Our season starts in November with Thanksgiving. Part of our family tradition is to make holiday helper boxes that will arrive around Thanksgiving (and I make Yule Cards
). From there we focus on an inward/outward spiral.
We make a Solstice Calendar and every night (dec 1-21) I light the candles and tell the story of Mother Holle. After the story one of the kids hangs another snowflake on the calendar, the candle is blown out, and bedtime routine resumes. Each week during this time we have both and outward activity (volunteer at food pantry, wrap gifts for kids at the domestic violence shelter, pick up litter, make/distribute bird feeding pine cones) and an inward one (find and decorate our tree, build our solstice altar, plant protective charms on our land, make holiday cookies, stir the fruitcake batter together). So a balancing between giving and getting.
Solstice eve we walk a winter spiral, stay up late with lots of candles (no electric lights), have a special meal with the same basic foods each year, hang stockings for Mother Holle to fill (and leave cocoa and snowflake cookies for her to share
), and stay snug. Solstice morning we wake for dawn, make lots of happy birthday sun music (bells, pan lids, clapping, singing), eat sun bread, and put a baby sun symbol on the altar. Then we open our stockings... generally handmade or personal gifts.
Between Solstice and Christmas Eve we're generally up for parties and socializing. Christmas Eve we hang the stockings again for Santa (he prefers cookies and straw for the reindeer), watch his journey on NORAD, play carols, and go to bed early. In the morning we get up, open stockings (generally more "mass produced" gifts from extended family), and set up an "all day buffet". This is when we call family and friends, visit people, play crazy loud music, and touch base with others.
Between Christmas and New Years we again turn inward, cleaning the house physically and spiritually. We burn seasonal incense, light candles, fill the space with happy energy and the warmth of family. New Years Eve we burn symbols of what we want to leave behind and draw images of those things we want to welcome in. We spend the evening/night doing a jigsaw puzzle then toast the new year and make lots of happy new year noise.
Finally we celebrate 12th night by removing the holiday decore/tree and decorating with an eye towards spring and the sun. The house is clean, smells great, we have a fun party, and that night La Befana leaves an orange, some nuts, and a tiny toy (clothespin doll, wooden "matchbox" car, jacks) in the shoes by the door.
And that's the end of the "gee it's getting dark, maybe we should have a party" season!
It sounds like a lot, but in actuality it is nice to have things really spread out. You don't get that huge buildup with immediate "that was it?!?" feeling that sometimes hits when you've got a month or two all building towards a single (consumer oriented) holiday. Plus it lets dh and I start/maintain new traditions without giving up the favorite traditions of our own childhood (me- every year a gift of new underwear/socks from a fictitious Aunt, all day low key holiday buffet, a candle/calendar for the season, the new years eve jigsaw puzzle. dh- cutting a tree and dragging it home, big holiday meal, carols and nog on Christmas eve, visiting family on Christmas day)