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Taking a look around our apartment, I don’t see a lot of Southern Living. My tree is artificial, there are a few presents under it clad in frayed wrapping paper because I have a two year old and a newly one year old, both of whom possess curious fingers. Our stockings are hung on the DVD shelf (with care, I promise!) and, in a fit of creativity during the kids’ afternoon nap time, I hung ornaments from curling ribbon in our front window. Yaaaaas.

ashley kilday resident mom

Photo courtesy of Ashley Kilday

But my kids’ faces are aglow with Christmas spirit.

I always try to make the holidays look at least a little special. We may be minimalist on the decor, but I do have certain things I insist on putting up on December 1st. Those things are being cemented into my children’s memories as rites and rituals of Christmas — a decorated tree, stockings, lots of red, green, gold and silver, Christmas books and movies. We play Christmas music in the car. We have an Advent wreath and we sing the O Antiphons for the seven days before Christmas as it’s the “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” song.

I think the easiest way to introduce kids to the rites and rituals of Christmas is to just talk to them about what’s going on around them in a way they can understand. I think that is the easiest way to introduce kids to anything, really.

1. Teach through togetherness. At our church, we are in the middle of Advent, so our sanctuary is awash in the trappings of the season. I point out those special decorations to my kids when we’re at Mass. When we go to the mall and see the big wonderland area decorated for Santa Claus; we talk about who he is, what he does, how he came to be. Christmas music is on the radio right now and we talk about the content of the songs, be it hippo-pata-mus-usus or “The First Noel” (maybe hold off on “Santa Baby”).

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Above all else, just be with your kids in the present moment as much as possible without worrying about the six million things you might feel like you need to do. Find an activity that you can do together; this year for us it will probably be something simple like making real hot chocolate and driving around our greater neighborhood looking at the wonderful Christmas light displays!

>> Read more: 10 Family-Approved Ways to Bring Cheer to Your Children this Christmas

2. Teach through flexibility. No matter your preset rituals, every Christmas is going to be a little different. While the kids may not join you at the lessons and carols before midnight Mass this year and they may get scared on a hayride to see the Christmas lights in your neighborhood, they will mellow out as they get older and are better able to stay up late. Be flexible and understanding when your little love has a meltdown or needs to leave an event early. You might be frustrated, but that sentiment is not part of the season. Your kids can remember that the holidays made you uptight and less fun or they can remember how you gracefully weathered their tiny storms and loved them even when they threw fruitcake through the picture window.

family sledding

3. Teach through giving. We want to help our kids understand the true meaning of Christmas, not only from the teachings of the church but from the outward-focused spirit of charity and giving that characterizes this season. But we also have to guard our time to make sure we’re not running from place to place to ensure we get the whole “holiday package.”

You don’t need to attend every single party, you don’t need to participate in every gift/ornament/cookie exchange. You don’t need to decorate your house like you are preparing for a holiday home tour photoshoot, make cookies from scratch (ever) or have a jam-packed Advent calendar with a family activity every single night.

4. Teach through reading. Books really do open doors to new experiences and new worlds. One thing I’m trying this year is reading one Christmas book every night for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I read to the kids before their bedtime anyway so I just transitioned over to themed books. We have selections such as “The Crippled Lamb” by Max Lucado and “The Nutcracker” as illustrated by Mary Engelbreit, and I’m saving “The Night Before Christmas” and the story of the Nativity for Christmas Eve.

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Every selection demonstrates some aspect of the Christmas season in a way that is accessible to my young kids. “The Nutcracker,” for example, is all about Christmas magic and dreams coming to life. “The Tiny Star,” another selection, is about a Christmas miracle at the stable in Bethlehem. One of my recent favorites, “The Snow Angel,” is about the importance of dreams and hope.

I would urge each mom to figure out what’s important to you and do those things. Don’t do too much else. Your kids will see what’s truly important when you hold it up as your priority in a time of year that is often hectic and stressful to the point of not being fun anymore. Come into Christmas together and make merry; that means faith, family, friends, giving, peace, and love.

>> Read more by Ashley: 5 Ways I’m Raising Readers