Every year, I always look forward to Christmas.  It begins in late October when I start shopping for the perfect gift for those on my list.


I am blessed to have my entire family living within 20 minutes from me (with the exception of my daughter, Rachele, who is in the Navy).  However, it didn’t use to be that way.  My family used to all live in California, therefore, we spent much of the holidays on the road. 


It’s because of this that I am so thankful that they are all nearby now and our holiday celebrations are even more special.


Here is a glimpse of how we spent our time together.


It all begins early in the week with my annual Christmas cookie baking day.  All the old and young kids in the family are invited, ranging from ages 20 on down to 3 years old.

My neice Sofie, my daughter Brittney and granddaughter Lily.

The kids look forward to it every year and so do I, although it is rather a chaotic few hours.


This year, my 4-year old, twin nephews came for the first time.  They really enjoyed cutting out the cookies.  We have a standing rule that the kids can eat one cookie and then we save the rest for eating on Christmas day.


The twins were really helpful until they ate their one cookie at which time, they lost interest and decided to play.  So their dad, my brother Scott, stepped in and helped decorate the others.


We had a large variety of sprinkles and frosting and the kids had fun coming up with creative ways to decorate their cookies.


My nephew Oliver, makes very unique Christmas cookies including his ‘zombie’ gingerbread man.


 A few days later, we opened our gifts on Christmas eve.  It never ceases to amaze me how helpful my kids are with helping me get everything ready just before it is time to open gifts 😉

We had a somewhat traditional Southwestern Christmas dinner of tamales, chips & homemade salsa with Mexican rice.


Gracie was thrilled with her Barnes & Noble gift card.


Christmas Day found us gathered at Double S Farms, where my mother, sister and her family live.

Because our extended family is so large, we draw names each year so that each person give one gift to one person.  

This year, we picked both of the twins which made it especially fun to pick out a gift for them.


They have begun to move past Thomas the Train and onto Disney Cars – so their new ‘Cars’ race track was pretty popular.


While we all give my mother gifts each year, my siblings and I get together each Christmas to give her a gift on behalf of my dad who is no longer with us.  

Over the past years we have given her an apricot tree, perfume and a homemade cookbook.  

This year, we made her an apron with the handprints from all of her grand and great-grandkids.

After the gifts have been opened, we all participate in another Christmas tradition which is a ‘treasure hunt’.

My mother leaves clues around the house and garden, which lead us on a merry hunt.  Both adults and kids get into the fun.


The hunt can lead us to clues hiding in the vegetable garden…


On to a nativity…


To leftover pumpkins…


And even the family dog has a clue tied up in her collar.

Special gifts from my mother to all of us await us at the end of the treasure hunt.

Dinner is simple, but delicious, and usually features lasagna from Costco.  For dessert, are the cookies that the kids made and decorated earlier in the week.

As evening arrives the last and perhaps the most important tradition of our Christmas celebration begins.


The kids dress up as Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  This year, Lily got to be Mary and my nephew, Oliver was Joseph.  The twins were the shepherds.


While walking through a dark house, carrying candles, Mary and Joseph search for room to rest for the night.  Sadly, no one has room, including the inn keeper.

But, he does have room in his stable, so we all proceed to the ‘stable’ in the backyard.


There is baby Jesus with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds gathered around.

My mother then reads the Christmas story and we all sing ‘Silent Night’.

Both the adults and kids look forward to this tradition, called ‘Las Posadas’ every year.

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and are ready for a happy New Year!

*************************

This coming year will bring a new member to our family.  Our daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child in January.  She is currently stationed at a Navy base in California.

She is being closely monitored by her doctor because her baby is underweight according to the ultrasound, but developmentally, he looks good.

In the meantime, I have my packing list ready because once I get the call that she is in labor, I will be too excited and nervous to remember everything I need to bring.  

It will take us 7 hours to get there and I hope we make before our grandson is born!

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

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