Five weeks before Christmas we do our first round of holiday baking - shortbread, gingerbread, and candy cane cookies (my favourite recipes here). The kids love helping with the baking and it turns into a huge, messy, two-day project with every surface in the kitchen and dining room covered in flour and sugar and bowls of dough and cookies on cooling racks.
This weekend is also the Toronto Santa Claus parade. Though we used to attend every year, now that we live a little further from the city we've started a new tradition - we turn on all the twinkly lights, put on our Santa hats, and watch the parade on TV with a big platter of Christmas cookies and mugs of spiced hot chocolate. That night the kids sit down to write their letters to Santa so we can post them the next week. My husband pulls out the ladder and climbs up onto the roof to hang the outdoor lights, though we don't turn them on until December.
Four weeks before Christmas is the local Santa Claus parade - we brave the evening cold and set up camp on the curb in our Santa hats and eagerly await the arrival of the big man himself. This weekend is also usually when the local theatre group performs their community Christmas show - either the Grinch or The Night Before Christmas.
Three weeks before Christmas is when we really gear up for the holidays. We get our tree (we still get a real tree every year - it's a disaster as far as needles go, but there's something about the smell of a real Christmas tree that makes it feel so much homier and holiday-ier) and spend an entire happy afternoon decorating it - again, with a platter of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
The Town tree lighting ceremony takes place this weekend, where they have stations set up for the kids to create their own decorations to hang on the enormous tree in the town square and Santa himself appears alongside the mayor to declare the official start of the season. Then it's indoors to warm up with hot chocolate, caroling and a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" with Mrs. Claus.
Two weeks before Christmas is when we visit Santa at the mall. We do a last run-through of Toys R Us first so the kids can work themselves up into a frenzy of excitement, then line up for photos with the big man and a wish list reminder. We go down to see the Santa at the mall in the town where my husband and I grew up, because that's the real Santa. Seriously. While the idea of wish lists and gift-getting is fresh in the kids' minds, we take the opportunity to sort through all their toys in the playroom and decide which ones they'd like to give to kids who don't have as much. We finish off the weekend with a family trip to whatever seasonal kids' movie is in the theatres.
One week before Christmas everything is ready and we spend that last week basking in the glow of family holiday happiness. The twinkly lights on the tree and around the house stay lit day and night. Christmas music plays softly in the background. Santa's village and train stay on and animated all week and the platter of Christmas cookies is constantly being refilled. The kids get their letters back from Santa and a Magic Santa email message and we curl up every evening for a Christmas movie or TV special. Most of our non-family holiday entertaining and visiting happens this week and the excitement maxes out in those last few days before Santa comes.
And then it's Christmas!
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