As it is with many young families, establishing holiday traditions is a work in progress for Aron and Ashley Muir Bruhn and their kids, Hudson, 5, and Skyler, 2, of Davis, California. “It’s fun to figure out what our holiday looks like,” says Ashley, author of the blog hitherandthither.net. “We like to bring in old family traditions, but we can also make up our own.”
In the Bruhn household, that mash-up of customs comes together for what’s essentially a monthlong celebration. Much of the holiday season revolves around a wooden Advent calendar. As the kids open each of its drawers, they discover a note from their parents revealing the day’s activity. “It’s our holiday wish list: See Santa, bake cookies, have friends over, watch The Polar Express,” say Ashley.
While the family’s holiday schedule tends to be full, their decor is more subdued. “There’s so much happening this time of year, I think it’s nice to keep things a bit more calm at home,” says Ashley. In their 1960s house, she and Aron decorate in a style that melds his German heritage with natural elements like citrus and eucalyptus. But they’re not strict minimalists. “The kids would choose flashing colored lights and tinsel at every turn,” says Ashley. “So we’re slowly inching our way a little closer to the Griswolds.”
Some notes the couple tuck into the drawers of their German-style Advent calendar serve as reminders for big events—the town’s Christmas parade, say—but the schedule isn’t set in stone. “Sometimes we cheat,” Ashley says. “If we’re totally exhausted, we might switch out ‘Decorate the tree tonight’ for ‘Eat a candy cane.’ ” Kurt Adler LED wooden Advent (similar), $68. Mobile chandeliers, $279 each. Corbett table, from $2,399. Salt chairs, $129. Art, Untitled (After Richard Prince) by John Stanley.
After a few years of experimenting with the classic French bûche de Noël (aka Yule log cake), Ashley came up with a simplified version: a stump rather than a rolled cake. “It’s easier—and often, I daresay, prettier—leaving us more time for decorating,” she says. She lets the kids festoon the cake with plastic figurines, marshmallows, rosemary, and more.
The family’s living room has a simple but festive style: a sculptural wreath by florist Natalie Bowen; a tree done in gold and white (plus the kids’ handmade ornaments); Aron’s childhood sheepskin rug; and a nutcracker Hudson asked for last year. The clan chose stockings from an Alameda Point Antiques Faire vendor who makes them out of vintage Pendleton blankets.