Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Scavenger Hunt - A Wonderful Family Tradition

Scavenger Hunt clue in my pantry.

It began simply enough. My daughter decided one year to do a scavenger hunt for her brothers so that they had to take some time to locate their gifts on Christmas morning. It was fun, and added a nice twist to the day. Fast forward a few years, and the annual scavenger hunt has grown and expanded. Rather than focusing on what they are going to get for Christmas, I find my children squirreled away in the weeks before the celebration crafting elaborate clues and challenges for one another. On Christmas Eve, people sneak around hiding envelopes around our home...inside and out. Yes, if you want to participate in the annual scavenger hunt, you might want to have your outdoor gear handy on Christmas morning!

First comic for this year's Amazing Ugly Race

The scavenger hunts can be simple (about 5 clues) or rather elaborate (10 clues with activities and challenges associated with them). Some years they are based loosely on our favorite reality TV show... The Amazing Race. Scavenger hunt clues often involve detailed comic art featuring another family favorite, Uglydolls.  This year we even had a zombie theme in one of the scavenger hunts. (It ended up fitting with the gift).  I love the Christmas scavenger hunts for many reasons. First, my kids are more focused on giving a unique experience to their siblings than they are on themselves at Christmas time. Second, this family tradition is completely kid generated...they thought of it, they create it, and we are the camera-wielding bystanders.  Third, it makes Christmas morning last longer. Grab your shoes and your Nerf guns, and let the games begin!

It all begins with an envelope under the Christmas tree.

This year's scavenger hunts even had a "Korean" edition.  I have a son doing missionary work for our church in South Korea for the next two years.This first Christmas away from home, he sent a gift and a scavenger hunt for his younger brother. It was an unexpected Christmas bonus.  The kids find their first clue in an envelope under the Christmas tree, and then the fun really begins.

Opening clue for the Zombie Apocalypse Training scavenger hunt

Like the Amazing Race on TV, our Christmas morning scavenger hunts may include roadblocks (you have to complete a task), detours (you get to choose between two tasks to complete), and U-turns (you have to do both tasks of the detour). One task this year was to make a paper boat and float a Lego mini figure in it. It didn't have to be pretty, just functional, and you could only use a minimal amount of tape.

Lego mini-figure in a paper boat.

Clues may also include references to a favorite book or movie that the kids recognize. For 2013, clues were found in "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks, and  in "Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians" by Brandon Sanderson.

Clue #5 was found inside a book.

My son designed and built a contraption out of Lego parts for this year's hunt. His sister had to shoot a zombie target. When she hit the target, her gift tumbled out. It was a zombie movie, of course! (Warm Bodies).

Zombie Target

Shooting Nerf darts at the zombie in the kitchen

Success! Target hit, gift delivered.

No scavenger hunt would be complete without the presence of Thok. Thok is a Bionicle, and he has been a key part of our scavenger hunts for years. Since his Bionicle power is ice, he is often found in the freezer.

Thok holds a clue in the freezer.

Other popular locations for stashing clues include the island in the kitchen, and the cookie jar. It seems these hiding places have become part of the tradition.

Clue by the cookie jar (someone else's gift is inside the jar).

And it just wouldn't be the same if we didn't have to go outside at least once on Christmas morning. This year, my son got to dig in the snow, and climb a tree before locating the correct clues for his gifts.

Looking for clues in the snow., anyone?

This year, there were several clues in the cherry tree that said "Try Again." Unfortunately for my son, he grabbed the first paper and ran back to the house. Then he noticed it said "Try Again," and he had to go back out to the tree. Eventually he just climbed the tree and collected all of the papers. He did find his clue, and I don't think he got frostbitten!

Getting clues out of the tree.

I am thrilled these scavenger hunts have become a favorite family tradition. Especially since almost no effort is involved on my part! After all the hard work of pulling off a family Christmas, I just get to sit back and enjoy the show.

Clue in a Lego mailbox

My son followed a clue to the mailbox, but didn't find what he was looking for inside. His next clue was actually tucked into a Lego mailbox set up in our Lego Christmas village. Another clue was hidden in a nutcracker's mouth (a Viking nutcracker we call Thor).

Another clue in the nutcracker's mouth.

This clue included a word scramble.

I am so glad my daughter decided one year to do a scavenger hunt for her brothers. I am even more happy that they loved it so much, they now all do it for each other. It is fun for the whole family, and something I look forward to each Christmas. As my kids grow older and approach leaving the nest, I know my spectator days may be drawing to a close for these scavenger hunts, but I hope they continue the tradition for many years to come!

Gift located in a desk drawer!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Close Enough Christmas!

Christmas candles

In the past, I have wanted the perfect Christmas. And I have been frustrated when I couldn't get done everything I wanted to do.  There has never been enough time, enough money, enough energy, etc., etc., etc. But this year is different.

This year, we only put up part of the Christmas lights. The elements combined to give us snow and 20 degree weather for weeks, and it was too slippery to climb the roof and do all of the lights. But the colored lights and red bows on the porch railing are pretty, especially with the snow.

Homemade Christmas house

This year, our Christmas tree did not have a lot of branches to cut off at the base, so there isn't a homemade fresh wreath hanging on the door. There is an inexpensive knit Christmas stocking, and it looks festive against our red door.

This year, I didn't write a Christmas newsletter. I have enjoyed crafting one in the past, trying to keep it fun and succinct. But this year, when I was ordering photo cards online, I found I could summarize our year in a few sentences on the back of the card, and it was great! We all sat and signed the cards as a family, and I really enjoyed that.

This year, my house isn't de-cluttered, and it won't be spotless for the party we will host on Christmas Eve. This year, all of the decorations didn't get put up...just the favorites. And the house looks great. I am enjoying my tree, my nativities, my handmade decorations, the Lego village on our shelves, and the poinsettia I picked up at the store.  So what if there aren't extra lights and garlands adorning our dining room?

Part of our Lego Christmas decor

This year, we have fewer presents under the tree. The shopping got done early, and I kept it simple. I have very little left to wrap.

This year, the neighbor gifts were simpler. My grandmother used to make trays heaping with a variety of cookies at Christmastime, and we would munch on these delectable treats over Christmas break. In her honor, I like making treat plates to give to neighbors. I have never come close to her level of baking, and some years, the strain of trying to make multiple treats for everyone has been overwhelming.  This year, we gave simple treats to a few close friends and neighbors, and I enjoyed the experience.

This year, I am enjoying saying thank you to people. This year, I am listening to more Christmas music. This year I am gathering with my family around a table to play board games, or to cuddle on the couch to watch Christmas movies. This year I am keeping the food for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day simple.

One of our nativities

This year, I am focusing more on the things that are important to me as we celebrate Christ's birth, instead of counting the things I couldn't do. This year, Christmas is close enough...and it is better than ever!

May you have a very Merry  Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Warp 3: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

"The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world."  So begins The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.  When the Herdmans hear there is food available at church, they show up to Sunday school, and volunteer to be in the annual Christmas pageant. The Herdmans have never heard the nativity story, the other children are afraid of them, and the regular pageant director is out with a broken leg.  The pageant is in danger of being a disaster.

This little book is only 80 pages long, and reads very quickly. It is hilarious and touching at the same time, as the reader sees the Christmas story through the fresh eyes of the Herdman children. They put their own spin on the annual pageant, and in doing so, make those around them think about the Christmas story in new ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this book.  Author Barbara Robinson grew up in a small town, and says that influenced her writing. Her fast paced style and quick wit make this book a great Christmas read for all ages.

Happy Reading!

See also:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Song Confessions

Christmas music is omnipresent in December, so I thought I would share my Christmas song confessions with you.

I hate listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

I wish radio stations would continue to play Christmas music after Christmas, until New Year's Eve. I find the transition back to the regular radio formats immediately after Christmas is jarring.

It is not enough for me to like a particular Christmas also matters to me who is singing it. There are some versions of songs that I cannot abide.

I don't understand why "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music gets played as a Christmas song.

I like Mannheim Steamroller's  "Deck the Halls" and "Stille Nacht."

I can take "funny" Christmas songs in very small doses, like "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" or "The Twelve Pains of Christmas."

There are some songs I look forward to every Christmas. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

1.    O Holy Night - Nat King Cole or Josh Groban

2.  Little Drummer Boy - but only the Bob Seger OR Bing Crosby/David Bowie versions
3.  Santa Claus is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

4.  Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - U2
5.  God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings - Barenaked Ladies & Sarah Mclachlan

6.  For Unto Us a Child is Born - from Handel's Messiah

And here are some of the Christmas songs I could do without!
  1. Christmas Shoes - Newsong
  2. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - anyone
  3. Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John Lennon
  4. Please Come Home for Christmas - the Eagles
  5. The Holly & The Ivy
Which Christmas songs are your favorites? Which ones are on your "worst" list?