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Our Christmas Traditions

Ready or not, Christmas is coming. While some use Advent calendars or readings to help them anticipate and prepare for the celebration of Jesus' birth, at our houses we incorporate other annual traditions to help our families connect. Even though they require some planning, they're worth the effort when we see their reactions each year.

WENDY: The Partain Christmas traditions center around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The main event on the 24th is a steak dinner, and each of the 6 kids and 2 grandkids gets a new pair of pajamas and a Christmas orna-ment. Each year I try to have a theme for the ornaments. They reflect a big event in each person's life that year, or in years past I've chosen a more unique theme, like an animal ornament that reminds me of each person.

One year, I chose movie characters and made them guess which person went with each character. If that kind of creativity intimidates you, do what I did and purchase ornaments with the first letter of their names. The goal is to keep it fun—we laugh a lot!

After everyone has gone to bed, Dave and I put stockings by each person's door. They open these Christmas morning before they come down for the family gift exchange. I always put an orange and a PBJ sandwich in each stocking, along with other fun goodies.

Another activity that I cajole my kids into doing with me is a holdover from when they were little. We make bird seed and peanut butter pinecones for our squirrel and bird friends. We also make some sort of gingerbread house (this year's version, left), and it too is given to the above friends.

On Christmas morning before we open presents, Dave always reads the Christmas story from the Bible. I hide a pickle ornament each year, and there's always a competition, especially among my sons (see above), to determine who will open the first present.The siblings draw names and give each other a gift.

We conclude our family time by going to a movie Christmas night.

SUSIE: We road trip to Pennsylvania each Christmas to be with my husband Nate's family. On the way there, we always pull off at exit 123 to go to Gio's. When we stop for gas on Route 80, Nate parks the van in the absolute farthest parking spot away from the building—every.single.time. You'd think we'd learn, but we're always caught without our coats!

The Cassel traditions center around FOOD and special meals that have been served for generations! There are so many foods to keep track of that Nate's brother Dave (below) has created a spreadsheet to keep track of what we'll eat when!

Everything we eat is steeped in tradition. The oldest one is apple pie (above) and milk, which Grampa had while growing up in the Depression.

When Karl, my oldest and the first grandchild, was a baby, we sat him on Grampa and Granny's green couch and took a picture. Now all the grandkids have to sit on and around the couch in order to get our annual photo!

Back home in Wheaton, the kids always get Christmas jammies, and whatever day we declare "Christmas morning," everyone gathers around the fireplace in them, eats apple pancakes and bacon, and opens stockings and presents. I hide a pickle ornament on the tree each year, and the first person to find it opens the first present (Lars, left, won last year).

We also take a picture of the kids and me lined up in order of height—Last year, I came in last!

My mom used to give each of my kids an ornament that commemorated some big event in their lives. I've taken over her tradition, and each kid has their own container of ornaments that they place on the tree and box up after the season. When they start leaving home, our tree will be pretty bare!

Another big part of our Christmases is baking! Wendy has become sort of famous for cranberry oatmeal cookies, and here's the recipe.


1 C. butter (2 sticks) 1/4 C. white sugar 1 C. brown sugar 2 eggs 1 t. vanilla 1-1/2 C. flour 3 C. oats (OLD-FASHIONED, no substitutions) 1 t. baking soda 1/2 t. salt 4 t. cinnamon 2-1/4 C. dried cranberries (Craisins) Mix the first 5 ingredients and then add the remaining ingredients. Scoop up big balls of dough—a generous golf ball size. Cook at 375 degrees for 11 to 14 mins. Don’t overbake—they should just be turning golden when you take them out of the oven. Mmmmmmmm! So good!

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