As families change, so does the idea of “home for the holidays.”
For all of my childhood and through college, being home meant my parents house in Coeur d’Alene. Christmas just couldn’t be anywhere else. After I got married, I started traveling to the Boise-area for Christmas. Since we lived up north, it was only fair to spend the holidays with my wife’s family.
The first year felt strange, but eventually Christmas with the In-laws felt as right as anything else. My wife’s parents knew how much I loved the holiday season, and it seemed like they made an extra effort to make me feel included.
We drove south for years, even after we began growing our own family. Three of us went down, then four of us, then five.
But traveling in winter conditions with small children can be arduous, and growing work responsibilities kept shrinking our window for travel. Little kids love routine too, and spending nights away from their own beds creates a whole new set of challenges.
Last year, after two especially exhausting Christmases in Boise, we decided to stay home for the first time in a decade. My wife was pregnant with our fourth, and we knew traveling for the next Christmas was going to be even more complicated. We wanted to started our own thing while we still had the energy to plan it.
My wife and I were both worried it would feel awful, and that the kids would be disappointed by Christmas because we weren’t spending it at Granny and Grandpa’s. But with some effort and a little Christmas magic, we managed to make our own special Team Wilson Christmas - one that was ours and nobody else’s.
The first thing we did to alleviate the blow of not seeing Granny and Grandpa was to immediately plan another time to visit them. They were coming up to Moscow in March already, so we planned a “Spring Christmas” where the kids could stay at a hotel, open presents and play with their grandparents and cousins. There is no greater gift to a kid than swimming in a hotel pool.
As for December, we tried to fill everyday with something festive. Sometimes it was as simple as watching a Christmas show like “Rudolph,” while other days the kids would work on their own makeshift holiday extravaganzas, with dancing, costumes and Christmas carols.
Here are some of the other things we did, plus a few we plan to add to our repertoire this year:
Visit a tree farm
Allergies prevent us from actually picking out a real tree to live in the house, but we usually end up at a tree farm for family photos anyway.
Our family enjoys Carver Farms, located just across the Idaho/Washington border in Newman Lake, for both Christmas and Halloween/pumpkin harvesting fun. The area isn’t too big, which makes it manageable for little kids. It’s family-owned, and in year’s past they’ve had free hot cocoa and cider.
Trees are generally 5-12 feet tall, and there are even some Charlie Brown-style misfits for those who want them.
Carver Farms is open on weekends, usually until the week before Christmas. Visit them at 9105 N. Idaho Road in Newman Lake. Call (509) 226-3602 or search “Carver Farms” on Facebook for updated hours and more information.
Let the kids decorate
Sure, putting a two-year-old in charge of hanging ornaments can be trouble without proper supervision, and, yes, most of the ornaments will be bunched into one section of the tree about three feet off the ground. You can always rearrange a few things after they go to bed. A kid-designed tree may not be the best looking one on the block, but they will take pride in ownership.
Real talk - my wife and I have been doing the Holiday Cruise to the North Pole on Lake Coeur d’Alene every year since well before we had kids. It’s just a fun experience, and the decorations at Santa’s Workshop across the lake are impressive. Watching my kids light up when they hear Santa announce their names on the Nice List is a genuinely heartwarming moment.
Just one thing, Santa. The name is “Marion,” not “Maryanne.” Like “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s” Marion Ravenwood, or actress Marion Cotillard. It’s not that hard.
Cost can be an issue for some families, but the displays downtown around the boardwalk are free to view, and our kids loved driving around looking at neighborhood lights throughout the season. Some of you seem to have dropped thousands of dollars on outdoor lighting. Team Wilson salutes you.
Ornaments, cookies and countdown chains
Weekends are perfect for little art projects and cookie-making (of course), and my kids are lucky to have a retired art teacher as a grandmother who lives in town.
One thing we forgot to do last year that we’ve done in the past is a countdown chain, with each paper link containing a little activity or Christmas-prize. An advent calendar works the same, but the paper chain is fun to make, and it gives kids something to rip every single day before Christmas. My kids like to rip things.
Encouraging the spirit of giving
Kids love Christmas for the presents, but the act of giving to your children is ample opportunity to instill the joy of giving from their perspective. Helping your kids make presents and cards for other family members is cost-effective, and I don’t know a person alive who enjoys a dollar store tie or some candle more than a handmade card with a bunch of misspelled words.
We also encourage our kids to make space for new presents by making a thoughtful donation box. This year, we also heard of a new program from the Claus Company, where kids leave a box of used toys under the tree on Christmas Eve and Santa takes them to the North Pole to be cleaned and redistributed to kids in need.
A little magic goes a long way in showing kids how simple gestures can often make a huge difference in the world.
Borrow from others and make it your own
My wife and I have been busy fine-tuning what Christmas Eve and Christmas Day looks like in our house. We’ve adopted my family’s open-one-present-on-Christmas-Eve tradition and put a twist on it - the present the kids open are new slippers to wear that night and the next morning.
We adopted my wife’s family’s personalized stockings too, and, like her family, we make breakfast foods the big meal item on Christmas Day. It’s different because neither of us can cook as well as my father-in-law, but the kids don’t mind so long as maple syrup is involved.
Unlike the in-laws, we don’t have traditional cable TV at our house, which means we can’t randomly turn on “24 Hours of ‘A Christmas Story’” on TBS. No problem… we autoplay the DVD and periodically jump around in the chapters throughout the day to model the effect.
The big thing I missed last Christmas was the lengthy game of Mexican Train Dominoes. That game can go forever when 10-15 people are involved. We did our best with three adults and a couple of junior players last year, but I’m confident we can teach the two oldest kids how to play a little longer.
But for all the things that were different last year, it still felt like a special Christmas. Santa ate the cookies, the reindeer munched on some carrots on the back porch, and our family elf, Molly, decided to hang around for a few extra days. Our kids never like seeing her go.
There were songs and good food and snow (no guarantees on that one), and a Team Wilson Christmas felt like our Christmas for the first time. It felt nice to finally hold the baton and take over for our parents - and now we can finally appreciate how much work they’ve put in over the years.
Even if we travel for future holidays, at least we can hold onto the traditions we started so that it will feel like Our Christmas wherever we go.
But seriously, Santa, wherever we might be, the name is “Marion,” like Marionberry. Say it right or you’re getting the lump of coal, buster.
--Written by Tyler Wilson, Special to the Press