I really love traditions. There is something extra special about the things you only do once a year. As a mom I am enjoying how different the same traditions are each year. We do a lot of things this time of year that we don’t do at any other time. We search for our Christmas tree, we write notes in our stockings, we sleep under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve (yes that is the night before Christmas Eve)…and numerous more. This time of year I want to be sure I am giving my kids the gift of traditions…special little things we do to celebrate Christmas as a family. One of our traditions just for the sake of fun (and sugar highs) is making gingerbread houses – or at least our version.

When I only had one kid that was able to decorate a gingerbread house I would buy the kits from the store for $10.00. Well these days if I were going to spend $40.00 I’d rather it be on a bunch of these instead of gingerbread house kits! So we go for a cheaper version – graham cracker houses. The first round of our houses this year I couldn’t remember what I did last year to make the houses more stable. Then I remembered HOT GLUE!

Photo Tip: When you want to photograph young kids doing an indoor activity get everything set up before they come to the table. I got all the decorations in bowls, made the houses, set up the table for decorating before I even told the kids what we were doing. I also got my camera settings ready before they came to the table. This will help you be prepared to capture pictures instead of managing chaos.

When doing your prep work it is best if your toddler daughter cannot climb up to the table and attempt to steal the decorations.

My secret graham cracker house weapon…hot glue. Just glue those little crackers together and you have stable homes for all your sugary decorations. It sure beats trying to keep frosted houses in one piece when decorating. It also provides a great reason why your kids cannot eat their creations.

I gave her a mini-house with frosting and attempted to get her to decorate it. Her 2 year old brother did it when he was her age. She, obviously, was not interested in decorating the frosting.

Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat. Decorate. Eat.

This is one of those activities that I kind of would prefer to do by myself, but my kids won’t let me. I wonder if I could convince Chris to do a graham cracker house decorating night as a date…not sure he’d be as excited about it as I would be.

If you are wondering if my kids are still in their pjs for this….yes, they are. The best light in my kitchen is in the morning….and I wanted pictures. No sense in putting clothes on them before they made a grand sticky mess!

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  • Jack - I love the photos of the children covered in icing! So cute!

  • Laurie J - hot glue–why didn’t I think of that?! we had the houses crumbling, frosting covering the world MESS while we did this over the weekend (but still FUN) The only thing I got right was using graham crackers instead of the $10 kits–I hear ya on the 4 kids =$40 part!

  • Cassie - How fun! I can’t wait til our little guy is old enough to do crafts.

    And I have a bunch of “those,” and they are wonderful for just about everything you need a tiny bowl for πŸ™‚ Go for it!

  • stacey - we love doing this as well! if you’d like a little tip, we collect the little personal size milk carton’s (you know the small square one’s from school cafeterias?) they work like a charm! slop the frosting on, add crackers, wala! (ps i have a great frosting recipe that solidifies like a rock when it’s all said and done…let me know if you’d like it!) happy Christmas to you and your family!

  • tasha roe - genius on the hot glue!! it is totally my bff!

  • amanda torres - I read all these really wonderful posts, and I somehow my devious side says this, “What I Want to Give: Time (to myself)”. Pretty awful, I know. I love all these activities. We do gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve. I will definitely use the hot glue. Definitely!

  • Julie B - Ooh I will have to try this with the older kids, Regan will be my little decorations eater. I like the photo tip, although I find it to be a great mom tip also and I think I would use any excuse to hot glue πŸ™‚

  • Kim - Gingerbread houses are definitely tradition! Every Christmas Eve, each family (my sister actually asked about individual houses this year, but with 22 houseguests, I think it a bit much, yeah?) decorates a house. Last year, we did pull out the hot glue, but the house was later disqualified, because it has to remain totally edible πŸ˜‰ I would be interested in Stacey’s solidifying frosting though πŸ˜‰ Anyway, we have a time limit and once all is decorated, we line them up and Christmas day all the guests for dinner (total could be 40 ) anonymously vote on their favorite house, decorators cannot vote! My sister’s husband used to be the judge, but after her family winning two years in a row, we switched the judging method! LOVE the idea of sleeping under the tree on the eve eve of Christmas, we may just be starting a new tradition this year! πŸ™‚

  • Trinity - The 3rd grade class makes these at school and they also use the little milk cartons! Hannah was so excited to do them this year because their class collected 49 packages of candy to decorate with! That is a lot of candy and it made her very happy! I love traditions too and love hearing what other people’s traditions are….love this whole week of what I want to give!!!

  • ashley jensen - Hmmm never though of that! Graham crackers are a great alternative instead of gingerbread! My daughter loves to decorate cupcakes (which is just a glob of icing in one spot) so she would LOVE this. I should make my husband participate too! “Those” bowls are stinkin’ cute!

  • Megan - Love the houses, they’re on our list for next week. What a great picture of firecracker…looks like she likes the icing!

  • Angie Weaver - If you melt down sugar in a pan it works just like hot glue. You just dip the edges of the graham crackers in the melted sugar and stick together. Just watch out because the hot sugar burns twice as bad as hot glue! I have been loving your posts lately. They are so full of meaning!

  • lauren - we still kick it old school over at my house and make them from scratch with the royal icing.. but this is my first year with 3 babies and graham crackers and hot glue souund like a great idea!!! :)but then how will i secretly pick off of them after the kids are asleep…? πŸ˜‰

  • Krista Lund - we will be decorating houses on Sunday! I can’t wait!

  • Krista @ Blue Eyed Yonder - I just love the idea of “camping” out under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve Eve. My husband and I did that one year, but it was due to a little too much egg nog! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your traditions.

  • Stacey - Thanks for this awesome tip! Never would have thought to do that!

    Merry Merry Christmas!

  • Stephanie - We made these graham cracker houses this week! They turned out great! I love reading your Blog!

  • Caroline - Your blog just makes me so happy! I love it! πŸ™‚

  • Jacqueline - I just made these houses this week with my kids on one of their snow days… but we used frosting…and the heavier ones collapsed… i can’t believe i never thought to use my glue gun! brilliant! round two…

  • Lila - The photos of your children and the way you capture the light are amazing! I have been contemplating gingerbread houses lately, trying to decide whether to go for the big one or stick with the graham cracker version that I have done in the past. Your post has me leaning toward graham cracker :).

    Happy Holidays!

    p.s. LOVE those Atom Art Bowls!

  • Ashlee - Jammies are the best! I just got my tonsils out yeasterday and have no intent on wearing real pants anytime soon! Also, those little milk cartons that they sell milks in at schools work great to stabilize gramcracker houses.

  • Kelly - We do this every year too. It’s an after Christmas tradition we do with my in-laws in January when they come to visit for Christmas:Part 2. But instead of doing numerous little houses, I make up a big sugar cookie house and all together we transform it into a perfect candy cottage. It’s fun!

  • katie - You make me feel better about planning activities for my daughter around the best lighting for pictures! She’s too young for graham cracker houses this year, but I’ll file the hot glue tip away for next (or maybe the next…) year! Love the pictures you captured! Your kids have the most expressive eyes!

  • Jess - Your hot glue advice is genius! My gingerbread houses will never be an epic failure again!
    I love that you planned this for the morning light – the true mind of a photographer! Hehe!

  • nori - how smart! i love the hot glue idea!
    and firecracker is so cute all covered in frosting!!!

  • Sarah - My secret to making successful gingerbread houses is not only hot glue but a milk carton underneath. (like a big half and half one) We’ve been making these since I was a little girl, about 20 yrs, and hot glue the graham crackers to the carton and then to a piece of cardboard covered in foil. That way you can make sidewalks, bonfires, trees, and such!! I love all your Christmas traditions!

  • giozi - Ohh I don’t have really a tradition and now I would like to start with some things that I’m seeing via internet.
    Ohh I wanted to eat it too, is ther another way to paste them? πŸ™

    I only had a Christmas bow with bombons but this year I don’t want to take a risk. Would not last an hour with my littles.

    I love second close up of your girl. She has your eyes !!!


  • Colleen - Your children even look cute with icing all over them! It looks like they had a great time… such a great memory to file away.

  • Naomi - Oh my gosh, Firecracker looks exactly like you in that second photo of her eating the frosting!

  • Melissa W - Awesome idea with the hot glue! I’ll definitely be trying that out this year! Firecracker is such a sweetheart. πŸ™‚ Love all your photos! πŸ™‚

  • Melissa - What a great idea! Thank you for sharing!

  • Michelle - Great traditions!! Like a couple other comments, small milk cartons work perfectly! My daughter’s kindergarten class used these and we even used the icing (easy peasy recipe) to “glue” the graham crackers to the sides of the container and rooftops. All edible, because of course they want to eat them!

  • ria - I think pj’s are the perfect attire for gingerbread house decorating. Sweet pics.

  • Leanne - brilliant! I should tell my sons teacher about using hot glue. she is going to be putting together 20 houses for the kids to decorate for next Tuesday. Can you say CRAZY?!

  • Lori - love it – thanks for sharing the tips!!!

  • maria - the hot glue is genius, definantly trying it this way next year, thanks for sharing!! and merry Christmas!!

  • bb - this year at school, my son’s entire 2nd grade made gingerbread houses. they started with empty (single serving) milk cartons. they iced the bottom of the carton and attached the carton to a paper plate. next, they iced the rest of the carton and then placed graham crackers on top of the icing (which acted like glue — and the cartons are in the exact shape of houses). they then used icing to attached candy, etc.. to the houses. i was amazed at how well it all stayed together. just thought i’d mention it in case you ever want to forgo the hot glue gun (the 2nd graders were able to do their entire project themselves and the houses didn’t fall apart since they were leaning against milk cartons).

  • Julie O'Dell - So stinkin CUTE!

  • the whyte house - oh, that ornery face! precious!

  • Heather - Ashley, I love your blog! Can I have coffee with you sometime? πŸ™‚ Oh wait…that’s impossible with four little kids! We have a lot in common…though I’m a just a couple of years ahead of you. I too am from OK (though I live in TX now). I too have 3 boys and 1 girl. I too am a pastor’s wife. And I too love family traditions, but we’ve yet to do gingerbread houses. Next week is craft week at our house, so I’m so glad I read to GLUE them together! πŸ™‚ I’ve been posting on my blog about our favorite family tradition…new ornaments each year…and it’s been fun to go back and write about what each one means!
    Blessings to you!

  • Heather - Oh…and BTW…you’ve inspired me. We’re going to ring the bell at Hobby Lobby next week! SO EXCITED!

  • Carolyn - I love the photos of your girl with icing all over her face – especially the first one! She looks just a little bit uncertain…kind of like “should I be eating this?”
    Good tip about getting everything ready before commencing activities with kids. I should remember to do this more often.

  • Kari - So adorable…I don’t blame her for eating her house. Also love the glue…I use hot glue on everything. XOXO

  • Jackie - If you use a milk carton as a frame, it is even easier. The child-size cartons that they give during lunch work perfectly, but you could always use the quart size and just cut off the bottom. Use a serrated knife to cut the square cracker into two triangles for the ends.

  • Catherine - I love, love traditions too. And I love reading your blog. It makes me happy. πŸ™‚ We call Christmas Eve Eve Christmas Adam, because Adam came before Eve right?

  • Robyn - something that works just as good as hot glue – hot, caramelized sugar! I had to help make 40 little graham cracker gingerbread houses for my daughters kindergarten class the other night, and they had an electric skillet, put some sugar in and cooked it til brown and liquidy. you just dip the edges in and stick them together. it works amazingly!!! no collapsing houses, and it dries super fast!

  • lindsey - at the preschool where i work they use empty milk cartons to stick the graham crackers to with icing and form the house.. it’s works well and still “edible”
    p.s. beautiful pics (as usual)!

  • Better than Expected « One Small Happy Family - […] been contemplating making gingerbread houses (using graham crackers) with the girls when I saw this blog.  I was inspired by her ingenuity to use hot glue to keep the graham crackers from […]

  • Yanet - Ashley,

    One thing we’ve used in our family are the little individual milk cartons to hold up the house. We use the icing to make it stick. In other words, we spread the icing on the outside of the milk carton then put the graham cracker on top of that. Make sense?

  • kathy carr - At my daughter’s school they also fixed graham crackers to milk cartons with icing, but they did it THE DAY BEFORE so they would be more stable. Genious. I would have totally used hot glue if I was in charge. But what I did not anticipate was my 3 year old hiding it in her room and eating it!!! Glad they used icing!

  • Kelly - this post is full of such good tips! Thanks!! The photo tip, glue gun tip, managing chaos, staying in pjs . . . great stuff. Kelly

  • Becca Rojo - We use melted almond bark. It is edible and hardens really fast for a stable house and easy decorating. Keep it warm in the crock pot so you don’t have to run back and forth to the microwave.

  • Joy - I second the milk carton suggestion. It makes is very, very easy and then they/you CAN eat it! (minus the milk carton)

This season of the year can quickly become a mad dash from one event to the next. If I am not careful I know it will be about surviving instead of enjoying. When my kids look back at the month of December from their childhood I don’t want them to remember it as rushed and fast paced. Right now I don’t want them to see me harried and in a frenzy….which when that happens it also means my patience with them is basically non-existent. So, I am learning to say “No.” We don’t have to be at every party or participate in every event. I want to protect my family from the crazy stressed out version of me that can come when I say “Yes” to too many things.

We still have a full calendar, but on that calendar are also days that are scheduled for absolutely nothing. Without reserving time for nothing on my calendar, I’d probably fill it in with busyness. In those reserved slots for nothing my kids have discovered a new game this Christmas season….it involves a doll stroller, a wall to crash into, 1 sister and 3 brothers that will be highly dramatic when crashing to provoke their baby sister to produce the deep belly laughs that only they can get out of her.

This Christmas I want to give my kids enough down time to be together and and crash into walls

….because sibling induced belly laughs are the best.

FireCracker loves to wear this hat. She will pass by a mirror just to admire herself. It makes me laugh everytime. I think it has something to do with how her brothers go overboard telling her how cute she is when she wears it. They are such great brothers to her. It really makes me wish I had a big brother….or 3.

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  • Lindsay - You need to frame every one of those pictures. Really big! Those are priceless. Oh, gosh, I know I’m saying things but I feel speechless πŸ™‚ Awesome pictures.

  • Amy - love it!!

  • Anna Marie - Those photos make my heart melt. How neat for her to have three adoring big brothers. She is a very lucky girl! I would love to see a video clip of that belly laugh. Baby/toddler belly laughs are one of THE best things in life!

  • RachelC - Too cute! Who knew one of those toy strollers could hold the weight of 3 big brothers! BTW — I always wondered what it would be like to have a big brother. It totally rocks having a younger one…….especially now that we’re older.

  • Laurie J - Looks like a fun game my kiddos would embrace if we had one of those strollers…I love that it’s your daughter pushing her big bros around!

  • amanda torres - I love everything about this. Her ornery tomboy side clearly masked by her girly style. Such a well balanced girl. I love the look on youngest bro’s face. It’s like he’s participating because it’s his duty, and the other brothers have taken their turns. Oldest bro’s face is classic also. You can tell he sets the tone for how you treat a lady.

  • Lindsay O'Donnell - I’m the oldest of four kids (I’m 26; the youngest is 18) and I can honestly say sibling-induced belly laughs really are the best! πŸ™‚ My sister and brothers are my favorite people on the planet, and it looks like the same goes for your kids!

  • Sarah - what a wonderful post and great pictures as usual! i’m making a resolution to slow down next year and try to enjoy life rather then making and checking off my ‘to do list’ with too many projects like i’ve been doing! it’s time to enjoy the simplier but more meaningful things in life!

  • Jen - do i have to say that you have some precious little children. i love the holiday spirit!

  • Liene - So precious!

  • anne c - this is great! I wish I had 3 big brothers too!

  • danielle - oh my goodness how adorable – i can hear the laughs through the computer πŸ™‚ i love love that last picture of your youngest – just adorable. there is nothing like sibling love!!!!!! I am one of 5 kids and i have two myself and i get so much out of seeing them hugging, kissing and laughing together!

  • christine - thank you for posting! i love watching the relationship of your eldest son & your daughter develop… it’s so sweet. pictures of the two of them always brighten my day. πŸ™‚

  • Cate O'Malley - I am right there with you on enjoying the State of Doing Nothing. Every week of the year, on our calendar, Tuesday is Family Night. We go nowhere. No one comes over. We make no plans. And just enjoy every moment of it.

  • the whyte house - Those kids crack me up! I know what you mean about time. Looking back at all the photos I took of my kids last fall/winter, I can see that we have been seriously lacking on the together time this year. The next 12 months are going to be filled with deployment readiness junk, so making time for the family has become even more important.

  • ashley jensen - Belly laughs are the absolute best! On Sunday my daughter was pushing fake flowers around in her stroller and it made me think of FireCracker. Oh and cant you just see her as a teenager with a potential boyfriend and how her brothers will be right there to protect her!

  • Mariah - So fun! I love to watch my boys play together. They make eachother happy like no one else can.

  • Krista Lund - these photos put a big smile on my face. what a way to start the day πŸ™‚

  • BriBedell - I have 5 big brothers! (Three sisters too) But there is nothing in this world than laughing and having a good time with your siblings! I say you should never go through life without a sibling!

    PS. Firecrackers outfit. Adorable. Can you share where it is from?

  • Julie B - My kids are 7, 5, 21 months and 6 months…boy girl girl boy. The oldest boy dotes on the littlest girl and the oldest girl dotes on the littlest boy. It is so sweet. I love their connections and how they enjoy making the little ones laugh. I really love watching them play together (when they are being nice, lol). We crash into a lot of walls and couches and all sorts of things here too! Hopefully we can maintain our patience this Christmas right? I know mine will be tested!

  • Mallory @ R. Simple Life - Can I just say, you have the cutest kids in the world.

  • Amy - Oh my. That last picture is just too precious for words. I always wished I had a big brother too… I think it took me a few years to figure out that if it hadn’t happened by now, it wasn’t going to happen! πŸ™‚

    By the way, Ashley — I haven’t had the chance to do any of your DIY projects, but I just wanted to say that seeing those posts has inspired me to just sit down whenever I can and do my own. Thank you!

  • Helen + Bill + Mirys from Brazil - Ashley: I just LOVED THIS SERIE “What I want to give”!!!!

    I started a serie on my own (in my kids’ blog) that is about the “25 priceless things in life”. The absolute WANNA HAVE in life. But it is about attitudes, fellings, memories…

    IΒ΄m thinking about a “What I want to give” serie for next Xmas time!

    Kisses and blessings!

    Mirys – http://www.diariodos3mosqueteiros.blogspot.com

  • Kristine - Hysterical! I love the boys being willing to love her where she’s at, even if that means being the “baby.” πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas!

  • Tess S - baby belly laughs are the greatest. so much joy. i love the idea of scheduling nothing to do. great post, ashley!

  • Molly - Wow, Firecracker looks so much like you in these photos! Adorable!

  • tasha roe - this message was meant for me today. with only 11 days till christmas i am getting stressed trying to “fit it all in” and yet i am leaving the important stuff out.
    ps- i have that same rug from target. love it! it hides EVERYTHING!! pps – little firecracker is awesome!

  • Stephanie - I love this post, it is easy to see that all of them are having so much fun, especially the camera-woman. Great pictures, and thank you for sharing. Your blog is awesome!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh, she is precious! Have a wonderful day!

  • Leslie @ top of the page - Good job! It is hard to say “No” to friends and church and teachers….I too cut out a lot of committments this month so as not to be overwhelmed. I’ve had some miserable, overburdened Decembers in the past. But our families come first, and if that means dropping things so as to protect our own hearts, then so be it. I love your intentionality and mindfulness about what you want your kids to remember, by the way.

  • Kimber - Firecracker’s outfit is spot on adorable! way to go mom πŸ™‚ and what a great thing to remember: to take time to be a family this holiday season!

    ps- i saw you have a nativity at the bottom of the tree…adorable and what a brilliant idea, the best gift under the tree for sure πŸ™‚

  • heather - brother induced belly laughs are the best!
    p.s. i schedule home time too. it’s the only sure fire way i can make sure it really truly happens. and it’s so good for the soul,
    especially little souls. πŸ™‚

  • Rachel - Super cute pictures! I was sitting here thinking about our little stroller like that. My two girls love to give rides in it…so much that I have had to add strong rubber bands because the material is about to give out! I also noticed your “what God wants for Christmas” set. We love ours! It has been such a great way to teach our girls the true gift of Christmas.

  • Emilie - I work retail, and I see so many customers coming in and out in such a hurried frenzy. It makes me sad! I love the days (like today) where I can go meet friends for lunch, pop my head in a few stores, and come home to a cup of tea or something like that. Also, I admire the way that your boys take care of Firecracker – I can’t wait to have some munchkins of my own!

  • Becca R. - this is so sweet! it brings tears to my eyes because i wish everyone did a whole lot of nothing and just spent time enjoying each other instead. this is our 1st Christmas since we lost our newborn son in August, and i don’t want to be caught up in all the craziness. i just want to be with my husband and my oldest son (big brother) and enjoy their presence as we remember our littlest. i’m hoping we can keep our focus on what Christmas is truly about…Jesus! love the hat by the way…i am a crocheter (is that a word!?!) πŸ™‚ Merry Christmas to you and your family. love reading your posts.


  • LeAnne - I can hear her laughs! So cute, all of them!

  • hearttypat - aww.. its great that Firecracker has 3 such great brothers! i love that last picture on the right, gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!

    and indeed, where did time go to!

  • giozi - This is one of the most beauties post. I love it. I love their smile. Your gil’s smile is amazing, this have not price.
    Your right we need to feel good to be good with our children.
    Now I’m thinking about christmas card to my family, costumes for the school, christms supper with friends, and then I don’t wat to be stressful. I need a diary πŸ˜€
    Kisses for your little ones. A huge for you. Be relax πŸ˜€

  • Kristin S - From photos and stories you share, it seems biggest brother and firecracker are going to be best buds forever.

  • leanne - I love this. my boys also spoil their little sister with love. and I love that she wants to dress so adorable all the time. bonus for you!

  • Sydney - These pictures make me cry! Your children are absolutely the sweetest things! You are very blessed!

  • e l l a - These are so cute Ashley.
    Firecracker is so cool πŸ˜‰

  • Kat - My older brother is 6 years older than me, so we really didn’t play together a lot – but I still love having an older brother to watch out for me! πŸ™‚ I hope one day when I have kids that my girls will have some older brothers too!

  • ria - Thanks for reminding me how important down time is. You have the sweetest little family.

  • Becky - I recently found out that I am pregnant with two boys (my first kids) and have been worried about having two (probably crazy) boys first, but when I read your blog I feel so encouraged and excited! I am so impressed by your style, especially the photos that capture your children’s spirt and activities.
    Moms are always tempted to make their kids all look at the camera and smile big, but the pictures on your blog tell more about your family than any traditional family portrait could. I plan on taking a leaf out of your book!

  • kari - such cute photos. I can’t believe the great lighting you’ve achieved indoors. XOXO

  • Zhanna - I LIVE for those deep belly laughs!!!!! And can your children get any cuter?????

    Your blog always warms up my soul!

    Also, I agree, this season can easily suck us into a mode of busyness and this year I am choosing to take it easy and be a homebody a bit more πŸ™‚

  • Beth - I look for your blog every day and am so disappointed when you don’t have pictures of your kids. Love the way you dress firecracker. Or maybe she dresses herself. Keep on doing this please. You have such a wonderful heart.

  • Kelly - I love this series of what you want to give, Ashley! Amen and amen. Kelly

  • Tamra - I LOVE these pics!! That is the cutest stinkin hat!! Suits her personality that I see in the photos. I especially love the last picture where your 2nd child is lookin right at her and sharin a little giggle!

We began the year we got married. It was snowing hard that year. I remember standing outside ringing that bell so hard because the more I moved the warmer I stayed. The manager of the department store at that Shawnee mall told us we could stand just inside the doors and out of the snow. When his shift was over the new manager told us to go back outside with our kettle. We didn’t care….we were starting a new tradition for our family.

The next year we stood outside of Long’s Drug Store in Manoa Valley on the island of Oahu. I rang the bell while Chris played his guitar and sang. We stood in flipflops, shorts and t-shirts…wonderful.

We’ve continued our tradition nearly every year. We have rang with babies in carseats covered in blankets. We’ve rang in sweaters. We’ve rang in 10 layers with chattering teeth. As the boys grow they join Chris in the singing….and typically they do a lot of dancing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to think of when Christmas is mentioned. When they begin their own families and their own traditions – what do I want to fill their Christmas memories? I’m still pondering all that I want their Christmas legacy to be, but I do know a few things I want to pop into their heads. When they think of Christmas I want them to be excited to celebrate the meaning of Christmas. I want them to know that we give because God gave. We can give not only presents, but our time and talents too.

It was cold. A grandma (I call her that because that is what she called herself) tried to convince me to let her take my kids inside with her. I told her no. She asked, “Why in the world are you doing this? Why as a family? Why do you have your kids out here?” I told her I wanted to teach my kids the meaning of Christmas. She smiled a confused and bewildered smile. Then my oldest handed her a candy cane and she went on her way.

I made several trips inside with the 3 youngest kids to warm up. My oldest came in one time and then he realized his daddy couldn’t give candy canes and play the guitar. He stood out there the rest of the hour with his lips shaking because he wanted to be sure everyone that made a donation got a candy cane. Not once did he say he was cold. Not once did he ask to leave. He pretty much rocked it. I am proud of him.

My 2 year old entertained shoppers with his interprative dancing to Christmas carols. His little sister did a lot of booty shaking too.

The sun set and our hour shift came to an end. Chris turned to me and mentioned how difficult it might be one day to get 4 teenagers to have the same night free to go ring a bell with mom & dad. I kind of think it won’t be all that difficult. I have a hunch that one day Chris won’t be the only one with a guitar and that the toddler booty shaking will be replaced with something my teenagers think up.

Once at home we sat around the kitchen table drinking hot chocolate and talking about what we had just done. The older boys were relying all the money that they saw being put into the bucket and all the smiles of those that donated. Then the boys grinned and said, “That is a lot of people that will get food this Christmas. And a lot people that will get to be warm.” Chris and I glanced at each other….it is so very good when they do actually get it.

Just in case you are wondering…to volunteer to be a bell ringer you just contact your local Salvation Army…that is what we do each year.

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  • Jodi - This post was exactly what I needed to jump start my day. It made me so proud and they are not even my kids! I have goosebumps and tears. I love it. Great job Ashley! Your family is truly amazing. I agree, I do see your kids as teenagers helping out. πŸ™‚

  • Jessie - I don’t think I have actually every “really” commented (unless entering contests count!) on your blog. You have been told this so many times, but I am going to say it again…you really hit home with your posts. I mean hit, with as much force as possible, right where it hurts. This post is so true and is very timely for our family as we are trying to figure out how to really impress upon our 3 year old the meaning of Christmas. A few months ago I didn’t even know about your blog until I found noticed a post of yours on Design Aglow. Checking your blog every morning is now a daily ritual of mine. Thank you!

  • Anna Marie - So neat, Ashley! I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

  • Tracie - Thanks for this post. I get so frustrated at this time of year with all of the buy this, give this, bigger, better, etc. We keep Christmas simple and put a lot of focus on fun family traditions, church, music, giving of our time and money to charities we love. Jesus came to us as a baby in a manger, to no fanfare at all. When did Christmas become less about him and more about giving me loads of presents?

    May your family be blessed this Christmas and may your children always understand the joy of giving!

  • Corey Moortgat - wow, how inspiring! I’m going to email a link to this post to my husband right now. You may have just recruited another bell-ringing family of toddlers!

  • Reidunn - I have tears in my eyes. Your writing is as good as your amazing actions. I’m so happy there are people out there being intentional like this.

  • Jennifer - I love that idea – I had never thought about it. I am trying to do the same thing as you with the meaning of Christmas with my kids. Each year they choose an angel from the tree that is their age. They then buy clothes and toys that their angel needs. Every year they look forward to choosing the angel who is just like them. We talk about why the kids might be on the tree and how lucky we are to have clothes, etc. Yesterday my 5 year old said to me,”Mom is would be so sad to be an angel and not have your name picked.Maybe we should choose 2 kids next year.”

  • Yanet - The part of your oldest “toughing” it out choked me up. I see in my boys the older they get, the more they understand and I see glimpses of what wonderful individuals they are becoming. That’s what I see in your little ones. They are growing up to be as thoughtful and giving as their parents.

  • Lindsay - Love this. That is awesome that they get it – wow. I just love this!

  • Liz - Wow! Ashley! I’m with Yanet—your oldest brought tears to my eyes…what children can show us that we’re capable of. Jesus is so pleased with him (and you and Chris for leading them in the right way). Yours is the only blog I make time to read every new post—with three little boys, it might be every month or so with the others. But yours is so worth it!

  • Laurie J - This is great. We did this as a family of wee ones also and I think it is so impactful. Now every night my boys thank God for a warm bed….and last night my middle son added, “and thank You for one head.” Not sure where that came from but it was a good rhyme!

  • Katie - Your words brought a tear to my eye – your children are going to grow up with a lot of love in their hearts.

  • Shauna - What you are doing is amazing! Keep up the fantastic work!

  • maribeth - what a great idea! i know it is simple, but i would never thought of ringing the bell as a family/group. you just always see one person doing it, but what cheer it would bring to see multiples. i, too, don’t think you will have any problem getting them to continue in the years to come. thank you for sharing!

  • Sadie - Oh my. This brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. You are such an amazing family. This is an awesome idea! I’ll have to keep this in mind. What a perfect way to teach the kids about the meaning of Christmas! Thanks for sharing this!

  • colleen - I was just thinking this morning about the ultimate act of humble service that Jesus offered up on our behalf and how anything we offer is paltry but necessary. Paltry because even our most “holy” deeds are filthy rags. Necessary because it checks our hearts and reminds us of how greatly we have been loved and served. Thanks for letting the Holy Spirit use you to put pictures to what that looks like. And to emphasize how much fun it can been when we serve & give AND DANCE! Those three are a wonderful combination :)I would say “God Bless You” but i am very aware that He already has.

  • Robyn Farmer - This made me cry. I love what your teaching your children. As we raise our daughter and pray for her future husband we hope he is getting raised by parents like you.

  • Mariah - Thanks for sharing this this morning. You make me want to be a better Mommy.

  • Mindy - What a wonderful tradition to start with your family. Your a wonderful mother. So inspiring to the rest of us! Thank you.

  • Juli I - Ashley, I can’t stop the tears. I’m so touched. You are a wonderful mom and an inspirtion. Beautiful post. Thank you!

  • giozi - Wow wow wow. Last sunday we (in the church) go out to give brochures, and christmas cards. I have to tell you tha It was little shame for me, I’ve never do that, but your husband, your childrend a all your family is fantastic, for me it was so hard and your husbad is there smiling, with his children, everybody happy to share,and this was harder.
    God bless your family Ashley. You are a example, no only for your blog, for your life.

  • Krista Lund - kudos to you for being awesome parents!

  • Peggy - Inspiring. Thank you.

  • shelly - Wait until they’re young adults and they tell you about their desire to work in a job that has meaning and purpose and helps others. Talk about the Christmas spirit! I get teary just thinking about it. My friend told me years ago that the proof is in the pudding as to whether you’re doing a good job parenting. The pudding is made day by day, season after season. Way to parent!
    Oh, and can you remind me of the lens you use for your tutorials. You shared it with me and I forgot. (Santa needs to know)

  • Julie B - Totally inspired as always! I love love love this tradition. I keep my spare change in the car so that anytime we go somewhere that has a Salvation Army bell ringer they can all put something in the pot. Even the little one. I want them to know the feeling of giving. Beautiful post!

  • tasha roe - tearing up here! this is so fantastic! love the legacy you are creating for your kids. so great!! we always talk about doing more along these lines with our kids and never carve out the time. it is so crucial! we MUST do more this year.

  • Mary - I love this post. What a perfect way to spend part of the holiday season!

  • sarah W. - Of course I’m crying cause I’m just that person. super emotional.
    You set such a great example for not only your kids, but all of us who read your blog. You have such a giving heart, and are such a great mom. What a great way to share christmas with your family and teach them what it really means. You and your family rock!

  • Jeannette - This made me cry!!! You do such an awesome job teaching your kids!

  • keisha - This is amazing. And so simple to tell my 3yo, we give because God gave. THANK YOU for that – Merry Christmas and may God continue to bless you and yours.

  • Helen + Bill + Mirys from Brazil - What a beautiful atitude!!!!

    IΒ΄m so proud of you 6! You are trully inspiration!!!

    I donΒ΄t have this kind of tradition at home but, this year, IΒ΄m going to donate some toys and candies at a childrenΒ΄s hospital (for cancer), in my town. And my 2 little musketeers are going with me!!!

    Life is sharing, Ashley! Life is sharing!…

    Mirys – http://www.diariodos3mosqueteiros.blogspot.com

  • Kristen D - i love enthusiastic bell ringers (the last one we got was slouching in her chair, and on her cell when we went in…and out). during this wonderful season, i pack my wallet full of change and give both my kids money to put in the bucket when we go in, and when we go out and then make sure to tell them the meaning of what we are doing. they love it!

  • kyla hailstone - Awsome, truely awsome. My daughter just did bell ringing with her 4-h club on saturday and I think it’s so great to help them understand supporting our community and helping tose in need.

  • Joye - I love this! I mean LOVE it!!! What you have started with your family will be their most treasured memories of Christmas ever!! My kids are all little too, but we’ve started Christmas traditions of giving that I hope stay with them for the rest of their life! My kids love “Jesus’ birthday month” and they know instinctively that the best gift they can give Jesus is loving others–especially those in need this season!!! God bless your family this year!

  • heather - and this is why you’re my favorite.

  • its been a while « Smalltown Lovin - […] really loved this […]

  • the whyte house - wish you guys were out here…chris with a guitar and dancing kids is a whole lot better than that darn bell! lol. we get a trumpet playing every now and then, but no guitars.

    chris- ms. elmore should have had some of the choir guys out performing for the salvation army when you guys were in high school. can you see it? you, rob crawford, blake connelly, aaron loney, thomas hale, ryan fagala(and his overly expressed face :))…to name a few. that would’ve been a great show in front of wal-mart. πŸ™‚ haha.

    ashley, if you want some “chris high school memorabilia”, i’d be happy to send it to you guys. i’m sure the kids would love it. i know i still have photos from choir in my scrapbook and i definitely don’t need any of them! πŸ™‚

  • tasha - wonderful! thank you for sharing your thoughts and tradition. merry christmas!

  • Raychel - Ashley, you and your family are such a inspiration! Thanks for reminding us of the real reason for the season! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2011! God Bless!

  • LeAnne - once again…tears to my eyes. So precious. All of it, the meaning being realized by your little ones, the time being enjoyed by each member of your tiny family, and the pictures that capture it all. Thank you for today’s post.

  • Caitlin - What a great tradition!

  • Hannah Bunker - That is so awesome that you do this with your kids!

    Also, my family lives in Shawnee. Nice little town.

  • Tiffany - πŸ™‚

  • hearttypat - Ashley! I’ll need personal coaching from you next time when I’m a parent! All those values and lessons to teach kids, and I have not the slightest idea how! This is why I love your blog! God bless you and your family and have a wonderful christmas!

  • mandi - AWESOME!!!
    I’m with you-when the kids get it, it is incredible. I’m always pondering our family’s legacy too. What we are passing on, praying over, wrapping up beautifully for our children.
    Have you read “Treasuring GOd in OUr Traditions” by Noel Piper? I haven’t read it but I’m wanting to. I’ve heard really great things about it.

  • Leanne - very sweet.

  • Gevay - It is inspiring how you and your family live out your faith. You are not just Christ followers in word, but also in deed. Thank you for another reminder of what this holiday means, “We give because He gave”.

  • Kirra Sue - You & Chris are some awesome parents. Awesome. Thanks for passing along all these amazing tips for those of us just starting out.

  • Leslie - Ashley, I read your blog everyday. I too have never left a comment. Shame on me. You are truly an amazing person. You inspire me with your love for others, and how you raise your children. Thank you for being you and helping me be better.

  • Jenny B. - Wow. Awesome.

  • jennie - this made me cry. Thank you

  • Stefanie - I know you’ve heard this a few times…but, wow, your family is such a beautiful inspiration! Thank you for the idea.

  • OrangeFarmhouse - Maike - I just love your family for doing this!

  • Melissa - Very very inspiring! I love it! You are giving your family a truly amazing gift! Thank you!

  • Ruth - Ashley, you never cease to amaze or inspire me. Thank you! In 2004 our little town was devastated by Hurricane Charley and the Red Cross provided us (along with most of our town) with 3 meals a day for weeks. We have been ardent supporters ever since but have never once thought of volunteering with our kids to ring the bell. We will now.

  • Carolyn - What a wonderful family tradition…and the crux of the message ‘we gave because God gave’ is (sadly) rare in all the hype and commercialism surrounding Christmas. You are doing a wonderful job in raising your children to glorify God and consider others. That is better than any present to be found under a Christmas tree.

  • christmas thoughts « - […] what Christmas is all about and what traditions passed down the generations mean? I just read a post from my favourite blog Under the Sycamore, really, everyone should read it. It’s about what […]

  • MelissaM - Once again, Ashley, thank you for sharing fabulous examples how to teach your kids God’s love through real life field trips. You’ve inspired me again to think of something similiar for my 2 year old. πŸ™‚

  • amber - THAT is awesome. Why haven’t I ever thought of that? Thanks…you just added something to the top of my to do list. Way to go biggest bro…you do rock! πŸ™‚

  • CharlaL - tears….I needed to be reassured that they WILL get it. I had a rough morning! Oldest brother and my son are close in age! I love your heart, and I love that you share it. Not in a way that is look at me I am so great. But with the heart of a mother wanting to make life COUNT! THANK YOU for allowing God to use you as inspiration and encouragement!

  • Caitlin - Incredible. This is so perfect & what a wonderful perspective to teach your family. Thanks for sharing! God bless!

  • Valerie - Thanks for the inspiration. I don’t know if I am brave enough to do such a thing, but you and Chris certainly inspire me! Perhaps one day we will give it a try.

  • Katie - what a beautiful thing! and so encouraging to hear how others make sure Christ stays the center of this holiday season πŸ™‚

  • Meredith - In high school, one of the opportunities that Community Service offered was bell ringing for the Salvation Army. The first time I signed up I was a freshmen and the only spot left was the two hour shift on Christmas eve right before mass. My friend Morgan and I signed up together. We bundled up, it was snowing, it was cold, and every one was in a rush to get their last minute items from the market. Everyone either donated on their way in or on their way out, some people donated both times. One woman bought us hot apple cider inside. It was the best feeling I have ever had, and I didn’t care that I was cold.

    The next year, Morgan and I signed up again, same shift, same spot, same cold. This time we figured out that we needed hot chocolate before ringing the bell. We stopped at a coffee shop and while waiting in line, the woman in front of us over heard what we were going to be doing. She bought our hot chocolate for us and then gave us money to put in the bucket for her.

    That Christmas eve shift is my favorite time to volunteer. Every person has a reason to be rushed, to be in a bad mood, or to be overwhelmed with what is going on and forget about the people who could really use a little extra help. But for some reason, at the busiest place in my town, everyone seems to have the same thing in mind, give back.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. I know that when I have children of my own, I will also bring them out to ring the bell.

  • Jenny - What an awesome tradition!Not to mention what an amazing family. My fiancΓ© and I have been talking about our hopes for our future life together a lot lately, especially family and holiday traditions we hope to continue and create, and I might just have to add this to the list:) Thank you for being such an inspiration, God bless and Merry Christmas!

  • caro - I’m like the old lady, don’t like kids with this activities, but we can see your kids enjoy the moment, and the messagge you are given them is amazing. Thank you for do a better day to all of us. Sorry for my english ihope you understand me.

  • Summer - Thank you for this inspiring post!! Following your family’s Christian example me and my family will be in front of the grocery store ringing tomorrow night! πŸ™‚ merry Christmas!

  • Jessica Egg - I really enjoy this family tradition of yours. You have a wonderful blog and I appreciate all your tips and uplifting thoughts. Much thanks!

  • chantelle - Your story makes me cry warm happy tears! Your kids will be beautiful loving teenagers who will love to spend time with their uber cool parents! All thekids will want to join in! My husband plays the guitar and my 2 year old would do a wonderful dance-guess who I will be calling tom morning-thank you for sharing your wonderful family activities. (but you should supply kleenix!)

  • Brooke - touched deeply and smiling from ear to ear. Thank you to you and yours for remembering Christ-mas and teaching your kiddos well. xo

  • Paige Rodriguez - By now, you must know what a difference you make with this little ol’ blog. You truly do inspire people to be better, do better, even create better. Here I am a young mom with a 3 yr. old, and I’m reading this thinking, THIS IS MY CHANCE. To start this for our own family. To continue the cycle of teaching to give. Thank you for taking the time to teach us!

  • Allison - As an engaged 27-year old, I am soaking in your parenting ideas for when we start our family. Know that simply sharing your life is shaping mine and that of my future children’s.

  • Cynthia (It All Changes) - This post makes me smile. It was my tradition as a child to help out and as a Salvation Army officer it makes me smile when other families do the same. We want to teach our future children about the joy of giving to others in Christ’s love and not the stress of the holidays for us.

    Thank you for being such a giving family.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I love you. I love you. I love you.

  • Vicki - I always wonder what stuff that we “teach” or do with intention (or not intentional)will stick in their minds. I know so much of what I just “know” to do, that just feels natural, is really things that my mom planted there. It’s a little overwhelming, this parenting thing. By the grace of God we get it right.

  • Elise - You are so awesome!! It never even occurred to me to do this…I need to come up with something to relay to my children the real reason we celebrate Christmas, and they do know, but something like this is just great!!

  • Anndee - Wow. Very inspiring! I need to get better at donating into those pots – no doubt your family generates some great donations! And what a FABULOUS tradition. I’m all teary eyed.

  • Brianne Pitts - Thank you for your post. You motherly insights are very inspiring. I don’t know why, but I actually started to cry when I read this. I guess I was just thinking of my own childhood and the special things my parents did with us, and of my own teeny children, and how that after loosing my mother a few months ago, I need to be the one that does these things for my own young family. Thank you for your kindness to others.

  • nori - ashley… this post made me cry. you and chris are amazing parents with huge hearts and your children are just PRECIOUS. precious looking with precious hearts.

    God bless you all!

  • Irene Wiranata - This post is so overwhelming, it touched me right in my deepest heart. God bless your family abundantly!!

  • Juleah - Just made a phone call….looks like we’ll be ringing some bells next week! Thanks!

  • Melissa - Wow… thank you for sharing this wonderful Christmas tradition. It actually brought me to tears, Happy tears as my kids call them. You have an amazing family!

  • Desiree - I love this idea! I can see us doing this. I’m going to look it up next year. Thank you for sharing!

  • Evie - your family rocks… thats all!

  • Lila - This post really inspired me, talked to my husband about it last night. I agree, I want my future children to have a tradition of giving that teaches them to think outside themselves. Loved hearing what they said at the end of the day! Insightful!

  • Dana Moran - I love this post, love everything about it! I love how your family always come first. I come to your blog often for inspiration & great ideas…

  • Lilliana - Thank you for sharing this post… we should all work at giving our holidays true meaning as that is what will stick in our children’s minds and in our hearts.

  • Natalie - Sniff! This is a beautiful thing.