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Holiday Traditions from Friends

I grew up in a family of traditions, especially around the holidays. This is partly because I grew up in the church with both grandfathers and my own father serving as pastors, so annual church traditions such as candlelight services and Christmas pageants became our own family’s traditions as well. Sometimes that meant added stress as we frantically ran out the door, dragging coats and hats, complaining about another choir practice, crying that we couldn’t find our other shoe, begging our parents to let us stay home. But mostly, the memory of these traditions represents connection, family and stability when–looking back–many of those things were just beginning to fall apart for us.

While the meaning behind many of these traditions were obvious and shared with many other families, there are some traditions whose origins are a bit unclear, like the chocolate covered cherries. For as long as I can remember, every Christmas gathering with my dad’s side of the family, we would huddle in a big circle–one that once fit in my grandparents’ living room but eventually grew to the conference room of a Holiday Inn where we all stayed overnight. We sang carols, listened to little cousins perform piano recital pieces and passed babies from lap to lap. Eventually, the evening would come to the part where my grandpa handed out envelopes of money to every family member (which my dad would always open and yell to his brothers, “Did you get cruise tickets too? Oh my gosh! Thanks, Dad!”) and begin calling the names of the daughter-in-laws and granddaughters, one by one. When your name was called, you walked up and took your wrapped box. The contents of the box were always the same–chocolate covered cherries. I don’t know that anybody ever even ate them or liked them, but the gift had nothing to do with that. It was about belonging to a family. My grandparents never had a daughter, but by the time they passed away, they had a family of women who loved them–women who married their sons and the daughters their sons raised. This silly tradition was simply my grandpa’s way of telling us that we belonged and we were loved. As grandsons grew, dated, became engaged and eventually brought their fiancees to the family Christmas, hearing the name of the new Cryderman woman called for the first time to come receive her box of chocolate cherries from Grandpa became a celebrated welcome to the family, followed by hoots and hollers of aunts and uncles. It’s been over ten years since my grandpa passed away, and while the large family gatherings don’t happen as much anymore, the cherries find their way in to our traditions now and then to remind us that we are connected and loved. In fact, I packed a wrapped box in my suitcase for Chicago last weekend and pulled it out to give to my cousin when we met up.

“I almost forgot, I have something for you.”

She smiled as soon as she saw the box. “I bet I know what’s in here.”

The cherries, most likely, got tossed–that sugary slimy goo that holds them together always the deterrent. But our love for our grandpa, the family he created, and our support of each other is remembered. We are loved, and we belong.

We have continued with several other holiday traditions we grew up with–Christmas pajamas, following a string to Santa’s “big gift,” cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning–and have started many new traditions for our own family like setting up a reindeer runway in the driveway and a big family swim party Christmas day.

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The only rule we have about traditions is that they can’t cause stress–no worries if we skip it, no pressure if it fizzles out. And we don’t force ourselves to continue a tradition just to continue a tradition. If it doesn’t mean something, if we aren’t having fun with it, let it go (can’t tell you how many years we’ve skipped getting a picture with Santa because we were over it). We use traditions and rituals to inspire us, to bring us together and to deepen the grooves of a message we hope our kids know well–that no matter what they do, where they go or what happens in their lives, there are comforting constants as sure as the sun above, amid all the things that change–and that is that they are loved and they belong.

I am inspired by the different ways my friends celebrate holidays–some bold and colorful; others quiet and calm. All of it is good, and I feel so lucky for the ways the online world has allowed us to connect, celebrate together and learn from each other. I’ve asked some of my fellow bloggers, writers and friends to share a favorite tradition or moment from the holidays, and I’m so happy to have their words and photos in this space today. I was looking at this little collection of women this morning and feeling so grateful for each of their spaces online and the way they’ve inspired me. If you don’t follow them…give yourself a little Christmas present and add their hearts and words to your input list.

Ashley Ann 

Blog: Under the Sycamore,  Instagram: @underthesycamore

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Every year when we pack up our stockings, we each write out our hopes and goals for the coming year on little slips of paper and slide them into our stockings. The little papers are to be pulled out again when the stockings are unpacked the following November. Tiny papers filled with hopes for pregnancies, adoptions, job changes, traveling, etc…and then the dreams the kids add like dancing everyday, learning to read, camping with friends, running a 5K, and so many more. As kids grow, the hopes and dreams evolve and we’ve spent many November nights laughing, crying, and celebrating as we pull out those little strips of paper.

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Erin Loechner

Blog: Design for Mankind, Instagram: @erinloechner

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We have a fairly minimal approach to traditions in our house — less is definitely more! Instead, it’s the everyday stuff of the season we seek after – the lingering puzzle, the Bing Crosby album, making candied pecans for neighbors – and we do our best to integrate those small treats all season long. I find that what my family appreciates most about the holidays is a stronger sense of togetherness, so we’re often rejiggering something special for whatever life stage we’re all in. Our current “tradition”? Making a massive cardboard fort (city?!) from the influx of Amazon boxes this time of year!

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Kari Jensen

Blog: Living Life’s Moments, Instagram: @livinglifesmoments

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This time of year, we tend to live out various traditions that invites magic into our home. But I have to say my favorite is making lefse with my grandmother, my mom, and my three daughters. The past couple years especially, it’s grown to be even more special and savoring. My grandma is 88 years old and is teaching us her trade so that we can continue to enjoy this tasteful, meaningful, tradition for many years to come.

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Jessica Honegger

Instagram: @jessicahoneggger

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It’s been really helpful for me to be asked the question of what holiday traditions and rituals I cherish, because to be honest I struggle with finding rituals that make sense for my family during this busy season. Although I admire ritual and tradition, I’m not much of a ritualistic person—I love to change things up. Add that to our nomadic holiday ways (visiting family in the Midwest, other parts of Texas, Florida, etc) and it makes it difficult to establish traditions that stick. But there are some things we love to do that have added meaning to the holiday season for us. Last year for first time, we created an “advent calendar of kindness” as a family. Each day of advent, we brainstormed a way we could do good for others. We baked and took cookies to the local fire station (which we had never visited before), paid for the person behind us in the drive-thru, donated financially to an adoptive family and called them up to encourage them. It was so fun for us to do as a family, and kept us focused on the “reason for the season.” We also have started a semi-tradition (if you’re crazy inconsistent with it does it count as a tradition? I sure hope so!) of having a big holiday party at our house and passing the hat for International Justice Mission, to aid them in their mission of freeing people from slavery around the world. We do it up big, with paper invites and everything! Working in the retail industry can make the holiday season (also known as “Q4”) a crazy time for us, but as a family, we are feeling our way along and finding the rituals and traditions that make the holiday season feel special and meaningful.”

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Shauna Niequist

Website, Instagram: @shaunaniequist

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I’m pretty terrible at traditions—I get an idea, and then I do it twice and then forget about it and then at some point, my kids are like, “Wait, what about that thing? That elf? That calendar? That ornament tradition?” OOPS. Routines and traditions are not my best things, but there are a couple that I work hard on, and one is the Advent Book. Each day you get to open a new door, and every page has one short part of the Christmas story. We keep the book under the tree, and every night in December, we sit by the tree before bed and take turns opening the doors and reading the pages. We each pick our favorite doors, and anyone who comes over gets to join us in the reading—grandparents, friends, houseguests. If you come to our house in December, get ready to snuggle up and read the Advent book.

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I love reading together at the end of the day—that’s something we do all year round. And I love hearing the words of the Christmas story, a little more every night. In a season that can get overrun with stuff and stress and expectations so easily, I love that the reading of the Advent book is a grounding point every day: simplicity, physical touch, the light from the tree, the heart of the story.

Casey Leigh Wiegand

The Wiegands@caseyleighwiegand

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Holidays and events are such a sweet way to bond with your little ones, make them feel special and create lasting memories. It’s such an opportunity right there at your fingertips to make them feel extra special, to pull out the magic. I can still remember the way I felt as a child each year, each holiday with my family all around. My mom always went above and beyond- it has been something that I have desperately wanted to pass on to my own littles.

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While our babies grow and things change…..the family holiday traditions that matter stay the same. The moments in the kitchen making the sugar cookies, the way it makes them feel…..the memories and the music while we decorate their rooms and the little ways that we can make things special all throughout the month.

Nici Holt Cline

Blog: Dig This Chick, Instagram: @digthischick

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Every year, on the eve of the Winter Solstice, I sew nightgowns for my daughters. They wake in the dark, cold morning and have a little hunt to find their new pjs. I love sewing for my kids and my approach has changed over the years…at 8 and 10, it is no longer a given that they will love my creations.

This last Summer Solstice, I again made nightgowns (because Tradition!) even though my eldest doesn’t like nightgowns. She wore it but it didn’t bring her joy because it wasn’t her style. I had dug in to my tradition, ignoring the reason I have the tradition…time to shake up.

So this Winter Solstice, I included my kids in the fabric and pattern selection. And, you know what? It was better than ever. They still woke to new pjs, still felt surprise and now, they also feel a sense of creative ownership.

My kids are my favorite teachers and this year I am learning that our rituals need to evolve if we are to remain present and appreciative, if we are to truly understand the importance and purpose of tradition in the first place.

Tiffany Gray

Instagram: @thegraygang

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My favorite family tradition goes down in the wee hours of Christmas morning – usually before the sunrise. My kids awake to find their stuffed stockings hanging by the doorknob of the door belonging to their bedroom. This is something that my mother passed down to me. Then they all gather, armed with their stockings & hot coco, into our bed. My husband reads The Christmas Carol; as a child, we would watch the film every Boxing Day. It was always my dad cry – so in a way, this is a small tribute to him. Then they open their stockings and get all the predictable things: chocolate coins, fuzzy socks, glow sticks, playing cards, model clay —  but in each one of their stockings is a teeny-tiny piece of wrapping paper – and its that wrapping paper who tells them which gifts belong to them under the tree as I don’t label them. Its the best of times and my heart is 2.2 seconds away from exploding…these are the moments I will miss the most when I am old & grey & gone.

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Claire Bidwell Smith

Website, Instagram: @clairebidwellsmith

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My mother died when I was a teenager, so the holidays are always especially poignant for me. Getting to share the same traditions now with my two young daughters that my mother started is particularly meaningful to me, and evokes her presence in our home and hearts. While there are so many traditions we carry on, my favorite one involves taking a moment at the end of each night to turn off all the lights of the house and stand in the quiet glow of the Christmas tree, for just a moment, before going to bed. My children do this with reverence, and I almost always feel like my mother is with us when we do.

 

Favorite Tradition from the holiday? This is my jam. DO TELL.

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  1. I love this so much! Thanks for sharing all of these tradition ideas (and all the new reads!)! My favorite tradition growing up is one my parents started. I am the oldest of five kids and each Christmas Eve we would put our gifts to each other in stockings at the foot of our beds (in the beginning it was candy bars and little trinkets or whatever we could buy with a dollar or two). Then, in the morning we all piled into one bed and opened our stockings together–just us kids! As a parent now I think this was so my parents could get a bit more sleep, but it felt so magical and fun that we were allowed this time just the five of us. We still do this today and we’re all in our 20s and 30s…the presents have grown larger and so have we, but we all still pile into one bed and give each other gifts. It’s my favorite part, and I hope one day my little daughter will have siblings to carry this tradition on!

  2. I love these! My favorite is Christmas breakfast – my mom is a great Italian cook and rocks dinners, but didn’t care much for making big hot breakfasts. So on Christmas we always had Christmas cookies and hot cocoa for breakfast! It was the biggest treat of the year and another added thing that made Christmas feel extra special as a kid.

  3. These are all amazing traditions! When I was a kid we’d open one gift on Christmas Eve. I still do this tradition with my girls. It was and always will be a pair of cozy pj’s to wear Christmas morning! Together we read T’was the Night Before Christmas. I know all the words by heart! Cinnamon buns for breakfast after stockings are opened and before we tackle the gifts. Hot cocoa and coffee with a little bailey’s ( for the adults of course) For the past 5 years we have had 2 Elves entering our home on Dec 1. They stay the month leaving messes and smiles. ( they don’t report to Santa but come to spread some holiday cheer) I don’t regret starting this. My oldest is 15 and enjoys helping me create a little mischief!

  4. This is wonderful!
    We had a tradition growing up that on New Year’s day we could eat our breakfast wherever we wanted to in the house. It was always such fun to try and choose the most unique spot.
    We also always got to spend a night under the Christmas tree. Tonight my almost-five year old will be doing that and is so excited.
    Thanks for the links to new instagrams and blogs.
    Merry Christmas!

  5. I love holiday traditions, and many of them are thanks to my mom. This is our 4th year without her now, and while still bittersweet, I cherish them all the more. My beloved husband though, greatly dislikes tradition…and so I try to balance things for him too. Although, he and I have developed our own tradition over the last 5 years – as close to New Year’s as possible, we take our annual “congratulations! You survived Christmas holiday to Cuba” ( yep, a Canadian here!). The stress of everything is over, and the minute we arrive through customs – instant holiday! It’s also stopped the stress of shopping for each other, this is our gift to ourselves. A win, win!

  6. For advent, we light a candle on our wreath and read the Christmas story or an advent devotional. Then we pray and sing a carol. As the kids are getting older we’ve found that doing it in the morning over breakfast works better than at night, and they love lighting the matches! On Christmas Day, Santa always hides gifts: the ifs have to go find a gift (always hidden together so they have to stay together), then come back to the living room to unwrap it. My brother and I did this as kids—actually, until we moved out of the house! It’s so much fun and it means the unwrapping takes longer and everyone sees what you get. Now, when we visit my parents’, my daughter and Mom hide the gifts and write us clues to find them. It’s such a great tradition and it’s been great to see it evolve over the generations!

  7. My family is big on traditions, and one of my favorites is our Christmas Eve walk. After dinner we all bundle up (Minnesota, brrr!) and walk outside looking and listening for signs of Santa’s sleigh. We’ll often spot a red blinking light, probably Rudolph’s nose! Or hear jingling sleigh bells that (magically!) seem to come from very nearby, (possibly even Pop/Grandpa’s pocket), and when we spot any of those signs it’s time to turn right around and head home and hop into bed, because you sure want to be asleep before Santa comes! Well played, parents! Some particularly frigid below-zero years our walk is really short, but we always go. And I love it.

  8. For 29 years my family has spent Christmas Eve with my best friend’s family. It started as a couple thing the year before my first child was born and we have never missed a year. We have five kids between us and we still do the same things we did when they were little even though they are all in their 20’s now.

    We do a book exchange, a craft and the most fun thing we do and the thing they look forward to the most, is they act out Christmas plays from Little House on the Prairie and American Girl. They learned to read with those plays, they have consistently played the same part for years,and even though the plays are now improvised to be a little bit inappropriate, it still is our favorite tradition!

  9. One of my favorite posts ever….
    what a gem to share
    THANK YOU!!!

  10. My mom has always collected an ornament each year with a picture of my brother and me. They started out as our yearly Santa pictures, but as we’ve grown up they evolved into a picture from a special event or just a nice posed picture from any time during the year. Now that we’re both married, my mom puts up one for each of us, with our spouses (and my kids). I carried the tradition over to my house, and I have an ornament with a photo of my husband and me from each year since we met (and now including our kids). Each year when I unpack the ornaments and get ready to hang them (they go on a garland over our window rather than our tree), I am amazed at how many there are… this year we’re at 16 ornaments (and we’re only 33 😊). I love seeing what babies we were when we met and how our family has grown! And now hat our oldest is 3 and is really starting to get into the magic of the season, I’m looking forward to starting more traditions that will make it even more magical for him!

  11. Joanna Downey says:

    I am delighted that so many have traditions & reading about them was a joy. I carried on with the ones from my childhood & created new ones as I became a mummy – my daughters are now doing the same in their homes. Bliss.

  12. So heartwarming! What I love about our Christmas traditions is, since I am from Austria /Europe and hubby from the states, we combine some from both countries to make them work for us (and the busy times leading up to Christmas less stressful) : so our tree is decorated sometime in the beginning of December (USA), the kids have advent calendars and we visit a bunch of Christmas markets (Austria), on the 24th (which is the main day of celebration in Austria) we have dinner at my mom´s , where the kids get 1 present and a voucher for their tennis lessons all year :) , usually followed by church and on the 25th we have the big hoopla with Santa´s gifts under the tree, all day in pjs and a cold buffets with lots of goodies. on the 26th we meet with my dad for lunch and that´s it as unfortunately we don´t have a big family or they are scattered around the globe…but it is cosy, lovely and our own :)

  13. This year we have been nomads and have unpacked in SEVEN different homes! We finally just got back into our own home last Sunday- a week before Christmas, eek! Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but this year with our life in limbo staying at an airbnb while our home was being renovated (because it was ruined by tenants) I felt like an outsider looking in, observing others celebrating while I was frantically shopping for paint colors, new flooring, and light fixtures, etc. However, we have 3 favorite traditions that still got done or will get done. One, we sent Christmas cards to 124 of our favorite families. Two, we bought our yearly Hallmark ornament symbolic of the year (a snowman in a hammock that plays Mele Kalikimaka representative of our family vacation in Hawaii celebrating 20 years of marriage). Although, we haven’t decorated our tree yet. Our 2 oldest children will return home after exams tomorrow, so we will decorate it on Christmas Eve (we normally do it the day after Thanksgiving). Three, every year we have an Advent book too that has a scripture, carol, and story that we read and sing from. We couldn’t do it before Christmas this year, so we are celebrating the 12 days of Christmas after Christmas this year to the day of Epiphany on January 6th- where we’ll read 2 days’ worth each day. We’ll also do simple things- watch our favorite Christmas shows while drinking egg nog or hot cocoa; bake cookies; make paper snowflakes. I’m always sad when Christmas is over, so I’m excited this year to do one small thing each day to celebrate the season until school starts again!

    • I forgot to mention one other favorite tradition. Years ago our family was the recipient of a 12 days of Christmas gift, where we received a piece to a nativity set every day for the 12 days. We’ve paid this gift forward, but in our own way for many years now. 12 days before Christmas we deliver a big box to a family we want to share some extra Christmas cheer with. Inside there are 12 small gifts to open each day. We put in little items like cookies, hot cocoa, card games, coloring books, to bigger things like Christmas ornaments, and a nativity set. I hope I get to do this every year as it bring me so much joy! By the way, Merry Christmas to your beautiful family! I always enjoy reading your blog!

  14. My high school boyfriend’s family would put on a record on Christmas Eve (I can’t remember what it was – I need to find out… I think it was opera), turn off all the lights and just watch the fire while listening. It was magical. I got to share in that experience 20+ years ago but still think of it fondly. I want to do something similar with my family some year. We just need a fireplace that works!

  15. Tis the season as I just did my own post on traditions! It’s a special holiday season for us since my daughter was born and my fiance moved in. Each bringing our own traditions and creating new traditions for our family.
    I enjoy seeing what other traditions families have and how they change over time.

  16. You’re not the only one who got chocolate covered cherries! I grew up in Michigan, and my dad often gave my brother and me a wrapped box of chocolate covered cherries! He rarely bought any other gifts; he left that to my mom. I also remember that he would leave the box in the paper bag that he brought them home in, and wrap right over top of it!! He would also hide an envelope of money in the Christmas tree.

  17. LOVE this post! I love traditions and reading others traditions as well! I know that the traditions I have created in my home will be the tie that I will have with my kids after they have grown and gone. 😭 The traditions and memories will keep them coming back home. My favorite is our advent calendar which holds pockets of our activities that check off our bucket list all month long. Baking, wrapping presents, new Christmas books, a new ornament, pajamas, Christmas parties and Christmas movies, hot cocoa, egg nog milk shakes etc… I love it all!!

    We started a new favorite one this year that overflowed our hearts. We bought star cookies from Trader Joe’s and each delivered a box to our favorite decorated homes in the neighborhood with cute tags we made (in Rhonna Designs app) that read, “Thank you for bringing us Joy and Making Spirits Bright this season, Happy Holidays”. We had 2 rules, they had to be home and we couldn’t know them. It was SO much fun to see the joy on their faces when we told them they won our hearts with their festive home. Each of my kids got to chose a house that they enjoyed. The one with a red door framed by lit boughs, the perfect tree centered in The front window, the one that looked like it could be in a story book and the one that first ignited my holiday excitement this season. We met new people and even got invited in to join a fun party! What a fun reminder to LOVE all. We were told by a mother in her pajamas, as she had been wrestling her small children to bed, that we had made her whole day. This is definitely our new favorite and look forward to new adventures next year!

  18. I have many favourite traditions during Christmas time. One happens the day before Christmas Eve (We call it Little Christmas Eve (Lille julaften) here in Norway), when the whole family gathers to decorate the three. It’s such a special moment, and I love that it hasn’t changed much even though we are 24, 27 and 31! Another tradition that I love, is waking up early on Christmas Eve. I always wake up before anyone else, and I just sit in the living room watching Children’s TV, and enjoy the peace and quiet before everyone else wakes up. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, and I hope that I’ll never stop doing it. Christmas is my favourite time of the year, and Christmas eve is my favourite day! The rest of the day is filled with family time, good food and gift opening. Merry Christmas / God Jul :-)

  19. I love all of these! We just moved to a new town 2 years ago, and have three young children. It has been an adjustment of finding our own traditions with new friends and being closer to family. Every year isn’t exactly the same, but I’m loving finding new activities and traditions with our family and things we’ll enjoy doing year after year. This year the new thing was a cookie decorating party with 20 kids under the age of 7. It was an absolute BLAST!

  20. We always have traditions that we follow in the family and it is passed on to every generation :)

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