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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Creating Beautiful Christmas Traditions that Last a Lifetime


By: Catherine L. Pittman © November 2009
Photo Courtesy of James Hawkins, All Free Downloads

Christmas is truly a magical and enchanting time of year, where holiday traditions never fade with time.

It is filled with beautiful sights and sounds: A candle glowing in a frosted window, hanging stockings on a festive mantle with care, hot chocolate, eggnog and hot buttered rums served after an evening of caroling, neighborhoods filled with colorful, twinkling lights.  The warm feeling of joy we feel when giving gifts, snowflakes dancing merrily in the air, romantic sleigh rides and sneaking a kiss beneath the mistletoe. These are just a few of the charming time-honored traditions families have to celebrate Christmas and break away from all the hype of the holiday.

Some of my most precious moments in time from my childhood are my memories of our year end holiday festivities.  We helped our friends celebrate Hanukah, and they helped us celebrate Christmas.  My parents created our own custom traditions and I cherish the memories of to this day.  Some have been passed down to the next generation, and we have created a few of our own with our children along the way. 

Creating your own special memories will help make your holiday joyful, less stressful, and revive your family's festive spirit, bringing you closer together.  Here are some favorites that with a few tweaks can be adopted by your family to make them all your own.  They are sure to make your Christmas merry and bright, and chase old Scrooge away!

Deck the Halls
Decorating your home for the holidays doesn't need to fill you with the humbugs. Trimming your Christmas tree, mantle and windows can be a fun family tradition. When I was young, my parents gave their three daughters a pair of special ornaments each year, infusing a tradition that kicked off our holiday festivities, and were given to us when we left the nest. I still have many of the ornaments to this day. 

Back then, bazaars and craft shows were not the popular events they are today. You don't have to buy the standard glass globes each year at the local store. Make it a tradition to attend an annual holiday show and purchase unique ornaments, or if you are crafty yourself, have an ornament making party with your children and neighbors. As your children look at the tree from year-to-year, the ornaments of Christmases past will mean more to them and you'll find yourselves sharing stories of each ornament. Look for a holiday event that also supports a local school, charity or holds a food drive.  It will help teach your child the gift of giving to others. Change it up and select a theme for the ornaments.

As you deck your halls, don't forget to involve your children in helping with the windows, exterior lights and mantle.  While the kids can't hang the outdoor lights, they can help you decide on your "theme" and flip the switch when it's time to unveil this year's theme. Decorate your mantle with boughs of holly and your favorite manger scene, caroler characters, holiday village, snowmen, reindeer or other festive décor. My sister's family began collecting a Christmas village for their mantle, adding a new piece each year. I have a friend who collects train cars for his Christmas train set that they place around the base of their tree each year.  They take great pleasure making an annual trek to find unique train cars to add to their collection. My other sister collects nutcrackers that she places throughout her home.

Cookies for Santa & Friends
There's nothing like filling your home with the scent of Christmas cookies and baking.  This is a fun activity to involve your kids in, and makes great gifts for co-workers, neighbors, friends, and, of course, Santa!  Choose new recipes each year, and maybe select one that you traditionally prepare every year.  My mother use to make my dad's favorite icebox cookies every Christmas, as well as her pumpkin bread.

Host a yuletide or caroling party and invite your neighbors and their children. They will enjoy spending time with you and have a cup of eggnog, hot buttered rum or hot chocolate along with your handmade baked goods.  Take homemade cookies and bread to the local homeless shelter or nursing home, so they can share in a holiday treat along with their meal.

Gift Giving
It's important to teach children the great joy one receives when giving gifts, and not just focus on what Santa will bring.  One of the most magical things about Christmas is it is the one time of year mankind tries to put aside their differences and help those less fortunate.  With so many families loosing their home and job, it is vital we bring hope and joy to those in need.

One tradition I embarked on when I was a teenager, was participating in the Sub for Santa program.  Today, there are many local stores and charities that offer giving trees or other ways to help bring Christmas to those who have no home, have lost a parent or whose family is suffering from a loss of income.  Take your child shopping specifically for another child, or donate gently used toys, books and clothing that your child no longer uses.  Your little one will find it an uplifting tradition and benefit as much as the child your family will help.

Another tradition our family has done in more recent years:  drawing names for the annual holiday shopping. Some call it "Secret Santa." While we are not as large a family as some, it does make holiday gift giving fun to concentrate on one special family member.  For large families this is particularly beneficial, as it is far easier on the holiday budget to buy a few gifts for just one person than the entire family. It adds a touch of mystery all wrapped up in love, and colorful paper and bows.  You can add a touch of humor too, by creating a theme for one of the gifts that each person must shop for in addition to standard gifts.  One year we held a sock exchange along with our regular gifts, and found ourselves quite amused by the variety of funny, funky socks we found for our gift giving. Another year it was pajamas, which really produced a lot of laughter!

Our family always read a holiday story on Christmas Eve, and our parents had us open one special gift that night.  Typically, it was our holiday pajamas, though not always! I remember a Christmas teddy bear or two, as well as new holiday storybooks. On Christmas morning, each person opened one gift at a time by going around the room, and we each had to guess what was in the brightly wrapped package.  It was always fun to try to guess what the present was before ripping open the paper.

The Sounds of Christmas
Whatever traditions your family decides upon, don't forget the music of the season!  One of the most beautiful things about Christmas is the songs and melodies.

Each year, our family would find and add a new holiday album to our collection of music.  Over the years, we've found some special songs, some funny, some that are so beautiful they bring tears to the eyes. We often create a compilation of our favorite songs and put them on a CD to play whenever we have guests over during the holiday or give as a gift to friends. These days, you don't necessarily have to buy an entire album to create a great compilation, since you can now download single songs from web sites or full albums.

It seems Scrooge has done away with caroling! These days you don't often see caroling in the neighborhoods, which was one of our favorite holiday traditions. When I was young and involved in Job's Daughters, we often caroled at local nursing homes and hospitals, and in the case of nursing homes, we brought treats. Many folks in nursing homes have no family or their family is far away, and they truly love to have young people around to share the holidays.  Host a caroling party with your neighbors and family.  You'll find it a wonderful tradition! 

As you celebrate the birth of the Son of God this Christmas, add a little spice and magic to your holiday festivities.  Traditions all have to start some place, and there is nothing wrong with adding your own touches to time-honored traditions to bring magic into the holiday and make memories for your children that will last a lifetime.

Wishing you and your family a Christmas blessed with the magic of the season… Love, Joy and Peace. Always.




About the Author
Catherine currently resides in Tualatin, Oregon and is the owner, songwriter and main vocalist for her children's music production company, Pitter Patter Productions (www.pitterpatterproductions.com) . The company has specialized in original award-winning music for children from newborn through kindergarten since 1992. We’re living green!  Our music is available for download at: CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/artist/catherinepittman), Amazon.com (search Catherine Pittman in music), and iTunes (search Catherine Pittman). CD’s are still available at www.pitterpatterproductions.com.

Download our new holiday album, Once Upon a Silent Night. All of our albums can be downloaded by the song or the entire album. 




Saturday, December 7, 2013

Making Spirits Bright: Musical Gifts for Newborns and Expectant Moms

© 2012 Catherine L Pittman


In the first few months of life, your baby will appreciate things that he or she can look at or listen to.  Babies are quite nearsighted; in their first month they are only able to see clearly at approximately 12 inches. Objects that move slowly and produce soft, gentle sounds are generally the most appreciated by little ones.  What nursery is complete without the sound of music?

Music can turn bedtime into an enchanted, magical moment, weaving a spell over your child with its beautiful sounds and words, and Christmas music is quite soothing. Music has the power to stimulate, motivate and captivate little imaginations, while creating neural pathways in the brain.  Even if your baby isn’t fussy or crying, using music and soft sounds as often as you can, will encourage a calm, peaceful and well-loved feeling.  It is love made audible!

As the Christmas holiday approaches, families are often stumped as to what to give to the newborn baby or expectant mom in their lives.  Music is one of the simplest sensory gifts you can give.  Here are just a few suggestions for a holiday gift!

Stuffed Sensory Toy
One of the benefits of a stuffed toy that plays some kind of sound is that it is quick to grab at 2 a.m.  There are plenty of quality musical and sensory toys.  Some of our favorites include:  Mary Meyer’s sweet chocolate musical giraffe, which plays You Are My Sunshine.  North American Bear Company has an adorable satin ears bunny, which has a removable music box and plays Braham’s’ Lullaby. For those who prefer no music, Cloud b Sleep’s sheep with four soothing nature sounds may be just what baby needs.  The little lamb plays a mother’s heartbeat, spring showers, ocean surf and whale songs.  We also like the Tiny Love Animal Friends Take Along Mobile that can be attached to baby carriers, car seats and strollers.

Musical Mobile
No nursery should be without a musical mobile or two.  Having multiple musical mobiles allows mom and dad to change out the tune periodically. The mobile provides both visual and auditory stimulation for your baby. Newborns are quite nearsighted, only seeing about 12 inches away in the beginning.  The brighter the colors, the more it is visually stimulating, teaching your baby to focus.  Selecting a mobile that includes soft music will encourage and develop your baby’s hearing.  Many mobiles play such popular lullabies as Brahms’ Lullaby, Rock-a-bye Baby and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and offer a wide range of themes to match to the décor of the nursery.  One of our favorite mobiles is Carter’s safari mobile.  The giraffe is the arm that attaches to the crib, while the other jungle animals merrily dance to Brahms’ Lullaby.

Baby’s First Instrument
What could possibly be an instrument for a newborn?  The rattle!  Like its Moroccan cousin, the rattle makes a lively, soft noise. It and the squeaky toy will stimulate your baby through sight, sound and touch.  While a newborn cannot hold a rattle or squeaky toy, he or she will respond to the soft sound, which is an important part of baby’s auditory development.  Once babies learn to grasp objects, they are fascinated with how it makes a sound when they move or accidentally squeeze it, promoting development of eye-hand coordination.  The “Guess How Much I Love You Loop Bunny Rattle” and many other rattles offer a grasping ring.  The Lamaze wrist rattles and foot finder sets use Velcro to attach to the wrist or sock. Rattles and squeaky toys come in all different sizes, types and shapes.

MP3 Crib Player
Today’s technology has almost made CD’s a thing of the past.  An MP3 Crib Player pre-loaded with lullabies and soft music is the perfect gift for your newborn.  Lullabies from popular artists, such as Kenny Loggins and Madonna as well as self-publishing musicians can be downloaded from a multitude of sites, for example iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.  No nursery is complete without lullabies sweet!

Music Pregnancy Belt
Before the pregnancy music belt was invented, mothers-to-be everywhere were stretching headphones over their belly to share lullabies and soft music with the little one in their womb.  That is until the pregnancy music belt was invented. The device first began selling in 2003 through Lullabelly in Denver, Colorado.  Today, there are a several companies selling a variety of belt styles.  The perfect musical gift for the mother-to-be is the pregnancy belt, which hooks around the belly and plays lullabies and soft music utilizing a music player.  Think about how music affects your mood. Is it any wonder that listening to music with your unborn child reduces stress and creates a wonderful connection and bonding experience with your little one?  Less stress and bonding with baby is a good thing!

Lullaby CD’s
While lullaby songs can be downloaded from various sites, lullaby CD’s still make a great stocking stuffer for baby’s first Christmas or the expectant mom.

Plato once stated, “Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, and children should be taught music before anything else." Studies now suggest that exposing our children to music at a very early age may in fact aid their intellectual development. A study published in the Journal of Music by Jayne Standley, Ph.D., chair of the music therapy program at Florida State University, found that premature babies exposed to music were calmer.  Unlike preemies that did not listen to music, those exposed to the soft sounds used oxygen more efficiently, gained weight faster, and did not require a long hospital stay. 
Can music really aid in your child’s development? There is little doubt that music is a powerful catalyst for healing, learning, creativity and development.  So this holiday, give the gift of music to that new baby or expectant mom in your life!


About the Author
Catherine currently resides in Oregon and is the owner, songwriter and main vocalist for her children's music production company, Pitter Patter Productions, specializing in original award-winning music for children from newborn through kindergarten since 1992. Living Green?  All of our albums including both Christmas albums are available for download at: www.pitterpatterproductions.com, CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes (search Catherine Pittman).  Download by the song or the entire album.

Download our aholiday album, Once Upon a Silent Night.

Picture by vera kratochvil, compliments of All Free Downloads