Making Merry: The Great Tree Hunt

Making Merry is our first guest series. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from a lady about how she and her family make the Christmas season merry. GraceMarie is a lovely friend from my college days. She and her husband, Brett, currently live in the Chicago area, but she grew up in California. Today she shares about her family's tree hunt tradition.


Saturday morning, we throw on our closest equivalent to Winter attire—sweatshirts and jeans, maybe a scarf—even though the weather normally settles somewhere between 70 and 80 for the day. But we're determined to play the part, Californians or not, and we all pile into our van. 

We are on a hunt for the perfect Christmas tree.  

Now, it's important to know that the perfect Lambert Christmas tree isn't just any Christmas tree. It's one that "speaks" to us—one that’s broad enough for Christina, sparse enough for me, and tall enough for Hannah. For my Dad and brother, it has to be a size they can actually fit through the door. My mom holds the final veto. She, of course, has to look at it the most, she argues. 

On arriving at the tree farm, we are all hot, still tired, and we've bickered just the tiniest amount—because it's tradition, obviously. 

But we shake all these less than holiday feelings off in the rush of excitement that comes with pine trees and seasonal festivities. 

The trees are tall and beautiful and there are many. 

This won't be easy. 

We begin in a rush—racing from tree to tree, until someone suggests a more systematic approach. But the key here is that whoever "feels" most deeply wins the day; whoever can throw him or herself down in front of the tree with the most passion (Ahem—I may or may not be guilty of prostrations in the dirt), or whoever can get my mom on their side.  

Once we pick the tree, we deem it not just perfect but more importantly “ours”. And we pile back in the car—a little warmer than we started (especially if you’ve run around the tree farm yelling “they’re speaking to me, the trees are speaking!), but all as jolly as could be. And we blast Christmas carols all the way home. 

Then we decorate—with all the funky, precious, and dear ornaments of old. We pull out shoeboxes with “Grace’s Ornaments” and “Christina” written in childish script on the sides and unpack our own collections, ornaments that represent things uniquely us. Porcelain ballet shoes from one year, a bear reading the Iliad from another… all carrying with them the tiniest memories. We exclaim over my parents’ beautiful “first Christmas” ornament, and we tell stories—folklore my mom would call it—about favorite moments or “that time when….” 

And when everything is decorated and hung, and Christina has regulated where every ornament should be placed in order to have the correct spacing on the tree, we still the whole house and darken every light.

Everything goes silent. 

And we open Christmas season, normally with something slightly goofy (one year Christina gave the first gift of Christmas, which happened to be Hannah wrapped in huge amounts of wrapping paper with a giant bow) and with something solemn (Silent Night sung completely out of tune with candles). And then we flip on the Christmas tree lights, and it glows. 

We gaze satisfied. And we sit as a family, preparing our hearts for the season we’re entering. 


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Making Merry: Establishing Traditions

Making Merry is our first guest series. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from a lady about how she and her family make the Christmas season merry. Sara and her husband, Dave are some of our best couple friends. They have moved quite a bit, but they have some wonderful traditions they keep every year — even while they were in England last year!



Since my husband (Dave) and I have been married, we have spent the holidays living in 2 different countries and 3 different states.  So, it has been rather hard to nail down traditions of our own.  However, I have managed to come up with some traditions that are very near and dear to us.

#1 Cutting down a Christmas tree

During our first Christmas living in Michigan (2014), Dave and I decided to throw out our fake white Christmas tree and adopt a new Papendorf family tradition—cutting down a Christmas tree.  There is something so satisfying about traveling to the nearest Christmas tree farm and spending time searching for the perfect tree.  Our first experience was quite a success, and I would say that we found the perfect tree for our little family.  Our kitty (Namuco) surely liked it enough!  

   Can you spot the kitty?

  Can you spot the kitty?

#2 Taking pictures for our Christmas cards

One of my favorite Christmas traditions that we have consistently kept up with is sending out a yearly Christmas card.  Over the 7 Christmases we have spent together, we have accumulated a nice collection of cards.  As you can see, we like to fill our cards with humorous and festive pictures.  However, this year, we opted for a simpler and more elegant design.    

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   Six out of seven of our Christmas cards from over the years.  Of course, I can’t find my very favorite!

Six out of seven of our Christmas cards from over the years.  Of course, I can’t find my very favorite!

#3 Decorating

As Dave would say, I am "obsessed with decorating,” and what better time to decorate than Christmas, right?  When Dave and I were first married, I didn’t have a defined style of decorating.  However, over the years, I have come to adopt a style that’s completely my own--a style that I absolutely love!  Here is a little taste for you of my decorating style……

#4 Traveling to Illinois to spend the actual holidays with our family

The most important part of the Christmas season for us is the time we get to spend with our families.  Thankfully, my family and Dave’s family live only about 30 miles apart, and they get along with each other, which is such a blessing.  Each year, we fill our car with Christmas presents, suitcases, and our kitty and head to Joliet/Lombard, IL.  When we arrive, we typically spend a few days doing some last min. Christmas shopping.  We spend Christmas Eve at Dave’s parents and then wake up early the next morning to travel to my parent’s house.  We have the routine down pat.  Dave and I couldn’t be more thankful for the families that the Lord has blessed us with.  We are truly grateful!        

#5 The “untraditionalness” of our traditions

As I mentioned before, Dave and I have spent Christmas in many difference places, so it’s been quite difficult to establish consistent family traditions.  In 2014, Dave began his long journey of pursuing a PhD in history……and when I say long, I mean 6 years long.  And, while I would love to be settled in a house living in the area we will live for the rest of our lives, I can’t complain about all the wonderful things Dave’s schooling has allowed us to experience……like living in England. 

Last year, we spent Christmas just over the pond in Newcastle, England.  Living there allowed us to experience Christmas with a British twist.  From mince pies and mulled wine to Christmas morning at Christ Church Newcastle, a piece of our hearts will forever remain in that wonderful city.  We will never forget Christmas 2015.    

The most special part about Christmas 2015 was that my parents came to visit.  They arrived about 3 days before Christmas, so there was not much time for Christmas festivities.  We got right down to business.  The morning after they arrived, we woke up bright and early to catch a train to York.  We spent the day wondering around the quaintest little English town.  On Christmas Eve, we ate at the Botanist—a restaurant in Newcastle and one of the prettiest restaurants I have ever seen.  Christmas Day was quiet but so special.  We opened presents, went to an early afternoon church service, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.  It was a great day.

Newcastle City Centre     

Newcastle City Centre 

The interior of York Castle

The interior of York Castle

Christmas Eve 2015 at the Botanist in Newcastle

Christmas Eve 2015 at the Botanist in Newcastle

Christmas Day 2015 at our flat in Newcastle

Christmas Day 2015 at our flat in Newcastle

The day after Christmas, we packed up the car and headed to London.  Let me tell you what an experience it is to drive on the opposite side of the road.  It is so strange.  Thankfully, Dave is an excellent driver and maneuvered the car without any problems.  Early the next morning, we hopped on a plane headed to Rome…..Yes, that’s right, Rome.  It sounds so surreal thinking about it now.  My parents, Dave, and I had the once-in-a-life-time opportunity of spending nearly 6 days in Rome.  It was a magical experience, and one that I know will be tough to forget.       

Rome just a few days after Christmas still decorated for the holidays. You can’t beat the view of a Christmas tree in front of the Colosseum!   Absolutely breathtaking!

Rome just a few days after Christmas still decorated for the holidays. You can’t beat the view of a Christmas tree in front of the Colosseum! Absolutely breathtaking!

The quaintest little restaurant in Rome where we had dinner.  Loved the decorations!!!

The quaintest little restaurant in Rome where we had dinner.  Loved the decorations!!!

So, while Dave and I don't live in a house, aren’t settled, and have moved around quite a bit during our marriage, we have established some wonderful Christmas traditions and have had some amazing experiences—traditions and experiences that will remain a part of our family for years to come. 


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Making Merry: Cozy Maine Morning

Making Merry is our first guest series. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from a lady about how she and her family make the Christmas season merry. From the land of LLBean and lobster, Hannah shares the impressive wake-up call she and her brother share on Christmas morning at her home in Maine and the cheer that follows. It sounds like the perfect recipe for a cozy family-centered morning.


Christmas morning is my favorite time of the whole year. Our Strickland Christmas traditions come in all shapes and sizes from the Haribo gummy bears in the stockings to the ridiculous 4 a.m. wake up call for my younger brother and I. But it’s because of these traditions that Christmas is so special.

Most of these traditions, though, weren’t planned, but rather just happened one year and never stopped.  Ever since we were tiny, my little brother and I have gotten up before the sun to savor the sight of the glowing tree. We used to do this when we were little, because the tree is so much more beautiful and magical in the dark. Now, we drag our tired, adult bodies out of bed and crash on the couch in heaps of blankets “for tradition’s sake,” trying to convince each other that it’s worth it to get up so early. By 4 am we’re just sitting there, talking, quoting favorite movies, or sometimes accidentally falling asleep.

Around 6, we always wake up my grandmother, who comes to sit with us, talk, and what she called “plan our lives.” When we were little this was dreaming up all the jobs we could have, but has changed into a “where could you live” as we’ve gotten older.

After about two hours of successful life-planning, we tiptoe upstairs to outside my parents’ room and wake them by singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” at steadily increasing volume until we’re singing heartily outside the door. As they shuffle downstairs to make coffee, Ben and I jump on our older brother, Seth (a favorite tradition of mine–less so for Seth).

While we guzzle strong coffee (we drink so much coffee that my parents bought a pump carafe), we open stockings—giant green, white, and red socks with our names knitted into them and bells on the top, all handmade by my grandmother. She’s been trying to teach me how to knit socks for years now so I’ll be able to add to the collection, but the heels get me every time.

Every year our stockings are filled with small presents, chocolate coins, Haribo gummy bears, nuts, and an orange at the toe. We then have a whole conversation about how we’ll eat breakfast and then open presents, but that never actually happens. So we pop the homemade cinnamon buns in the oven and move on to gift-giving. The conversation about how we’ll do breakfast before gifts has become a tradition of its own.

Most of these moments probably don’t sound very special to someone who hasn’t been to a Strickland Christmas, but they’re some of the traditions I love most. And I think Haribo gummy bears will always taste like Christmas to me.


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Making Merry: Austrian/German traditions

Making Merry is our first guest series. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from a lady about how she and her family make the Christmas season merry. This week Magdalena, my sister, shares about Austrian and German traditions. She's currently wrapping up a fall internship in Germany and is super lucky to be experiencing Weihnachten over there.


Growing up in a bilingual home has had quite a few lingering effects, but it is this time of the year that accentuates this fact the most. Maybe it’s the explosion of straw ornaments scattered around the house, or the advent wreath that takes over our dining room table shedding needles and wax. Either way, this is the time of year when our Austrian hearts shine brightest. With most of our extended family living on the other side of an ocean, holidays have emphasized this distance and often lead to an increased feeling of isolation. But thanks to our faithful Mama, we learned how to bring Austria to Michigan.

One precious treasure she gave us is our knowledge of German and Austrian Christmas songs. Instead of “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” we grew up belting out “traeralera” and counting down the days until Nikolausabend. Sure, Americans have heard about St. Nikolaus and the tradition of placing your boots in front of the door on December 5th, but were you ever visited by the man himself?? We were! Although mysteriously, our Papa always missed out and was absent every time the white bearded fellow arrived with his bag of goodies.

Anyone visiting us during this holiday would immediately be able to notice something different about our home. Maybe it was the homeschooling, or the farm we grew up on, but Advent also always correlated with one of the biggest crafting times of the year. Again thanks to Mama, I have a pretty decent knowledge of how to iron straw and craft it into a variety of stars, and then add that to my ability to fold colorful wax paper into window ornaments. In fact, I think the majority of our decorations were made by our own hands, which by the way is way more fun.

Living in Germany these past few months, I have waited eagerly for this first week of Advent to arrive, because I knew with the arrival of decorations in stores and Advent calendars being sold left and right, the Christmas markets would appear. I was not disappointed.

Wandering around the enchanting forest of lights and colors, I have never felt more at home so far from Michigan amid the familiar melodies, smells, and decorations. I’ve been to markets in Leipzig and Wittenberg, and I already plan to hit up as many as possible!

Even though, Europe is so secular, this love of markets and shopping shares the joys of Advent and Christmas, while focusing on family, fellowship, and Christ. Even if it’s indirect and perhaps mostly overlooked, Christianity is hard to overlook since most markets have a manger scene and an abundance of references to the birth of our Lord in form of music and ornaments. No Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, or Jolly Saint Nick to be found here. Instead you find beautiful paper stars to take home as a reminder of the star of Bethlehem.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget to share about the food. The menu definitely deserves a few words. Over half of the huts at these markets are completely devoted to providing the most wonderful comfort foods in the world. Bratwurst, Currywurst, pork roast, mushrooms, deep fried goodness, roasted nuts, gingerbread, crepes, and so much more! Last, but certainly not least, one of the biggest draws that these markets offer is the “Glühwein.” This spiced, mulled wine should be enough to lure any one of you to buy a ticket to Germany or Austria asap. Not only does it taste heavenly, but it also comes in a real mug! The Germans have developed a great system where you pay “Pfand” (deposit) for your mug when you buy a drink and when you’re done either you have it refilled or give it back to get your deposit back. Or if you’re me, you keep your mug as a memento of wonderful memory. The whole idea encourages lingering crowds warming their hands on real mugs and enjoying fellowship.

All this is what I will fondly remember about this delightful corner of the world, and yes, it really is as fantastic as the pictures make it seem. In fact it’s even better.


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Making Merry: Our 1st Guest Series

Now that another Thanksgiving is in the books and we've lit the first Advent candle, I'm all about that holly, jolly, merry, & bright spirit. 

Despite the fact that commercial Christmas creeps earlier and earlier into November, I never feel quite right diving in until after we've finished off the pumpkin pie. I've been doing small things to prepare, like order Christmas cards and such, but holiday tunes don't feel right until after turkey time. 

I already can't wait to repeat old traditions and continue establishing our own this December. I love doing the comfort of doing the same things every year. It's a surefire way to create that feeling of cheer and comfort for the season. We've had so much fun identifying what about our childhood made Christmas time feel special and build on those things. 

This year I asked some sweet friends to write about their traditions and how different places have influenced their Christmas celebration. I'm so excited to share their stories, since hearing about other people's holiday rituals is one of my favorite things. I'll probably even steal some of their ideas and adopt them for my own. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from one more lady about how she and her family make Christmas merry. I can't wait! 

If you have Christmas traditions — big or small — I would be so excited to hear about them. Please share! Seriously, please, do.


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