I recently sent a text message to our family group chat. I asked the kids if we have any holiday traditions that they look forward to or that makes them feel good. Instead of the sincere answers I was hoping for, they immediately started spamming the thread with things such as our annual front yard book burning or stealing the baby Jesuses from front yard nativity scenes.
//insert eye roll//
Growing up, my family’s holiday traditions centered around two things: religion and elegance. We would always read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke before opening presents. For a few years, we had to prepare a birthday present for Jesus. Church, around the holidays, was always a priority. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were always “elegant.” The good china, only brought out once a year, was used. We had to dress up–usually in new holiday clothes, and there was always an abundance of special “fancy” food–summer sausages, 5 different cheeses, chocolates, desserts, nuts, along with the traditional holiday fare. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that–these are just not my current priorities as I grew up, got married and had my own family.
As a child, on Christmas morning, we wouldn’t be allowed to come out of our bedrooms until we were given the OK–this was usually because my parents were putting presents around the tree. Once we were able to come out, we were able to admire the presents but not touch anything. We would always have a special breakfast and then my mom would have some last minute wrapping to do. After getting comfortable in the living room, either my grandfather or my dad would read the Christmas story. Only after all of this would we get to open presents. We would go around the circle and one by one open a gift, show what we got, then wait our turn again.
Living in Brazil, every year at Christmas, we would put up the same little 5 foot fake Christmas tree. It was quite the ordeal when my parents bought a new fake tree with matching Christmas ornaments so that we could have a “pretty grown-up” Christmas tree instead of the one with the half chewed up, first Christmas handmade ornaments that we had used since I could remember. That was a tradition I was not ready to give up. When Amanda and I got married, she was horrified that I had never had a real Christmas tree. I still remember going tree shopping for our first real Christmas tree as a family. We thought it would be fun to string popcorn together to decorate our tree. I was sitting in a specific place on the couch stringing popcorn when Zain went to bed. I was up early the next day and picked up where I had left off, sitting in the same spot. Zain was amazed when he got up, because he thought I had strung popcorn all night long. While that was the only year we did popcorn on our tree, we have always had a real tree every Chrstimas. Every year, the kids and I go to the Chrstimas tree lot and find the perfect tree. Some years, the trees have been skinny, some years they have been fat, but they always have to be tall.
After Amanda and I got married, we made the conscious decision to not have cable TV. It was as much a financial decision as it was a parenting decision. Since PBS was the only channel we could get, our kids grew up with a healthy diet of Arthur, Zoom, Big Comfy Couch and Clifford the Big Red Dog. We just happened to have the TV on one Saturday and we watched Arthur’s Perfect Chrstimas. This was the early days of Amazon, but I found a copy of it on DVD so we were able to watch it every year.
A few weeks ago, I put on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Atticus sat down and watched it with me. He commented how he is looking forward to watching all of the specials this year. Today, he was talking to his girlfriend telling her that she has to watch Arthur’s Perfect Christmas this year with us. Even as adults, my kids still watch that show. I did my due diligence and introduced them to the other holiday standards (all of the Charlie Brown holiday specials, Garfield’s Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) and without fail, we will watch most of these shows every year–quoting the lines and singing the songs as we go. To this day, we still sing along to “Baxter Day”.
As children, my sister and I believed in Santa Claus. We believed that he would bring us some presents on Christmas, but he was always sort of an outlier. As my sister and I got older, my parents realized we didn’t believe any more and Santa sort of disappeared from our Christmas tradition. When we were older, my parents would label a few presents as being “from Santa” in an effort to keep the magic alive, but it was more of a joke.
Now that Amanda and I have our own family, Santa Claus is alive and well in our house and any child of mine who dares utter the sacrilege that they don’t believe, will be shamed, shunned, and find nothing but coal in their stocking.
I am kidding. Sort of.
Part of the magic of Christmas, even as our kids have gotten older, is the belief that all their presents are from Santa. Amanda and I don’t buy any Christmas presents–everything comes from Santa. Whether it is to humor Amanda and me or perhaps they still enjoy holding on to that part of their childhood, they carry on the belief of Santa to the nth degree. To the point that as adults, they have had to work very hard to convince their partners that Santa truly does exist. To this day, our kids still wake up super early on Christmas morning and start poking around the tree to see what Santa has brought them. The only “rule” is that they have to wait for us to get coffee, then we dive in. It is such lovely organized chaos. When they were younger, it was a free-for-all. But as they have gotten older, they like to take turns opening presents and seeing what each other got. This is something that has occurred naturally, not from pressure from Amanda or myself. In the last few years, we have added to this tradition by leaving out 4 mystery gifts. They have to guess who the present belongs to and then match that gift’s paper to the rest of the presents under the tree. That is how they identify whose presents are whose.
Sometimes traditions don’t have a beginning, they have just always been. One such tradition in our family is quiche for Christmas Breakfast. It was our first Chrstimas as a family and Amanda’s mom came over very early on Christmas morning to make the quiche. Amanda, who was very pregnant with Asher (who would be born 5 days later) got up to help her. It was cold and dark outside and Zain had ended up in our bed so I rolled over and cuddled with him and went back to sleep. I remember waking back up to the smell of coffee and bacon frying. It was our very own Folgers Commercial. Over time, making the Christmas quiche has fallen to me. I make a variety every December 24th: crab and cream cheese, spinach and feta, bacon and gruyere. We have so much we eat for the next few days. We have recently added brandy slush to our Christmas brunch. I love how little details keep getting added to the current traditions.
Bartow has a specific neighborhood that decorates with lights every year. When the kids were little, we would entice them for car rides to go see the lights. While we did see the lights, the ulterior motive was to drive them to sleep. As they got older, they caught on, so it became a yearly event to make hot chocolate and drive through and see the lights. Atticus asked a few days ago when they would be putting the lights up so that we could go see them.
We have a very simple wooden nativity that we put out every Christmas. I believe someone made it for Amanda’s grandparents. It has more sentimental value to me than anything else.
It has become a yearly tradition that the kids will steal baby Jesus and put him into various places around the house a la Elf on Shelf. It started with Baby Jesus planking.
Very few of the traditions I grew up with have carried over to our family. In the aforementioned text thread, Asher, in his wise old ways summed it up very nicely. He mentioned that he really just enjoys hanging out with us–there are not specific activities that he finds memorable:
That’s it. For us, our traditions revolve around relationships. We do have traditions, but it is the relationship that comes first. Growing up as a child, the event took precedence–the relationship second. With time (and therapy), I have gotten to the point that I don’t blame my parents for this, I don’t think they knew any better due to their own upbringing. I also believe that religious restraints mucked things up as well. The event was the driving force–not the person. Amanda and I enjoyed watching our children be children. We enjoy watching our adult kids act silly and goofy. Personally, the tradition created a connection between me and my family. I enjoy quoting It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown with them. I find pleasure in making quiche and brandy slush for everyone to enjoy on Christmas morning. I am glad I don’t feel the need to read the story of the birth of Christ before we open presents. I absolutely love it that my adult kids act like they are 10 years old again on Christmas morning. I like making real hot chocolate (not Swiss Miss) for them before we go and see the Christmas lights. Knowing that these moments bring them pleasure, even fleeting, makes it all worth it to me.
I think the Grinch said it best at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas:
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.