I was very lucky growing up. The Christmas season was always full of little traditions and family events for me. On the weekends surrounding Christmas, my Mom, Dad, sister and I drove to see our extended families every year. The Christmas season was a busy time for us! Yet despite all of our traveling and busy schedules, my parents always made sure we were home for Christmas Eve/Day. We had our own family traditions that we almost never deviated from. I’m so grateful for this.

I believed in Santa. I remember opening gifts from Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, the little elves, Frosty and just about every Christmas related character out there. I absolutely loved it. I always looked at the tag to see who gave me a gift. I remember at least one year we even baked cookies for Santa. I’m sure there were more. When I got old enough to know better, my Mom still did this all for me. She still wrapped gifts when I wasn’t looking and labeled the gifts from Santa and company. She still occasionally baked cookies. She still built it up for me. She still made it special.

I remember getting so excited to get our tree out and set it up. I remember diving into the decorations box and carefully hanging every single one. I remember each decoration bringing back different memories for me, even at a very young age. I remember saving my very first decoration to hang last. It was so special to me. I still have it, and I still hang it last.

I remember being so excited to turn the lights off in the living room and turn the Christmas tree on for the very first time every year. And I’d be just as excited every evening after that. I remember waiting impatiently every day for night to come so we could turn the outdoor lights on. I remember sitting in a snowbank in the front yard, in my soaking wet snow pants and coat and my sopping mittens and hat, but not caring one bit as I stared at our house in wonder.

I remember getting out the decorations for around the house. One decoration in particular always kept me entertained for hours. It was a spinning nativity set with candles. Kind of like this, but bigger. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t worth $250 or my Mom wouldn’t have let me play with it all the time! But I remember just sitting on the living room floor next to the coffee table and admiring all of the little figures and details while slowly spinning it around and around and around. I was sometimes even able to light the candles. I would turn all of the lights off in the room and silently sit and watch it slowly turn on its own in the flickering candlelight. The little figures glowed like magic. The angels on the top were beautiful and magnificent as they flew around and around. This is my favorite Christmas memory. I don’t know why, but even now, thinking about that nativity set just makes me feel the magic of Christmas down to my very core.

Family traditions are what makes Christmas so special to me. It gives the kids something to look forward to just that one special time of the year. It’s really important to me that we continue traditions of our own because I want the kids to feel the same way about Christmas as I do. I want them to feel the magic and excitement. I want them to look forward to something as much as I looked forward to setting out that spinning nativity.

Some traditions I’d like to do every year with the kids is either setting up our fake tree or picking out a live tree together. Decorating the tree together and letting the kids hang their first decorations last in a special place. Hanging lights outside and setting out decorations around the house together. Watching old Christmas movies. Preparing for Santa on Christmas Eve by baking cookies, tracking his progress, writing him a letter and/or reading stories by candlelight before bedtime. I want to have lots of simple but beautiful non-electronic family time.

Another handful of traditions I’m looking forward to are on the religious side. I grew up with no religion, so I never went to midnight mass (aka: Christmas Mass). I never really heard the story of the birth of Jesus Christ as a Christmas tradition. I never really appreciated the religious side of it. I didn’t disrespect it, I just didn’t know it. I’m definitely not bitter for the fact that I never had a religious Christmas, because I truly believe that my Mom made it a very special non-commercial season for our family even without it. She helped me to appreciate the magic and wonder of it.

Since I’ve never regularly had any religious Christmas traditions, I’m not entirely sure where to start. I don’t want to saturate the holiday with either Santa or Jesus, but I definitely want the kids to have at least one or two things that we can do every year together to celebrate both figures. I’m excited to see what we come up with as they get older!

What favorite traditions do you practice over the Holidays? Do you prefer the commercial or religious traditions? Please share! I would love new ideas!


8 thoughts on “Traditions

  1. When our kids were small we would open gifts after evening milking on Christmas Eve. The kids would write a letter to Santa and Santa would answer back. When they were real small I would sneak back home during milking time to put the presents under the tree. But when they got a little older and began to wonder if Santa was real or not, we asked our neighbor to come in and place the gifts and answer the letter. I still have those letters.
    Some people make a birthday cake for Jesus and help the kids to understand the reason for all the excitement. The advent candles are also a great tradition.
    During Advent the Jesse Tree is also a neat way to bring the religious part into the season – the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. It helps tell the story from the Old Testament to the New about our salvation history.
    It’s fun to look at the meaning behind all the symbols of Christmas. For example, the green tree symbolizes eternal life. The lights signify the light of Christ. The nice thing about Christmas is that it doesn’t have be be either/or with the religious side verses the commercial side. It can be both!

      • The Jesse Tree is almost anything you want it to be but it’s based on the stories of the Old Testament. In the book if Isaiah it foretells of the ancestry of Jesus coming from the root of Jesse, the father of King David. It’s a great way to introduce children to the bible stories. You can bring in a simple branch as the “tree” in a pot of sand. Then every day of Advent, read a story or scripture verse and hang an ornament for each story beginning with Adam and Eve and Creation story (apple), the story of Noah (rainbow or ark or animals), etc. on up until the birth of Jesus. There are many websites that give ideas. Some people make the ornaments, some buy a kit, some add stories and ornaments little by little each year, building on previous years. I always wanted to do it but never thought of it soon enough in the year.

  2. Our traditions when I was a child were more simple. We would go up north and cut a tree ourselves. It wasn’t from a tree lot – it was a tree just out of the woods. We would decorate it a few days before Christmas. Mom and Dad would always give us gifts like clothes. The gifts would be wrapped and laid under the tree on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning we would awaken early and go down and see the tree with the lights on and discover what Santa brought us! The gifts from Santa would be unwrapped so we knew they were from him. Our stockings contained an orange and candy – it was usually candy that Dad liked. I remember one year there was a toboggan under the tree! I loved my Spirograph and books. I know there were other gifts through the years but the actual presents didn’t hold as much excitement for me as the general Christmas time magic. We would go to church and then have a big dinner with grandparents. Many years we would be in Louisville at our other grandparents and Santa would come there too! He always knew where to leave the presents!

    • Since writing this I’ve been told about the oranges and candy. I really like that idea! It’s simple but still worth getting excited! I guess oranges were a popular stocking gift for Husband and my parents when they were kids!

  3. Our traditions were pretty similar to yours. We visited family, but spent Christmas Eve in our own beds and woke up Christmas morning at home. It’s rough with husby’s family being out of state, but I’m adamant that our kids experience the same feeling of “home” through all the hustle and bustle. We did Advent calendars every December, and the kids have their own now (Aldi has awesome ones, btw). We never went to church either, unless it was with my Grandma. My mom taught us the story, and once we were older and in Sunday School, we took part in the Christmas Eve service that way. (Although I played with our nativity set just like you! My mom actually gave it to us, and I love seeing the kids set the scene up and tell their own version of they story) I’m torn, because when Boy Wonder was in Sunday School, the focus for them was memorizing their lines, and it was painful to see how much pressure THREE YEAR OLDS had placed on them. This year the kids won’t be in the service, and we’re trying out a new church for the first time. It’s a brass/vocal choir, and we hope the carols will help the kids learn the story they learned from us (and Boy Wonder from his experience in Sunday School). For us, it’s a mixture of the “commercial” aspect (cookies, Santa, presents) but I’m trying to emphasize the fact that it’s all part of a much bigger, much more special celebration. Growing up without an “organized” form of Christianity made it personal and meaningful for me, and I hope the kids feel it and not just go through the actions. I loved reading about your traditions – they brought me back!

    • YES. I’m very adamant as well that we sleep here on Christmas Eve so we can make sure Santa comes. If it doesn’t happen, though, we’ll make do. And my Mom came up with a neat idea that we try to find a Nativity that can be played with. I think I’ll try to find one for next year! You’ll have to let me know how the mass goes, too! And thank you for hitting the nail on the head for me about organized religion. I don’t want the kids to just go through the actions, either!

      • The service we went to was nice! It was a lot more laid back than our regular church, but still really nice. It was aimed a lot more at real-life struggles with being busy, and how a saving Grace usually arrives as an interruption. I liked it, but we probably didn’t find a permanent church for us. I especially liked how they brought the kids up to the front and reenacted the nativity for a short little lesson. It was a nice change from having the kids just drone on some memorized stuff that they didn’t really want to be reciting!

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