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‘Twas the night before Christmas


and all through the house

hidden dangers were lurking

plants to hide and trees to douse

A few weeks ago, my parents took my two-year-old with them to pick out a Christmas tree. When they returned, my son struggled into their kitchen, beaming behind the beautiful white poinsettia he had picked out for me.

“Don’t let him eat it,” my dad joked. This was a child who had refused most food that wasn’t apples or Christmas cookies for the duration of our visit, so there was a vanishingly small likelihood he would consider eating the plant. But my dad issued that warning anyway, as he and my mom have done for as long as I could remember, because poinsettias are poisonous.

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Except that they’re not. Poinsettias were cleared of all charges in the 1970s, when researchers at Ohio State found them to be non-toxic. Snopes and other myth-busting websites have exonerated the poinsettia. Yet poinsettias have continued to be incorrectly identified as poisons.

What accounts for the persistence of this holiday myth? And what can the example of the poinsettia teach us about fear-based parenting?

According to Ecke Ranch, the company responsible for cultivating poinsettias into the flowers we recognize today, Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night) were so named because they bloom during the holiday season. They feature in a Christmas miracle story about a poor girl whose paltry offering of weeds bloomed into brilliant red flowers when she placed them by her chapel’s nativity scene.

The plant most Americans know it is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, a former medical student and amateur botanist who, as the United States’ first ambassador to Mexico, found the plant and brought it home to his South Carolina greenhouse in the late 1820s.

The plant, which Ecke Ranch suggests was used as a fever treatment by the Aztecs, did not become “poisonous” until 100 years after its introduction to the U.S. The poison poinsettia myth has its roots in botanist Joseph Francis Rock’s assertion that a two-year-old child died from sucking on the plant’s leaves.

It’s not clear that the child existed, or if the child did exist, if he died an early death, or if the child did die at a young age, if it was a poinsettia that did him in. But the myth spread like, well, poinsettia, which had taken root across the U.S. and into Hawaii, where the myth originated. By 1944, that myth was solidified in Harry L. Arnold’s “Poisonous Plants of Hawaii:

The milky juice and the leaves are poisonous. The two-year-old child of an Army officer at Fort Shafter died from eating a poinsettia leaf in 1919. The poisonous substance is neither an alkaloid nor a glucoside, and is probably a resin. It causes intense emesis and catharsis, and delirium before death. The writer has been unable to find any definitive statement of its pharmacological action or its antidote.

The myth then became an invasive species, growing into medical publications and then popular magazines throughout the U.S. In the 1970s, the Society of American Florists, wishing to restore the poinsettia’s good name while improving their business, commissioned a study from researchers at Ohio State, which found that poinsettias were not poisonous.

The child who may or may not have existed and who may or may not have died is long gone from memory, but the effects of his story linger nearly 100 years later – a testament to the long-reaching effects fear can have on our collective parenting decisions. Belief in poisonous poinsettias has been as persistent as belief in Santa Claus, in spite of mounting contrary evidence.

But in the case of the flowers, why do we keep believing long after we should? One theory is the name, which sounds close to “poison” and keeps danger front-of-mind. The Museum of Hoaxes identifies this theory, as well as “guilt by association.” Poinsettias, which look similar to holly and mistletoe, got unfairly grouped with these actual poisonous plants.

That belief may be starting to change. Over the past few holiday seasons, the Society of American Florists has encouraged its members to download and distribute a flyer about poinsettias. Perhaps their ongoing campaign is working. In 1996, researchers studying calls to Poison Control Centers reaffirmed that poinsettia exposures did not result in toxicity. In 2004, Poison Control Centers received 2206 calls about poinsettia exposure, which made the poinsettia responsible for 3 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

Plant-exposure calls to Poison Control have fallen over the past decade, as have calls about poinsettias, which have dropped every year in both number and percentage from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, poinsettia exposures accounted for only 343 calls, representing .77 percent of the phone calls for plant exposures.

The decrease in calls to poison control do not tell us that children are eating poinsettia any less often, or that people aren’t buying poinsettias as often, although either could be true. It may suggest that the publicity campaigns like this one sponsored by the Society of American Florists are working to restore the poinsettia’s good name.

The cautionary tale of the tree-turned-torch

Poinsettias are not going to kill us. But what about the other holiday plant at the start of our story? Christmas trees have been much-maligned for face and eye injuries as well as falls. But more than any of these injuries, Christmas trees are most feared for the fire hazards they pose.

We’re warned to spend the holiday season obsessively watering our trees, quickly disposing of dry needles, and unplugging strings of lights when not in use. Artificial trees invite different warnings about frayed wires and broken bulbs.

Christmas trees have done more to earn their reputation than poinsettias. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s November 2016 report on “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees,” Christmas tree fires are responsible for an average of 210 house fires each year, which lead to an average of six deaths and 16 injuries, in addition to 16 million dollars of property damage.

We should be emboldened by these figures: 210 is a small number of trees, and even that average is on the decline. In 1980, there were 850 fires. In 2014 – the last year cited within the NFPA’s November 2016 report – there were 170 fires. While numbers like 16 million dollars in property damage sound grim, focusing on another big number can help us put this data into perspective.

The National Fire Protection Association reported average is 210 Christmas tree fires per year. It’s reasonable to assume that each of those fires was started by a single Christmas tree. Using the National Christmas Tree Association‘s data on Christmas tree sales, we can determine that from 2010 to 2014 (the same period reported on in the NFPA’s data), there were an average of 28.3 million real trees and 11.4 million artificial trees sold, for a total average of 39.7 million trees.

We cannot know if those trees are all sold to homeowners instead of businesses, or how many trees are not sold but cut down, but taking a conservative estimate and assuming that just half of that number – 20 million – go to homes, then the average number of Christmas tree fires per year represents one fire for every 100,000 trees. Again, that’s a reasonably conservative estimate.

It’s further reassuring to examine what sorts of fires are included within the NFPA report. Twenty-three percent of the fires included in the 2010-2014 study were intentional; that is, the trees had been set on fire on purpose. It’s likely that most of the trees involved in those fires were being burned in home fireplaces as a means of disposal, when the fires then got out of control.

What’s more troubling about Christmas tree fires is that they’re more deadly than other kinds of home fires. An ignited Christmas tree can destroy a living room in one minute, which helps to explain why Christmas tree-involved house fires are significantly more deadly than other types of house fires.

When a Christmas tree is the first item ignited, house fires carry a one in 34 chance of death. For all house fires, that risk is much lower, one in 142. So although the likelihood of a Christmas tree fire is astonishingly rare, such fires are more dangerous either because of or in spite of all of the PSAs we view each season.

Returning to the National Fire Protection Association’s report, at least some of the resulting deaths may have been avoided by fire prevention education. In some cases, clearly flammable materials like kerosene were stored near the tree, creating an avoidable fire hazard. In other cases, homeowners reentered the home for belongings. Examples such as these demonstrate the need for fire safety education at all times of the year, not just the holiday season.

For children, the holiday season’s invitation to magical thinking is a source of wonder and excitement. For parents, a different kind of magical thinking leads to fears of things that will likely never come to pass. The truth is that we should be worried less about our kids’ safety and more on our own.

Fall-related injuries and back strain are the number one and number three holiday-related injuries, and happen overwhelmingly in adult populations. But we can’t very well get rid of all the ladders and stools. And fearing all the chairs in our homes would drive us mad. So we build elaborate narratives around the more novel “dangers” of the holiday season.

This year, display your poinsettias without fear. Un-baby-gate your tree. But maybe lay off the eggnog before hanging any lights.

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As the saying goes, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and that seriously applies to parenting. With no fewer than one dozen items to wrangle before walking out the door on an ordinary errand, mamas have plenty on their mind. That is why one of the very best gifts you can give the mamas in your life this year is to reduce her mental load with some gear she can depend on when she's out and about.

Although it may be impossible to guarantee completely smooth outings with kids in tow, here are the items we rely on for making getting out of the house less of a chore.

1. Bugaboo Bee 5 stroller

This stroller is a dream come true for any mama on the go. (Meaning: All of us!) Lightweight, compact and easy to maneuver with just one hand, this is made for navigating busy sidewalks with ease—or just fitting in the trunk without a major wrestling match. It's designed for little passengers to love just as much, too, with a bassinet option for newborn riders that can be easily swapped with a comfy, reclining seat that can face forward or backward for bigger kids.

$699

2. Bugaboo wheel board

This wheel board will let big brother or sister easily hitch a ride on the stroller if their little legs aren't quite up for a full walk. We love the smart details that went into the design, including a slightly offset position so Mom or Dad can walk without bumping their legs. And because toddlers have strong opinions of their own, it's brilliant that the wheel board allows them to sit or stand.

$125

3. Nuby Keepeez cup strap

If you know a little one gearing up for the major leagues with a killer throwing arm, this is a must-have so parents aren't buying new sippy cups on a weekly basis. Perfect for tethering to high chairs, strollers, car seats and shopping carts, it allows Mama to feel confident she'll return home with everything she left with in the first place.

$6.99

4. Bugaboo footmuff

For those mamas who live anywhere where the temps regularly dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, this ultra-soft, comfortable footmuff is a lifesaver. Made with water-repellant microfleece, it keeps little ones dry and cozy—whether there is melting snow, a good drizzle or simply a spilled sippy cup.

$129.95

5. Bugaboo stroller organizer

Because we know #mombrain is no joke, we are all for products that will help us stay organized—especially when out and about. With multiple zipper pockets, a sleek design and velcro straps that help it easily convert to a handbag when stepping away from the stroller, it helps keep essentials from spare diapers to the car keys within reach.

$39.95

6. Bugaboo Turtle car seat

It may be called a car seat, but we love that this one is specifically designed to securely click into a stroller frame, too. (Meaning there is no need to wake up a sleeping baby for a car-to-stroller transfer!) More reasons to love it are the lightweight design, UPF 50+ sun protection shade and Merino wool inlay, meaning it's baby and mama friendly.

$349

7. Chicco QuickSeat hook-on chair

This hook-on baby chair will almost certainly earn a spot on your most-used list. Perfect for dining out or simply giving your baby a space to sit, it's portable and beyond easy to install. (Plus, it's a great alternative to those questionably clean high chairs at many restaurants!)

$57.99

8. Bugaboo stroller cup holder

Chasing after kids when out and about can work up a thirst, just like neighborhood strolls in the chillier months can get, well, chilly. So we love that this cup holder will help mama keep something for herself to drink close at hand. Designed to accommodate bottles of all sizes and easy to click onto any compatible stroller, it's a perfect stocking stuffer.

$29.95

9. Bugaboo soft wool blanket

Fair warning with this luxe stroller blanket: It's so cozy that you might want to buy another one for yourself! Made with Merino wool that helps it stand up to any elements parents might encounter during an outing, it will help baby stay warm during the winter and cool enough as the temps start to pick up.

$109.95

10. Munchkin silicone placemats

Made to roll and stow in a diaper bag, these silicone placemats will make dining out a (relatively) less messy experience. With raised edges that will help contain spills and a grippy bottom, they will stay in place on tables so that parents might be able to enjoy their own meals, too.

$8.99

11. Bugaboo Breezy seat liner

Designed to keep baby warm when it's cool and cool when it's warm, this seat liner will minimize fusses during all seasons—which is one of the very best gifts you can give a mama. Because accidents of all types can happen on the go, we also love that this seat liner is reversible! With a number of colors, it's also a fun way to help a stroller to stand out at the playground.

$79.95

12. OXO Tot Handy stroller hook

If you ever catch yourself thinking it would be nice to have another hand, these stroller clips are the next-best solution for when you are out and about. Perfect for lugging a bag or anchoring a cup, you'll want a set for every stroller you own.

$14.99

This article was sponsored by Bugaboo. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

It's so interesting how the popularity of baby names ebb and flow over time. Think about the most popular names when you were growing up—chances are, you probably don't see too many new babies being given those monikers in 2019. Khaleesi overtook Brittany in terms of popularity, for example.

But if you're noticing that names like Charlotte, Henry and Amelia seem to appear in a lot of your friends' birth announcements, you're onto something: These are three of the most popular names from 2019.

BabyNames.com has released a list of the top baby names of this year, and you may find a few of them (but not necessarily all of them!) a little surprising. 2018's biggest boy name, Atticus, dropped off the top 10 list. Also missing from this list? Sophia, the beautiful female name that has dominated on a global scale in previous years.

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But some names have held their popularity: Liam, Owen, Olivia and Violet are a few of the names that trended both last year and this year.

RANK

BOYS

GIRLS

1

Liam

Charlotte

2

Oliver

Amelia

3

Theodore

Violet

4

Declan

Aria/Arya

5

Henry

Aurora

6

Owen

Ava

7

Finn

Olivia

8

Caleb

Vivienne

9

Emmett

Hazel

10

Benjamin

Nora

The top name for baby boys probably won't come as a surprise to most. It's Liam, which has been a consistent powerhouse for a few years now. It's easy to see why—Liam is one of those names that everyone just loves. With that being said, if you're hoping to avoid giving your child a very common name, you may want to cross this one off the list, along with Oliver and Theodore (these were the top three boys' names). And if you're expecting a girl, forget about Charlotte, Amelia and Violet, which took the three top spots.

"It seems there is definitely a royal influence to baby names this year," says BabyNames.com founder and CEO, Jennifer Moss. "Both Liam and Charlotte are linked directly to the British Royal Family. Liam is a shorter version of the name William, like the Duke of Cambridge, and Charlotte is the name of his daughter."

Classic names that have always been incredibly popular are expected to become less common as well. "For 2020 and beyond we see some traditional Biblical names like David, Michael, and Luke dropping off the top 100. This is almost unprecedented," says Moss. "Those are being replaced with more unique Biblical names like Josiah, Gabriel, and Elijah."

Expect lots of nods to nature and flowers to become more popular in common years, with names like Violet, Iris, Juniper, Rose, Daisy and Dahlia gaining speed. Want to see how your child's name stacks up? Check out the full list of 2019's top baby names at BabyNames.com.

News

In a culture full of consumerism and competition, it can be difficult to remember to feel grateful and not stressed when preparing the "perfect" holidays for our kids. After all, we create the magic. But how often do we stop to think about what is really good in our lives? Probably not often, mama. Days are spent worrying about what we have to do next, what we haven't done yet, what we did do, but not well—especially during the holidays.

This stress can make us tense and anxious. Our bodies think we are in flight or flight and our nervous system kicks into overdrive, releasing adrenaline and cortisol to ensure we can deal with this stress. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates our blood pressure and boosts our energy and cortisol, the stress hormone, increases blood sugar and enhances our brain's use of all that energy. This response is all well and good if we are really in danger, but too much for too long can weaken our immune system, affect our digestive system and weight, impair our reproductive systems, and may lead to heart problems.

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This natural alarm system also communicates with the parts of our brain that control mood and motivation—a sure formula for no fun when combined with the pressure of creating the perfect holidays.

Instead of feeling burdened, what if we choose to be grateful for all we have to do? We get to shop. We get to wrap. We get to decorate.

Psychologists say that we can switch or replace one thought with another. It takes practice—like all good things do—but taking a moment to switch from I have to, to, I get to, can make all the difference.

Research at UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center found that having an attitude of gratitude can actually alter the molecular structure of our brain, making us healthier and happier. And the effects of practicing gratitude are long-lasting. In a study out of University of California, Berkeley, nearly 300 adults participated in an experiment that involved writing gratitude letters and reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

Need more reason to practice a little more gratitude? A study at the University of Southern California found that our brain is full of the love hormone, oxytocin, when we experience gratitude, which may account for those positive effects of being thankful has on our relationships, well-being and mental health. Bonus: The beneficial effects are likely to be amplified with more gratitude, producing a positive feedback loop that serves to create more gratitude.

Bottom line: By switching our perspective from "I have to" to "I get to," we can change our perception and affect positive changes in our lives. What a great thing to model for our littles during the holidays—and always.

Life

As part of my training to become a Montessori teacher, there was a big emphasis on building relationships with the children. When a child walked into the classroom, we would get down on their level, shake their hand and make eye contact (if they were open to this) and say something like, "I'm so happy you're here today."

This is because Montessori focuses on the whole child, including their physical and emotional well being, and also because it is much easier for a child to succeed academically if they feel comfortable and connected in the classroom.

So amidst the busyness of life, how can we make sure we're showing our kids enough affection? How can we make sure they feel our love when we're racing around being mamas?

Try these phrases and adjust them to fit your own style and family so your precious little one doesn't get lost in the shuffle:

1. "I'm happy to see you."

When I became a mom, I said this every morning in the classroom and made it a part of my morning greeting to my children each day. It can be hard not to start the day on a grumpy note when young children wake up (SO) early, but it's important to let them know that we're happy to be here with them, taking care of them, each and every day.

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2. "Let's snuggle."

Maybe you set the alarm just five minutes earlier every day and build in a little snuggle time when you wake your child up for school. Or maybe that sounds horrible and you opt for a Saturday morning weekly family snuggle party instead.

Whatever works best for your family, find a way to include regular opportunities to relax and snuggle together even as your child gets older. Some children need more physical affection than others, so make sure to follow your child's lead.

3. "I love that you are so generous."

One part of my Montessori training that really stuck with me is acknowledging "qualities of greatness." This is a strategy that can be particularly effective with a child who seeks negative attention. Catch them when they are doing something right, no matter how small it is, and make a big deal about it.

Does your child always take toys from their younger sibling, but then you catch them in the act of sharing a favorite book? Let them know that you see it. Say something like "I love seeing you be so generous with your sister! You are a really giving person."

This lets our children know that we see them as good people, and it also helps shape their perception of themselves.

You can extrapolate a quality of greatness from almost anything.

Your child put their own shoes on? "I love that you're so independent!"

They picked up their Legos without you asking? "You sure are conscientious!"

Find a way to give them a meaningful compliment and it will stick with them.

4. "Do you want to know one of my favorite things about you?"

Especially if you have more than one child, it's important to let them know that you love them for who they are, uniquely. The more specific the compliment you offer them, the more it will mean to them.

"You're a good boy" doesn't really mean much but "I love that you take good care of your things" is specific enough to matter.

5. "Come sit with me."

Sometimes affection looks like a big bear hug and kind words and sometimes it's simply a quiet moment together. Especially for young children, it's not always clear what their love language is, but quality time together is always important to our children.

It's easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and think "quality time" has to be a special one on one date to an unforgettable place, but it can be as simple as a few cozy minutes together on the couch.

6. "Is there anything you want to chat about?"

I often ask my 3-year-old this at bedtime (well really after bedtime, when he's called me back into his room for "one last song"). He usually doesn't come up with anything in particular at this point, but it's important to me that he knows I'm there to listen.

I imagine that one day he'll surprise me with an answer that gives me a little window into his heart, but even if he doesn't, what matters is that he knows he can talk to me and that I always have time for him.

7. "You give the best hugs."

One day when I was in my Montessori classroom, a little 3-year-old girl walked up to me and randomly gave me a hug. As she walked away I heard her to say to herself, "I give the best hugs," and it brought the biggest smile to my face.

I am sure her parents tell her this all the time. There is a big difference between "Do you need a hug?" (which is also a great thing to say) and "You give the best hugs!"

Let your child know that you're hugging them not just because they want to be close to you, but because you want to be close to them, and value and treasure their affection.

8. "Did you get my note?"

I'm not entirely sure why, but one of my earliest and most clear memories from my young childhood is of receiving notes in my lunchbox at daycare from my mom. I couldn't even read yet, but it meant the world to me to have a little note from my mom in the middle of the day.

It doesn't need to be every day, but writing little love notes to your child lets them know you're thinking about them.

9. "What would you like to do together?"

Try letting your child lead the way in choosing what to do with your quality time on occasion. Even if it's only for 30 minutes, they will get the idea that you want to spend time with them doing what they want to do. Showing interest in your child's hobbies, even if you have little interest in them yourself, pays off over time because you learn so much about what your child is thinking and feeling through watching them play.

10. "I love you no matter what."

It's easy to show your child that you love them when they're being fun and adorable, but it's a bit harder when they're getting in trouble at school or yelling at you. Even, and especially, amidst the tantrums and notes from the teacher, make sure to let them know that your love for them is unconditional.

At the end of the day, you have to find a way to show your love that feels natural to you. Experiment with different types of affection and you will be able to tell what resonates the most with your child.

Maybe you're a snuggler and they're not, maybe you're not big on compliments but they crave your words of affirmation. That's okay. Just becoming a little more aware of how you show your affection will help you make sure your child is really feeling the love you send them each day.

Learn + Play

We can't lie to you—the idea of matching family holiday pajamas gets us all sorts of giddy inside. They're the perfect early holiday present for kids to wear on Christmas morning and the best excuse to wear loungewear all day long.

So snuggle up next to the fire 🔥, grab some hot chocolate ☕, and get ready to rock these comfy, cozy matching PJs this holiday season. Shop our favorite looks below!

1. Hearth & Hand with Magnolia

matching family pajamas target

Matching family PJs designed by one of our fave design couple powerhouses Chip & Joanna Gaines? Yes, please. Even the family dog can get in on the fun. Starting at $9.99.

$9.99

2. Hanna Andersson Deer Collection

hanna andersson pajamas

Iconic brand Hanna Andersson pretty much wrote the book on matching family PJs, and we could not love them more. There are so many Insta-worthy styles to choose from, you're going to have trouble choosing just one. Plus, they're on sale right now! Prices start at $28 for kids.

$28

3. Feliz Navidad Collection

feliz navidad matching pajamas

However you say Merry Christmas, celebrate in style with this gorgeous green set. Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39

4. Sleepyheads Holiday

matching pajamas

Made for lounging, Sleepyheads' pajamas have the cutest polar bear designs. These would make the most adorable Christmas morning pictures! Infant pajamas start at $16.99.

$16.99

5. Hanukkah

hanukkah family pajamas

You don't need to celebrate Christmas to get in on the matching family pajama game! We love these coordinating Hanukkah PJs to kick off the Festival of Lights. And, yes, there's a matching piece for your pup! Pieces for your little ones start at $10.49.

$10.49

6. Wondershop Winter Wonderland

matching family pajamas

Nothing adds to the magic of the holidays like mama and a little winter wonderland. How gorgeous are these colors? Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39

7. Harry Potter

harry potter matching family pajamas

Add a little extra magic to the holidays with this Harry Potter set. Mischief managed by mama, of course. Prices start at just $9.09.

$9.09

8. PajamaGram Snowfall Plaid Set

matching family pajamas

These comfy plaid snowflake-filled PJs will keep everyone nice and warm this season. The snowflake theme isn't holiday specific and can be worn all winter long! Prices start at $29.99

$29.99

9. Plaid Collection

matching family pajamas plaid

The perfect pair for your holiday Instagram photo. Prices starting at $8.39.

$8.39

10. Gray Striped Collection

gray striped matching pajamas

If you're not into the holiday colors, or want sets that work outside of the season, we love this minimalist gray striped set. Perfect for cozy days all year long. Prices start at $8.39, mama.

$8.39

11. Jammies for Your Families

khols matching family pajamas

How fun are these festive fairisle prints? There's something everyone in your family will love. Prices start at $19.99.

$19.99

12. Hanna Andersson Stripes Collection

hanna andersson stripe family pajamas

For a classic look, these stripes would be adorable on any family. And, we can't resist that elf hat for your littlest family members. Prices start at $20.

13. Burt's Bees Baby Family Jammies

matching family pajamas burts bees

Made of 100% organic cotton, you won't believe how soft these jammies are. Plus, they're breathable so if you're the type of overheat at night, these are a great option. Prices start at $16.95.

$16.95

14. SleepytimePjs Fleece Deer Plaid

matching family pajamas

You can never go wrong with buffalo plaid and this set doesn't disappoint. The baseball tees offer a more modern look and the deer head is such an adorable touch. Prices start at $6.99.

$6.99

15. Frozen Pajamas Collection

matching family frozen pajamas

If you prefer to have a little Disney on your Christmas morning, we love the classic look of these pajamas. The cold won't bother anyone in this set. Prices start at $9.09.

$9.09

16. Red Buffalo Check Collection

buffalo check family pajamas

There's nothing more classic than buffalo check during the holidays. This one even has nightgowns available! Prices start at $8.39.

$8.39


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