When I was a kid, with the exception of once, my dad trekked through several feet of snow once a year, up the back mountain, to harvest a Christmas tree. A few years we got to go with him. He liked to put the tree up on December 18th, his mother's birthday. Christmas was her favorite holiday, and it was his affectionate way of paying tribute to her and the holiday spirit she had instilled in him.
"Santa" filled stockings, left one or two presents, sometimes wrapped, sometimes not, sometimes a little of each, and Santa always added new lights, decorations, set up dioramas, etc. We kids were always awestruck in the morning, and couldn't understand how my parents weren't as excited to see what Santa had done. My parents would get up with us while we opened stockings, then go back to sleep for an hour or two. My brothers and I would enjoy our stockings, and impatiently wait to open presents when they woke up.
The only thing distinctly different for my children is that Santa only fills stockings. I told the girls I sent Santa a letter, telling him that we get lots of presents from our family and friends, could he please take an extra present to someone less fortunate instead of bringing it to us. As of yet, that seems fine with everyone here. We load the stockings with treats, many of which are edible or usable, like granola bars and goldfish crackers, a little candy, bubble bath, new character undies and socks, chapstick, some little trinket toys or instruments, homemade play dough, new art supplies... things to keep them busy and fed while we catch up on rest before present opening, things that we regularly buy anyway, and things that are fun and disposable. Maybe it's just my kids, but they love their Tinkerbell underwear, goldfish crackers, and anything that makes noise or a mess.
This year I traded stocking stuffers with a friend who has similarly aged children - small toys her kids or my kids have received throughout the year and don't play with; a metal kazoos, a prayer drum, mini nail polishes, matchbox cars, etc. Along with those, I found and/or purchased a few small, party favor style toys, that I"m going to attach to strings and hang from the bottom branches of the tree for the girls to pick off. I have a Christmas tea set that Santa is going to give them - set out for them with little breakfast snacks, and a Playmobil Christmas set to arrange. We'll see if the Polly Pocket and Ryan's room doll houses get assembled for them, and whether or not they get wrapped. It depends on how long it takes this Santa and her helpers to get everything else done.
What were Christmases like for you as a child? What traditions have you continued with your own children, and what have you changed?