Christmas Crunch Time? Dad’s Got This

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

So in all my 6 Words harvesting and cavorting with stellar bloggers, Rory of Time Out for Mom tossed a question my way – then suggested it might not make a horrible post.

What’s Christmas all about for a dad?

It might not be the Black (Ops) Friday shopping or Poinsettia patterns or Advent calendars our wives might do, or the wish lists or accelerated sweets consumption and dreaming our kids might do (well, maybe on the sweets consumption … ) but for dads, Christmas is more than just a time the NFL playoffs begin to take shape and your NBA team’s aspirations for the playoffs begin to take shape.

There’s Santa. There’s the challenge to pick that perfect gift for a special lady. But mostly, it’s Christmas. It’s taking your role in creating the magic.

Like our dads did, and the dads before them. All the way back to Napoleon and Charles Ingalls, probably.

It’s stringing up Christmas lights for some dudes. Wearing the beard and red suit for others. Still some keep the “real” eggnog flowing. But like most sporty guys, I’m all about the tradition.

Bacon cheeseburger

Some are as sacred as the parquet floor at the Boston Garden, Cubs fans firing the enemy’s home run balls back on the field in defiance, or my soccer teams celebrating each victory by buying their coach double bacon cheeseburgers.

OK, so I’m still working on that last one

I do love the role as the one who must taste-test all this gingerbread madness, too. As for the shopping: I’m one of those who does his shopping through the year, and socks it away. I stay as far as I can from Black Friday!

Traditions that are important to dads:

1. Christmas tree decorating

Preparing the Christmas tree

We’ve had a few adventures when it comes to the conquest of the Christmas tree.

Cats have toppled our tree. We found a lizard in one – from a tree farm in Tallahassee we visited wearing T-shirts and shorts.

And for our first Christmas as parents, we got an assist from an angel hiding behind a week of stubble.

With a new family at home, including a one-month-old daughter, I set out to find the biggest, baddest tree $20 could buy. Pretty trees need not apply.

I handed the crisp bill to the tree farmer at the farmer’s market in Asheville, explaining that I had a wife and child at home waiting for the mother of all trees. Yes, I understood that even then, in 1997, $20 couldn’t go far.

He nodded to an unpriced band of trees against the wall. “All them are $20 each,” he said.

They were majestic Douglas Firs. $20 should have bought me a bough.

Without a pinecone.

We always get pizza on the day we decorate the tree. Everyone helps, we put on the Christmas music, and each of the kids puts the “my first Christmas” ornament on. And yes, the pizza is integral to this tradition.

2. Stockings


What goes into a stocking ought to be both magical and practical.

Santa puts a matchbox car in each of my girls’ stockings. I know they’re girls, but I love that they’ve always played with them. They should include things that Santa would know, like favorite candy, hairbands, games. But also copious amounts of candy and frivolity.

A cool thing about my kids: Their wish lists are a good blend of dreamy and quixotic and down-to-earth. Because life ought to be that way too, right?

Also, gawk, feel up and drool over the stockings all you want, kids.

But you can’t touch until you have a healthy holiday breakfast of …

3. Christmas morning chocolate-chip pancakes

Chocolate chips

With eggnog in the batter. Always.

This happens after presents are opened, but before the stockings are ransacked. Stockings should include teasers, stuff that sticks out just so, or leaves an indistinguishable bump in the fabric … something to stoke the imagination.

There’s no imagination necessary with these pancakes. They’re fluffy as your grandma, rich as your uncle, and chocolately as your past 17 dreams.


The secret, if you’re wondering, to embedding the chocolate chips properly into the very fabric of the pancake is this: You must fling, with enough force, each chip angrily into the body of the pancake. You cannot be shy about this.

It’s tradition.

Just like pizza on decorating day and well-stuffed stockings and just enough magic to ensure the kids realize the holiday comes from these traditions and not from the Apple Store or J Crew or the mean streets of Wal-mart.

We might not pin on Pinterest or remember to buy cranberries on our Coke Zero run, but we dads, we’re Christmasing, too. Even if it smells more like pepperoni than gingerbread, even if it makes noise, not music, it still makes magic.

We dads are all about the tradition, after all.

And nine days out from Christmas, we’re at our seventh-inning-stretch glory.


  1. Been too many years for this bloke to think about the Xmas’ where he spent more time at work than around the tree.

    1. I was that bloke too, mate. When I was in newspapers, working holidays was expected. I was lucky in the last paper I worked for, because they chose me for *every* holiday.

      1. Sad Mate. I haven’t seen my grand kids in 10 years, xmas 2003 in Canada. I looked through a few photos of them yesterday and it gutted me.

      2. Thanks Eli, I have to live vicariously through my step grandchildren. I love ’em to bits.

  2. beautiful eli, and yes, charles ingalls (pa), and napoleon are definitely on the same team when it comes to the holidays. am i wrong, or have i noticed that food is an integral part of your christmas whole?

    1. I just read about Napoleon likely having more kids that he didn’t know about … so maybe I should have chosen Constantine. I hadn’t noticed that about food … how odd.

      Thanks Beth!

  3. Oh, I am so happy that you did this!! Wonderful, beautiful, magically delicious as a deep crust pizza with all the trimmings. stuffings. fixins?
    It’s so great seeing a dad that is involved with his children. I’m always telling my hubby the more engaged he is with the children; the deeper the connection. The deeper the connection; the deeper the bond. And that is important at this young stage because the teen years are not far away! Unfortunately for my guy his job is one of those jobs that does demand time away from family. There’s no help for it since bad guys don’t take the holidays off — in fact, that’s when they “work” harder.
    So having traditions like pizza tree trimmings (or chopping it down with the family saw as we do), or pancakes on Christmas morning (yes!) is really important.
    Thanks so much for being willing to share of your heart with us! And wishing you the very merriest of Christmas and lots of magic unfolding!

    1. I’m already delving into those teen years, and I hope these are the kinds of memories the kids won’t lose, even during those times dad can seem like the furthest thing from cool.

      I think they’ll understand a parent’s love best when they become one, too.

      I wish the bad guys would take a holiday, for your hubby’s sake. Or some of us could fill in.

      Wait. That sounds disastrous.

      Thank you for putting this idea in my head, Rory!

  4. I love that post, and now you have me dreaming of my own husband making chocolate banana pancakes. I don’t see it happening, but it’s good to dream. 🙂 And maybe drool, just a little.

    1. If they didn’t already have it taken up, we’d declare Dec. 25 International Dads and Chocolate Chip Pancakes Day. Maybe it can be, unofficially.

      Dreams – especially the decadent, drool-inducing ones – do come true, you know.

  5. It’s nice to hear what’s important to dads. My Hubby loves to help the boys make the cookies for Santa (obviously because he’s going to be the one eating them!). Chocolate chip pancakes sound yummy! We do cinnamon rolls on Christmas day. And Flarp. You gotta have lots of flarp in boys’ Christmas stockings. Have a wonderful holiday with your girls, Eli!!

    1. Dads: We’re not just for holding handbags at the fitting room anymore. We dads do have a vested interest in the type of Christmas cookies that are baked, too.

      Chocolate chip pancakes might ruin you for the garden variety – it feels like Mardi Gras in your mouth, without the flashing for beads.

      Had to look up Flarp – and it’s exactly what it sounds like! My girls love that kind of stuff.

  6. I like the idea of using eggnog for the pancakes and using brute force to add the chocolate chips! We like to put one gift-worthy item in the stocking along with several smaller gifts. It just seems like stockings are getting the fuzzy end of the lollypop these days and serve as nothing more than candy dumpsters.

    1. It’s the only way to go Melissa – you must show the pancake who is boss. I like the idea of a crown jewel in the stocking. At our house, the stockings are not the candy dumpsters – the kids are!

  7. I love hearing about some of y’all’s traditions!!! And, I love that you are so involved in all of the traditions!!! You are a rockin’ dad!!!

  8. The girls don’t appreciate the constant singing about them, though. I’ll work on that. I think they forgive when there’s chocolate chips involved, though.

    Your post today was awesome, Nicole – and it’s a to-do list we all should consider.

  9. Months? Try years. Pretty sure we have some Zubaz pants and original Charlotte Hornets gear stashed somewhere.

    If you find it in June, hey, it’s a Christmas miracle, in the summer.

  10. “It might not be the Black (Ops) Friday shopping or Poinsettia patterns or Advent calendars our wives might do..” I do have to agree there that I don’t do any of that, so maybe I need a wife!
    My dad is Jewish so no tree for him, but he’s always been the one to stuff stockings and make Christmas brunch (yes, he won’t have a tree but he will celebrate Christmas. I don’t know. We pick our battles, I guess). Anyway he has a gift for both.

    1. I think it’s smart when Jewish folk latch on to the Christmas. If we Christians were smart, we’d do the Hanukkah too. Wait, what food do they serve?

      I’d even put up a Festivus Pole if I thought I’d get a good dinner out of it.

  11. Chocolate chip pancakes are one of my most favorite treats! They say pancakes make the perfect recovery meal for long-distance running, and the chocolate is just because I ran! Love this!!

  12. I loved this post…I can tell how involved you are in everyday events with your family from all of your posts, but this one just kind of hit home. We’ve been traveling over Christmas for the last few years and have gotten away from some of our traditions like going to chop down the tree together and I have to say I miss it. My oldest son particularly misses it. I have a feeling he is going to be a great family guy because he is so sentimental. My husband is like you with the breakfast food…he is an awesome chocolate chip pancake maker!

    1. Must be the Christmas talking, Michelle. It’s tougher to do the traditions when you’re on the road, isn’t it? I could see your oldest son making the tree-chopping part of the tradition when he has a family, just like his family did.

      I think when we dads mess up, we need to remind the world about our greatest contribution to society: Chocolate chip pancakes.

      1. Yes, he is all about traditions…he is a very sentimental kid. 🙂 Has not learned how to make chocolate chip pancakes yet though. The only thing he will cook for us is kale. I know, bizarre.

  13. My husband’s favorite Christmas tradition is sleeping under the lighted Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Except, we’ve had to move it to a different night because the kids want to join in and Santa can’t deliver the presents that way.

  14. Eggnog in the pancakes, huh? I think that I have to try that one! Love hearing more about your traditions. The tree is definitely important to my husband and I love how involved and he and boys are in that whole piece of it.

    1. The hard part is going without the eggnog from February to October. These, like all lasting traditions, just seem to happen more than they are planned.

      Your boys are learning a crucial element of being a man – it’s that seek and conquer instinct that’s been largely stripped from us, but can be exercised in the choosing of a Christmas tree, a new puppy or just the right watermelon.

  15. I love your traditions! It’s rained the last 3 weekends, so we have hardly any lights up outside & my husband is super bummed about it! I love that you give your girls cars… I hate the idea of “boy toys” and “girl toys”.

    1. I didn’t realize they all revolve around food, but it is what it is! Why the dearth of lights this year? My girls always ask for the boy toy Happy Meal, because the girl toys are always “stupid” as they say.

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