Visiting Santa and letting the kids sit on his lap to tell him what they want for Christmas…Reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. These are examples of family holiday traditions.
Traditions help make the holidays memorable, and it is my opinion that they do even more than that. Along with sharing why family traditions are so meaningful, Lisa and I thought it would be fun to do this as our first joint post and share some of our own family traditions!
The Importance of Family Holiday Traditions
I believe that traditions have 4 important roles with a family in addition to making the holidays enjoyable and memorable.
Traditions provide a sense of stability
Whether it's the best of years or the worst of years, family members look forward to participating in holiday traditions together. Participating in these traditions provides a sense of stability – something consistent to count on – no matter what else is going on during the holiday season.
Traditions provide a family identity
Every family has their own different set of traditions. While they may be similar, they are definitely not the same. For example, what my family does varies from what I did with my family as a child. The traditions that I did as a child varied from what my parents did as children. What we do varies from what my sister and her family do. And so on.
Participating in this set of traditions, which is unique to our family, year after year creates a sense of identity. It literally becomes a part of who we are. It determines how we celebrate the holidays. To some degree, it gets passed down to future generations. I love looking back through the generations through stories and seeing how traditions have come down and changed slightly in each family.
Traditions provide unity
Family holiday traditions allow family members to come together and participate in something bigger than themselves. Doing that provides a sense of connection and unity. I believe that when everyone participates, it brings a family closer.
Traditions provide a connection with the past
Where we come from is important. Traditions can link generations together in special ways. It could mean using the recipe for favorite cookies that came from your great grandma or using that special serving dish from your dad's mom. Maybe it's going out together to pick and cut down your Christmas Tree because that's what your parents did with you and their parents did with them.
Traditions are beautiful! They can be simple like making a certain cookie recipe or listening to certain songs; they can be elaborate and complex, such as organizing and hosting a family reunion. It doesn't really matter what the tradition is; what matters is that the tradition works for your family and can be replicated year after year.
Lisa's Family Traditions
We start off the Holiday season with ‘Cookie Weekend'. Typically, this is held the first weekend in December at my house. My mom, first cousin, Susan, and I bake thousands of cookies over the course of 3-4 days. We began this tradition over 20 years ago and it's a favorite of all of our family and friends. There are some cookies we make every year (they're just too good!) and we each get to choose a new recipe to try every year. We use two standing mixers, about 8 dozen eggs, 30 pounds of sugar and 40 pounds of flour. We all bring our cookie sheets and cooling racks to the party and we store some of the refrigerated items in a cooler on my back porch because there's not enough room in the refrigerator.
After we bake the cookies, we give them away to teachers, doctors, dentists, neighbors, friends, etc. People start asking “When is cookie weekend?” around Thanksgiving! Lots of people drop by to help bake or taste-test. The more, the merrier! My kids are becoming more involved in this tradition, which is making it all the more fun. I encourage you to start your own ‘Cookie Weekend' with a friend or relative!
Decorating the tree
We get our tree the weekend of Thanksgiving. It's nice to live in North Carolina, where a large number of Christmas trees are grown – it gives us a wonderful selection. After we get the tree in the stand, we turn on the movie “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby. When I was a kid, we listened to this movie while decorating the tree, and I can quote just about the whole thing now. My kids watched it for the first time this year while they helped hang decorations. We have a ‘Memory Tree' where we hang up anything that is a memory for us.
We always make sure we watch “White Christmas” one more time, sitting down and relaxing. The other must-see movies we watch every year are National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (my husband can quote that one all the way through!) and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
There are multiple ‘Christmas Trains' and light shows in the Raleigh area: Pullen Park's Holiday Express Train, The Museum of Life and Science's Santa Train, the Hill Ridge Farm Festival of Lights and the Meadow lights to name a few. We like to do one or two of these every year, and this year we're also going to see the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer musical! We're all very excited.
Heather's Family Traditions
It's funny, because while there are certain things we do every year that I bring from my childhood, I feel that we are still creating our traditions within my own family.
My Childhood Traditions
As a child, we decorated our tree on a certain day of the year (on my grandfather's birthday). My sister and I would join my mom and her mom to make Christmas cookies – the same recipes every year because we love them so much. I would get tired of those cookies and long for them at the same time! We would go to my grandma's house every Christmas morning and spend the day there with relatives. I remember those days as magical.
Our Current Family Traditions
Now within my own family, we usually decorate the tree and the house around December 1st. The kids love helping me do this because they get to go through the ornaments and pick out “their” ornaments. I buy or make Christmas ornaments each year to commemorate special events that took place during the year – the birth of a baby, one of the kids first learned to ride a bike, the year we got our dog, etc. The kids love finding those ornaments and reminiscing about the events that happened in those years. It's a lot of fun, and I treasure that time with them because I get to hear the memories through their own voices and perspectives.
We also make Christmas cookies…I join my mom and my sister to make a few hundred Christmas Cookies – usually about 6-7 varieties. We make a ton of cookies because I then package them up in a Christmas Tin and give them to friends, family, and neighbors.
Every Christmas Eve, we watch The Polar Express as a family and drink hot chocolate like they do in the movie. The kids (even though they are 10, 8 and 7) still love this and start begging to do it as soon as December 1st rolls around. Then before bed on Christmas Eve, we read The Night Before Christmas. Then it's lights out!
Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner is a fantastic meatloaf recipe that my husband's cousin gave to us several years ago. It's not the healthy version ;-), so we usually only eat it once or twice a year.
This year we plan to add another tradition: taking the kids to see a live theater performance of a Christmas play. We had tickets to “A Christmas Carol”, but later found out that my son had a school performance that same evening. Now I need to find tickets to a different performance!
Traditions connect us with one another and generation to generation. They become a part of us. They become events that we look forward to and even long for.
We would love to hear about your traditions in the comments below! What are holiday traditions that you and your family do year after year?
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