20 Essentials For The Season

When I asked my co-workers for their favorite holiday traditions, my e-mail in-box filled up faster than Rudolph after an extra-grande mochaccino. Sure, we all know that these are the kind of things we really want to do during this hectic time of year, but somehow it’s always suddenly January 15 when we realized that we didn’t send a card to a favorite uncle or didn’t call our best friend in another state. So before December gets away from you and the to-do list stretches to the floor with items that don’t really matter, put these 20 things at the top of your list. Right now. Your holiday season will be less stressful, cheaper, and—best of all—more memorable if you do.

!. Get Fresh With Your Tree

“We still buy a fresh tree every Christmas. My husband, Steve, has tried to talk me into an artificial tree for years. Yes, it’s a lot less work, but I think that would be giving up something that’s always been an important part of our holiday. Sure, you can have an artificial tree, then light pine candles or spray the air with eau de Christmas, but there’s nothing like the real thing.”

—Claudia O’Brien, contributing writer

2. Embrace The Cold

 “My whole family loves the cold weather. You would think we won the lottery when the weather announcer talks about a Canadian cold front that’s coming our way. So what do we do? We love to go for brisk evening walks when it’s cold. Sure, my ears get cold and I might even shiver once or twice, but the air smells and feels so good that it’s well worth it. Another way we embrace the cold weather is by sleeping with our windows cracked open and adding an extra blanket to the bed to snuggle in for the night. I rarely—and I mean rarely—turn the heat on in our house.”

—Karin Fabry, associate editor

3. Watch A Yuletide Classic

“My husband, Tony, and I watch Jimmy Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life. This year, I must remember to replace my well-worn VHS tape with a DVD version. I never get tired of this movie, and seeing it always reminds me to be thankful.”

—Mary Ann DeSantis, associate editor

“Go see a holiday production like The Nutcracker or The Gospel According to Scrooge.”

—Suzanne Shuffitt, contributing writer

“We invite our family over to view White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. We serve hot chocolate and watch it and cry, remembering times past and those family members we’ve lost.”

—Amy Mangan, associate editor

4. Trim The Tree—Differently

“I buy an ornament each year for every member of my family to commemorate the previous 12 months. Last year, my daughter was really into gymnastics, so I bought her a gymnast on a balance beam and had her name and the year written on it.”

—Cara Newby, Lake & Sumter Style sales director

“We put all the handmade ornaments from our kids on the tree every year. Mike and I are fortunate to have the old ornaments from our childhoods as well. It’s a very eclectic mix, but I love it.”

—Beth Miller, account executive

“Each year, for over 60 years, my mom has had the honor of placing her ‘special’ ornament on the tree. This ornament was purchased by my grandmother and is carefully removed from its special packaging each year to be placed front and center on the tree. The holidays are not complete in my house until that happens.”

—Sharon Morgan, account executive/distribution manager

5. Stuff The Stockings

“Even though our kids are in their thirties with kids of their own, I still make Christmas stockings for them each year. They’re filled with little delights—favorite candies, tickets to an upcoming concert, or a small framed photo of a special family occasion during the past year. It’s always a challenge to find items that will fit the confined space, but for my daughter, Joanie, this continuing ritual is one of the very best parts of Christmas. It’s not the dollar value of what’s inside, but the unexpectedness of the items I find all year long from our travels.”

—Claudia O’Brien, contributing writer

6. Take Time For Charity

“Volunteer at a soup kitchen and bring the kids to show them the spirit of giving and how blessed they are.”

—Roseann, contributing writer

“We pick a different charity each year to let our children know how fortunate we are. Our kids can’t believe some people can’t get gifts for their children or even have a Christmas dinner without the help of others.”

—Vicki Baker, senior account executive

“I always pick a couple of names from my church’s list of needy community children and buy them fun Christmas goodies. I wrap and drop the bright packages off at the church—they handle delivery.”

—Cynthia McFarland, contributing writer

“My daughter, Allyson, chooses a toy for the Toys For Tots drive. She really enjoys picking out something for a local girl her same age, with her same interests.”

—Dean Blinkhorn, editor-in-chief

7. Read A Good Holiday Book

Christmas Stories from Mississippi includes writings by my favorites, Eudora Welty and Willie Morris, as well as other well-known writers. A dear friend gave me this book so I’d remember my home state and its rich writing traditions. The beautiful watercolor illustrations by Wyatt Waters, another fellow Mississippian, make this the perfect holiday coffee table book, which is probably one of the first things I set out for the holiday season.”

—Mary Ann DeSantis, associate editor

“I put some soft music on, sit on one of the kids’ beds with them on either side of me, and read The Littlest Angel. If you haven’t read that story, it’s about an angel, about the age of 4 or 5, who doesn’t seem to have it together in heaven. You should read that story with your children.”

—Kim Gaucher-Vogt, graphic artist

8. Make Baking A family Affair

“My mom and I always bake holiday cookies about two weeks before Christmas. We spend the day listening to holiday music, going through cookbooks, and generally making a mess of the kitchen. Then the cookies are separated and put on trays for our holiday get-togethers.”

—Karin Fabry, associate editor

“Start baking 30 to 40 mini-loaves of pumpkin and banana bread early, put in the freezer and have available for teachers’ assistants, cashiers, and favorite servers.”

—Roseann, contributing writer

“My mom’s special cinnamon roll recipe has been passed down to me and I have the honor of making them for the Christmas morning meal. Of course, they’re all gone within minutes!”

—Sharon Morgan, account executive/distribution manager

9. Recognize The Meaning Of The Season

“Count your blessings and be thankful for what you already have, not what you want.”

—Kevin Christian, contributing writer

“Family time is always important, especially during this time of the year. If we can’t make it on Christmas, we pick a day when we can all get together. Remembering the reason for the season is what’s most important about Christmas to our family.”

—Vicki Baker, senior account executive

“From the time I was a small child, I’ve always enjoyed sitting in a totally darkened room with all the lights off, except for those on the tree. It’s a magic time that I enjoy alone, surrounded by the quiet sights and smells of Christmas. Some other people might want to add Christmas music on the sound system, but I resist that. It’s distracting from the lights and the wonderful bouquet of the fresh Christmas tree.”

—Claudia O’Brien, contributing writer

10. Make Shopping An Event

“The day after Thanksgiving is always a memorable journey for my sister and me. Jenny picks me up at 4:00am, which allows enough time to inhale three cups of coffee, and get to Target—or whichever store has the most freebies. We stand in line for an hour or so, shivering, only to find that once we get inside we are the 102nd in line for the free gift that goes to the first 100 customers. Oh, well! It’s tradition.”

—Cynthia Brown, production manager

“My sister-in-law and I have always taken one early morning when she and her family visit to hit the stores for all the sales, optimistically hoping to get an early jump on our holiday shopping. After a stealthy exit from the still-dark house and a quick breakfast at the nearest place that’s open, we hit Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart before landing—along with everyone else—at the mall. By then, we’re usually too tired to trek all the way to the other end and return to the car instead with only half the list completed. We have so much fun, though; I don’t think we’d do it any other way.”

—Dean Blinkhorn, editor-in-chief

11. Picture It!

“We do a family photo each year, but it’s never been by a professional. It’s usually Mark, Kate, Sarah, and I doing something as a family, like a hiking trip or going to the beach.”

—Suzanne Shuffitt, contributing writer

“I add framed photos from previous seasons into my decorations. They include celebrations from recent years with our grandsons, but there are also ones of our own kids and their cousins when they were little. The photos bring us lots of nice memories of Christmases past.”

—Claudia O’Brien, contributing writer

12. Decorate Distinctively

“This tradition actually continues throughout the year. I try to buy an ornament from each place I visit instead of a souvenir. Tony and I reminisce about each trip when we decorate our tree.”

—Mary Ann DeSantis, associate editor

“Every year since we’ve been married, the first item we get out of the Christmas decorations is a beautiful ceramic that our sister-in-law gave us for our first Christmas together. This year will be our 38th Christmas as a married couple, and the tree always stirs up wonderful memories. Bet you’ve got a decoration that does the same thing for you.”

—Leigh Neely, contributing writer

“The last few years, my husband, Larry, has started his own tradition of setting up his childhood train under our tree. I personally think it’s a bit bulky and takes away from the style of my gold-and-silver tree that’s topped with a beautiful porcelain Santa, but he insists. My dogs really enjoy the train, though. They bark at it for hours on end and enjoy knocking it off the track and running with the caboose in their mouths. The holidays create some really funny memories!”

—Cynthia Brown, production manager

“Use your landscape plants—pine needles, pinecones, hollies, and grapevines—to decorate during the holidays.”

—Suzanne Shuffitt, contributing writer

13. Don’t Forget The Fire

“Invite some good friends and load up the outdoor fireplace for fun and warm conversation.”

—Roseann, contributing writer

“We love our fireplaces. First, we cut the wood ourselves and store it in the woodpile all year long. (My husband, Mark, gets a little antsy if the woodpile gets low—like we still live in Kentucky and are gonna freeze to death!) We build a fire and sit in the living room and play cards or board games. Those are the sweetest times—full bellies, cozy surroundings, and a house full of people who love you, warts and all!”

—Suzanne Shuffitt, contributing writer

14. Create A Wrapping Theme

“Every year we decorate our tree in only white lights and gold decorations. Then we wrap all presents in a variety of gold paper and bags. It is truly beautiful and makes that area of the room have a rich, warm glow.”

—Kellie Moore, office manager

“We have a Victorian-themed tree. Each ornament has a special meaning, as it is one that has been specially made or specially purchased. Several years ago, I found a unique ‘jesters’ ornament and the face looked exactly like that of my grandson. That ornament has an extra-special place on the tree.”

—Sharon Morgan, account executive/distribution manager

15. Get Out Of The House

“Our family loves to go to all the neighborhoods to look at all the decorations, a tradition for as long as I can remember.”

—Vicki Baker, senior account executive

“Every Christmas Eve my family goes out to eat. When I was little, my family was poor and we very rarely went out to eat, so it was a really big deal when we did. Dining in at Pizza Hut was our big Christmas Eve celebration. To this day, even though we can now afford a nicer dining establishment, we’ve kept this tradition. This past year as my husband and I got out of our car and were walking into the Pizza Hut to meet my family, a guy was walking in to pick up some pizzas to go and said to Ryan, ‘It’s Christmas Eve—couldn’t you do something a little nicer for her than Pizza Hut?’ He was joking and we laughed, but he had no idea that I don’t remember a Christmas Eve that didn’t include Pizza Hut. So now each year we go and we bless our waitress who has to work on Christmas Eve with a big tip!”

—Kellie Moore, office manager

16. Kick Up The Jams

“Christmas CDs are put in rotation immediately—James Taylor, The Chieftains, and Diana Krall.”

—Amy Mangan, associate editor

“I start my ‘official’ season of holiday music just after Thanksgiving with Ella Fitzgerald’s Wishes You A Swingin’ Christmas CD. It’s like an instant jolt of eggnog in November!”

—Dean Blinkhorn, editor-in-chief

“We play our favorite Christmas CDs—The Ray Conniff Singers, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and SpongeBob Sings The Holidays, our 5-year-old-son Josh’s pick. The rest of the day is spent in our pajamas, watching the Christmas parade, enjoying one another, and being thankful for such a wonderful life, which we usually watch later that day. Life is good!”

—Craig Gillum, regional director of sales

17. Go For Gifts They’ll Remember

“On Christmas Eve, my mom and dad would give my brother and me one gift to open. It would always be a new pair of pajamas to sleep in that night and to wear while opening all of our gifts on Christmas morning. I always looked so forward to that. When I carry on the tradition, I think that I’ll get matching pajamas for the whole family.”

—Kellie Moore, office manager

18. Just Do It

“The day after Thanksgiving, we drag all the holiday decorations
out of the attic and start going through them. I love seeing
items I may have forgotten about or that we bought new the previous year. We officially start decorating that weekend and I always look forward to it. And even if it’s hot outside, we turn on Christmas music.”

—Karin Fabry, associate editor

“The cider-scented broom from Publix goes up by the fireplace first day in October. Non-negotiable by Mike. Also, the Christmas lights and tree are decorated the evening of Thanksgiving. Again, non-negotiable.”

—Amy Mangan, associate editor

“I host a Girls Night Out at my place the last Tuesday in November to make Christmas ornaments, play games, and—of course—eat yummy munchies. I love this because it forces me to decorate my house early and everyone says they look forward to this event as the ‘official’ start of the holiday season.”

—Cynthia McFarland, contributing writer

“Every year, we decorate the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day after lunch is over. We get into the attic and drag everything down and do it all together.”

—Kalena Meyers, account executive

19. Keep In Touch

“A few days before Christmas, I call an aunt who meant a great deal to me growing up. After I grew up and moved away, I didn’t get to see her very often, but I think of her and my cousins, especially around the holidays. We reminisce about the holiday celebrations we used to have when I was a child and about the relatives who are no longer with us. I think I look forward to calling her as much as she looks forward to hearing from me.”

—Mary Ann DeSantis, associate editor

“Make and send your own holiday cards, even if it’s only a few to faraway friends.”

—Kevin Christian, contributing writer

“It’s traditional for my family—including 12 brothers and sisters who reside in five states stretching from Illinois to Alabama—to get together at Christmas time. We’ve grown to the point where up to 60 of us converge on the family ranch in Aliceville, Alabama, for three days of fantastic food and storytelling, many of which have been repeated dozens of times and embellished over the years.”

—Teresa Salmon, account executive

20. Share Your Christmas

“Go with a friend to their church for Christmas Eve services.”

—Buddy Martin, contributing writer

Art Director Trevor Byrne has an unusual take on holiday traditions. Here’s what the Christmas checklist in his home looks like:

His wife, Dawn, asks for one of those lawn reindeers made out of grape vines that light up and have moving heads. Trevor says, “Sure, as soon as they go on sale.”

By November 1, all stores are sold out of the lawn reindeer. Maybe next year?

On December 1, sometime around the crack of 11am, Trevor drags the fake, pre-lit Christmas tree out of attic.

Fifteen minutes later, the “tree” is completely assembled. Trevor plugs it in and proudly watches it as he sets it to “rotate” mode. No mistaking this tree for real.

A week later, the tree is still not decorated. But it does rotate. And it has lights. Dawn finally concedes that the “tree” will only get decorated if she does it herself. She hangs the ornaments on the plastic branches while Trevor is working late one night.

By December 22, Trevor shops online for everyone on his gift list that Dawn hasn’t already checked off (i.e. Dawn). He reluctantly pays for next-day shipping and gift wrapping.

On Christmas Eve, at the crack of 9am, Trevor and Dawn load up the car with the gifts for their annual cross-Florida trek to all the splintered family units—Tampa, Dunnellon, and Ocala—careful not to spend more than two hours of “quality time” at each location for fear of getting behind schedule.

On Christmas Day, at the crack of noon, Trevor and Dawn wake up and go to Mr. Han’s in Gainesville for the traditional Chinese dinner, happy to have survived another joyous holiday.

Trevor would like to add that he did eventually pay full price for a lawn deer.  In fact, two of them now grace his lawn during the holidays. And his tree still rotates.

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