The Day Before Thanksgiving….Let’s Talk About Christmas!

I have several previous posts about our Christmas traditions so I thought I would round them all up in one place for you, plus share a little more about our plans for this year!

We were very happy to get to kick off the holiday season with Operation Christmas Child this year! We have missed being able to volunteer at our local Drop Offs the last three years. This year not only did we volunteer, we visited all 10 Drop Offs in our area!

You can check out the following posts to learn many of the ways my family celebrates Christmas:

5 Ideas For Your Best Christmas #1

5 Ideas For Your Best Christmas #2

5 Ideas For Your Best Christmas #3

5 Ideas For Your Best Christmas #4

5 Ideas For Your Best Christmas #5

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions Video and My Favorite Gifts to Make

patterns courtesy of

I haven’t quite completed my Christmas shopping yet. I am usually done by now but plan to finish up in the next week or so.


We don’t do traditional “Christmas food” on Christmas but we do have my favorite stuffing on Thanksgiving along with this delicious Duck. These could easily make a wonderful Christmas feast as well. We generally do enchiladas on Christmas Eve and two years ago we started the tradition of having Swedish meatballs (recipe coming soon) on Christmas. This year we are having lutefisk, another traditional Swedish dish with my parents a couple days before Christmas when we celebrate with them.

Our Advent Calendar Activities: Some of the posts above mention our Advent activities. This post includes instructions to download my Advent calendar from 2015. I haven’t finalized my calendar for this year yet but it will include the following activities:

  • Holiday Ball (for hubby and I, the kids will get time with grandma!)
  • Kids performing in the Christmas Choir
  • Bake and decorate cookies
  • Bake and decorate gingerbread houses
  • Share cookies with the mail carrier, sanitation worker, neighbors etc.
  • Saint Nicolas Day
  • Christmas movies on Sundays (Pure Flix is offering a free Christmas movie every Sunday from now through Christmas, no subscription required!)
  • Star Wars movie
  • Pre- Christmas at Grandma’s

I will sprinkle some of the random acts of kindness from my previous calendar among these activities.

That pretty much sums up our Christmas Traditions. I plan to spend December doing a lot of planning and organizing this year as well so I can start strong in January! 


What are your favorite Christmas Traditions? Let me know in the comments! 

Merry Christmas!!!

I hope you have a blessed Christmas full of family, love, and joy!


This post is linked up to Scripture & a Snapshot. Click below to see more!
Scripture and Snapshot

After Christmas Sales for Operation Christmas Child Boxes

I believe I’ve mentioned Operation Christmas Child here on the blog before. My family has been involved with this organization for eight years now. We absolutely love it.

Operation Christmas Child (AKA OCC) is a branch of Samaritan’s Purse. Participants pack a shoebox (or shoebox-sized plastic box) with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and more to be given to a child in need (usually a child in an area suffering extreme poverty, natural disaster or war). These boxes are handed out all over the world. Every year they are collected the week before Thanksgiving at multiple collection sites all over the country (in the U.S.; they are also collected in other countries around the world).

If you miss collection week you can pack a box online any time of year. For $25 you choose the age and gender you would like to pack for and select from certain choices of items to go in your box. Volunteers then pack and ship the box for you.

One thing I learned pretty quickly is that I can maximize my efforts and my dollars by planning early and purchasing shoebox items throughout the year. Since collection week happens in November, I start my planning for the following year in December.

OCC, Operation Christmas Child, Shoebox Packing

I set a goal for how many boxes I want to pack and at least a general idea of how many for each age and gender. Then I figure out how much I can budget each month for packing boxes and to save to pay shipping fees. I generally plan to spend $10-15 per box. So, if I want to pack 12 boxes for the year I set aside about $20 a month; $7 for shipping and the rest for purchasing items.

Once my plans are in place I start watching for good deals for shoebox items whenever I’m at the store. For example, I know school supplies go on sale in July and August so that is when I buy those.

As you start planning your box packing for the year look at the box packing instructions on the OCC website. You will find basic packing instructions, suggested items by age and gender, and items not to pack (please pay close attention to the items that aren’t allowed in the boxes, also note that candy and toothpaste are no longer allowed as of 2017). Read over this information so that you have a general idea of what items to be looking for, then when you see a good price on something you can grab one (or enough for some or all of your planned boxes).

I don’t pack a complete box each month. Instead, I pick up enough of whatever I find on sale for all of my boxes or all of the boxes that I plan to do for the age/gender that the item is most appropriate for.

After Christmas sales are a GREAT opportunity to get some awesome shoebox items at discount prices and start stocking up!

If you are up for facing the crowds and have any money left here are a few ideas of shoebox items that are likely to be on sale:


  • Stuffed Animals
  • Dolls
  • Other toys (cars, yo-yos, jump ropes, balls)
  • Shirts, Socks, or other clothing items
  • Hats, gloves, scarves
  • Christmas craft kits
  • Small lego sets
  • Coloring and activity books
  • Hair accessories
  • Small art sets
  • Stickers
  • Christmas cards (to write a note to the recipient of the box or to make puzzles)
  • Shoebox size plastic bins (you may be able to find green or red bins on clearance) or
  • Wrapping paper to wrap your shoeboxes

Check dollar areas, Christmas clearance items, as well as the regular areas for clearance sales.


Other ideas to keep in mind and watch for/collect throughout the year:


  • Hotel soaps (but don’t include lotion or shampoo!)
  • Samples
  • Free promotional items
  • Party favors
  • Kids’ meal toys
  • Items you make (toys, hair-bows, dresses, etc. There are some great homemade ideas on the OCC Pinterest boards.)


Every year that I have planned this way I have ended up able to pack more boxes than I originally planned!!

Once a quarter my First Friday Featured Ministry post will be on Operation Christmas child with information on how you can get involved and shopping suggestions for your boxes! I will post ideas for items that are typically on sale duringthat season to be watching for. I’ll also include tips and ideas for shoebox packing. Subscribe with the form on the right so you don’t miss any updates!!

Have you participated in OCC? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments! 

A Different Kind of 2 for 1 Deal!

This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through one of those links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only suggest things I use and like. Thank you for your support.

Here we are in the middle of the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Have you thought about how the dollars you spend impact others? Would you like to spend them in a way that will improve the lives of people struggling just to feed their families? If you have any money left after Black Friday and have more gifts to buy would you consider purchasing Fair Trade items from small business owners in third world countries? In doing so your gift will give twice-to the recipient of your gift as well as the artisan who made it. Plus these handmade items from small businesses around the world make for a much more interesting and unique gift than anything you can find at a chain box store!

Below are just a few shops that I know of to find such a gift. There are, of course, others. If none of these float your boat, also remember to consider small business owners, artists, crafters, and entrepreneurs in your own community. Supporting these folks means they get to provide a better Christmas for their own families as well!

Ekubo Etsy Store

Ekubo is a ministry in Uganda run primarily by a single family. They serve their village in a variety of ways including running a school, clinic, children’s home and church as well as helping with individual needs as they come up. They are focused on helping without hurting and empowering the people they work with to improve their circumstances. You can read more about Christie and George’s story and their ministry on their blog and/or follow their ministry’s Facebook page. One of the ways they support their ministry is through a variety of items handmade by people in their village which they sell through their etsy shop. All proceeds from the shop go back into the ministry and right now you can get 20% off by using the code THANKFUL2016 at checkout!!

I absolutely love their Christmas ornaments and they have recently added a line of stuffed animals that are absolutely adorable! They also have jewelry, bags, home decor and more!


Fair Trade Friday/Mercy House

Mercy House started with a maternity home in Kenya. Their goal was to give pregnant girls living in poverty a choice other than a dangerous abortion or abandoning their baby. The maternity home provides a place to live, health care, nutrition, education, spiritual nourishment and more. One of the ways they empower girls to be able to care for themselves and their children is by teaching them a marketable skill and helping them to set up a small business. The products of this business are then sold through the Mercy House Shop and Fair Trade Friday clubs. This program has now expanded to include many artisans in more than 15 countries around the world. All of the artisans are paid more than a living wage for their products allowing them to support themselves and their families.

There are several ways to support this ministry and get amazing products at the same time:

Join one of their clubs: The Original Fair Trade Friday box club sends 3-4 products or if you would like to start smaller you can join the Earring or Bracelet of the month clubs.

Shop the Mercy House Store: You can purchase fair trade jewelry, apparel, Christmas items, greeting cards, bags, home decor, children’s items and more all from small business artisans around the world.

Host a party: You can host a home party or larger Fair Trade event to share Mercy House goods with others, as a thank you, you get to choose a product to keep for yourself.



Noonday is a network marketing company that sells fair trade jewelry and accessories through trunk shows held by local small business owners. All items are made by artisans in struggling countries who are paid a living wage and assisted in developing a sustainable business. Find a local Ambassador, shop their website, or host a party-you will be supporting both a small business owner in another country as well as a small business owner in your own neighborhood!



Saksaum’s mission is to end human trafficking in Cambodia. They do this through healing programs for victims and vocational training and employment. They have a variety of unique fair trade items available in their store and opportunities for advocates to host home parties or run a booth at a local event to share their mission and products with others.


Ten Thousand Villages    

Then Thousand Villages is a large online store with fair trade items from many different countries. They work with artisans and groups of artisans to provide sustainable and safe working conditions with living wages that allow the workers to care for their families. This shop contains more items than I could possibly list and has some great sales going on this weekend!


The Little Market

The Little Market is another larger online fair trade market. They source their products from organizations around the world that empower women to run small businesses and make a living wage from their products creating sustainable income and a better life for their families.


The Apparent Project/Market Haiti

The Apparent Project is working to prevent child relinquishment due to poverty in Haiti. They do this through offering small business opportunities to Haitians that will allow them to support their families and keep them together. Market Haiti is the online shop for goods produced through the Apparent Project as well as other artisans in Haiti. They carry many different items that would make wonderful gifts!


These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about making the most of your gift giving! Let me know where else you shop for fair trade items that support artisans in struggling areas!