergreens to place around the house, including a little pine for my son’s bedroom. If you want something that will last past Christmastime, a Norfolk Pine or a rosemary trimmed into a tree shape might be the ticket.
6. Nonstop cookies
Last year, Christmas cookie-making was peak working-mom-stress quagmire: The dough I made was too tricky for a four-year-old to work with, and I was unwisely trying to cram the activity in after work and before bedtime. This year, I’m making my first batch of Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving weekend. In 2020, I aim to make all of my mom’s classic recipes and freeze a few from each batch, so that I can be sure my family will have a full platter at the ready come Christmas Eve. I’m also trying some new ones, including these cutout cookies that use buckwheat flour for a welcome spin on the usual sugar cookie.
7. Going nuts
I’m making a huge stash of Gramercy Tavern’s famous bar nut mix to munch on all month long. I’m hoping the taste will transport me back to one of my favorite restaurants that in a normal year I might pop into for a special holiday drinks meet-up with a friend. (Because they’re a little sweet, kids love them too.)
8. Songs to start the day
My new morning ritual: Coffee and Christmas carols. I’ve never been one to own a bunch of holiday albums, but I do enjoy Christmas music—and I love having a way to entertain my son while I’m just waking up. I’m working on a Spotify playlist full of classics like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby to play on repeat (search "Classic Christmas" on Spotify for a similar mix of songs). I’m also always a sucker for Mario Lanza, Elvis, and Pavarotti's holiday albums—total classics!
9. Nostalgic sweaters
I am a big believer in secondhand-everything. This year I’m on the hunt for vintage sweaters for me and my son—not jokey “ugly” sweaters, but one that conjures real nostalgia, like a handknit fair isle and a reindeer jumper that looks just like one I had as a child.
10. A new kind of storytime
We’re going to give audio books a try with our son. At five, he finally has the attention span and imagination to listen to stories without pictures (we recently read our first chapter book!). We’ll start with the original recording of Walter Matthau reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I’ve also got How Winston Delivered Christmas and Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas on my list. Truth be told, I’ll probably enjoy them just as much as he will.
11. Old-school crafts
If we break out the craft supplies this month (and with my son home nearly 24/7, this happens a lot), you better believe we’ll be making seasonal crafts. On my list are paper snowflakes, DIY ornaments, and maybe even a homemade gift. Plus, these cardboard ornaments and egg carton trees from one of my favorite crafty Instagram accounts @cardboardfolk.
12. Spreading joy
We’ll also be trying to spread the joy with our neighbors this year. We’ll safely drop off cookies, jars of fancy nuts, and homemade ornaments as gifts. We’ll stick paper snowflakes in the windows where passersby can see them. Plus, we’ll swap Christmas storybooks with friends who have same-age kids.
How are you making the holidays feel special this year? Tell us in the comments below.
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