There’s nothing better than a checklist to keep you organized. Am I right? It feels so good to check things off as you go, and feel like you really accomplished something. Is it normal to go so far as to write things down after you get it done, just to check the box? I mean, I’m just asking for a friend.

At any rate, the holidays get so busy, from Thanksgiving meal preparation to New Year’s Eve plans of staying up to ring in the New Year, so I thought I’d get your personal list going by giving you my top 12. We’d love to hear what you’d add to your family’s list!

1. Talk about everything you’re thankful for.

Thanksgiving is such a good reminder that even if it hasn’t been our “best year ever,” it’s still nice to reflect on everything we do have, things that have gone right, things we look forward to in the coming year, opportunities we have etc. It always replays in my head, what if we only have tomorrow, what we give thanks for today? I love the spirit of children and how they just say it how it is. One of my favorite things my daughter used to end her prayer with every time was, “Thank you for Elsa and Ana.” Although these are the characters to a beloved, gripping Disney movie about sisters working to save their kingdom, I never could get over how innocent her list was, and how actually appropriate it is to give thanks for even such tiny things as this. She also consistently prays for patience in all of her prayers, which is good, especially due to the fact with lists like she has, you’ll pray for that patience to come immediately.

2. Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
In the recent years, we’ve done Jolly Holiday Lights too…which is amazing and supports a wonderful cause! Unless, however, your almost one year old is screaming her head off the entire time and you’re trapped between a car in front of you and a car behind you moving at the pace of a turtle running through peanut butter! Those nights are better suited for a drive around different neighborhoods looking for the amazing people who decorate their homes like Clark Griswold. Actually, my four-year-old loves spotting the ones that even just change out their light bulbs on their front steps. I’d say, make time for both options. Every year you’ll leave in aw of the Jolly Holiday Lights while supporting Make a Wish, then take time to scoop the loop on your way home from getting groceries one night. It’s worth it. We’re easy to please and we love our sparkly lights at holiday time!

3. Have a family baking day.

I love to make the old family favorites, or those staple goodies I grew up with. For me, I try to make the ones that were my favorite to eat, especially if they tie back into our German heritage. But actually, we just always assumed they were a German recipe, when looking into it now, they may not be…but hey, I’m going with it. And why is it, they never taste as good as you remember your grandma’s or your mom’s tasting?
I also like to try a few new recipes from other families or friends. This year, I’m taking a recipe from a friend who said her grandma made it growing up. It HAS to be good, then right? Slightly (okay, who am I kidding, VERY) intimidating as it requires a candy thermometer. Say what?! Guess I’ll be borrowing one of those!

4.Listen to Christmas Music.
My Spotify is currently playing Christmas Pop which includes Penatonix and Mariah Carey. No one can deny how good their holiday songs are can they? If a good Christmas tune doesn’t make you want to get up and dance like you’re a kid full of pixie stick again, then I’m not sure we can agree on this one.

5. Try a new side dish for the holiday meals.

So, I believe in “everything in moderation” and you’ll see later, I still definitely believe in having some goodies too (I mean, why else would you do cardio?) But I’m definitely the person that likes to sneak a healthy option or at least a nutrient packed option into the meal. And maybe I shouldn’t be calling it an option when my kids (including my husband) are forced into having it? Whether it’s hiding butternut squash in a cheese sauce, or doing roasted brussels sprouts or a broccoli and cauliflower casserole, I like to feel a little less guilty by getting some of those veggies in. Somehow, it makes me feel like I’m balancing out the cup of gravy I’ll be adding to my turkey.

6. Make a cocoa bar.

Usually, this follows one of the Christmas programs at church where our parents travel from miles away to come and watch their grandchild sing two minutes worth of songs. Such a cool night, so I love to invite them over after the “concert” and have maybe a cheese board and the cocoa bar. I like letting the cocoa steep in the crock pot while we’re at the program, so it’s nice and hot and the aroma fills the house by the time we get home. My favorite recipe includes chili powder and cinnamon sticks in it for a little kick and it smells so good. 
Of course, we have the staple marshmallows to put in, along with chocolate dipped wooden spoons so the extra chocolate melts off as you stir it in. You can add crushed peppermint sticks or shavings of your favorite candy bars, maybe hang a candy cane as garnish, drizzle some caramel sauce or maybe some whipped cream and sprinkles (in our house, everything is better with sprinkles)! Stick a chocolate dipped pretzel in to finish it off and you’ve just made the ultimate cup of cocoa. I mean hey, you went to the Campus that morning anyway, right!

7. Take a staple holiday photo.

Whether it’s with your fur babies, your whole family, used for a Christmas card, or just a funny selfie to post on Social Media, it’s fun to get in the get in the holiday spirit and come up with something different. 

8. Make crafts with the kids.

Sometimes this just means fancying up the wrapping paper with extra bows, tags, and special drawings, but sometimes it’s making homemade ornaments or putting handprints on an apron for gifts, or making a new wreath for the door. This year, we’re making homemade ornaments with our nieces and nephews on our annual baking day. All it requires is glue, flour, salt, paint, and of course glitter. Ah glitter. I’ve loved it my whole life, so it’s no surprise my girls love it just as much (especially my four-year-old). However, my husband feels differently about this craft product. He used to say it’s like a fungus (well, he referenced something a little less appropriate for this article, but the reason is the same)…no matter what you do, it just keeps coming back. He grew up with one brother, so apparently glitter wasn’t used often in their household. Therefore, finding glitter in his beard, or in a crack on the kitchen table does not thrill him to say the least.
Back to the ornaments though, not only does this create a fun afternoon of crafting, it also makes for the perfect gifts for grandparents.

9. Gift Shopping.

I try to start early to spread out the cost over a few months. We all know how much it adds up even if we do small gifts.  I don’t think gift giving needs to be extravagant, but I do think it makes people feel so special when you find something or make something tailored to them so I love to do it. *Click HERE for a 2018 fitness gift guide by Kaitlyn Moorhead which may help spark up a fresh, new idea or two that even tailors towards health and wellness. Then, see if you can find something similar locally!
Who do you all shop for? I keep a running list throughout the year, to try and not forget anyone. From extended family gift exchanges, to co-workers, Sunday School teachers, babysitters, and of course immediate family, it’s good to plan ahead when possible.
For the girls, we like to do “Want, Need, Wear, Read” and try to keep it to one item in each of those categories. I will say, the last couple years, I’ve added one more category because I have a problem. “Stuffed.” I mean come on, stuffed animals these days are the cutest stinkin’ things in the world and I don’t feel like it’s spoiling them too terribly much to throw that in there.

I may regret it sooner rather than later though. The other morning, coming home from working out, I peeked into my four-year-old’s room, saw she was still asleep to proceeded to go get myself ready. Who, to my surprise was actually NOT sleeping in her bed as I swore I just saw, but was waiting for me quietly in my bathroom? Yes, who knew a groggy toddler could be so scary? Turns out, the little blonde bundle I swore I saw on her pillow was a teddy bear turned over just right.

10. Spending time with family.

I’ll never forget growing up, decorating the Christmas tree while listening to Christmas music. Our favorite was when dad would put the Oakridge Boys Christmas album in his old record player. That thing would play the bass so loud, we could feel it under our feet. Those songs always take me back. Isn’t it weird how songs and scents can transport you to a different time and place?
The youngest of our family was the one who dad would lift up to put the angel on the top of the tree to finish off the decorating. What a magical feeling that night would be. I only hope I can carry on traditions that special for my kids.

11. Watch your favorite Holiday movie.

Are you a “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” person, or maybe the classics of “A Christmas Story,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” or are you a sappy, love story, Hallmark guru?  One of my best friends can watch Elf year ‘round, that’s how much she loves it. I’m more of a Home Alone fan (which as close as I get to a thriller or scary movie these days).

12. Try Something New

Maybe it will catch on and be your new tradition. This year, we’re going to try “The Giving Manager” with the girls. It teaches about acts of kindness and service to others. Each time they do something along those lines, they get to place a piece of straw in the manger. On Christmas day, they hopefully are able to place baby Jesus in the manger full of straw. What a cool way to not only talk about the true meaning of Christmas with your kids, but help them understand how kindness and helping others can be so joyful and rewarding.

So, there you go. What would you change? Do you take a trip to the beach for the holidays? Does your family order pizza for a get together? (That sounds pretty awesome actually.) Are you a fan of EggNog? I mean, I won’t judge you if you are, but I’ve never met a food or drink in the world I would pass by…until I met EggNog.
This exact time of year, back in high school, I’d help a senior gentleman address his Christmas cards a couple times a week after basketball practice. Well, he was a priest in our small town so, which many of you know, means he receives goodies of all sorts from everyone. I mean everyone. Each night I went in, guess what was waiting at the table for me with ginormous assortment of homemade treats. Yes, a nice sized portion of the creamy, thick, “goodness” we call eggnog. Let’s just say I prayed a little harder for him to have to run into the other room on multiple occasions so I could sneak my glass to the kitchen sink and let it disappear little by little. I mean, it would’ve been rude to simply tell him I didn’t care for eggnog, right? Where’s the holiday spirit there?!

Get those boxes checked and enjoy the sweet flavor of victory (maybe eggnog) with each check mark! Just make sure to slow down, and enjoy the process with those you love. You’ll certainly be glad you did.

-Beth Van Ryswyk, November 28, 2018