Have you ever wondered why traditions are so prevalent and feel so important around the holidays? As it turns out, traditions reinforce important belief structures. They comfort us with a sense of belonging, and help us express gratitude! Traditions cement existing bonds, and create new ones. If those aren't reason enough for you to hop on board the Tradition Train, consider it this way: traditions usually involve food, and are usually just plain fun.
Christmas traditions vary in their details but the reasons behind them are remarkably similar. Read on for fifteen real-life stories on the importance of tradition, from my community to yours.
On maximizing the holiday season:
My son is obsessed with Santa and all things Christmas all year long. His birthday is in early November, and his main birthday request is that we decorate. So, weeks before Thanksgiving, you will find us and the birthday boy stringing lights on the porch, putting up multiple Christmas trees, and running cords across the lawn for giant inflatable snowmen. Some might shake their heads but if you saw his smile, you would understand.
On sweet fathers:
When my dad had to work Christmas morning, he would always come home with gifts that he said Santa had dropped out of his sleigh or forgotten on the roof. Usually they were one of our big wish items.
When I was young my dad would create a trail of peanuts for me to follow to my stocking. He said that Santa must have had a hole in his pocket and the peanuts that were kept there for the reindeer fell out.
My dad always made a big Christmas breakfast for us. Last year, our first Christmas without him, my husband and son got up and make everything my dad had always done. It was delicious.
On giving back together:
Every year we go to a Hospice House with friends and bake cookies. Our kids make cards and deliver them along with the fresh-from-the-oven cookies. It always smells amazing. The families there are going through sad circumstances but this gesture always brings them genuine smiles.
Every Friday night of the season we watch a Christmas movie and eat a special snack that has some tie-in with the movie. For instance: bright green punch with the The Grinch, cocoa and candy canes with Elf, trail mix with The Polar Express, and cookies with The Santa Clause. A brief internet search will set you up with all kinds of ideas.
We watch Christmas movies like Elf and Home Alone but also, in an attempt to fight back against the semi-feral natures of our tween boys, I force them to watch some older classics like White Christmas and attend a play or musical each year. This year we did A Christmas Carol.
On tree decorating:
We listen to Frank Sinatra's Christmas album every year while we decorate the tree. Mistletoe and the Holly is one of my favorite songs from that album.
Every year my family would make a certain chocolate cookie that we snacked on while decorating the tree. I can't fathom eating that particular cookie at any other time.
On Christmas Eve:
My dad was a pastor and every year we would have a candlelight Christmas Eve service. Afterwards we would keep our candles burning as long as we could and snack on candies while we drove through the night to my grandparent's house.
We always give new pajamas on Christmas eve and everyone looks especially cute in their new jammies in the next morning's photos.
We always drink ice cold Coke out of the glass bottles on Christmas Eve!
On Christmas Eve when our kids were small we did "The Gift That Doesn't Cost Anything" to emphasize that something need not cost money to be valuable. Each of us would read something meaningful (Remember Chicken Soup for the Soul?) or play their latest recital piece on the flute or piano. When the kids grew into adulthood they also grew into sarcasm and renamed it "The Gift That Isn't Worth Anything." Thus, it faded from our holiday routines. I'm thinking of bringing it back for the grandchildren's enjoyment!
My kids love putting out vegetables or other treats in the yard for Santa's reindeer. I so clearly remember my oldest yelling, "Come and get it, Reindeer!" with his dear little face scanning the sky. That sweet memory made up for how ridiculous I felt later when I was outside in the middle of the night nibbling on carrot pieces to leave as evidence.
On accidental traditions:
We had just moved back to the U.S. after several years in South Africa and my preschool-aged son was so thrilled and overwhelmed by the tree and the giant pile of presents that he got sick to his stomach. The next year, to make sure we wouldn't have to clean the carpet again, I gave him a banana and we read the Christmas story upstairs. Getting something in his stomach and easing into the celebration worked. Somehow it became a tradition. This year, before we go down to the tree, my three kids will sit at the top of the stairs and eat a banana while we read the Christmas story together.
Let this be an encouragement to embrace your existing traditions and consider establishing new ones! We all want to celebrate our story and recognize that we belong to each other. Traditions are key to doing just that! Happy holidays, everybody.