In my family growing up we had several Christmas traditions, which I remember fondly. Traditions are wonderful because they provide stability to children and create meaningful bonding opportunities for families. Oh, and they’re fun for adults to dream up and implement, too!
This year Andy and I have given some thought to what some of our first Christmas traditions will be. As a married couple we have not really implemented any up to now. In this first year as parents over the holidays, we want to be intentional as we begin to build traditions (memories) for our family. (Yeah, I know we were parents over Christmas last year. But since we don’t plan to make spending Christmas in the hospital a family tradition, we’re going to say we’re starting this year.)
I have typed the word “tradition” so many times already. Is anyone else singing Fiddler on the Roof showtunes in their head?
First of all, before we start anything, we want to consider the why. As Christians, we recognize that Christmas is a joyous celebration of the fact that God humbled Himself to become a helpless infant in order to save us from ourselves. He didn’t have to do that – He doesn’t owe us anything, far from it. But He did it because He loves us, and it’s a gift we could never repay (and don’t have to!). Christmas should be fun because it is a CELEBRATION of the greatest gift we could ever receive. Our goals for the season are, in order:
- To praise God and draw attention to His glory through our celebration. We want our primary focus to be on His gift to us.
- To build memories as a family that bond us to one another as we live our daily lives in praise and service to Him because of what He has done for us.
- To have fun with the season.
Beginning this year, we will read a different Christmas-themed book every evening between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This idea is new to me as of quite recently, and I love it! It combines some of my favorite things – reading and Christmas – in a way that’s sure to build anticipation throughout the holiday season. I’ve been stocking up on Christmas books for a few months now. We don’t have enough yet to cover all the days between the two holidays (wouldn’t you know this year Thanksgiving falls on its earliest possible date?), but that won’t matter, since Aria is too young to know the difference.
As she gets older I will add the element of wrapping the books, so that each night she can pick out one book to unwrap and we will read it together. Wrapping paper could be newspaper, paper bags – whatever is lying around the house. Put all the books in a basket, or under the Christmas tree, and you have got the makings for one exciting, educational, and hopefully at times reverential tradition!
As we have older children, I am sure we will begin to incorporate books suitable for those ages, as well. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and A Christmas Carol come to mind.
This is one tradition we have already started. It’s not formalized, but we LOVE Christmas movies. Andy has already informed me it’s time to start watching them. One area we differ is on what makes a good Christmas movie. We were raised on some of the same (Charlie Brown and Garfield Christmas specials, for example), and some different. I grew up watching a serious George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol (which I think is the best version, FYI, after seeing many different versions), and Andy grew up on A Muppet Christmas Carol. For the most part we happily watch one another’s movies as well as our own (the more, the merrier!). However, I don’t think he’s ever going to get into White Christmas, and I am never going to embrace National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. While most of our differences are minor and have to do with personality and family culture, a few (ahem, anything that starts with “National Lampoon”) are an issue of what we want to teach our children. We won’t be showing Christmas Vacation to our children because it espouses the opposite of the things we believe. I will continue to suffer through it after they’ve gone to bed, because Andy says it’s a “classic”. I say it’s offensive. And that’s marriage for you.
We will probably never formalize the watching of movies. There is a limit to the wisdom of planning things. You can tip over into control freak territory pretty easily, and that is just not fun. Instead, we look for evenings throughout the season we can keep free to make an easy dinner, settle in and watch a movie or two.
Viewing the Lights
This is another new tradition for us this year. I got the idea from someone else’s blog, and I’d love to give her credit, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it. So, sorry ’bout that. But I appreciate it!
The idea is this: after you have the kids ready for bed one night in December (maybe even after you’ve put them to bed), make hot chocolate, and then surprise them by bundling them up, still in their PJs, giving them their own thermos of hot chocolate, and heading out to see the lights in your neighborhood. If you live in a community like ours, you may have to do some planning to make sure you know where there are at least some impressive lights to see in your area. It’s a bit far for us, but we will definitely be heading to the downtown area of what we consider our city to see this:
Decorating the Tree
When I was growing up, decorating the Christmas tree was a big tradition for my family. We would get our tree, often from a tree farm where we cut our own (there are some stories here), and then on Thanksgiving weekend we would decorate it together. We listened to Nat King Cole and Mannheim Steamroller on the stereo, and had popcorn and wassail while Mom strung the lights in a very particular way and we all hung ornaments on the tree. We plan to do something very similar with our children.
Of course, up to now, I’ve put up the artificial tree all by my lonesome, even though Andy has a Christmas ornament collection that could decorate a large tree for every room in our house. So, that’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I want to see us doing in the future. Not to worry, though, because a baby changes absolutely everything. This year we are going to get our first real tree (I’m giddy about this! I hate artificial trees with a passion.) Then, I’m guessing, one of us will watch Aria and the other will decorate the tree. It’s a start. 😉
Music is a huge part of Christmas for me. (Music is a huge part of everything for me.) As I write this, I am listening to the Christmas playlist I put together of my favorite of the Christmas music I personally own. It’s actually missing a few albums I haven’t gotten around to adding yet, and it’s already 10.5 hours long. So, yeah. I like Christmas music.
For something like 15 years now I have sung in at least one major Christmas concert or musical each year. As a chorus member with our local Philharmonic orchestra, I have had the privilege and joy of singing Handel’s The Messiah so many times it is like a familiar old friend. I also get to direct a group of feisty, fun (and sometimes sweet) middle school-aged children in a Christmas performance every year for their family and friends.
This year Aria will attend the middle schoolers’ Christmas concert, and we will go to The Phil’s Holiday Pops show (a family-oriented show featuring both sacred and secular music of the season). I will also perform in a sacred Christmas concert with The Phil, but Aria will not attend, since she is too young to sit quietly through such a concert.
There are many opportunities to enjoy musical performances throughout our community every year. I’m sure that’s true in your community, as well. I highly encourage you to seek out quality musical experiences for your family as part of your own Christmas traditions.
Reading Luke 2
I remember when I was young each year at our family Christmas gathering one of us kids would read Luke 2 aloud. The year I was old enough and read well enough to be the one to read the account of Christ’s birth was SO exciting! Then I pronounced a word incorrectly, all the adults laughed jovially, and I ran and hid in the bathroom and sobbed until my parents were able to convince me no one was laughing AT me.
So, yeah, that was a bit of a letdown.
Nevertheless, I remember the practice with fondness, and intend to make this a tradition within our family, as well. (And I vow to try my darnedest to not laugh at any sensitive kiddies if they make an adorable mistake. Though I’ll probably fail, because that’s the kind of human I am. At least I’ll be able to commiserate with them when they hide in the bathroom.)
Personally, I also read one (or two – I’m a dork) Christmas-themed devotionals throughout the season, as well. Some years we may make this a family event.
Christmas Eve Gift
On Christmas Eve we will present each child with one gift. Inside will be a new pair of pajamas for them to wear to bed that night. We might include some other small item or two, but we haven’t settled on what just yet. We’ve got some time to figure that one out, since this year Aria is too young to remember.
Christmas Morning Breakfast
On a typical day, breakfast at our house was never much of an affair. Sometimes Mom would make us pancakes (so exciting!) and occasionally eggs. For the most part, though, we were responsible for our own breakfasts, and thus they just weren’t very good. We didn’t spend money on extras when it came to meals, particularly breakfast, so when Christmas day came and the good eats started at breakfast, that was truly a celebratory day!
In Andy’s family they ate leftovers from their Christmas Eve get together for breakfast on Christmas morning. That’s its own kind of exciting when you’re a kid.
Andy and I have decided that we will follow my family’s tradition of eating basically the same festive breakfast every Christmas morning, complete with seasonal table service (which can be purchased cheaply at Walmart or Target). We’re still working out the exact menu, but it will definitely include:
- Some type of bread (perhaps muffins, pumpkin bread or pancakes, something like that)
- Orange juice
- Hot chocolate (with these stirrers)
Ideas for the Future:
Aria is too young at this point for certain traditions I would like to start. In the next couple of years we will likely start some type of advent tradition, counting down the days to Christ’s birth in an exciting and meaningful way designed to engage little hearts and minds. There are many resources out there for this (Pinterest is teeming with them). This is one about which I’ve heard consistently good things:
I was homeschooled all 12 years of my primary and secondary education. Each year when I was young we kids would memorize poems, learn piano pieces, and/or practice songs to sing to our extended family when we gathered for Christmas. This was a fun addition to our school days, built anticipation throughout the season, and created fond memories at our Christmas gatherings. On top of all that, we learned skills while we did it! (Sneaky!) This is a great tradition for any family, and particularly if you have unsaved family members. The innocence of children presenting such a gift to their family members is a great witness to those who may not be willing to hear the truth of Christmas from us adults.
Each year, my family always purchased an Old Word Christmas tree ornament. We had fun picking out which one would be the ornament that year, and we loved putting those ornaments on the tree. Andy and I will not continue that particular tradition, since he already gets 3-5 ornaments for his December birthday every year (and did I mention how HUGE his collection is already?). When you combine his collection with the childhood and antique ornaments I’ve accumulated, we have more than enough ornaments.
But there is one ornament tradition from my childhood we will carry on when we have older children.
The legend is that long ago in Germany the pickle ornament was the last to be put on the tree on Christmas Eve. It was hidden amongst the boughs, and the first child to spot it on Christmas morning got a special gift from St. Nicholas and a year of good fortune. In our house, it went more like this:
On Christmas morning, while we kids finished cleaning up breakfast, our parents hid the pickle. Then we all went in at the same time and searched for it. The child who found it got to open the family gift (often a Veggie Tales DVD), and also received some type of treat, such as chocolates, just for him/herself (usually himself, since our brother is the most observant).
What are your family’s holiday traditions? I’m always looking for ideas…