Sunday, October 24, 2021

Let's talk Christmas!

I'm curious to know how everyone else celebrate Christmas, especially the gifting part. My Christmas here is so vastly different from what I've had in South Africa.

Christmas has always been my absolute favorite holiday. Why? Because it's a time of giving and I'm a big giver. I love to spoil others and put smiles on their faces. It brings me great joy to see how happy someone is with something that I gifted them. I don't care about receiving gifts. I'm far more interested in giving to others. That's what makes me happy. I put a lot of thought and planning into gifts (not just Christmas ones). I like to give gifts that I know the recipient would like or something that they really wanted. I don't have to break the bank to do so. Most of you know about my shopping skills by now. 

Christmas in SA

I come from a large family. My mom had 9 siblings and each sibling had at least 4-5 kids. We spent most of our time with my mom's family. I always used to joke about how much her siblings love each other's company. Then again, my siblings feel the same way. Our family's extremely close. We do most things together. Aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it. We had many traditions that got passed down from one generation to another. We also created many of our own traditions. Our extended family spent ALL holidays together. Doesn't matter if we liked each other at the time or not. We all knew the importance of quality family time.

Christmas in our household was pretty much the same every year. We'd start cooking at least 2 days before Christmas. We had all kinds of meat like roast beef, corned beef, cow tongue (I eat it, but I'm not crazy about it. It's not strange to me, because I grew up eating it), fried chicken and oodles of different salads. Dessert was always trifle and fridge tart (icebox cake). We're in the southern hemisphere, so Christmas is during summer. We'd have long tresle or picnic tables in the backyard to accommodate everyone. 

On Christmas Eve my parents would go to midnight mass. I'd be up until late finishing all the deserts and we'd have Christmas music blaring on the radio. You just didn't do the festive season without Christmas carols. Christmas morning we'd get up bright & early, shower and get dressed in our new Christmas clothes and head to the early church service (our parish had 2 services). We knew that if we went to the first service, we'd be home earlier to open Then everyone would come to my parents house (straight from church) to open gifts (once we had kids, they opened their own gifts at home then come open their other gifts at my parents' house). 

As kids, we only got one gift. It was always a big ticket gift and everyone was happy. We didn't have Christmas stockings. We never knew about it, until I moved here. Once we had kids, I always bought each child 2 gifts. That's just me. I go all out for Christmas, especially for my family. I bought gifts for some of my colleagues who were close friends and for my BFFs. I always got the best gifts for my parents. We are big sports fans and I'd jump through hoops to get my dad original sports jerseys. I once had a customer in the UK who worked at a football (soccer) club. We became friends and I got her to buy my dad an original Man Utd football jersey and had her ship it to me, then I shipped it to him. I spared no expense, because a gift from the heart (one given with love) is always appreciated. Besides, it made my dad happy. You can't put a price on happiness.

I also support different Christmas charities. No child should be without Christmas gifts. That's how I feel. When I do Secret Santa, I make sure to buy kids name brands or high end items that they might not have gotten otherwise. I always choose the teens, because everyone else is just interested in shopping for the little ones. Teens are often forgotten and they're usually the ones who have to try to fit in with their peers. So I make sure to buy them really nice things (I'm the shopping queen after, because we all know how teens like to compete and some people can be cruel to those who aren't as well off as they are. So I try to help those teens 'fit' in, in my own small way. I also buy many extras that's not on their wish list, just because. It's Christmas after all.  My own child gets so much, so why not do the same for those in need? Make them feel loved and special too. This is one way of showing God's love to others. 

Lunch was at noon (that was our set time for Sunday lunches too. We do lunch instead of dinner in SA). After lunch we'd all go to one of my mom's siblings' home for the rest of Christmas day. It was either our house or an aunt/uncle's house (we'd rotate every year). The whole family would get together. The men would bring the liquor and we'd all hang out until the wee hours of the morning (2-3 am). Now you know why we cook so much food. Everyone needs to be fed while we hang out.  I remember my one uncle always showing up at family events with a tote bag. I eventually learned that he was carrying his booze in the Bottles of hard liquor. My family was always game for a party. They still are :)

My aunt's birthday is on Boxing day (day after Christmas for those who don't understand). So we'd all get up early (hangover and all) and head to my uncle/aunt's house for another day or celebrations. This is how my family rolled all festive season long. Everyone would go on vacation together, because everyone was off work for at least 4 weeks (summer break). Businesses closed. Some professional businesses had skeleton staff. At my last job I always chose to work during the holidays. There were so many public (federal) holidays during the break, that I was off more days than I had to be at the office. Also, the day before any holidays, we'd only work half day. I took my leave at other times of the year. We also had many beach days, because we lived right by the ocean. You can get in your car and be at the nearest beach in 10 minutes. We had 2 oceans, so there were lots of beaches to choose from. Fancy restaurants always lined the beach roads, so you could go have your fun in the sun, then hit a restaurant for food and sundowners (early evening drinks). 

My Christmas here is the complete opposite. DH is an only child and we only see his very small family at funerals. So we celebrate all holidays on our own. I can't blame him for his family, but boy do I get mad at him about us having to open Christmas gifts after dinner. Who does that anyway? Sacrilege! It used to be that we had to wait until MIL came over for dinner to open gifts. I still don't understand that part, because she always brought tons of gifts for us and we had gifts for her, so why couldn't we just open our own gifts in the morning & do her gifts when she gets here? Then MIL passed away and we still have to open gifts after dinner. Ugh!! So DS just gets to do his stocking in the morning. I told DH that we're the last people on earth to open gifts, because even the people in Hawaii have already opened theirs. Come on! Christmas day is almost over by then! Where's the fun & excitement for DS? After opening gifts, we take a drive to go look at Christmas displays and then have an early night. We're just a load of fun (snark)

I didn't know about Christmas stockings. I've never had one. I still don't have one. DS went without a stocking the first Christmas. I think it was MIL who asked me about DS's stocking, so I went to the Disney store and bought him a Mickey Mouse stocking. He still uses that stocking. I have to say that the quality is excellent, because it still looks great. I wash that stocking after use every year and it still looks almost new. 

DS has never really cared for the stocking contents. Probably because I don't really know what goes in a stocking. So I've started adding just one big gift to the stocking for him. He loves this. I also saw how overwhelmed he was by the amount of gifts on our first Christmas here. DH's 2 aunts and 3 of his cousins all gave DS gifts. Then MIL came with a truckload (DS is the only grandchild) and add in our gifts. So I started switching things up for him. I saved most of our gifts (yep, 'm guilty of  buying him a lot too) and every night from Christmas until New Year, I'd place a new gift under the tree for him. And yes, I do allow him to open it the minute he gets He loves it! It's like having Christmas for a whole week. I sure wouldn't mind celebrating Christmas for a week :)  No, it has nothing to do with Kwanzaa. In fact, I've never heard of Kwanzaa until I moved here. I still don't know what it is. I think it's a West African thing. I'm South African and none of the southern African countries know of Kwanzaa (as far as I know).

I don't even think DH owns a stocking. I've never seen one. We just give each other some gift cards and a few small things to put under the tree every year. I still cook and bake as if I'm feeding an army for Christmas. I can't unlearn it. We eat leftovers until we get tired of it, then freeze the rest. I do make our traditional desserts. I must have trifle and of course we must have Christmas crackers. DH doesn't really care for the crackers, but it's traditional for us. We wear our crepe hats from the crackers too. I'ts just fun.

I would've loved to have started our own traditions, but that sadly didn't happen. I'm big on holidays. I want it to be a fun, memorable event. I'd be fixing big Christmas breakfasts, make cocktails, play some games etc. It's a holiday after all. We ought to enjoy it. If it was up to me, I'd say let's book tickets to go have a month of fun in the sun with my family. I know that DS would love it, but DH wouldn't want to go. Heck, I'd be packing my our bags a whole month in 

This is why I always send my family gifts too (okay, I just like to spoil I know that they're always excited and happy to receive gifts, especially the kids. They don't care if I bought their gifts at 90% off, because they know it's going to be a nice item(s). My oldest brother and his kids are just as much fashionistas as I am, so they like it when I send them new clothes. They'd be shocked to see me dressed down (sweats, jeans, tees) here, because I used to look like a million bucks just to go buy a loaf of bread at the store back home. Everything on me had to look perfect. They know I always send them cool things. I like to buy brands that they don't have there or cost a fortune there,  like Victorias Secret, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, WHBM etc. I remember one year I sent my nephews each a few Ralph Lauren t-shirts. They didn't know the brand at the time, but a year or 2 later, it debuted in SA. Guess who were the coolest dudes in their Not to mention it was a lot more expensive than it is here. 

Every year I send my uncle (my mom's only sibling who's still alive) and aunt a bouquet of flowers and chocolates for Christmas. They love it. I don't think anyone else gives them gifts (besides their kids), so I make sure that they know we still love them, despite being thousands of miles away. My cousin in NY never sends the family anything. They're just cheap that way and the family hates it. My mom's family is very generous. We're always there to help each other. 

So my questions are:

  • How do you celebrate Christmas? 
  • Do you have family traditions? 
  • Do you & your spouse exchange gifts?
  • Do you have a Christmas stocking?
  • What do you fill your spouse and children's stockings with? 

I'd like to learn how others here celebrate Christmas - even those in other countries too. 


  1. Yes,
    I do celebrate Christmas. One tradition in particular we started was a Dutch shoe left outside the door on Christmas Eve afternoon. Before bedtime, each of the two children could go see what Kris Kringle left them. On Christmas morning, Santa left the bigger gifts. Only a small toy was put it the wooden shoes. Ex was Dutch but American. Ex was cheap and stingy, so I got little. Now, Tommy and I do exchange gifts. I filled my children's stockings with what I got as a child--oranges, apples, nuts and maybe a tiny present. We had apples and oranges all the time, but on Christmas Santa gave us the biggest, reddest apples ever seen and huge, orange and juicy oranges. I think maybe that was a throwback to the Depression era. I only put little toys or such in my children's stockings.

    We had blow molds we put under the tree and special ornaments.

    Yes, we do have Christmas stockings, but nothing is ever put into mine.

    1. That is very interesting. I have a Dutch heritage, but I've never heard of the wooden shoe (klompe as it's called aka clogs) tradition. I have to google that. I wonder why we don't have that tradition in SA, when we have such a strong Dutch influence.

      Aww, if I lived closer to you Linda, I'd gladly fill your stocking with all kinds of special treats. I love that you & Tommy exchange gifts.

    2. It's actually still a tradition. I googled it. I wonder why we the Dutch never continued that tradition in South Africa.

    3. The Dutch tradition is December 5. The wooden shoe is placed in the window so Sinterklaas didn't have to come into the house. If a child was 'bad' she/he got a piece of coal. If a child was 'good' she/he got an orange. An orange was a HUGE deal. They were very expensive in the Netherlands in December and a sign of wealth. We immigrated and became Americans and this tradition stopped. In our Dutch heritage church, after the Christmas program we kids got a paper bag filled with nuts in shells, a few pieces of hard candy and an orange!

    4. Thank you Elle! I googled it after Linda mentioned it and it was really fascinating. I'm still baffled as to why we never had this tradition since we have a Dutch heritage. It's possible that we did have it, but it died out when we were under British reign (South Africa is still part of the British commonwealth). We definitely have many British traditions that we still use.

      I would love to get my hands on an original pair of klompen. I might have to stay over in Amsterdam next time I visit CT. I usually fly via Amsterdam, so it would be easy to just book my ticket to return home a few days later to I can explore Holland.

  2. We have takeout Chinese on Christmas Eve. It was a tradition started by my parents. We used to all go to their house for Christmas Eve and continued it until Mom's last Christmas when we moved it to my house because she was confused and overwhelmed by then. We usually go to church either before or after the meal, but Covid changed all that so. . . Not sure if we will go this year or not, since we are still streaming our Sunday services. Before we go to bed I fill the stockings, put out trays of delicious things, then set the table for the next morning.
    Christmas morning we get up, put on Christmas music, have coffee and open presents. (this happens with or without any of our sons and Dil's here) As soon as the presents are opened I begin cooking our mostly traditional Christmas brunch. We always have the Christmas casserole (egg based honed after years and years or trials and additions) either green beans or steamed asparagus with hollandaise, ham and either turkey or goose, fresh fruit compote, cheese grits (it's a southern thing). There is either a salad or a tray of raw julienned sliced veggies, rolls, coffee, tea, or if anyone wants, a mimosa. In addition to the food the buffet is filled with Christmas goodies: cookies, praline fudge, chocolate fudge, cheesecake (usually bite size) rum brownies, and whatever else suits my fancy. I also overcook but it is one day a year, so why not.
    My sister and BIL come over and we begin round two of gift openings. Afterward we eat, talk, laugh, talk about Christmas past and remember Mom and Dad. They leave with a plate of food to take to BIL's mom, then after a quick clean up, we hit the couches in the den for a nap.
    TheHub and I give each other token gifts. Usually w have about 10 presents for each other, but they are small utilitarian things.
    Not only do I have a stocking, I have the stocking Mom knitted for me when I was a baby. TheHub, my sister, my BIL, my sons and my granddaughter all have the same stocking. I am a crappy knitter, but at some time I will have stocking for all the DIL's made. I do have Mom and Dad's stockings (same pattern) and if I can find someone to rework the names, I will only have to get one made.
    Every year each stocking get a chapstick, shaving cream (guys) Body lotion (gals), small box of a favorite candy, socks, gift card, and other odds and ends pertaining to each person. i.e. guitar picks, trombone slide oil, 3 ink color ball point pen, deck of cards, etc.
    After a nap we usually watch a movie, or play a game and just hang out until a late dinner. Always the same, tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. More Christmas movies, then bed.

    1. Anne, I sure wish that I could stop by your house for Christmas. You sound a bit like me. I love entertaining, so there's always lots of food & drink for everyone.

      I absolutely love that you still use the stocking your mom made. That really touched me, because I'm a very sentimental person. I still use the same terry robe my dad bought me about 25 years ago. It was my first terry robe and I refuse to get rid of it, even though it's starting to get small holes. It's the nostalgia that gets to me.

      Please do share your rum brownies recipe. I'd love to try some. Thank you for sharing the stocking gifts ideas.

    2. This is identical to the recipe I use every year, but you can also us a brownie mix if you prefer.
      The minute they come out of the microwave (or oven if using a mix) I sprinkle about 1/4 cup of dark rum over the top of the brownies then let them sit until they are completely cool. I do not use a recipe for the icing because I have been making buttercream for about as long as I remember, and only make enough to ice the brownies. I do reduce the cream and replace it with about a tablespoon of dark rum. Then I put it in an icing bag and pipe the icing over the brownies. I use the star tip, but any tip you wanted to use would work. When it is finished it looks like rows of smushed stars. I generally dust them lightly with cocoa powder then they are ready to cut and enjoy.

    3. Thanks so much Anne! This sounds delicious. I'm just here for the No worries. I know how to make icing. Now I just need to figure out a good dark rum brand. I know rum, but we used different brands back home. I can't wait to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  3. We have always opened our presents on Christmas morning once our parents woke up. Before that we were allowed to get our stockings and see what was inside them. These days I still make a stocking for Bailey and include items like fingernail polish, Emory boards, stamps, a nice pen, candy, face mask, erasers, just little stuff like that. When I was growing up they included an orange and apple with some nuts because they used to be hard to come by. But through the years they became easier to get so that tradition went to the way side.

    1. Belinda, you are the 2nd person to mention the fruit, so I have to research that a little further. I do enjoy American history.

      I love that you still fill a stocking for Bailey. I sure wish that someone would fill a stocking for me. Thank you for sharing your experience and the stocking filler ideas.

  4. We observe Advent with a passion, with the candles and Advent Calendars. ..not just chocolate ones, the ones we have are made out of things like toilet paper tubes or lunch bags. Each morning there is a token item in them, like a new pen, pack of gum or comb. The cooking/baking begins in earnest in this period. The house is decorated after Thanksgiving cleanup is complete, and the real tree is purchased either that Friday or Saturday. (It used to be 10 days before Christmas, but by that point the selection was grim.) No presents are put under the tree until Christmas Eve after everyone goes to bed. The kids' stockings get put on the foot of their bed, so they can go through those in the privacy of their bedrooms the instant they wake. Gifts are opened later--and as the kids get older, it's later and later! We have mimosas, smoked salmon on bagels, and open gifts. After cleanup, I get to work cooking the meal, which is usually a beef roast. The dinner, like present opening, happens later and later as the kids get older. The period between Christmas and New Year's is spent preparing for the next year. I take the tree out usually by the 27th, and do what I call a "striking of the house" so I can go to a new year with a clean slate!

    1. Meg B, I'm passionate about advent too, but for religious reasons. I love that you have a homemade Advent calendar. That makes it so much more special.

      Hanging the stockings at the foot of the kids' beds are genius! I never thought of that. Thank you for sharing your traditions.

  5. We were an pen in the evening family growing up with stockings and a Santa present in the morning. But Hubs was a open in the morning so that is how we raised our kids. Christmas in Sweden is about food! I mean like 36 kinds of cookies, and a huge meal after mid night mass. I still do about 15 kinds of traditional Swedish Christmas cookies and we have a huge seafood dinner Christmas eve, Christmas day is about the young kids and stockings and Santa claus and leftovers.

    1. DH's grandmother was Swedish, so I'm surprised that their family never continued their Swedish traditions.

      Girl, I have seen all those cookies you bake. I thought I baked a lot, until I saw your posts last year. You give me a run for my

      I love how you always cook for the family & have your get togethers. That reminds me of home.

  6. While growing up, my parents let me open one present Christmas Eve. Then in the morning I would get a stocking (it always had an apple in the toe) and gifts from Santa.

    When my kids were growing up, we pretty much did the same thing. Open one present on Christmas Eve, and the rest on Christmas morning. Then we would visit my mom's house and my mother in law's house to eat and open more presents. It was a lot for one day lol.

    As my children became adults, I decided to celebrate Christmas the weekend before. I would cook for 15 to 20 people, others would bring food too. This would allow me to enjoy my family for a day and then they could meet up with their spouses families on Christmas DAy. It was great. Then my husband and I would enjoy a quiet Christmas at home with just us.

    Now, as my kids kids have kids it is more of a challenge to get everyone together on a designated day. Some times my daughter in laws will plan a week in advace to accomodate their grown kids, so we go to those gatherings.

    I will bake cookies with my grandkids. I will also have lefse shipped in, my mom was Norwegian and we use to have it at Christmas. I have no clue how to make it, my mom really never embraced the cooking part of her heritage lol.

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas memories. It was fascinating to read.

    1. Your Christmas sounds like a fun time Lisa! I love that you buy imported traditional food. I do the same thing. Well, I mainly buy the ingredients here and make my own.

      Lefse sounds like a roti (Indian flat bread/tortilla) that we eat, but with potato. I can't make rotis, but mine aren't the best. I tried store bought ones and it was horrible.

  7. Lol the opening gifts in the evening. I soon changed Harvey's mind about that. Only right to open them in the morning after Santa has arrived.

    We go to Midnight Mass and so gifts can be opened early, or they used to be opened early in the morning. Now the sons like to annoy me by sleeping until I get restless and tap on their doors.

    We have our usual turkey meal, and dessert is usually whatever I have made to celebrate the season.

    Then we usually have a get together with Harvey's family in the evening. Not many are around but it is nice to visit for a bit.

    My birthday is the 29th of the month and since both of our sons are usually gone by then I get to open another set of gifts Christmas day.

    God bless.

    1. I agree Jackie! Gifts should be opened in the morning. Lol on the boys sleeping late.

      I love that you get to celebrate your birthday while the family's all together. That makes it so much more special.

  8. We've adapted our traditions a bit, after we moved to California, and now travel to see my family.

    We open our family gifts (gifts to the kids) before we leave for Portland. We also take down the tree before we leave, because nothing is more depressing than coming back from the holidays & seeing the tree still up.

    I make a cardamom bread, and bring it on the plane. It's a family tradition. On Christmas Eve day, my dad usually takes the kids to deliver Christmas cookies to friends & neighbors, then on a bike ride. My mom & sister & I prep food & drinks, & then an uncle comes over to celebrate. The kids open the gift from my uncle that evening. Everything else is saved until Christmas morning.

    We've done stockings before, but found them very hard to buy for, and typically not things anyone really enjoyed (minus the candy, for the kids ;-). We only exchange gifts with the kids (no adult gifts) & wake up early, open gifts, drink mimosas & then have brunch. We have a casual evening meal (soups, salads & play games).

    We always then get together again a few days later, to keep the celebration going. It's typically been at our vacation house, but we've sold that, so we're going to Bend this year. We rented a house, and hope to ski. My parents, sister & nephews will join us as well.

    We give gifts, but our primary focus is on time together. We also try to give - both sponsoring a family, helping out my disabled aunt, and also to bigger charities that are fundraising & are important to us.

    1. That is my favorite part of the holidays HP - spending quality time with your loved ones. I'm all about making memories and enjoying our family.

      I would love your cardamom bread recipe please. I typically use cardamom in my Indian dishes like curry, biryani etc. I do make a spice cookie that I grew up with, that contains cardamom.

      I'm a little jealous of the skiing. That's something I've always wanted to do since I was a child. I always used to wish that I lived in a country with snow. Now I do, but DH (who knows how to ski) has never taken me skiing :(

  9. So my questions are:

    How do you celebrate Christmas?
    We go to church on Christmas Eve. (It's just Dh & I at home now) We drive around afterwards looking at the lights on houses. Then we come home for a Soup Supper and watch "It's a Wonderful Life."
    Christmas Day we talk to or FaceTime DS1 & family out of state. DS2's family comes over at some point and we open gifts with them. We usually have either brunch or an Hors d'oeuvre type meal. It's usually an early night since they still have little ones.
    DH & I don't exchange gifts because we get what we want all year.
    I also spend the day texting my sisters, cousins, friends, telling them Merry Christmas and that I love them.

    Do you have family traditions?
    Do you & your spouse exchange gifts?
    Do you have a Christmas stocking?
    What do you fill your spouse and children's stockings with?

  10. The only family traditions I have, are with my family in South Africa.
    Yes, DH & I exchange gifts. We get each other gcs to our favorite stores and then small, silly things to put under the tree.
    No, I've never had a Christmas stocking.
    Only DS has a stocking and he's never been interested in the few things I've placed in it before. He loves video games, so I place a game for his handheld game system and a new toothbrush in his stocking every year. He loves that.

    DS only opens his stocking in the morning and then we have breakfast. Then I clean up the kitchen, facetime with my family abroad, text friends and start cooking dinner. We eat dinner around 3pm, then open gifts and clean up. Then we go for a drive to look at Christmas displays. When we get home, I play a few games with DS, then off to bed. We have a very low key Christmas.

  11. I have to tell you this post was beautiful.I think you have such a kind and generous heart. Your family are blessed to have you.
    Growing up my father was in the Canadian Army and we lived in various places in Canada and in then West Germany. We never ever had Christmas with my relatives as they lived in Newfoundland. Like you, my parents come from huge families (they were Roman Catholic and birth control was frowned upon, lol). I would have loved to have had Christmas with all of them. Christmas involved my sister and I waking my parents at an unholy hour to open gifts but we had to wait for my older brother to get up which seemed like an eternity. After gifts and breakfast we went to church then home for Christmas dinner. It was such fun. We went through our stockings after everything else was opened. My mom always put an apple and an orange in the tow of the stocking. It was a tradition in her family.
    As my husband also grew up in a military family, our experiences with not seeing extended family was similar. We raised our kids with opening gifts on Christmas morning. Gifts were put under the tree after they went to bed (as our parents had done growing up).
    We would get together with my parents, sister's family and my brother on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Sadly, and not to be a downer by any means, Christmas has not been a very joyous event the past 6 years. My son went through a very hellish period of addiction and there was one Christmas the police trespassed him from our home. I took the tree down on December 23rd and we did not celebrate that year. My son was only 16 years old. He has been sober now for almost 3 years (praise God) and last year was a happier Christmas. This year my oldest child is currently in the hospital under the Mental Health Act and we do not know what Christmas will look like. God is faithful though because both my children are alive to celebrate with. There was a time I thought both might not be.
    I am a follower of Christ and ultimately, Christmas is about his birth and so I try to reflect on that.
    Growing up stores were closed.on Boxing day. About 20 years ago they started being allowed to open. Made the mistake of going to the mall on Boxing day in 2002 (will never forget the date, lol) and it was absolute pandemonium. Never, ever again.
    I am a frontline worker in developmental services and this year I work on Christmas. We will open gifts after supper. I agree with you that is sacrilege. Just know you won't be the only person on earth opening gifts at that time :).


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