It’s Not Christmas Unless . . .

By Kate Riley December 15, 2009

I’ve been making my list, and checking it twice.  Yep, it’s my traditions list.  There are just certain rituals that I cannot escape every single December – in fact, I look forward to them all year. 

It’s just not Christmas in our family unless we . . .

1.  Pay a visit to Santa. 

I refuse to stand in those long lines at department stores or malls and pay money for pictures with Santa.  Honestly, that’s my definition of hell.  I prefer take the kids to the free Santa at the local tree farm.  That’s where I eavesdrop and get a hysterical earful.

Here’s last year’s snapshot. My four year old knew her window was short so she’s wasn’t wasting a second.   The two year old never got a word in. 

santa 2

“Santa, make sure the puppy carrier you bring me has the spotted dog, not the one with the plain brown dog, no I want the spotted puppy in the purple doggie carrier.  Make sure !  And I want the Polly Pockets with the puppies in the orange box.  The orange box, okay?  And I want the Dalmations movie, not the first one with the mean Cruella, the other one.  I want number two.  Number two !  Dalmations number two!  You got that Santa ? 

Oh.  And I think my brother wants a train.” 



2.  Pick the perfect tree from a local farm. 

We make several trips to the local Christmas tree farm because I’ll use any excuse to get out of the house, and they’re just so gosh darn friendly out there.  Fresh air, free candy canes and popcorn, a great petting zoo, that free Santa on the weekends, and plenty of gorgeous trees and garlands to choose from.  Bonus points cause we get to buy local.  Last year, a dozen of us went to pick just one tree and we had a crazy good time.

tree hunt

How cute is my Mom in the red ?


3.  Write a letter to Santa. 

There’s just nothing cuter than an authentic letter written by a true believer.

Exhibit A   

santa letter copy.bmp


4.  Consume eggnog. 

In my morning coffee, in a weekly splurge on a latte from Starbucks or Peets, or even spiked with brandy at a party.  I heart eggnog. 

starbucks latte



5.  Watch our favorite Christmas movies. 

These three I savor every year.  They’re my favorites. 

fav christmas movies

“To my big brother George, the richest man in town!”


Of course, my kids prefer these classics:

kids favorites



6.  Listen to our favorite Christmas music and sing along. 

We love anything by Bing, Frank, Harry, Ella or Michael Bublé.  I never correct the kids when they sing the wrong words.  After all these years of the same old tunes, I prefer their versions. 

“…then one froggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say…”   


7.  Bake cookies with my girls. 

Here are my three favorite cookie recipes from Bon Appétit.

cookie collage

Images: Epicurious

Apricot Orange Shortbread Bars

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes


8.  Use the force, Luke. 

Forcing bulbs is one of the things I look forward to most at Christmastime !  Paper whites and amaryllis always brighten the wintriest day.  Even after the holidays, I simply cannot wait for daffodils and hyacinth in January and February.

blooming paperwhites


9.  Throw a Christmas party for friends and family.  

Last year we had almost a hundred people in our home – I decorated the entire house top to bottom and cooked for all of those guests.  No caterer, no kidding !  I’m still recovering from last year’s party so this year, we’re having a much smaller New Year’s Eve gathering instead. 

There’s been only one year in the last ten years that we’ve skipped our Christmas party, and that was 2006, the winter we were mid construction on our remodel.  In lieu of a party, I sent this sentiment in our holiday card. 


‘Twas the June before Christmas, so I said to my spouse

“The time has come to add on to the house”

The approval of plans meant more space in our home

All we could think was “Brushed nickel, or chrome?”

“Wait a minute” we heard, “You just had a baby,

Don’t take on this project, you’re both certainly crazy.”

“Nonsense” we replied “We both have a brain”

We paid no attention to the claims “You’re insane.”

July was the month that we poured the foundation

Funds paid for concrete, but no Hawaiian vacation.

Choosing cabinets and tile and a new kitchen sink

Include sleepless nights, it all drove us to drink

Through summer and fall as we lived in a rental

We knew they were right, we were certainly mental

Here’s December, our pocketbook and spirits diminished,

We still wonder if ever our house will be finished.

And so this strange year we must say with dismay,

Unfortunately at our house there’s no Christmas soiree

We wish all of you peace, and blessings from above

Merry Christmas to all, and we send all our love.


. . . and my tenth and final tradition . . .

10.  Open gifts on Christmas morning and cook a prime rib feast for dinner. 


What about you ?  What’s your December tradition ?  C’mon and fill in the blank. 

“It’s not Christmas unless . . .”


  1. It’s not Christmas unless…

    1. When we put up our Christmas decorations (the day after Thanksgiving, of course!) we must have hot apple cider in the crockpot (reminder, do NOT let kids sip mine, Rum is not for children:)

    2. It’s not Christmas unless I listen to Christmas music 24/7. Literally. Hubby is already sick and tired of it.

    3. The cat climbs up the Christmas tree, *sigh*

    4. Someone breaks an ornament

    5. We make cookies and there is more dough on the floor than in the cookies (no WONDER they get so thin..)

    6. We watch our favorite movies: Elf, Rudolph, The Santa Claus 3, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

    7. Watching the Childrens Christmas program Christmas Eve with all the kids in their animal costumes

    8. We watch the Yule Log on TV, nuthin like a cracklin fire on TV!

    9. Huby and I sit up until the wee hours of the morning putting together presents.

    10. And of course, seeing the girls’ faces on Christmas morning…

  2. It’s not Christmas until I go food shopping for Christmas dinner. Ever had a deranged woman steal parsnips right out of your cart? I have.

  3. It’s not Chrismtas without the Santa picture! We are on our way one night this week to have it done – we do the long mall line because we don’t have a choice – no free Santas here! My big kids 13 & 11 are not happy about this tradition this year – my 7 year old can’t wait – told them all the year they stop taking Santa pics is the year they stop getting presents under the tree – so hopefully I have many more years of pictures!

  4. It’s not Christmas unless…
    I have baked cookies with my daughter.
    I have driven my family batty with 24/7 Christmas music.
    My girl and I have gone out to dinner with our favorite mother/daughters.
    I string my red and white Christmas lights outside.
    We bake a holiday ham (although your prime rib sounds scrumptious).
    We have attended the annual Christmas program at my mother’s church.

    Love your list Kate…I’d also love to have you share one of your yummy cookie recipes with my readers! Today begins the Holiday Cookie Exchange over at A Fine House!

  5. It’s not Christmas unless…..

    1. We put up our trees the day after Thanksgiving.
    2. My mom, daughter and myself have a bake day: Trash “chex mix, Seven Layer Cookies, Martha Washington Balls, Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Rocky Road Fudge, Pecan Peanut Butter Balls, and Rocky Road Fudge!! YUM
    3. We watch a couple of Christmas movies: Rudolph, Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life
    4. I hit up the Hallmark ornament sale during thier 12 days of Christmas.
    5. My daughter bakes Santa’s favorite cookies ….chocolate chip.

  6. Sadly since our funds are low (thanks economy!) and our son is a mere 20 months old we’ve decided that the only tradition this year are the stockings over the fireplace. I feel awful about it but it’s the sensible decision at this point. Don’t worry about our little one…Grammy found out and will send a truckload of gifts to him to make up for Mama and Daddy’s Scrooge-ness!

    Next year though, when the Thanksgiving deep-fried turkey leftovers are in the fridge, Christmas is fully on!

  7. Question: Is that a Flat Stanley on your tree on top of the van? Hilarious! :) Our Flat Stanley is headed to California from Indiana in January!

  8. LOVED this post, Kate!! :) I have a similar one saved in my drafts folder. :)

    The Christmas tree farm photo is awesome. I love the picture of your cuties on Santa’s lap…it looks like your daughter is ticking off a list on her hands while her brother is thinking, “Is she done yet?”

    Have you ever seen Christmas in Connecticut? It’s an old Christmas movie that will be on TV later this week. I set my DVR to record it. Julia @ Hooked on Houses mentioned it in a post, and it looks like fun…a woman who writes a column on being the perfect homemaker has to host her boss and (I think) a veteran…but she doesn’t really know anything about hostessing or cooking or anything else. I’m excited to see how it is….

    Your poem made me laugh. We’re hosting family on Christmas Eve, but it won’t be huge. I make everyone bring something to share now that I have little ones and can’t get it all done. :s

    Have a great day!!

  9. This is my second Christmas as the Mrs., so we have not developed many die-hard traditions. That is actually our holiday goal this year; to develop traditions that may or may not include children when we have them. So far this year, my traditions consist of:
    1) Watching “The Hoiday” and “Love, Actually”
    2) Buying new decorations for our new house (hopefully I can start a gradual collection)
    3) Relaxed coffee and snuggle on the day of (we did this on Thanksgiving, and we intend to do so on Christmas Day). I suspect this one will have to go once we have children, unless we want to get up at 4:30am to do it!

  10. It’s not Christmas unless:
    1)We put up the tree right after Thanksgiving.
    2)I bake a HUGE amount of cookies. I scaled back to 9 batches this year. Cut out sugar, peanut butter kisses, mini pecan tarts, oatmeal chocolate chip, raspberry chocolate nut bars….
    3)Wrapping lots of presents
    4)Hanging the handmade stockings.
    5)Coming downstairs & still having the child-like amazement at the sight of the presents under the tree.

    We usually have a huge party every year & aren’t having it this year for economic reasons…it definitely has been missed…next year it will be back!

  11. (1) Christmas cookie swap – nothing says Christmas like dozens of scrumptious, fattening cookies!
    (2) Watching my favorite movies – “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Bishops Wife”, “Christmas in Connecticutt”, “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas”.
    (3) Christmas Eve snacks dinner – we make all of the snacky foods that we love but only get at parties like spinach dip, bacon-wrapped sausage (slow cooked with brown sugar), potato skins, sausage balls, and so on. Nothing whatsoever wholesome or good for us but we love it. We have the food out all evening while watching movies (see #2) and playing games
    (4) Christmas Day meal of beef tenderloin, special potatoes, roasted asparagus, homemade rolls and White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake for dessert.

  12. 1) All bundle up and head to the same tree farm my Dad has been going to for over 30 years to pick out and cut down my Family Christmas Tree for my parents house
    2) We have my Mom’s baked French Toast for breakfast on Christmas morning
    3) We have a HUGE open house party at my parents the day after Christmas

  13. There are only two Christmas traditions that I need every year:

    1. Wrapping gifts by the Christmas tree while watching White Christmas (my hands-down favorite Christmas movie of all time).

    2. Christmas morning breakfast with my family – pancakes, OJ, and Dorsey’s sausage. Yum!

  14. 1. Oreo balls and other treats are made
    2. Christmas Eve at my mom’s parents and Christmas day at my dad’s parents. At least they live in the same town! And I am so thankful both sets of my grandparents are alive and healthy!
    3. Christmas Bingo with the cousins.
    4. Lots of turkey, ham and corn bread dressing

  15. 1. Christmas shopping.
    2. Watching our favorite Christmas movies.
    3. Wrapping lots of presents.
    4. Having our gift exchange.
    5. Putting up the tree.

    Have a wonderful day, Kate! By the way, your house looks amazing! I’m so jelous! ;)

  16. It’s not Christmas until I get in the spirit which I am now! Some decorating done, most shopping. I love to see the lights all over the city! We have been watching holiday movies as well. I highly recommend The Holiday! Have seen it twice.

  17. Could you post your Christmas dinner menu and recipes? We are planning to do prime rib for the in-laws this year and I’ve never cooked it before!

  18. 1. We sing Christmas carols at church.
    2. We read though the Christmas story from the Bible about 10000 times.
    3. We decorate our tree (well, I decorate while my husband “supervises”.
    4. We send out LOTS of Christmas cards! All of my family lives out of state.

  19. 1) Wrapping Christmas presents while watching “White Christmas.”
    2) Going to our city’s neighborhood celebration, complete with fake snow.
    3) Read Christmas books each night.
    4) Christmas morning Mass with my family, brunch after, then opening presents.
    5) Mom and dad’s house for Christmas dinner and a reading of “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus.”
    6) Christmas Crackers- a tradition since my family was stationed overseas many years ago.
    7) Driving to see holiday lights while drinking cocoa.
    8) Christmas programs at the girls’ school.

  20. It’s not Christmas unless:
    1.) The tree gets knocked down 5 times before Christmas (I have small children)
    2.) We listen to our Jackson 5 Christmas CD
    3.) We watch Jim Carrey’s version of the Grinch
    4.) Let’s not forget ABC Family’s 25 days of Christmas movies!

  21. It’s not Chritmas Unless:

    1. We have our tree decorating event! Home made deep dish pizza, a bottle of wine my husband brought back from our latest trip to Europe, and the family together talking about every ornament we place on our tree as each one has a wonderful memory.

    2. Christmas Eve: Santa leaves us PJ’s at the front door while we go out for a family walk in the snow – he drops them off while on his way to Australia! ;-)

    3. Christmas Eve- The adults have a wine tasting. This year is Italy! Everyone brings their BEST bottle and we decide which one we like the best. I make a sit-down formal meal that relates to the Country we are experiencing that night. The kids have their own ” tasting” It was ROOT BEER last year. Different Hot Chocolates this year.

    4. I made a brunch bake that cooks all night in the crock pot so when we get up in the morning, breakfast is ready!

    5. We meet our friends Christmas Day to skate! Fun family and friend event. Spiked hot chocolate for us adults! ;-)

    6. If there is enough snow, we eitehr go sledding in the back yard or all head to the slopes and ski over the holidays!

  22. Oh My Goodness!
    This picture is too funny! I guess no time to “Say Cheese” when you are trying to get your Christmas Wish List in, LOL.

  23. It’s not Christmas until
    1. I’ve watched “While You Were Sleeping” and “Seredipity”
    2. We’ve baked cookies, the kids choose the kinds
    3. Mr. SCC complains 6 times because he can’t decide what to get me
    4. I’ve purchased a new Christmas CD
    5. I’ve worn out said CD
    6. I’ve sewn new stockings
    7. Our Christmas eve PJs have been opened and put on
    8. We have to tell the girls a dozen times, “GO TO SLEEP!”
    9. Hubby and I have a ball playing Santa
    10. We get up, open our gifts and have our favorite pancake breakfast

    Ohhhh… I can hardly stand the wait, please Christmas don’t be late!

    This was such a sweet idea, Kate!

  24. It’s not Christmas unless I get some of my Daddy’s chicken and sausage gumbo!!
    (Yes, we live in Louisiana)

  25. LOTS of colorful, twinkly Christmas lights (indoors and outdoors) turned on whenever natural lighting is dim or dark.
    Pink Victorian Christmas tree in the front room bay window.
    Traditional red and green Christmas tree in the downstairs family room.
    Ham for Christmas dinner.
    All day long cookie-baking marathon followed by delivery of cookie plates to neighbors.
    Watching your favorite movies listed, plus the movies, “A Christmas Story” and “The Santa Clause.”
    Kids’ Christmas band and choir concerts!
    Church meeting with lots of Christmas hymns to sing with neighbors.

  26. What a great post! We enjoy the same type of Christmas music.

    Make a DIY ornament with the girls every year (listening/singing to Christmas music) and decorate the tree.

    Build a snowman or snow bear or other snow creature.

    Open a gift from mom Christmas Eve. It’s always new pjs/nightgowns.

    Watching favorite Christmas movies (the ones you listed as well).

  27. You list looks much like ours used to. I read this and I hate it that my kids grew up. We now throw all tradition out the window. We had Christmas with my son and grandsons on Saturday (they are 1 and almost 3). I’m reading this after almost 12 hours in the car (7 more to go tomorrow) on my way to spend the holiday with my daughter and my parents. We will be in a hotel, with a little $10 tree from Walgreens and a strand of lights on our balcony. Christmas dinner will be in a restaurant. It is all very strange and non-traditional, but that is what happens when you take your kids to Disney so many times that one of them decides to work there after college graduation. Yup…our list of traditions has certainly changed…but, we just go with the flow. Merry Christmas!


  28. Too funny Kate. I especially liked Santa’s face (seriously, that poor man!), and your poem. Sounds like Christmas is a lovely time in your home!

  29. my kids sing “and a poor pidgeon in a pear tree!” I love it!

    My parents used to own a restaurant. So much of our holidays were centered around there. They bought it when I was 5, my sisters were 3 and infant. So you aren’t the only crazy set ;) Holidays are a busy time in food service so mom and dad would cook for us while they cooked other things needing cooked and the whole extended family would come in a do a deep clean on the place and decorate for CHritmas (Thanksgiving) or put it all away (Christmas.) I am going to miss that so much. A 25 year tradition just not possible this year :(

    The new deal isn’t so bad though. We have a party to go to every couple days (starting Sat.) for the next two weeks! It will spread out the food and gift giving some. Being a mom of littles myself now, I like this idea.

    Christmas Day was always so stressful to go here there and everywhere making my kids tired and cranky. One of the parties is at my house on Christmas morning. I invited my parents, his mom, and all our grandparents to come to our house for brunch and to watch the girls open their presents. The girls are so excited to have them to our home for the morning that they don’t mind waiting to open their gifts. I’m betting Santa leaves just one that they can open at the crack of dawn :) I hope it is the start of a new tradition for our family. Oh, and I found a recipe when my parents moved out of their restaurant. I remember my mom serving when I was very little, likely before she cooked for everyone at the restaurant and it was just us on Christmas Day. I’m planning on making it to surprise her: Pineapple and Cream Cheese Rolls (it’s shaped like a Christmas tree with chopped maraschino cherries sprinkled on top.)

  30. When I was little we had the old fashioned albums and turntable. Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving my dad would go over to the gold wire album holder and dig through our collection until he found his treasure: A white album cover with a single image of Bing Crosby in a santa hat. He would loudly proclaim, “It is not Christmas until Bing sings its Christmas.” White Christmas always was the very first thing we heard. It was then safe to go pick out a tree, wrap the gifts and begin the baking. This is the second year that I have smiled through my misty eyes and looked up to heaven to say “Dad, turn up the volume so you can hear up there.” then I turn to my kids, grab my CD with a lone image of Bing in a santa hat and proclaim, “It’s not Christmas until Bing sings its Christmas.”

  31. My kids must play with the nativity everyday. (their toy one, not my ceramic one!)

    We must lose baby Jesus several times.

    We must rejoice each time we find baby Jesus.

    We must drive around at least one night and look at Christmas lights on all the houses.

  32. Oh what fun this post is! I enjoyed reading everyone else’s lists. Here’s mine:

    It’s not Christmas unless:
    1) Mom is putting up the tree the night before Thanksgiving.
    2) Mom starts playing Christmas music Thanksgiving Day (much to husband’s chagrin!) and doesn’t stop until the day after Christmas.
    3) Husband’s family comes over for Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law brings her famous gumbo!
    4) Me and husband are working past midnight to put together toy ‘o the year for the little boy.
    5) I wake early Christmas morning and have my coffee while waiting for my boys to come downstairs!
    6) I have a piece of pecan pie with whipped cream for breakfast!

  33. I just find it so funny to see some of you getting Christmas trees with t-shirts on. Someone in a blog wrote about having to move those outdoor lawn decoration candy canes in order to mow the lawn. I am in Northern Ontario, there is already over 10″ of snow on the ground. The lawn mower goes away in Sept. and comes back out in May. We have 8 acres of land and get our tree from the forest on our own property. That’s our tradition, we trudge through the snow and find something that is close to another tree and will most likely not survive, and bring it through our beautiful trail and into the house after knocking the snow off of it.

  34. I love your mom. She is SO cute and doesn’t look like your mom. She looks too young to have you:) I also loved the poem. How cute was that. Did you write it up yourself?

    Our Christmas is complete without a standing ribeye. That is a meal that my husband looks forward to every year.

  35. There are several, but, you will not be able to do it out of a book or video, I promise you. Look at see if he has any. Again, what you are trying to do has legal implications and you need actual drugs. I have been doing it for 27 years, I know. If you try to short circuit it, you will get in trouble. This is not a game.

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