Breaking from tips, this post is my family’s views of Christmas traditions, how we arrive at them, and some examples. As the holiday season approaches, there are elements common to everyone of nativity scenes, open presents, and seeing family members. One thing that is universal, whether we are conscious of it or not are the favorite family Christmas traditions. Whether it’s unique Christmas traditions or religious practices rooted in the Middle Ages, holiday spirit is rooted in building memories.
My family life is affected by shift work and requires new traditions to be developed as set routines are impossible. I, in particular, feel a very nostalgic connection to Christmas and try to connect any new traditions to historical practices. This time of year, Christmas customs have to be fluid as we work to create core memories for our own family. We have several favorite Christmas traditions and others that change depending on how we feel they fit with our family.
I’ll highlight Christmas activities we include each year and finish with how our whole family celebrates the Christmas time mood. The biggest tradition is finding ways to express ourselves in our Christmas decorating.
Christmas Traditions Definition
Tradition is simply defined as handing down customs from on generation to another. To keep our Christmas time from becoming Soviet Union level rigid, we rely on keeping our traditions a more loose than regimented. While I’d love a strict set of rituals to look forward to, I heed warnings from… every Christmas move ever. Consistently, I see examples of people trying and failing to force joy by making everyone join their tradition. To this end, we have no specific things that are consistent but rather topics, priorities, and concepts. But how do we arrive at a proper balance and where do our traditions come from?
Winter Solstice In Relation to Christmas Traditions
This season is defined as the time that the north pole is tilted the farthest away from the sun. Consequently, this means that it’s the coldest time of year for North America and the northern hemisphere in general. Consequently, the cold and related weather creates a lot of seasonal affective disorder. Simple gestures such as Christmas cards with love notes as seasonal good deeds can mean the world to some. However, to stave off the evil spirits, more than a simple Christmas concert or Christmas carols is important. Our family tradition of brightening up our subdivision is key as we set our living room furniture to take it in. Telling our individual stories, visions, and perceptions through light, color, and decorations is how we build family connection and tradition. However, building the anticipation of the season is important to keep our excitement going.
Why is this important to Christmas tradition?
While an advent wreath is the most common advent item, our three boys under five years old are too young. Some form of advent calendars each year is a must for our holiday traditions. In the advent season, our emphasis is on making a fun way to countdown to Christmas morning. The calendar is a small gift to start the season, set the mood of giving to others, and create anticipation. This is a perfect opportunity to put a personal and thoughtful touch as we look for more unique advent calendars.
In the past, I’ve gotten tea advent calendars and ones from local small businesses for my wife. This year, the choice was a (refrigerated) cheese calendar from a local Dutch farm with a different cheese each day. My wife goes the extra mile by using a wooden calendar with little drawers that she puts a experience in. The experiences are unique and range from things to do as an individual and ones as a family. We’ve been using unconventional calendars for the kids’ countdown to Christmas day, this year using Usborne’s advent calendar of books.
Christmas Season Foods
Why is this so important to Christmas traditions?
Every human needs sustenance so food is always going to be important to any season. Specifically in relation to Christmas, as it’s a Christian holiday in its origins, feasts are cornerstone of Judeo-Christian ceremonies. It’s important to concentrate on a couple specific foods/drinks to repeat each year so your family senses easily connect. We plan on dumping turkey from our Christmas supper this year for many reasons but keeping other elements.
I have to confess I have never enjoyed the minty flavor of candy canes, but my kids definitely love them. To build that joy we have candy canes connected into any family activities. We (they) hang candy canes on our tree, eat candy cane ice cream when watching movies, etc. One thing I’ve been trying to train my four year olds on is to not eat candy canes they find on the ground at Santa Claus parades.
Hot cocoa is a great way to help keep the kids enjoying the more boring activities. We keep their hands filled with cups as we look for the right tree to cut down. We drink it as we drive between subdivisions looking for more Christmas lights to joy. Drink it when we come in from sledding or setting up decorations and just drink it by the gallons. Setting up a fun and ‘formal’ hot chocolate bar before sitting down for our Christmas movie marathon is a must. Regardless of how, when, where you do this, make sure it’s part of a time of slowing down with loved ones.
Gingerbread houses are my treasured activity to do to ‘rev’ my creative juices in the warmth of our own home. However, I would highlight that many times our ‘gingerbread houses’ are not made of gingerbread. Everyone does their own, finding unique forms such as oreo, graham cracker or any of a list of other forms to make the walls. My kids have a great time as they wait to demolish and eat my work. This year my wife has got a mold to create a gingerbread cake village we can then decorate.
Christmas dinner, whether it has mince pies, Christmas pudding, or any nod to medieval times is still important to creating memories of festive period scents. We do not have specific foods but rather rely on the joy of getting together and using the items in the Christmas ‘crackers’.
Christmas Tree Farm
While a decorated Christmas tree may feel like a western tradition, they were first used in Germany in the 1500s. This spark of tradition and creativity only fully took hold in the 19th century, as per the BBC history website.
The experience of going to pick out and argue about what tree is the best before I’m left to cut it down is key. Walking rows of fir trees, finding traditional Christmas trees is so much fun as my middle child hunts the biggest one. My wife and oldest love smaller ones (my oldest wanted a large branch to be the chosen tree this time…seriously). Our first Christmas in our home, I fulfilled my long time goal of getting a 12 ft Christmas tree in. This year we’ve also let our oldest two have little three foot tall ones in their rooms. There are no specific ornaments that are sacred to us but we do try and buy a new one every new place we visit, regardless of the time of year.
Wishing our family, friends, and neighbors a Merry Christmas with a big get together is a cornerstone of our year. Quality time with loved ones is important to staving off the disconnection easily felt in the cold of winter. Furthermore, being able to pour into and be a blessing is so important to our beliefs of the meaning of the season. Blasting Christmas music, exchanging Christmas gifts and partaking in food and drink will bring even introverts out of their shells. We love to provide food and games to reduce the stress and busyness for everyone in our life. Doing a yankee swap/white elephant game with small toys and other things creates a good night for all.
Faith in Christmas Traditions
While I’d love to include Church in our Christmas Eve traditions, my shift work often does not allow for it. I would love to attend a live nativity but alas our city only has statues of baby Jesus. However, while midnight mass, mass of the rooster for Latin Americans, sounds exciting, we bring faith in in other ways. Our belief that eternal life starts with the first time the Christ child entered the world is central for us. Santa Claus is still something we have no problem allowing in our house, but we don’t call him Father Christmas. We don’t celebrate Saint Nicholas Day despite the traditions coming from European countries. St. Nicholas, in the end, is most loved by me for punching Arius in the face for denying Christs deity.
What do we actually do?
Just as in the iconic Bible reading in Charlie Brown Christmas, sharing the ‘Christmas Story’ with our kids is key. Ultimately, we just try to find new ways to be intentional in our ways that we find Christ throughout the holiday. Ensuring that we watch a certain amount of faith connected movies, try (and fail) to do advent candles, etc. helps our kids to consistently see what our biggest priority is in the season.
Our New Holiday Tradition
The biggest but nonspecific fun family Christmas tradition is planning our Christmas lights and decorations. Each year we get at least one new ornament for the lawn, and it’s developed into a new Christmas tradition. Originally, decorating was my domain but the excitement of dressing up our property was infectious and now includes everyone. Our Christmas cheer is expressed in the way that each person brings their own vision to our lawn and interior decorating. Our property is large enough and laid out on our corner lot such that we can have different zones. This allows for all the family Christmas ideas to be incorporated and bring good cheer to the whole neighbourhood. See my other posts for more details and tips on the different decorating elements, especially the types of lights.
“Traditional” Christmas Theme
This year, on the side of the house, we have a mid 20th century look with red, green, and warm white colors. Themes do not necessarily have to make complete sense, sometimes relying more on the feeling they create. This theme centered on perceptions of what Christmas looked like 60+ years ago. Decorations are older disney characters, generic symbols like a reindeer, candy canes, and Santa. I haven’t found candy cane decorations practical for our weather conditions so the bushes were lighted as candy cane theme. Simple garland is a universal element but greenery is especially a nod to the economic issues of mid century families. There is a cut 12 foot tree in the background that I’m working on decorating as well. It gets difficult making sure it’s secure in the 90kmh winds we sometimes get but worth it.
Princess Themed Christmas Traditions
My wifes idea is to create a more feminine space with princess themes. She never had a daughter in our sea of testosterone but can now bring girly things to civilize us. Subbing in pink (which in modern views is a more feminine color) for red brings in ladylike qualities. Keeping green maintains the link to conventional Christmas coloring. While the theme is only one tree in our yard, I made sure it is the biggest one to compensate.
Zesty Christmas Traditions
One of our four year olds loves traditional oranges in the bottom of Christmas stockings (Gotta love easily pleased kids). To bring the ‘zestiness’ of oranges, I put deep orange lights on one smaller tree while cutting with blue. Blue is important as too much citrus is gross and its important to connect with the frigid season we celebrate. While this color scheme doesn’t include red or green, the hallmark colors of Christmas, it may still fit just fine. You could consider lighting things up as a particularly Christmas type thing regardless of the color scheme. Also, this palette could be just one small part of your display, placing traditional colors in other areas.
A Nod to Natural, Earthy Christmas Traditions
Our middle child loves veggie gardening and all things earthy. To draw together these elements in a lighting theme, we chose blue, green and (was supposed to be) warm white. While mistakenly putting on pure white instead of warm white (face palm), it was going to be representative of soil. Green is representative of the pine, fir, chrysanthium, holly plants and other greenery that keeps color in the winter. Finally, polar blue connects it with the cold season that it is trying to brighten up. Arguably, the colors have nothing to do with Christmas at all but noone can dictate or regulate your decorating visions.
Upscale Christmas Traditions
Separating itself from the unwashed masses, the narrow side of our driveway is done in a posh concept. Sitting amongst the greenery, the warm and cool white coloring of the decorations keeps a cleaner look. Bright and diverse colors don’t fit with the posh section of society as they can be seen as too chaotic. The red bow on the lamp post nods to the traditional Christmas coloring and element. Wire frames are the chosen decoration element as inflatables definitely aren’t posh and we haven’t gotten into wooden decor yet. During the annual Royal Family Christmas address, British people have become accustomed to the warm but sterile backgrounds shown.
Tying it all together
The roofline out front is done in a wider range of colors to embrace the different themes displayed. NOTE: I am never done decorating so there are many decorations that are still not up as I continue to add on. Our wooden nativity, inflatable reindeer & snowman with penguin friend, and projectors are all still waiting their turn. Furthermore, I still have to do some repairs on some items such as the Cousin Eddie RV for the National Lampoons section. A Christmas addicts work is never done but it’s also important to enjoy each stage of the work and be content if you don’t accomplish everything you want.
Future Plans For These Christmas Traditions
We’ve already started discussing how to build a theme from how the Grinch stole Christmas for next year’s display. Further ideas will come up during the year I’m sure as we dream of next year. To expand out the joy of the season and give more time to enjoy things around my shift work we plan on building in the 12 days of Christmas to our celebrations.
Find your own shared traditions, whether you are able to maintain traditions from the 14th century or just go to an event each year like the Saint Thomas Christmas Traditions. It doesn’t matter what you do specifically so much as creating something that you both remember and look forward to. This is a shared project with A Lovely Place Called Home to develop a platform to help you brainstorm ideas to create your own traditions.