During the holidays we have a few time-honored traditions we must observe or it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. A lot of them involve food – green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole and angel biscuits are strict dietary requirements.

Miz Mary from across the street brings over a loaf of fruitcake, and because I am the only one in our family who actually likes candied fruit… it’s mine, mine, all mine!

A Tupperware bowl full of sausage balls is always sitting on the kitchen counter from Thanksgiving to New Years. Last year we experimented with chorizo… we’ll be inviting Jimmy Dean back this year.

Each year both of the kids get holiday socks. WK usually gets something manly, wooly and substantial. JM is more fun. She likes toe socks with sparkly yarn and bright colors.

Even though we already have so many ornaments it’s hard to find the tree, we will get a new one to mark the passing year. The Santa key, the one that lets him in the front door so he doesn’t get stuck in the chimney, is hung outside on the doorknob.

The one tradition that has endured the longest however, has been our Advent Calendar. I created a four-foot square tartan freak shortly after we moved to Florida. I am a passable seamstress… if I have a pattern. I made it free hand and it turned out a smidge bigger than I planned. (It was supposed to be not much bigger than a standard wall calendar.)

Good for the kids… bad for me. When I first introduced it, I spent days, nay weeks perchance months, picking out the little gifts to hide in the pockets. I had a plan to limit each trinket to no more than $1 – nearly impossible 12 years ago, impossible now.

Some days the gift was too big to fit in the pocket, so I would draw crude treasure maps or leave them clues where to find it… typically it was something like a holiday mug bought at the Dollar Tree with a packet of hot chocolate.

I had thought that my children would have outgrown this tradition years ago…much like Halloween trick-or-treating. Nope. One of them asked the other day when I was going to hang the calendar. Answer - sometime after midnight Nov. 30. It will take me that long to wrap each one. Yes, I do wrap them. Each kid has a different colored paper so it’s easy to tell which one gets which present.

This year, however, we have a glitch. Our oldest will be spending a good chunk of December away from home at college. That didn’t seem right. So shortly after last Christmas WK and I made a trip to the hobby supply store. WK found just the thing… a plain wooden snowman filled with 25 little drawers.

I spent one weekend painting it and adding numbers to the drawer fronts. I’m not much better at painting than I am at sewing, but at least it still looks like a snowman. Then the questing began.

I thought finding 24 little gifts to fill a 5×5 inch pocket was difficult. Try finding 25 that fit into a space not much bigger than a 1-inch square. Some of the things I got for the snowman that didn’t fit will go into the Mother Calendar.

I gripe, but the questing is half the fun. I enjoy hunting for stuff that I think will make my kids laugh, smile or just realize how often I think about them or how much I love them.

I love this sentimental silliness. That’s why I had to make sure my daughter knew that no matter where she was this Christmas season, she was still a huge part of our holiday traditions. And, her brother will think of her every day he pulls his Advent gifts, all alone, from the calendar.

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