December 17, 2019
With Thanksgiving behind us, I can finally turn my thoughts towards my favorite time of year, the holiday season! My favorite thing about this time of year is taking a break from the hustle and being intentional about spending time with my family and loved ones. I love throwing on a cozy sweater, whipping up some hot cocoa, and turning on the Christmas tunes while I map out our December schedule, making sure that there’s time for all of the traditions that make this season feel special to our family.
Since we’re spending more time at our North Carolina vacation home this season, I really wanted to make sure it felt like home for us. Between redecorating and adjusting to the swing of a new place, it can get hectic, so we’ve been focusing on making time to keep up with our traditions to maintain a sense of consistency in the holiday season.
Finding and Decorating Our Christmas Tree
There’s something about the moment that you spot the perfect tree on the Christmas tree lot that feels like magic. It’s big, but not too big, with the perfect shape and fullness, and the smell that will make your whole house feel ready for the holidays. Once you’ve successfully navigated it into your living room (and dropped a million needles in the process!), it’s time to decorate! Decorating the tree is one of my favorite Christmas traditions, because the way in which you decorate it is so personal. Whether your Christmas tree is decked out in nostalgic ornaments, dressed in perfectly color-coded balls and bows, or dripping in tinsel, it’s sure to bring a smile to every guest who enters your home.
Our favorite place in the Carolinas to get a tree is definitely Tom Sawyer Christmas Tree Farm. Erik and I discovered it while doing a wedding photoshoot and went back with our family several years in a row. The idyllic farm is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina and overlooks Lake Glenville.
My favorite Charleston tree place is Lebanon Christmas Tree Farm, which first opened in 1985 and has stayed under the ownership of the same family since!
This year, we didn’t make it to Tom Sawyer, but we found a mom and pop farm nearby. Google said it closed at 9 p.m. and we got there at 8. The gate was open, but we couldn’t find anyone. After walking around for 30 minutes, no one had showed yet, so we had to leave treeless. Harper had been set on getting a tree that night, but we had one last ditch idea.
The closest Lowe’s was 18 minutes away and we had 25 minutes until they were supposed to close. We made the drive and pulled up to the front of the building, not even bothering with a parking spot. They had a gorgeous real tree on display, still in the stand, so I rushed inside and persuaded the generous workers to let us take that one home. With 1 minute left until closing, they took the tree out of the stand, recut the trunk, and we were on our way home with our Christmas tree!
Most of our Christmas decor is still in storage, so this year all of our tree decorations were from Target. It’s nothing fancy, but it still looks pretty and makes our home that much cozier.
Sometimes Christmas traditions don’t always go according to plan, but everything worked out in the end and Harper was completely satisfied since we came home with a tree and decorated it that night. Erik and I made a pot of Harney & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice tea while we trimmed the tree and the whole house smelled so festive. This tea immediately became my new favorite and I’m averaging 2 cups a day for the rest of the season!
Baking Christmas Cookies
There’s nothing like filling up your home with the smell of Christmas baking! Cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and of course loads of butter are stocked high in the pantry, ready to star in some of my favorite cookie recipes. Whether we’re baking up warm gingerbread families or icing pretty sugar cookies, my family always has the most fun gathering around the kitchen for this tradition (and sneaking some batter as we go!). I love making extra holiday treats to deliver to friends and neighbors; it’s the perfect way to spread some holiday cheer, and spend some time catching up in the process!
We like to use this Allrecipes sugar cookie recipe for our traditional Christmas shaped cookies. It’s a simple recipe with ingredients you probably already have on hand. My number one tip for making sure your cookies keep their shape in the oven is CHILLING. It can seem time-consuming and frustrating to confine the dough you just worked so hard on to the fridge for hours at a time, but it truly does make the difference. Separating your dough into separate chunks that you can pull out and work with individually keeps the butter chilled so it doesn’t melt and spread once you put it into the oven. For an extra dose of chilling, place the cookie sheet back in the fridge once you’ve cut out your shapes. Just an extra 10-20 minutes is all you really need!
Nowadays, keeping up with family and friends around the country is as easy as popping on to Instagram or Facebook for a few minutes each day. Even though we’re all up to date on the big events in each other’s lives, there’s something so special about going out to your mailbox and being surprised with a beautiful Christmas card. We usually shoot a seasonal family photo with Charleston outdoor photographer Kailee DiMeglio. Most of the time, our mailbox is stuffed with bills and flyers, so opening a meaningful card from someone you care about can easily make your day. Plus, card displays can turn the cards you get into a beautiful decor piece all season long! We love to send photo cards to our friends and family; they feel so personal and give us an excuse to take professional family photos every year, making them a great keepsake for us, too!
The most fun thing about holiday traditions is that we all do them a little differently! What’s your favorite Christmas activity to do with your family?
One tradition that we just started last Christmas was giving Harper experiences instead of a big gift for Christmas. Last year he didn’t ask for very many toys on his wishlist; instead, he really wanted to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower. So after some consideration, Erik and I decided to make that a reality and we took Harper on a trip to Europe over the summer as part of his Christmas gift, going to Paris, London and Italy. We saw the Eiffel Tower and Harper was beyond ecstatic. At that moment, we realized that gifting experiences was so much more meaningful than gifting toys.
From that point on, we didn’t want to get Harper big gifts for Christmas anymore. Instead, we’re giving him a family trip that he gets to choose.
This year we went to Maui for our trip. Harper wanted to see a volcano and he wanted to go surfing, and we got to do both! I know he’s going to be talking about these trips for the rest of his life, so we’re going to continue this gifting tradition this year and the following years. Studies have even shown that vacations have psychological and developmental benefits for kids, as trips lead to increased bonding time and activate different parts of the brain.
Pictures with Santa
One tradition we’ve been doing since Harper was born was going to visit Santa Claus and get our picture taken with him every year. There’s something magical about watching your child see Santa and get so excited about the holiday season, and it makes for another great Christmas card opportunity. We’ve gotten pretty lucky with Harper being a fan of Santa, but even if your child gets a little shy or scared, some Santas are really good at interacting with whatever your kid needs, and it’ll be a cute picture no matter what!
Photos by: Kailee DiMeglio Photography