Family holiday traditions have a way of growing, changing, and melding with the addition of each new family member. My husband and I celebrated Christmas with very different traditions before we got married, but have melded the best of both our families and added our own flair to our celebration. I love that no two families are identical in their celebration traditions. After viewing the blog and ornaments at Patience Brewster, a designer of unique Christmas ornament and gifts, I was inspired to share my favorite holiday traditions.
It’s Not Black Friday—It’s Christmas Friday!
As soon as Halloween passed, I could hardly wait to play Christmas music and put up all of the Christmas decorations. When I was a child, my mom would sometimes decorate the weekend before Thanksgiving, but my husband did not want to see anything having to do with Christmas until after Thanksgiving. I compromised by decorating the house with fall wreaths, garlands, linens, and other miscellaneous decor. The rule stands: No Christmas until after the Turkey has been consumed! While everyone else is running ragged trying to get the best Christmas deals on black Friday, we stay home and decorate the house for Christmas. We call it Christmas Friday.
It’s a Wonderful Life
After all of the decorations have been strategically placed, we all gather around the TV to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This has not always been a tradition. My husband is a funny creature. The Saint Nicolas party always put him in the mood for Christmas. It was sort of like a marker to him that he should now be feeling joyful and excited no matter what stress existed, whether it be financial, work, or family related. When we moved far from family, I just could not seem to get him into the holiday spirit. Then one night, about a week before Christmas, we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. He said, “I love this movie. It always puts me in the holiday mood.” I bought the DVD at the after Christmas sale. Now we watch this film every year on Christmas Friday.
Trimming the Tree
Because my husband comes from a very large family, his parents began a tradition of celebrating Saint Nicolas Day every year with all of the family members—the guest list was comprised of grandparents; first, second, and third aunts, uncles and cousins; and close family friends. After my husband and I were married, guests also included my parents and my sister. Saint Nicolas Day marked the kick-off to the Christmas season. Gifts usually included Christmas ornaments or decorations.
Though we moved far away from the family, we kept the tradition of giving an ornament to each of our children for Saint Nicolas day. We also buy one new ornament that represents a family milestone or a favorite memory. Even the puppies are represented on our Christmas tree! Our tree may not be color coordinated or worthy of a formal gathering, but each ornament has a story to tell. Every year we enjoy homemade hot cocoa, my family sugar cookies, and listen to Christmas songs while each member of the family hangs his or her ornament. More often than not, an ornament will spark a memory and the owner will share their memory with the rest of the family.
Christmas Eve Birthday Party
Though Christmas Eve is not technically Jesus’ birthday, this is the day our family celebrates His birth. Every year we make a small birthday cake—and yes “Happy Birthday Jesus” is written on the top. After we eat our cake, each family member writes a personal note to Jesus and puts it in His stocking—this is our gift to Him. The note remains in the stocking until the next year. When we hang His stocking, each person reads his or her note—it’s a private thing, so we have never forced the kids to read it a aloud. My notes usually consist of thanksgiving for the blessings of that year and prayers for the New Year. Afterward, we read Christ’s birth story.
When I was a kid, I used to sit in front of the tree and shake my gifts on Christmas Eve. I was just too excited! Of course, we had a rule: no shaking the gifts! But seriously, who didn’t shake them when they were kids? Because I still have that urge to open gifts before Christmas morning, we started the PJ gift tradition. Everyone in the family gets brand new pajamas and slippers—and if needed, a new robe. Besides, what is a birthday party without gifts?
After the PJs have been opened, we all change into our new PJs and then sit together on the sofa. We read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and sing “Up On the Roof Top” and “Here Comes Santa Clause.”
The Christmas Cookie
My family always made Louisiana Sugar Cookies that are rolled into a ball and then flattened on the cookie sheet with a decorative glass, while my husband’s family always made sugar cookies that are rolled and cut with cookie cutters. His favorite part of making cookies as a kid was decorating them. Though I prefer my family’s cookies, we did make the cut cookies when our kids were little because my husband loved decorating them with the kids. Funny that my kids enjoyed decorating the cookies, but favored mine for eating…
When I was a child, I would wake my little sister up and exclaim, “It’s Christmas!” My parents had to practically pull me out of bed any other day of the year, but on Christmas morning, I would wake up somewhere between 5 and 6 am. We would rush into the living room to make sure that Santa had come. After scoping out the presents, we would run and jump into our parent’s bed and yell, “Santa was here! It’s Christmas!” To which they would reply, “Okay, Okay.” They would groggily head to the living room and watch as we opened our stockings. We would then have to wait for the coffee to brew before we could open the presents.
I’m pretty sure this scene is familiar to most families. However, I am still the one who wakes up first on Christmas morning. I start the coffee. Then I take the scones (made on Christmas Eve) and the jam to the coffee table. I sneak back into bed and wait for the kids.
In our house, the dogs get to open their gifts first. Their stockings are full of treats, and Santa always wraps a huge bone for them.
The Christmas Feast
Whether you eat tamales, lasagna, prime rib, turkey, duck, lamb, or ham—the Christmas feast is probably one of the most important aspects of the Christmas traditions. My grandmother always brought her homemade fruitcake and fudge. We ate ham prepared with pineapple and clove, green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and brown-and-serve dinner rolls. Dessert included cookies, pumpkin pie, fudge, and of course, grandma’s fruitcake. My husband’s favorite feast as a child was the Saint Nicolas party spread. This traditional feast included tamales (brought by an uncle’s sister-in-law,) pickled and creamed herring, Cool Orange Salad, Tomato aspic, and glazed ham along with traditional sides such as candied yams, and stuffing. Eggnog was of course a treat in both our families.
In order to fit in all of our favorite foods, we serve hors d’oeuvres starting at about 10am through the afternoon. We serve pickled and creamed herring, an olive and pickle platter as well as a veggie platter, Cool Orange Salad (only I use lime Jell-O for Christmas so it’s Cool Green Salad), my homemade creamy eggnog, Fudge, rum balls, and my Louisiana sugar cookies.
The star of Christmas dinner is a ham ornamented with pineapple and cloves, then coated in a pineapple and brown sugar glaze. The side dishes include salad, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, broccoli, and fresh baked dinner rolls. For dessert, we serve apple pie, pecan pie, and pumpkin pie. I know that’s a lot of pie, but who doesn’t love pie for breakfast the next day?
Now that we are living in Germany, we have added a couple of new things to our Christmas Traditions. We learned how to make certain traditional German Christmas cookies, and we enjoyed it so much that I will include them from now on. We are also adding Stollen to our menu as well as Gluhwein (hot, spiced wine). I am certain there will be many more additions to our Christmas traditions over the years, and that is the beauty of traditions—they grow and change over the years, but are always special.
I hope you have enjoyed exploring our family Christmas traditions. Do you have any family traditions that you have kept or changed over the years? I’d love to hear about them!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your families!