Dec 16

Celebrating with Family: The Perfect Christmas

HW0_308730The holiday season is often full of family for many people.  In fact, it’s sometimes the only time of the year that you get to see some relatives.  For that reason, having the perfect Christmas is often associated with a huge family celebration.  Everyone gathers at one person’s home to eat great food, share stories, exchange gifts, and bask in the glow of a grandly decorated Christmas tree.  The question of what constitutes a perfect Christmas will be different for everyone, but it almost always centers around family.  Here are a few ways you can celebrate this holiday season with those who mean the most to you.

The first step to having a perfect Christmas is to avoid getting caught up in the holiday rush and stress.  Remember that it’s all about having time with family, not about buying expensive gifts or putting up lavish light displays.  If you have a large family, in fact, you may all agree to not buy gifts for everyone.  Drawing names out of a hat for a gift exchange or playing a Dirty Santa game can be just as fun, and it dramatically cuts down the cost. 

Also remember that it’s not always easy for some family members to travel.  If you have elderly parents or other relatives, consider offering to give them a ride instead of letting them drive.  This is especially important if it has been snowing or if the roads are icy.  One small slip can turn the perfect Christmas into a perfect disaster.  In some cases, you might even want to visit these relatives instead of taking them somewhere.  If they are in ill health or live in an assisted care facility, it might be better for a small number of relatives to take Christmas to them so they don’t get overwhelmed or have to get out in the cold.

Don’t forget the kids, either.  Have some activities for the younger members of the family.  You can set up a television with some Christmas-themed movies in a back bedroom, or you can bring out the board games.  If you have a good amount of snow, you might even suggest that the kids go outside and build a snowman or snow fort.  You might also suggest that parents bring an extra set of clothes for the kids because there’s always the chance that a sudden snowball fight will break out and leave them damp.

Above all, remember to have fun during the holidays and enjoy the time with your family.  Don’t get too caught up in what to buy, and don’t get stressed out.  If you stay relaxed, you’ll find that the perfect Christmas tends to create itself.

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Dec 09

Hanukkah Traditions

HW0_145011Hanukkah, of the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish celebration of their victory over the Syrians in 165 BCE.  In the story, the Jewish people are lead by the Hasmonean family in their quest to remove the Syrians from Israel and in restoring the Temple.  After the Temple was restored, the priests went to light the Temple menorah.  However, they could only find one jug of oil, which would be enough for one day.  Hanukkah, however, lasts for eight days.  Miraculously, the oil lasted for all eight days.

The lighting of the menorah is the most famous tradition of the holiday.  This nine-branched candelabra is lit starting on the 25th day of Kislev, which is calculated using the Hebrew calendar.  It occurs anywhere from late November to late December.  On the first night, only one candle is lit.  On the second, two candles are lit.  On the final day, all eight candles are lit in recognition of the eight miraculous days in the Temple.  Most modern menorahs have a ninth candle, called the shamash.  This “helper” candle is used to light all of the others.

For young children, one of the best Hanukkah traditions is playing with a dreidel.  This little spinning top keeps them occupied for quite some time, especially if they know how to play game associated with the dreidel. 

Another Hanukkah tradition involves the table settings.  Many who celebrate Hanukkah will set one extra place setting on the table.  This extra plate is for any hungry stranger who wanders in to dinner.  While most people won’t have random strangers wandering into their homes during the holidays, this tradition emphases the Jewish focus on sharing and giving to those in need.  One way some families keep the spirit of this tradition alive is by volunteering at a shelter or by making a donation to a local food bank.

Cooking traditional Hanukkah foods like latkes and donuts, is another great activity families can do together.  Children love helping make batter, cut out shapes, and decorating cookies with icing and sprinkles.

Don’t forget decorations.  While Hanukkah doesn’t feature a huge tree like Christmas, you can still find plenty of things to decorate your home with.  Beautiful flowers, homemade candles, and Hanukkah cards from years past can add a great air of festivity about your home.

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Dec 02

Holiday Entertaining

Entertaining family and friends during the holidays is one of the highlights of the season, especially if you don’t get to see some of your guests that often.  Spending a day with those you love, eating great food, and generally enjoying everything the holiday season brings with it is what this part of the year is all about.  But entertaining can sometimes seem like a lot of work.  However, it doesn’t have to be.  Here are some ways you can entertain without spending a lot of money or getting too stressed out.

Don’t do a big, formal dinner.  While some people love cooking a huge meal for their guests, others want something much simpler.  There are a few options here.  You can do a potluck meal where each guest brings a dish, or you can do simple finger foods.  If you have the budget, you can even order a full holiday dinner from some places.  For an afternoon or evening gathering, you could offer drinks and desserts.  Nothing says every holiday gathering must be accompanied with a huge dinner.

HW0_34661You don’t have to go all out on decorating, either.  For your table, think simple: a nice poinsettia arrangement makes a great centerpiece.  If you don’t have a huge Christmas tree, don’t worry about it—everyone decorates in their own way.  One cheap way of adding to your holiday decorations is to pick up pine cones from your yard or a local park.  You can take a large bowl and fill it with pine needles, pine cones, and even a few colorful tree ornaments or candles.  This looks very festive but doesn’t cost much at all.

When it comes to the guest list, remember not to let it get out of hand.  You have a fixed amount of space in your home, so you don’t want to invite so many people that they can’t find a seat.  Remember, though, that it’s not your responsibility to entertain everyone.  It sometimes may feel like it is, especially if you have the largest home out of your friends or family.  The person with the most seating often ends up being the designated host for all events, and this can get overwhelming.  It’s perfectly fine to suggest something like a restaurant outing in place of hosting an event or ask a few family members to come over early to help you prepare food. 

All in all, even though it may be stressful at times, holiday entertaining can be very rewarding.  Spending time with loved ones during the holidays more than makes up for any extra work you have to do.  When all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter what type of food or decorations you have as long as you have a good time and enjoy the company of those around you.

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Dec 01

Village Gardens Blog Debut

Countryside Christmas

Countryside Christmas


Watch for holiday tips!  We’ll post ideas for decorating, entertaining, and gift giving over the next few weeks.

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