Christmas is when I become the most stereotypical mom in the world. For some reason, I feel a need to instantiate and continue traditions that I never had as a kid.
First, I help the kids decorate the tree and set up Santa's village in our front window. In a fairly predictable gender split, my husband puts the tree together, hangs lights and does the outdoor stuff. I always look forward to this, then get frustrated and potentially cranky because a) the kids tend to hang all the decorations in clumps, b) they will not let me get rid of the Care Bear ornaments they picked out as kids, and c) I know that our devil cats will destroy everything in a matter of hours (so far this year, they have been relatively restrained. They have only broken 3 ornaments and removed two branches from the fake tree.) Then, I have the kids do their Santa letters -- with lots of pictures.
The kids and I usually head to the German Christmas market downtown where they each buy a small wooden toy or, this year, a hat with an animal head on it. Then, we wait in very long lines for crepes, for the kid who doesn't eat meat, and sausage for the kid who does (separate lines , separate sellers). We go to a department store to buy teacher gifts -- lots of Frango mints and soaps from Lush. My husband has never done this duty. I am sure he would if I asked him -- and he buys the gifts for his side of the family and actually shops better for me than I do for him -- but for some reason I do all the obligatory gift buying -- like most women -- for birthday parties and teachers. I also tend to buy most of the kids' presents, stocking stuffers, etc.
We make gingerbread, at least once. (This year we did our first batch using jack o' lantern cookie cutters because somebody had given them to me after Halloween and it seemed like we ought to use them. Real gingerbread men, trees, and reindeer will follow). Like decorating, this is a mixed bag -- the joy of doing something with the kids vs. their insistence on putting way too much stuff on the cookies, making them inedible with candy dots, sprinkles, icing. On the plus side, once they decorate the cookies I lose interest and don't eat them.
The most bizarre fixation is my need to send Christmas cards. Prior to marriage, I only sent Christmas cards once in my life, when I lived in Australia, was missing people, and thought cards of Santa with koalas and kangaroos at the beach were too hilarious to resist. Childbirth led me to send cards. I think it is a competitive mom thing -- as I am sure all my furious holiday activity is -- an effort to show the world how darn cute my kids are. So, every year, I frantically take pictures, or look through pictures from the last year trying to find just the right ones, then prepare the card, an annual ad for my family. I do not write Christmas letters. Usually, I find them weird and depressing -- I had one friend who would send passive aggressive complaints about her husband in the guise of a Christmas letter and another who would talk about how great everything was until she and her husband split. I figure that if people really know me, they know all my news, and, if they don't, they don't want to know it. (But there are two I get every year that I enjoy, so if you send me one, assume yours if the good one and keep sending it!) My card fixation extends to receiving them - in the last few years, we added a card display to our Christmas decorating. We hang tinsel on our stair railing and clip cards to it. I like seeing them pile up -- the collector in me gratified, the competitive mom in me comparing their pictures, sayings, and designs to ours. The kids like clipping them, making sure that their friends are foregrounded, that boring work related ones or ones from the insurance guy are hidden.
Our best family tradition is our Christmas Eve party -- a large open house in which kids run crazy and grown ups drink and eat until it is time to send kids to bed and prepare for Santa's arrival. We buy most of the food, so it is a no hassle event. And it is the one that is least restricted to me and the kids, the most communal, and the most about just sharing with others.
My kids love all these traditions and would be miserable if I stopped even one. I dread the day they don't want to do them. I am sure there is an element of trying to be super mom, just once a year, but it is also really fun to share the holiday with kids and to regain that sense of wonder and belief.