What Holiday Traditions Make You the Happiest?


Creating traditions that are not just about stuff

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

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This year, we will be celebrating our seventh married holiday season (how… did that happen…?) and our twelfth holiday season as a couple. Beyond being baffled by those numbers, and how did we get so old already, again? It brings me my annual fall pondering: what should we do for the holidays this year?

I grew up in a home where the holidays were marked by one thing: rigid adherence to traditions. We always had a Nativity scene, and we waited till Christmas Eve to add baby Jesus. We always opened presents under the tree the same way (youngest to oldest, one present at a time). We always had a yam dish with marshmallows on top, which my mom loved, and my dad hated so much he refused to taste it while cooking it. And then I went off and partnered up with someone who was Jewish, and later converted myself, throwing our holiday season into a perpetual state of “well-maybe-this-would-work”?

As a couple, our Novembers and Decembers have been marked only by our constant willingness to experiment, and our acknowledgment that no one solution is ever going to be perfect for us. We’ve done Thanksgiving with our parents, in New Mexico, and in England (twice). We’ve given eight presents for Hanukkah, and mostly forgotten it. We’ve had a tree, and not had a tree.  I would say we’ve done it all, but life is long, and we intend to keep doing things slightly differently till we die.

But this year marks a new phase in our family holidays. It’s the first year where we have two kids (and one kid old enough to really process what’s going on). And it’s our first year where we’ll be having the December holidays in our house, on our own terms. And honestly… I’m not sure what we’re going to do. Yet. (That’s the exciting part.) What I do know is that we’re trying to create holidays that center around family, and magic, and wonder… and food. I also know that American culture has increasingly focused the holidays around the acquisition of consumer goods, and the older my kids get, the more uncomfortable I become with teaching them that the holidays mean stuff they don’t need.

So this year, as always, I want to hear about what traditions other folks have come up with and love. I plan on stealing from the best, and the best is obviously APW readers.

So, spill. What winter holiday traditions have you created that you love? What traditions are you toying with trying out this year? And hell, what have you tried and failed miserably at (so the rest of us can skip those). We’ll round up your coolest ideas into a list of stealable ideas for the rest of us.

See also: The three stages of married holidays and Seven tricks that helped our interfaith family sort out the holidays.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com. #NASTY

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  • Amy March

    Every year growing up, my mother have my sister and I each a beautiful Christmas tree ornament, and told us that they were ours to take someday when we celebrated Christmas in our own homes. It was sad to take those ornaments, and sad for my mother in particular, but I love looking at them on my own tree now. It has been a nice way to keep a sense of family togetherness even when we are apart.

    • Lisa

      We did the same thing, too, starting when we were pretty young. I don’t know how many of the Barbie ornaments will survive the transition (Hallmark did collectible ones each year based on the annual holiday doll), but we used all of my angel ornaments to get our baby family’s tree off the ground a couple of years ago. Now my husband and I continue that tradition by buying an ornament at a Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) each year. I fully intend to do this with our own children someday, too!

      • rg223

        My aunt and uncle got me the Barbie ornaments every year too! My fav is year 2000!

    • Ali

      We did the same thing! I don’t have a home big enough for a tree to hold all the ornaments yet, but the plan is for me to take mine when I do. One other tradition my parents did is a photo ornament of us each year (birth to senior year of high school), and they’ll always keep those on their tree. It’s a great record of us growing up (even if we hide the awkward middle school years in the back of the tree).

    • Teresa

      Every year, my husband’s grandmother sewed an ornament for each grandchild with their initial and the year stitched on them. His mother bought strands of beaded garland and each child would add their ornament to their garland and put them on the tree. Now, all of the kids have their garland of ornaments in their own homes. Our tree is never big enough to fit the garland and any other ornament (yay tiny NYC apt!), so we hang the garland above the living room window, with the curtains, and it looks lovely. It makes me wish I was in any way crafty, so I could start a tradition like that!

    • emilyg25

      My parents did this too and I love remembering when I got each ornament when I decorate the tree. And this year, I get to pick out my son’s first ornament!

    • macrain

      Yup, me too! And I’ve carried on the tradition by picking up an ornament pretty much every time I go on vacation.

    • This made me a little teary!

    • Eenie

      I may be taking mine this year. It is so sad. Those plus my snow globe collection and a box of old school projects is all that I have left at my parents’ place.

    • Jess

      We had this same tradition! We got an ornament from Santa, and an ornament from my mom, and every year she would say, “You’ll get to put this up on your own tree one day”

      I got all my ornaments two years ago and spent the whole time putting up the tree looking at each one, remembering Christmases and stories. It was pretty magical seeing my little tree so full of memories (so full!).

      Incidentally, decorating the house/tree has always been my favorite memory. Pulling out each item, hearing its story and which family member made it (the woodblock nativity carved and painted by my mom’s uncle, the ornaments handmade by her grandparents, the sled made by her dad).

      And we would always decorate the tree as a family, incense smoker burning, my parents drinking champagne, us with hot chocolate, Christmas music playing in the background.

    • BrightLikeTheSun13

      My parents did this for me and so did my partner’s parents and grandparents. Our very first tree together was completely filled with ornaments and we got to spend the evening putting them up together and telling each other stories from our childhood. It was (and is every time we put the tree up) amazing and we always thank our parents for giving us such a wonderful gift.

    • AP

      I love this!! I didn’t have any ornaments of my own after I left home and had to buy generic stuff just to fill my first tree. I haven’t had a tree in several years, and we are completely starting from scratch this year. I want to start this tradition if I ever have kids!

    • Mary Jo TC

      I like this a lot. My parents put up a GIGANTIC tree — 12-22 feet. They need so incredibly many ornaments to fill it that there has been no talk of us kids taking the ornaments we made and were gifted through the years to our own homes. So we’ve been married 5 years and still don’t have enough ornaments to fill even a small tree–and since we don’t spend Christmas at home we haven’t been motivated to work to change the situation. Maybe when they stop with the big tree then we will get them. Also, the sheer size of the tree makes getting it, putting it up, and decorating it much more of a chore than it has to be. But at the same time, I want my little boy to have memories of awe at the big tree at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

      • I have a friend whose family also always puts up a gigantic tree. Last year they discovered an aphid infestation and had to take it down Christmas Eve day. We stopped by that night for drinks and cookies and found the most DELIGHTFUL replacement tree – they had piled all of their presents up and wrapped the pile in lights. It was adorable to see her parents – used to a big, beautiful tree every year – so giggly about their weird alternative tree.

        • KPM

          I love that, what a great way to salvage a stressful event!

    • Laura C

      My mom and I always give each other an ornament, though it’s never been explicit that I should take mine at some point … need to address that. But I’ve also instituted with my husband a new tradition that we’ll give each other ornaments, and also get an ornament when we travel someplace new together.

      • Ashlah

        I was just thinking that we should start picking up ornaments when we travel. We have a sort-of-tradition of finding the weirdest ornament we can at a thrift store each year, which is awesome, but I’ve always wanted to get some sort of knick knack from places we visit. I need to remember to bring this up before our next trip!

        • Laura C

          I’m pleased with the idea after having done it a couple times since I thought of it right after our first married Christmas (last Christmas). Having to pack it and travel with it probably limits you from big delicate glass ornaments, but for instance I got a beaded cloth ornament at a museum gift shop when we were in Dublin for a friend’s wedding, and it just slipped right in my suitcase without taking up much space or requiring any worry.

          • Lisa

            If you pack right, you can even get some more delicate items! We bought a bunch of ornaments in Munich, our first stop on our train trip around Germany, and we got everything (including our porcelain angel tree-topper) safely back to the US a week later. There was a designated “fragile” bag that we packed carefully with clothes as a buffer and used as a carryon on the way back.

    • Kayjayoh

      Chalk me up as another who grew up with this. I can look at the various years of Hallmark ornaments and see what my interests and tastes were at different points.

    • My husband’s godparents secretly bought him a Christmas present every year and then gave us a great big box when we got married as one of our presents from them. It was super awesome. My parents gave each of us three girls an ornament starting when I was in high school, so I’ve got a small box of ornaments of my own as well. Tree decorating is one of my favorites, and I’m super excited that I get to have my own tree this year! (And also that I’m going to still be home to maybe even help pick out our family tree-which is more exciting than our tree since it is a real tree! and there are decisions and debates to be had. But our apartment-safe-fake-tree is a very nice tree, also, and was such a nice wedding present (my college friends all grouped in and got me it and also an ornament). Ornaments and tree decorating is my favorite, as you might be able to tell.

    • Margret

      Just chiming in to say that my mom did the same thing for me and my sister, and it is so much fun to get out the ornaments and remember getting each one (almost–I don’t remember getting the rocking horse ornament on my first Christmas)! My husband’s family didn’t do this, so I’m working on getting his ornament collection up. Our tree might not be the most stylized or picture-perfect one out there, but it is full of memories and I love that people see it and comment that it looks like “us”.

    • Bsquillo

      My husband’s family did this for their kids, and they gave them “their” ornaments when they got married. Last year, we hung all of my husband’s up on our own tree for the first time, and it was awesome. We also inherited the most prized ornament in his family, the Oscar Meyer singing Weinermobile, and we’re very smug about it.

    • snf100

      My mom did this too, in addition to hand carved ornaments my grandfather made and I painted each year. So I had a pretty nice set of ornaments when I first moved in with my husband. He didn’t have nearly as many so I have made it my mission to gift him an ornament every year so he can catch up (some)

    • Meg Keene

      We wouldn’t personally do this, since the kids (well, all of us!) are Jewish, and we’re sort of over the line having a tree in the first place. BUT. We just inherited my grandmother’s christmas tree ornaments, which I’m really really excited about. It’s something good out of an awful few months. That stuff is powerful for sure.

    • Audrey

      When I was growing up every year mom & I picked out an ornament together that we loved. They still go on her tree. I love this type of tradition!

    • Lisa

      We also did this, and it’s so lovely to have all of the ornaments and memories associated with them. But I converted to Judaism several years ago, and we aren’t sure that we want to have a tree if/when we have children and I’m at a loss as to how else to use the ornaments (and I’m not ready to part with them). While none of the ornaments are explicitly religious, they’re all very obviously Christmas-y so they don’t work very well to decorate a sukkah. Any ideas would be welcome.

      • VKD_Vee

        What about boughs on a mantle?

        • Sofia

          Any more alternative tree ideas? I’m a New England transplant to the Southern Hemisphere and I just haven’t thought of something that says holidays to me but doesn’t look silly.

  • EF

    I do not like christmas, or holidays in general (I’m a serious grinch) and the best christmas I’ve ever had was, hands-down, spending it with a close friend who also grew up not in his parent’s house, watching rachel maddow recordings and eating chinese food. In the evening we went to his grandparents for the music, as his grandfather is in a traditional irish band, and it turns out: that’s the only thing I really like about christmas. The music. So it’s super necessary to me, to even make it through the holidays, to have something on in the background.

    It turns out my partner’s family never plays christmas music, or really any other music at their house. Last year it was…fairly terrible, sitting there in awkward silence. So I think this year, if I go to their house (which is yet to be decided) I’m giving everyone a christmas CD. You like johnny cash? He did a christmas album. You like english folk? Plenty of christmas there. Indie? Can do.

    Also alcohol. Always bring extra alcohol.

    • emilyg25

      My ex’s family didn’t drink. Family gatherings without alcohol are no bueno.

      • Kayla

        This is actually a big concern for me/my husband right now! His family has been putting serious pressure on us to start spending holidays at their house. But they don’t drink, and they don’t allow any alcohol in their house.

        They’re also incredibly strict about everything that happens in their kitchen (seriously, try guessing which slot of the dish rack a plate goes in; you’ll get it wrong every time, and they’ll let you know how wrong you are, every time), and they’re generally opposed to having fun.

        • Eenie

          Sounds like you don’t need to help clean or cook at their house then!

          • Kayla

            Wouldn’t you think? But no. Sitting around just leads to a lot of, “Gee, it must be so nice for the young people to get to rest their feet all day….”

          • Eenie

            To which you could respond: “Last time I helped I was criticized and would prefer to avoid that this holiday season!” It’s hard to say and not for everyone, but my family has really toned down the “you’re doing this wrong” remarks in general because certain members have stayed united and refused to do stuff if they’re criticized for it.

        • emilyg25

          My MIL is a difficult person, so my husband and I sit down and decide exactly how we’ll visit her—when we’ll arrive and when we’ll leave. And then it’s up to him to stick to that. So for example, she asked us to come over on Christmas Day. We want to do Christmas morning at our house, so we told her we’d come for lunch. We’ll get there by noon and plan to leave at 1:30. At 1:15, my husband will say, “Well, we have to get going soon!” It works really well.

          • Kayla

            This is pretty similar to what we do with his family. If at all possible, we stick to restaurants or other activities with a naturally limited time frame. But this setup gets harder to maintain during the holidays.

      • Mary Jo TC

        Preggo here. The only thing worse than family gatherings without any alcohol are family gatherings where EVERYONE IS DRINKING BUT YOU.

        • Kayla

          My former boss told me she got through pregnant holidays by making fancy infused simple syrups and getting really really serious about the art of the mocktail. Freaked some people out because they thought she was just tossing back the cocktails.

        • Lulu

          I have friends who have factored this into their family planning. The struggle is real.

        • emilyg25

          This is true.

      • I find the idea of family gatherings WITH alcohol to be odd and uncomfortable, admittedly. Half of my mom’s siblings don’t drink, and there’s some history of alcoholism there, so my mom’s family (who I am closer to) never drinks at holidays. Now that everyone has gotten more settled and secure and more recovered, they have started having a few drinks, apparently, but I haven’t noticed them really. I find it odd to drink around family and find it so surprising that so many people do. It makes me uncomfortable to think about drinking anything around my mom, even just one drink. I’m also not a big drinker in general (like, maybe a drink a month and also I have such a low alcohol tolerance I can’t stay sober with more than one drink?) so I don’t really understand why other people seem to be so worried about drinks. I guess because of my family history, I inherently associate alcohol with alcoholism and lack of control and it makes me uncomfortable to think of a family gathering NEEDING alcohol. (I realize it is different for other people and maybe they have a more healthy relationship with alcohol, but the social necessity of alcohol often makes me uncomfortable.)

        Admittedly, my dad’s family does drink around the holidays, but they also get into physical fights (very happily, they like to pretend they are still in high school and that is what happened a lot in their family of 5 boys within 6 years of each other) at the holidays–although less now that they are old men who get hurt. So maybe that’s what I associate drinking alcohol around family with (although to be fair to them, they just really like arguing and would probably get into these fights without the alcohol too).

        • emilyg25

          Not judgy—I know folks have different approaches to alcohol. My family of origin are a bunch of winos so holidays are cause for loud drunken cheer with eventual hymn singing. Personally, I don’t get drunk around my family, but I like to have a drink or two to get that warm convivial glow and to take the edge off my social anxiety.

        • Kayla

          For us, I would say, wine on holidays is like mashed potatoes on holidays. Do we *need* mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving? Nope. Do we *need* wine? Nope. But the meal wouldn’t feel the same without either.

          • That makes sense. One year we did actually not have mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving and we were fine but it was also not a very good Thanksgiving (and the mashed potatoes played a large part in that).

        • KH_Tas

          Another person with an ugly family history of alcoholism and a close in-law just out of inpatient for same, most of our holidays are dry/very low alcohol and that works for us, I get a bit sad when I see alcohol = fun/problem solving flung around a lot I’m afraid.

      • Meg Keene

        OH YEAH. Not to sound boozy but when David was like “WHY ARE WE DOING THIS BULLSHIT DRY?” and introduced a few drinks into the mix, my stress level went wayyyyyyyyyy down on Christmas. #ha

  • InTheBurbs

    My mom, sister and I all get matching sweaters…sometimes it’s exactly the same, sometimes its the same top in different colors. We’re all different shapes so it can be a challenge and for me honestly a bit stressful…but I love looking at the pictures over the years…

    • emilyg25

      I love this.

  • Abbey

    Ever since my parents split when I was fourteen, my dad’s family and I have had the tradition of Christmas Eve lunch. I would always be at my mom’s for Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning, so my dad came up with the idea that we would go out to a fancy dress-up lunch on Christmas Eve. Later on the tradition came to include festive cocktails. My stepmother and stepsister particularly love it because they’re Jewish and it’s a way to be festive without following a specific Christian tradition. My dad died this year, so this Christmas will be the first one without him. Not sure how that’s going to be, but I know that we’ll do Christmas Eve lunch.

    • zedabee

      You ABSOLUTELY should do the lunch! Remember to be kind to yourself, and feel ok laughing, crying,or… none of those things-ing, before, during and after lunch. Whatever happens, happens. But continuing the tradition is so lovely, and your Dad sounds like the kind of man who would ‘want you to continue’ something so fun that he invented. I am so sorry for your loss and such a hard Christmas. My absolute best wishes and good cheer to you.

  • Elizabeth

    For me, it’s going to be a weird sort of year, so this is a great post to let me figure out what sorts of things are necessary/what I want to do/what I can do. It’s the first year I won’t be spending with my parents, and while Hannukah doesn’t always correspond with the times I’ve had off from school/work, we have always moved a couple of nights so they do happen while I’m home. This year that’s not possible, since I’m visiting them for slightly less than two days for Thanksgiving and then I won’t be back again until April. It’s also the first year I’ll be spending with someone who celebrates Christmas, and Christmas brings up complicated feelings for me. And we’ll be doing it in Japan, which adds complication, and feelings of homesickness for her.

    But! Things I know I want to do: make latkes, light candles, sing this song (http://jewishlearningmatters.com/AC-The-Latke-Song-by-Debbie-Friedman-986.aspx). My parents have said they don’t need gifts this year, but I have ideas for them and I want to give them. I still need an idea of something to give my sister (who’s in France this year, hah), and my brother and his wife, but I do want to give gifts even if they’re not much. Especially to welcome my brother’s wife to the family, since they got married in August, but I just don’t know her super well. And my brother’s been much more difficult to get anything for since he became anti-capitalist…

  • Teresa

    Growing up, we were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve night, after we got home from our family party. On Christmas morning, we all took turns opening one gift at a time so it did not turn into chaos! Also, there was always a pasta dish with dinner, even on Thanksgiving. Until I met my husband, I didn’t even realize that not everyone did this. Now, we’ve started creating our own traditions. Before we got married, we would always spend the holidays apart, so we open our stockings together on Chistmas Eve-Eve and then watch It’s a Wonderful Life (and cryyyyy). It’s still what we do on Chirstmas Eve-Eve, even now that we’re married and spend the holidays together because it’s our thing! My sister is 8 years older than me, so she moved out the year I went to college, but she and her now-husband would still come to my mom’s house to open gifts on Christmas morning. When my niece was born 8 years ago, we moved the gift opening to my sister’s house and we all (me, my husband, my mom, my aunt and cousins, my nonnie) go over to her house and watch the kids (now there are two) open their gifts and we adults open ours as well. Everyone gets coffee and Baily’s and no presents are opened until the yule log starts on TV! No yule log, no presents!! After presents, we all have a huge breakfast together and then everyone goes home and does their own things. My sister spends Christmas with her husbands family and my husband and I are and my cousins are only there every other year. This gives us a way to spend some of it together. I think it will get more complicated when my husband and I have kids (are we really going to back up a baby and drive an hour and 10 minutes to get there in time for the yule log?? I think I’ll want to…), but for now, even though I’m sure some people would think it’s a serious boundary violator (my sister has never spent Christmas morning with just her husband and kids…I don’t think they mind though?), it’s the only way I want to start my Christmas morning!

    • zedabee

      You totally will still want to – because this sounds divine! You should do it if it feels right once baby actually comes.

  • Jenny

    I love Christmas! I associate it with having time off, and time to spend with friends and family, so my fav traditions are usually ones that involve hanging out with people while doing Christmasy stuff. Things I have determined that I “need” to feel like I had a good Christmas season.

    Watching Christmas movies (one year I watched a different Christmas movie everyday from Thanksgiving to Christmas eve).

    Decorating the tree while eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and drinking homemade eggnog and reminiscing over each ornament (I have several from childhood, and my husband and I get a Christmas ornament for each vacation/trip/place we go).

    Picking out a Christmas tree (this is a new one, my husband and I used to live in a place where you could go cut your own, now we just go to the lot and pick one out).

    Curating and updating my Christmas playlists so I can make the most out of the limited time I can listen to Christmas music. This year I want to make an instrumental, a melancholy, and a hymns playlist.
    (here are my two from last year
    long list https://player.spotify.com/user/ifer0105/playlist/4D0hdHzsAPrNvrPZQUHx4G
    short list https://player.spotify.com/user/ifer0105/playlist/6EX1B7eXopSEhqcd0auQ2G)

    Making gifts for people.
    Having time to lovingly wrap presents in pretty packages.

    Waking up Christmas morning and eating cinnamon rolls while opening presents one at a time. Then having eggs biscuits and sausage brunch.

    I love Christmas, and married someone who decidedly doesn’t because it is associated with stress and sadness (he had a friend, a cousin, and a grandfather all die on or around Christmas, and a few other big bad things all within like 7 years). So our christmases have been a lot of figuring out what we can do that keeps me happy and able to enjoy my fav season, while not making him miserable. This has meant no 24/7 Christmas music playing, it can be played during tree decorating and christmas morning and anytime he’s not in the house. We’ve identified a few movies we both like (Muppet Christmas Carol, Joyeux Noel, Elf). He loves picking out a tree and generally tolerates decorating it. It also means that I usually do Christmasy stuff with my mom or other friends, which is a fun way to hangout with people during a time that people are around with no school obligations.

    • M.

      You should check out the Chieftains album “Bells of Dublin” if you don’t have any of those tracks on your lists yet! Oh it’s so good.

    • Tonikat

      Oh, I love the Muppet Christmas Carol! That is another tradition we always honor. We will watch the Muppets Christmas Carol once every holiday season (usually on Christmas Day). We had a VHS tape which we wore out and then bought it on DVD.

      Another similarity I see with your experience is having a partner who is, lets say, reluctant about Christmas. His family is always under a lot of stress to have the perfect decorations put up in the perfect way, so he associates the prep with stress and yelling.
      They also do only one short meal and then mostly booze and presents on Chrismas Eve, which to me feels… not quite appropriate for the holiday. It took some getting used to from his side.

      I do appreciate him trying to adapt, because Christmas is one thing I am not willing to compromise on. As a concession, I try to keep the days leading up to the holiday as stress free as possible. There is certainly no pouting and shouting about not perfect decorations or food. I usually spend the day in the kitchen, singing, and he seems at least fine with that.

      • Jenny

        Yeah, I have definitely focused on not rushing and stressing about things. Sometimes that means that the tree doesn’t get put up on Thanksgiving weekend, the way I would like, but it means we both get to enjoy it. I think it’s also helped me really figure out what it is I love about the holiday and it mostly boils down to getting to spend quality time with friends and family. So sometimes we watch the Charlie brown Christmas special instead because it’s 30 mins and we can snuggle up. I feel like we are both still trying to find the balance between trying to force the other to LOVE IT (me) and being miserable trying to get through it for me (him). So far we’ve had at least 1 breakdown of tears on my part every year, but each year we’ve gotten closer to us both being able to get what we want from it. This year I’m pregnant, due in Jan, so who knows what next year (or this year for that matter) will bring!

        • Tonikat

          Wow, talk about an extra incentive not to stress about the holidays this year! Congrats on the baby due soon. :-)

          As a kid, I always appreciated that the holidays really were a cheerful time. I am sure my Mom was stressed enough, since she was always left alone with all the prep work (my father’s sole contribution was getting a tree at the last possible minute, but that’s a whole other story). We never felt it, though, and never had a fight about or on Christmas.
          Together with all those slightly quirky traditions (the movie, decorating the tree with my sister and taking goofy photos dressed up in garland and glitter), the feeling of peace and contentment on most holidays is a most treasured memory of mine.

  • I’m so excited to see all these ideas! Hubby and I have spent Christmas Day just the 2 of us (3 of us this year with baby Gracie!) since we’ve been married, and I’d love to start establishing some family traditions, especially now that Gracie is here. I’ve always liked Christmas, but I CAN. NOT. WAIT. to be able to create that holiday magic for my little girl (and any siblings that follow).

    There’s something major I’m a little on the fence about, and wondering if you guys can throw out some opinions. Should we tell our kids Santa is real or not? My parents told us kids from that get go that Santa was a nice story, but just make believe. I never believed in Santa, and I never felt like I was missing out on anything at all. There reasoning was that they just didn’t want to lie to us. I think that’s the direction I want to go. I think the story of Santa is cute and fun, but I don’t really like the idea of gifts from Santa. The only thing I’m worried about is that our kids might spoil the Santa fun for other kids, and I would feel so terrible about that. I can’t remember any time when I (or my siblings) spilled the santa secret to other kids, but that doesn’t prove much. Opinions? Has anyone else done this, and if so can you share any complications/benefits?

    • emilyg25

      I think childhood is a very special time without skepticism when joy and magic can thrive, so I do like the idea of Santa. But I certainly don’t think it’s necessary—plenty of happy Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, etc. children demonstrate that. I think you can just tell your daughter that some people believe that Santa is real, just like people have all kinds of different beliefs that we need to respect.

    • savannnah

      I don’t have kids and my siblings and I were raised Jewish but I will say that my 65+ year old mother still talks about the day she found out Santa was not real with a immense amount of devastation. She tells us it was the day she learned there was no magic in the world and that her parents lied to her. Now lots of kids believe in Santa and come to find out hes not real and don’t have any hard feelings later in life, but her story makes me relieved to be raising my children without having to deal with the Santa question.

    • M.

      I’m currently pregnant with my first and my husband and I have talked about the Santa question. Ultimately, we decided we will carry on with Santa being “real.” Our memories of Santa are both 100% positive and 100% magical — we each just grew out of it eventually. (My mom even used to put water and carrots outside for the reindeer, and in the morning there’d be dirty water and some fur and carrots stubs leftover.) I can still feel what it was like to positively VIBRATE from excitement seeing the tree lit up in the dark and checking the cookie plate. We will only do a few presents from Santa on Christmas morning (I grew up doing everything on Christmas morning, he did everything but Santa on Christmas Eve, and we’re going to use his tradition as it deemphasizes gifts as the focus), but Santa will be visiting us in a couple years for sure :)

      I don’t think your girl would be missing out on an essential thing, and it’s totally possible to teach her to help keep the secret for kids who believe, but I agree with Emily that it’s a small window for pure joy and magic, and that can be pretty special.

      • Lisa

        We also did the carrots for the reindeer!

        In our house, Santa brings our stocking presents, and then there might be one small present each like a movie or something larger for the three of us to share. (I think the year we got a Playstation that it came from Santa.)

        I, too, have really great memories of Santa and then, once I’d gotten older, helping create the magic for my sisters. I’m still the one that forces my family to get out the special Santa plate and put some kind of sweet out each Christmas Eve, even though I can tell they’re getting a bit tired of carrying on the Santa thing.

    • Eenie

      We won’t be telling our children Santa is real. For a couple reasons, but I think my mom tells it best. Every year she had to decide which present would be from them and which would be from Santa. She always wanted the best present to officially be from them, but sometimes she’d guess wrong and she’d feel just a little bit sad when we shouted “THANK YOU SANTA! THIS WAS THE ONLY THING I WANTED!” Making Santa real is work, and there’s just not really payoff for me.

    • rg223

      I am so in this boat too, I was going to ask the same thing! My husband is Buddhist and never did Santa. I was really traumatized when I found out Santa wasn’t real, and I don’t love the idea of essentially lying to my kid. My husband and I plan to say that Santa isn’t a real person, but he is real in that he is the spirit of Christmas (which we agree on). Our kid won’t get that for a while, but we can at least say we were honest about our beliefs and the truth. Curious to hear other responses!

      • rg223

        And, reading something below made me think of this. I really want my kids to focus on giving, so I’m thinking we’ll donate toys to a kid in need, and tell my son that he is Santa for someone else. My son is 6 weeks old but I think I’m going to start it this year!

        • Lisa

          My hometown has this initiative through the fire department where families can sign up to sponsor children in need. Each year we’d get a list with items the kid needed and likes and dislikes, and then we’d go shopping for a couple of outfits, a winter coat, boots, and toys. The kids were identified by a letter and a number, and my mom, sisters, and I would come up with a name for our child based on the letter. We would make a big trip to Wal-Mart and buy 4-year-old Hannah as much Dora paraphernalia as she could handle or get 9-year-old Dennis some Legos. Then we’d participate in a giant gift wrapping at the fire station where all of the gifts would get wrapped at once, and the firemen would deliver the presents to the families. We probably did this for five years or so, and I remember what a great time we had with it!

    • I believed in Santa until 7th grade, so clearly I had reached the point where people around me were not believing in Santa and willingly/obnoxiously telling other people about it (actually, by 7th grade, they just assumed everyone else knew it, but some kids were obnoxious when I was younger.) But other kids telling me Santa wasn’t real never bothered me, because to my practical/judging-child-logic, those kids probably just weren’t good enough for Santa to bring them presents so their parents had to buy them presents instead (I will say, many of those kids were HORRIBLE to me. I have memories in 7th grade both of being kicked in the head and having a desk dropped on me, so that’s that). So I think that kids who want to believe in Santa will keep believing in Santa. (But also I was a very gullible child and my mom would go Christmas shopping with me and just throw a towel over the presents that Santa would bring and I never caught on). But it did make Christmas ABSOLUTELY MAGICAL for a (abnormally?) long time. (But obviously kids enjoy Christmas who don’t believe in Santa, too, so I am sure either way is great.)

      I also remember being told Santa wasn’t real (my parents were worried that I was going to get made fun of that), but the way they did it was by having me help pick out the PUPPY that Santa brought us (I have a sister 7 years younger), so I got to go to look at lots of different puppies and that really helped me get over any sense of hurt in the idea. I think also the idea had started to gradually sink in a little, so it wasn’t as much of a shock as it might have been if I had found out when I was 5.

      Also I’m 24, and Santa STILL brings us all our presents even though at this point we are all legal adults and know whats up, but my parents like waiting until we are asleep (well, or now, they are a little bit lazier and just tell us to go to our rooms) and bringing out the presents overnight.

      • Caitlin

        This is very similar to my experience too. I also believed in Santa for a long time and only gradually stopped, and then when I did, it was never upsetting for me. I also had younger siblings, so it was actually quite fun to be in on the secret and make the magic happen for them. Maybe the act of keeping the magic going was what eased the transition. I dunno, but devastation over the loss of Santa was very far from me and my siblings’ experiences. Oh, and “Santa” still exists in our adult family too, but is also lazier! haha

        • Lisa

          Yes, this was exactly my experience, too. I believed in Santa until I was about 9 or so, when I read a book that had a character finding out that he wasn’t real. At that point, my mom brought me in to help with present wrapping and selection for my sisters, which ended up being magical in a different kind of way.

    • Lizzie

      It might be worth checking out The Life And Times of Santa Claus (by L. Frank Baum!) to see if that version of Santa is one you’d be cool sharing with your kids. It’s framed as legend with roots in human kindness and children’s joy, and has just enough nuance around the question of “Is Santa real?” to satisfy curious kids and nostalgic adults alike.

    • AGCourtney

      Our daughter just turned 4, so we might be doing some final fine-tuning on our approach this year, but we’ve decided not to do Santa. We haven’t said, “He’s not real,” but basically have simply proceeded about our holidays without mentioning him. So far, we’ve just treated him as a character, just like Rudolph or Frosty or what have you, and perhaps this year, since she’s getting older, we’ll add on the explanation that some kids do believe he’s real and how to be kind about that. Christmas is still wonderful and magical for her.

      I think it’s the hardest for other adults! I remember last year when people asked her if Santa brought her anything, she just sort of stared at them and/or said “No.” (Which was humorous.) And the in-laws sighed about it and might make a push for it this year, but will probably chalk it up as one of my strange parenting decisions like not allowing tv and limiting exposure to rampant commercialized franchises. :P

      All in all, though, I’m glad we’ve made this decision, so if that’s the way you’re leaning, I say go for it. If your child is a baby, you have plenty of time to decide – I don’t think our daughter was terribly aware of anything like that at 2, and even at 3, she never asked about it.

  • emilyg25

    I’m weird because even though I’m agnostic and my husband isn’t exactly Christian, I LOVE Christmas and actually like to go to church in December. One new-to-us tradition we discovered in our area is the Moravian Lovefeast. I like to go to the one for Advent because I find the expectant waiting of that season to be so interesting. Basically, we listen to a sermon and some hymns and then share buns and coffee. I also like going to the Christmas Eve service at my brother-in-law’s Quaker meeting.

    Even though I’m not at all religious, Christmas fills a deep need for me—light in the darkest time, hope, a focus on peace and community, the warmth of good friends and good food, revisiting the teachings of Jesus even if I don’t view him as my savior. I’m glad I’ve come to a place where I can let myself meet my spiritual needs while not negating my agnosticism.

    • Caitlin

      Hi Emily, so I’m Christian, but one of my family traditions might speak to you, especially if you have children. St. Lucy’s day is really fun tradition and especially in it’s Swedish form, not actually very religious. Article here: https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/

      From the article: “Alongside Midsummer, the Lucia celebrations represent one of the
      foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, with their clear reference to
      life in the peasant communities of old: darkness and light, cold and
      warmth. Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters.

      The many Lucia songs all have the same theme:

      The night treads heavily
      around yards and dwellings
      In places unreached by sun,
      the shadows brood
      Into our dark house she comes,
      bearing lighted candles,
      Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.”

      It also celebrates the girls in the family (who get to dress as Lucia and bring light to their family), which always made it one of my favorite traditions. Might be a good tradition for you!

      • AR

        I lived in Sweden for several years, and St. Lucia’s day was one of my absolute favorite times of year. What a lovely tradition! It was magical to hear the singing, and see the lights from the candles. I was lucky enough to participate in singing Lucia songs as well, and that will always be a favorite memory of mine.

    • M.

      “Christmas fills a deep need for me—light in the darkest time, hope, a focus on peace and community, the warmth of good friends and good food” This, yes, yes, yes.
      I’m atheist, raised with secular Christmas by a non-practicing Protestant mom, and LOVE Christmas. LOVE. Over the last year or two, getting married and planning to have kids, I really grappled with how to be true to my values while continuing to celebrate Christmas. I read and thought a lot, and those things you list — that’s *exactly* what it is for me, which of course is also linked to all sorts of traditional winter celebrations. It gives me great peace and comfort to realize why I love it, why I will continue to celebrate, and what it will mean for me and my family going forward. Being able to name it was so important for me.

    • Alice

      I agree about Christmas filling a need. I’m an atheist (with a Jewish dad, agnostic mom, amd Presbyterian minister for a grandfather, talk about complicated) and my hubby is essentially agnostic, but Christmas means so much to all of us. For me it’s about eating smoked fish and drinking wine by the fire, baking way too many cookies, spending some of the few truly unhurried hours that I ever get with the people I love. You can call it what you like, and perhaps it’s wrong of me to call it Christmas, but there is a real need to have that kind of time.

    • My mom is Jewish, and the running joke in our family is that she married my (lapsed Catholic) dad for Christmas. She loves it so, so much. She’s never put her love into words, but I have a feeling it has to do with a lot of what you said in your second paragraph. Thanks for the insight!

    • K Robertson

      Advent is my favorite! It is such a quiet, meditative season, and it helps me feel so calm in the midst of December, which can be super hectic. Just lighting a candle at dinner at the end of the day and taking a moment to breathe is lovely.

  • Lisa

    I started to type a whole novel about our Christmas traditions (it’s my family’s favorite holiday) and realized how difficult it is to try and explain the nuances and internal dynamics of how our personalities shaped the way we do Christmas in our family. I guess I’ll leave this as a list of my absolute favorite things we do with my family of origin each year:

    – Set up the tree and decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving while listening to carols (Which, Meg, always includes the baby Jesus and Wise Men in the nativity scene. I didn’t know other people left them out until I was much older.)
    – Help my mother address and stuff Christmas cards while watching White Christmas
    – Attend Christmas Eve mass and sing in the choir
    – Opening our PJs on Christmas Eve
    – Opening presents one at a time so we can appreciate each gift
    – Cleaning everything up with the Yule Log in the background
    – Christmas dinner with immediate family, which is an awesome array of prime rib, potatoes, salads, and chocolate trifle for dessert
    – Sitting around and watching Christmas movies all day (It’s not Christmas season until It’s a Wonderful Life has been watched at least once.)

    And my absolute favorite:
    – On Christmas Day in the evening, we pile into the minivan and drive around to all of the neighborhoods to look at Christmas light displays. We’ve done this every year, including the one that there was a blizzard, because my dad knew how much it meant to me.

    We’ll be spending the holidays with my husband’s family for the first time together this year, and I’m not sure how much of my Christmas will be able to make its way into theirs. Maybe I’ll ask if I can make my trifle and convince at least my husband to go and look at lights with me. (Do people have Christmas lights in the Bay Area? I associate them with winter and snow so I’m having a hard time imagining them out there!)

    • Jenny

      Maybe it’ll be different for you, but as someone who moved from a place with guaranteed snow on christmas (Alaska), once I moved to the south, people still put up lights and displays, but they look sort of empty to me, like the inflatables sitting on dead grass just didn’t feel right. But I do love looking at the lights still!

      • Lisa

        We don’t always get snow on Christmas in Indiana, but seeing the different colored bulbs under a blanket of snow from my bedroom window is one of the most magical and beautiful memories from my childhood.

    • rg223

      Oh man, my dad’s family drives around to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve too, and it is SO FUN! It’s almost more fun as an adult, because at that point in the evening quite a few adult beverages have been had, and piling all of us (at least 8 adults) into one car has hilarious consequences (the first year my future husband was with us, we sat in the trunk).

      • Lisa

        Love this! Most of my family doesn’t drink (except for me, my husband, and my dad), but I love the image.

    • Sara

      My family does PJs on Christmas eve too! I didn’t know that was a ‘thing’, I though it was just my mom :)

    • scw

      we do presents one at a time, too! it makes it feel special and last so long.

      we don’t do the drive around for Christmas lights thing every year, but we did it one year when my mom’s parents were still with us. we found this house that was so silly and decorated that we still laugh about it. it’s one of my favorite memories with that set of grandparents, and my mom Ioves to talk about it when she misses them.

    • Archivistlady

      My family always gets new pjs on Christmas eve too! I love that tradition.

      • Lizzie

        We did that too! My mom has yet to totally abandon that tradition, but at least she asks us if we want PJs or yoga clothes/loungewear, so I can keep my pajama drawer a little under control.

        • Lisa

          Yeah, my sisters have gotten the choice between PJs and activewear in recent years. My pajama drawer is nuts because we also get a summer pair in our Easter baskets every year.

    • Bsquillo

      My mom has always given us PJs on Christmas Eve, and still does. I love it!

      • Lisa

        We have special boxes that are the PJ boxes, and they go front and center under the tree so we can easily find them on Christmas Eve. It’s awesome!

  • Caitlin

    We have a couple! Most are from my family of origin as we are just starting our baby family (getting married in June!)

    1) Neighborhood organized Thanksgiving run. This one is the best, instead of doing a formal Turkey Trot, friends in the neighborhood do an unofficial 5K. Everyone brings brunch food for after, there are mimosas and bloody marys. Some people walk, some people take a shortcut every year, the winner gets a Turkey trophy… It’s a really fun way to get a little active and hanging with friends on Thanksgiving, especially if you do a family dinner. I imagine it would work well to meet up in a park if you don’t have a sleepy neighborhood for running on the road.

    2) Christmas Eve! My dad spends all day making Swedish meatballs, then we’d go to mass, come home and eat them with all sorts of fish and cheese. I think this is a modified European tradition (fish on Christmas eve is definitely a thing in Italy).

    3) Pre-Christmas extended family gift exchange. My dad comes from a huge family and it’s rare that everyone can attend actual Christmas dinner. Also, buying presents for everyone would be crazy expensive. Instead, everyone gives one other person a gift and exchanges them a week before Christmas. This one makes it really easy to split up the official holiday between different family sides. I imagine this one could easily be applied to different faith traditions. It’s still gift oriented, but since it’s only present, it’s actually a pretty nice time to catch up with the person you have, their current interests, and gift accordingly.

    4) This one is just fun and quirky and probably not applicable to many others, but we used to sing Christmas carols as a family in a series of concerts (at nursing homes and our church) along with another family who all played string instruments. At the time, we sort of dreaded it, but it’s really fun to look back on now – all the videos are on Youtube (with only a couple hundred views, but fun for us to look back on).

    • Rose

      My mom and sister spend all day Christmas Eve making Swedish meatballs, while I tend to help out with the pickled herring salads these days. They’re such a treat! And so nice in that you can make them ahead of time and then they’re pretty easy to serve once it’s dinner time.

    • Lizzie

      Your family sounds adorable.

      • Caitlin

        Thank you! I am very lucky to have them :)

  • Rachel

    My favorite tradition? Tamale making! It usually starts around mid-November and we’ll make them into December. When I was in college (and a few years after), I’d drive home to make tamales with my mom. Since she moved two years ago, I’ve been making them myself. Last year, I roped in fiance into helping me, and now he’s been asking me when we’re going to start this year, which will probably be after Thanksgiving since we’ll be moving and traveling next month.

    For Thanksgiving, we usually spend it at a friend’s house. Usually one of our friends will have a huge potluck Friendsgiving, so that’s always a fun tradition. Christmas, our tradition is to eat tacos and play video games when we’re on our own. If we go to my mom’s, everyone gets new pajamas for Christmas Eve/Christmas morning. Christmas Eve is time with my parents and my siblings. We eat snacks and play games with Christmas music in the background, and Christmas day is a huge breakfast and presents and more Christmas music, which transitions into Christmas movies as the day goes on.

  • Rose

    I care a lot about the food traditions in my family; we do a smorgasbord on Christmas Eve with my grandparents every year, and brunch with them on Christmas morning. I love the music, and every year I take my violin home with me on the airplane, because even if I only play carols with my sister and mom (and sometimes dad) once or twice, it’s still worth it. I love the trees–plural now, because my wife and I will put one up in our apartment, and then our families each have one after we go home. And my family always has a big party on New Years (which is also my mom’s birthday), with a bunch of people and 5 or more cakes; I love everything about it, from planning the grocery shopping to doing all of that baking, to seeing everyone and eating cake. And it’s a great way to see a bunch of people after the main holiday rush is done for most of them.

    Sometimes I think it’s not the cool thing to say, but I love buying and getting gifts too. Yes, it costs some money, and it’s largely things that you may not really need–but to me finding the right gift for someone, or buying them an extra one when you already had something but you thought they’d really like it, is a very active and demonstrable way of showing love. Neither of our families are huge, so it’s a little bit different than some, but I love the fact that we all buy presents for each other. And we all help fill everyone else’s stocking with silly little things that may not be the most useful in the world, but always make everyone happy.

    I realized a little bit ago that when it’s this time of year and I’m starting to wish it were already December, and I’m so jealous that my sister can just go home and visit our parents for the weekend, that my main wishful impression of the holidays is a warm, lit up house, with a bunch of people inside eating good food and talking and avoiding the cold outside.

    My wife and I are both still going to our respective parents for Christmas this year, but I do want to start making more of a point of having some celebrations that are just the two of us, even if they’re well before the actual holiday. So I’m definitely interested to see what other people have here!

    • Food is one of the most important holiday traditions for me! Starting when the cousins started scattering too far to come back for Thanksgiving, we have moved some delicious Thanksgiving food to Christmas (cranberry sauce and stuffing are delicious! Why do we only eat it once a year!). We also always have samosa appetizers (although that’s a any-big-family-party thing) and jello mold made by my Nana. I’m not sure why we are so attached to that Jello mold (I make it now that I don’t go home for thanksgiving and it’s a disturbing recipe from the 70s that involves counting a specific number of marshmallows, mayonaisse and jello, but it is also so so delicious and very important for any holiday celebration.

  • Alice

    Christmas cookies! This is my favorite way to feel festive in the days before the holidays. I collect cookie cutters and have probably a hundred or so, although here are several antique ones that have been in the family forever and are sort of the focus. This is the second year we’ve spent away from my parents’ house at the holidays, and one of the biggest disappointments last year was that I only made one batch of cookies (I usually make 8-10 batches of several different kinds). I have a tiny kitchen here and the cookie cutters are still at my parents’ place (I’m in the UK so not very practical to mail), but I think it will be worth the time to figure out how to get some more cookies underway, and to find people to eat them!

    • anotherlady

      bring them to work or school – they will love you forever! no one turns down free Christmas cookies!

    • Jenny

      If you have Fire/EMS/police/military any profession that literally doesn’t get days off near by you could drop them at a local station with a thanks for your service card. My husband is a paramedic and as horrible as that job can be sometimes he says the community stopping by always makes it a little better. Other options might be soup kitchen places (just check to see policies about bringing in prepared foods).

      • Alice

        I never thought of that! I’m in vet school, and there’s a ton of staff and vets who have to work over the holidays on emergency and critical care. Good idea!

      • msditz

        Last year my aunt had to have one of her chemo treatments on Christmas Eve, so as a family we all scattered some visits throughout the long process to try and make a bummer situation a little more festive. I brought cookies for the nurses and they were so grateful! As a teacher I always have holidays off, so it was nice to remember the people that are still out there working hard no matter what day it is.

        • Jenny

          Yep. Sometimes I’ve dropped off a few plates of goodies at the hospital and asked them to give them to patients who don’t have family visiting, or could use a lift. My family spent a series of hellish holidays in the hospital and out, I can’t imagine doing that without family support, but there were plenty of patients there without it.

  • We go to Central Market on Christmas Eve morning, right when they open, and eat breakfast there. Then we get a beef tenderloin to make for dinner that night, along with whatever else looks good. Last year I also got loads of fresh flowers and winter greenery. Central Market is such a treat and there’s such good energy in there on the morning of the 24th.

  • Tonikat

    Oh, Oh! So many things to choose from! Christmas is, hands down, my favourite holiday. My partner was a bit bemused at first since he never got this “Christmas spirit” I am talking about. But he is totally on board with the prep and day-of activities because he knows how important this is to me.

    We do a mix of Polish and German traditions. Advent sundays, lights and decorations are mostly the German way, while Christmas Eve is all Polish.
    For some six years now we have taken to hosting Christmas Eve (the main part of the holiday to us) at my place. I do the whole works, as learned from my mother. Which means: 13 different foods on the table, at least a four-course meal, no meat allowed (!) and Christmas carols allll day long.

    The most important part of Christmas Eve and certainly my favourite part of the evening is the traditional sharing of the consecrated bread (or wafer). Each family member takes a piece and shares bits of it with each member of the family individually. During the exchange, each person wishes the other all the best for the upcoming year. Usually these are very specific and individual well-wishes, which makes the whole ceremony special and very intimate. My partner is always nervous, but there is no getting around it! :-)

    We also love baking cookies every Advent sunday (the four sundays preceding Christmas Eve) and have celebratory coffee and cookies each Sunday afternoon.

    • Jenny

      I love that. I would love to start lighting the advent wreath as a tradition.

      • Tonikat

        Oh yes, the wreath! Or really, any kind of contraption that includes four candles and a bit of winter green and baubles.
        I have a re-usable candle stand with a tray to put decorations on, which I take out every year. It’s prominently displayed on our living room table.

      • Lisa

        This is something I really want to try doing as well. Advent is one of my favorite times of year, and I love the wreath.

      • Lulu

        I’m still a sucker for an advent calendar too, and buy them for my niece and nephew each year.

        • Tonikat

          We get not one, but several every year! We’re in our mid-thirties…

        • Jenny

          Nice, last year I made an advent activity calendar with a different Christmas themed thing to do for my husband and I, it was a way of spreading out things I liked and also a way to try out a bunch of things to see what we liked. Some examples: Watch a movie, make pizzas in the shape of snowmen, cut paper snowflakes, take a selfie in front of the tree, build a fire and drink festive drinks. My husband participated in the homebrew advent calendar that a local homebrew store did, everyone brewed and bottled 24 beers and then brought them in and the store make them into calendar cases and had a forum where people could talk about each one.

  • Eenie

    We’ve been in transition the past couple years with marriages and other serious relationships. My favorite traditions are:
    -Getting an ornament from my parents every year.
    -Driving around looking at the light displays.
    -Doing a large gift exchange with my fiance’s extended extended family.
    -Playing all the new board games we got for Christmas.
    -The one year we spent Christmas day just the two of us and drank so much egg nog.

    My family has decided to start a gift exchange this year so we can get each other better presents (in the past we’d try to do group presents anyways to pool our money). Everyone seemed excited about this, but it means there will be less presents to open and we’ll have to start some new traditions.

  • Rhie

    Because we both love bad movies, my fiance and I started a tradition where we watch (well, “watch” since we’re also cooking) the Sharknado movies while making Thanksgiving lunch. Really silly but we have fun :) I think we’re also going to start the tradition of the Hanukkah party this year since he’s all about making latkes and we always end up with way too many to eat by ourselves.

  • Another Meg

    This is our first Christmas in our own home, so I am going to be stealing hard from this thread! My in-laws are staying with us for a week over Christmas, and then we’re going to my parents’ for the New Year. I’m really looking forward to starting our own traditions, but to me Christmas is mostly a kid-thing, and we don’t have those yet. So we’ll see what happens.

    My favorite traditions growing up are all religious, and I am no longer Catholic. My husband and his parents are athiest. So, while I love my traditions, I don’t want Nativities like my mom collects. So there will be no hiding of Baby Jesus the weeks before Christmas. And there will be no Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve (the children’s choir has always perform Carol of the Bells with handbells and it’s the best). So I’m kind of at a loss.

    Any favorite traditions for the holidays that aren’t laced with religious belief?

    • emilyg25

      The tree! It’s pagan. Going to a local tree farm, picking out your tree, cutting it down yourself if you can, then drinking eggnog or hot toddies or hot cocoa while decorating it! That’s my favorite.

    • eating words

      Food! Whatever dishes feel like warm, cozy holiday food can become a tradition.

  • Mary Jo TC

    One thing my family did that I don’t think many people do is celebrate St. Nick’s day, December 6. That’s when we get our stockings full of candy and little things. When we were little my mom coordinated a program at our church where she took all the kids and did a craft and explained to them who St. Nick was (a 6th century bishop who was generous to poor children and the origin of Santa Claus…seriously, say Saint Nicolas quickly and tell me what it sounds like). She’d also explain little holiday symbols like the shape of a candy cane like a bishop’s hook. Meanwhile volunteers would fill the kids’ stockings. A couple times, “St. Nick” wrote each of my siblings and me a letter saying the things we do that are good and the things we should work on. (By that time the older ones of us knew St Nick and Santa were both Mom, but didn’t care.) And one horrible year, we were a bunch of little brats on St. Nick’s night, and we got coal in our stockings. We cried and it was a wake-up call to shape up before Christmas. And it makes a great story now, without the holiday entirely spoiled.

    • Kayjayoh

      My family always did St. Nick’s. I loved it.

    • All my schools were Catholic schools, so we always did St Nick’s day, where we would put a shoe outside the classroom and then at the end of the class we would get a treat in our shoe. They even did this in the dorms at the Catholic college I went to. It’s weird (to me, even though it’s probably the more unusual that I expect this) now that I am in grad school at a non-religious school and we DON’T get treats on St Nick’s day (even though I am done with classes and just work in a lab full time.) That was a fun tradition for the 17 years it lasted, though.

      • Lisa

        I never did St. Nick’s Day until college, and it was actually my atheist roommate who made it into a thing! We would get some small chocolates and oranges and put them each other’s shoes.

    • anotherlady

      never heard of st nick’s day until I moved to the Midwest. It is HUGE here! Everyone does it with their kids! I also think it might be an European thing… we have a lot of German & Polish families here, and a lot of Catholics.

      • Mary Jo TC

        Yep, we’re Midwestern German Catholics.

    • Keeks

      I LOVE ST. NICK’S. It’s totally a Midwest Catholic thing. I might even enjoy it more than Christmas since our stockings were/are simple: chocolates, a gift card, and the best part – the orange at the bottom!

      • Eenie

        When my grandmother was still alive, she lived in Florida and never visited around Christmas time (she was very active in her church there). She used to send oranges and grapefruit to her grand kids and always bought us shares of coke stock (which she bought in a weird way so we each ended up with a different amount and made my mom upset). A grapefruit would go in our stocking. The tradition ended not when she died, but when the box of fruit came and was covered in insects. She switched to steaks the next year but wasn’t alive for many more years for that to feel like a tradition.

  • Sara

    Our family celebrates by going to 5pm mass, having a large dinner of linguine in white clam sauce on Christmas eve, hanging stockings and then watching a movie or playing a game together. We don’t really ‘do’ christmas morning outside of waking up and opening presents. Once that’s done, our tradition is literally just ‘lay around all day in PJs’. Occasionally we push it back to Christmas eve eve, so that if my brothers or I need to go to a SO’s family, we still get our linguine.

  • Suzie

    There are lots of highly personal ones but the general ones that come to mind are the advent candle – I love those so much! It makes us really ensure we eat together at the table at dinner time as often as possible in December and I love it. I also have a stash of about 40 Christmas DVDs and we attempt to watch one every day in December :) we never manage but it’s fun to try!

    • LydiaB

      I love my advent candle – such a wonderful little tradition!

  • Emily

    My favorite holiday tradition is to get together with my large extended family at my aunt’s B&B. We used to always get together on Christmas Eve and please the grandmas (and greats) by going to mass. Now with all of the cousins grown-up with our own families/traditions we usually just go to the house the Saturday after Christmas to drink a little, eat more and catch up. There are a lot of us, and we were not terribly close as children, now as adults we find we have tons in common (besides like, blood) and really enjoy seeing eachother

  • Archivistlady

    When I moved away from home and college to start my adult life, I really started traveling on my own. I am not a big one for memorabilia, but I love Christmas. So I started buying an ornament every place that I traveled to and writing the date on the bottom. When I got married, my husband kept up the tradition with me. I love putting up the tree and seeing all the adventures we have been on together and dreaming about all the future ornaments we will add.

    My favorite tradition for my baby family is actually the night before Christmas eve. We spend Christmas with my family, christmas eve with him, but the night before is our night. We buy a fantastic bottle of champagne, make a charcuterie and cheese plate, Christmas jazz record on, and exchange our gifts. It is such a romantic, special quiet time for just us and we plan on keeping it as our special moment, even after or if our family expands.

    • Eenie

      Charcuterie and cheese plates are my new favorite thing! I enjoy some nice wine, and he can enjoy his beer or whisky :)

  • scw

    one of the traditions I love that I haven’t seen anyone post about yet – though I’m on my phone, so navigating comments is difficult – is lighting a new bayberry candle on Christmas Eve and letting it burn overnight (in a sink for safety). it is supposed to being health and wealth in the upcoming year.

    I’m also from a jazzy little town and we have a big Christmas Eve jazz service. people from all different kinds of faiths come to participate because the musicians are so good.

    • scw

      oh and vince guaraldi on the record player! the charlie brown christmas album gets a lot of play in my house in november and december.

    • Oh I love that – I’ve never heard of it before.

      • scw

        my dad doesn’t usually get that excited about most holiday traditions (at least compared to my mom and I), but every year he is the one that makes sure we get the bayberry candle set up for the night. because of that, it’s an especially meaningful tradition for me.

  • AP

    I had to get some distance (physical and emotional) from my family of origin before I could really embrace Christmas traditions again. My mom and grandparent’s “rigid adherence to tradition” and compete refusal to let the adult children host or contribute in any way ruined the holidays for me for quite some time. Also factor in holiday overkill- Christmas music in stores starting in October, Christmas movie marathons in the summer (this is something my family does that makes me crazy), being hounded about my Christmas plans and my wish list in August, and I am OVER IT before it even starts. But after basically just showing up for the last few years, I’m finally excited about starting some new traditions with my partner! Things I want to incorporate this year (I’m easing back in slowly):
    – My favorite Christmas movies (Charlie Brown, Muppet Family Christmas, Emmet Otter and the Jugband Christmas, the winter solstice episode of Fraggle Rock that my grandpa taped on VHS for me a million years ago that still has all the awesome eighties commercials)
    – Starting our ornament collection and decorating our first tree
    – Drinking toddies in front of the fireplace
    – Making our wedding photo album to give as Christmas gifts
    – Christmas Eve dinner with my dad’s family (they do this every year and I’ve always loved it)
    – Hosting a cookie/dessert baking party for my friends

    • Lulu

      If you saved an old version of Muppet Family Christmas, I am officially SO ENVIOUS. The re-releases are missing some of the best scenes due to music licensing issues, and it is not the same.

      • AP

        I’m pretty sure it’s on a tape somewhere at my grandparents’ house…unless they’ve thrown it out. My grandpa is super-techie these days. I haven’t seen it in a few years, so I didn’t realize it has changed! The same happened with my DVD copy of Emmet Otter, the version we had taped in the eighties had an intro and a few appearances from Kermit but he’s missing from the DVD release (and a few other minor changes.) The behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD are pretty cool though.

        • Lulu

          Yes, you can totally tell where Emmet Otter is clipped oddly too!

          I am slightly embarrassed that I know this.

          • AP

            Hahaha me too.

  • Laura C

    I always want tons of food at Christmas, but my parents rarely have very many people over and I have a bit of a battle with my mother that, for instance, yes, we should have both soubise and mashed potatoes, and one extra dessert choice won’t kill us as we can freeze the leftovers. So my husband and I are well matched, because he grew up in a family that does have a ton of people over, and everyone makes a point of making their specialty, or a particularly adventurous recipe they’ve been wanting to try. And we have an eggnog recipe that is clearly our holiday-and-any-other-excuse tradition. I’m looking forward to this year when his mom is hosting a big group for dinner, but since we live nearby we’ll be able to do a bunch of cooking at our place and bring it over rather than spending the whole day competing for stove space.

    One thing we’ve held off on is a tree. For each of us, decorating our family’s tree has always been a beloved tradition, and each of us has participated in the other’s family tree by now. But we haven’t had our own tree, so last year, when his mom wanted us to go shop for her tree with her, I decided not to go so that there’s something new for us to do as just us at some point when we are ready for our own tree.

  • M.

    We’re staying home this year since I’ll be too pregnant to fly back to the Midwest to be with families. But, we also stayed home last year and did our visiting in the fall, and it was GLORIOUS. NYC empties out, it’s so quiet, and we get several days off work with no chores, no obligations, to just BE.

    Established:
    -Getting a tree from the little greenhouse down the block and carrying home past the laundromat and bodega, up the elevator, laughing at how different life is now from back home in Michigan
    -Picking out a new ornament for 2015, decorate tree
    -Short trip to see NYC Xmas lights in Midtown
    -Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, White Christmas and Elf sometime during Dec.
    -Music! Particularly the Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin, The Nutcracker, and Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney & Friends radio program
    -Handwriting cards

    New/reviving this year:
    -Attend holiday choral concert (I always went to one back home with a choir and handbells)
    -Make Church Window cookies (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/156703/church-window-cookies/ similar to recipe I used as a kid, but adds nuts which I don’t recommend)
    -Charcuterie/cheese board for Christmas Eve dinner — festive and EASY, so we don’t set ourselves up for stress/failure
    -Christmas day walk in the park – we’ve been taking more long walks together since I’m not running while I’m pregnant, and it’s so special
    -Make ahead breakfast strata to put in the oven Christmas morning
    -Exchange gifts Christmas Eve after dinner, only stockings of little treats on Christmas morning — our effort to make the whole day(s) a celebration rather than a presents—>anticlimax situation
    –New PJ’s on Christmas Eve. I am starting this for my husband and we’ll add for the baby when it’s here next year. I used to often get new PJ’s for Christmas, and my mom always did as a kid, and I want to start this up for my family. Surprise, husband! New flannel lounge pants are on the way!

  • Roselyne

    Each Christmas eve, my mother would make kugelhof (an eggy sweet brioche-type bread baked in a bundt mold), and we’d have that on Christmas morning, with mimosas, after presents and before a few hours of playing with new toys/reading new books, before the holidays crazies set in. Ever since i stopped spending Christmas morning with my family, we’ve replicated that: familiar and almost ceremonial food, and time together. The focus on people instead of presents. It’s good.

    Miss for me: ever year, i join the in-laws for Christmas Eve service at their super-liberal country church… and every year, i wind up grinding my teeth through it. I have Issues with organized religion, and no tradition makes me ok with that. So: probably skipping it this year.

    • BSM

      Another here with Issues. We do not attend Christmas Eve service with my in-laws, even though I’m told it’s pretty lax and mostly for the kids to put on a play. I just can’t let myself take part in that level of assimilation.

  • Eenie

    Oh I forgot about my fiance’s traditions! He’s not a very traditional guy (his family doesn’t even celebrate birthdays). BUT he insists on eating black eyed peas and collard greens for good luck on new years day. He says it’s a southern thing and he is pretty persistent to make this happen.

    • Lulu

      Not a true southerner, but we did black eyed peas too, with the tradition of always leaving a few on your plate to symbolize abundance in the new year!

  • Kay

    We live in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment with 5 cats, and my partner hates Christmas decorations so we compromised that we’d only put up the tree, which takes up half the living room, every other year. Well, it’s Christmas Tree year this year and IT IS HAPPENING. I can’t even wait.

    My partner’s family lives in a neighborhood where all the families go out on Christmas eve and line the street with luminaries. It ends up being an absolutely gorgeous 3-mile stretch of light. A lot of the people in the community are getting older and moving away, so we’re not sure how many years we’ll have left of this particular tradition and we just try to enjoy it to the max.

  • april

    My favorite Christmas traditions:
    – Baking way, way too many Christmas cookies

    – Attending a candlelight service of lessons and carols the week before Christmas
    – Finding and decorating a live Christmas tree (this tradition now also involves drinking hot toddies – yay adulthood!)
    – Watching ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ (a newish tradition – my husband and I have been doing this for about the past 3 years)

    A favorite/interesting Christmas tradition of my husband’s family: My husband comes from a really large family, so rathter than everyone trying to buy each other gifts, they do an ornament exchange. Each person brings a wrapped box with an ornament in it (it can be bought or handmade) and places it on a table. Each person then chooses a word from a hat. The oldest person at the gathering then begins reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.’ When your word (for example, “mouse”) is read, you stop the story, go and choose a box from the table, and unwrap it. Simple enough. Where it gets more interesting, is that you are also allowed to ‘steal’ an ornament from someone else during your turn. So if I open a box with a teddy bear ornament in it, I can keep it or I can exchange it for the snowflake ornament that Grandma drew (but if cousin Jim later draws a Santa ornament, he might make me trade my ornament for his). It’s fun, and it can get lightly competitive as people try to acquire an ornament hand-made by one of the children, for example, and to get rid of an ugly ornament that someone purchased as a joke. (*Bonus tip – this game can be played with things other than ornaments. Last year, we had a smaller gathering that didn’t include any children, so instead of ornaments, everyone brought some sort of wine, beer, or liquor)

  • LydiaB

    Most of my traditions are very similar to what everyone else had already said but I wanted to add that I love sending Christmas cards to all of my friends who I don’t see over the festive period. As much as we stay in touch through Facebook and Whatsapp nowadays there is something just so wonderful about picking the cards, writing them out and waiting to hear that people have got them! It really makes me very happy.

    • Jenny

      Yeah, we took inspiration from Meg’s post last year and sent New Year’s cards to all our friends and family. It was so fun and a huge hit! We are planning to do it again this year!

  • Mary Jo TC

    Everybody list your favorite holiday movie and/or music!
    Mine: The Grinch (original animated) and A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a special place in my heart for Mariah Carey’s Christmas album.

    • M.

      Movie: A Muppet Christmas Carol (so glad to see the love for this in this thread – I lost my first tooth in the theater at this movie!)
      Music: The Chieftain’s “Bells of Dublin,” Christmas with the Rat Pack

      • Caitlin

        Also, John Denver with the Muppets too (music, the tv special is less beloved for me), if you are a Muppets fan

        • Teresa

          The Twelve Days of Christmas with John Denver and the Muppets is THE BEST!

          • M.

            BA DUM DUM DUM!

          • Teresa

            lol, just reading this comment made me giggle!

          • Sarah E

            I think I still have my cassette tape of that around, because how could I part with it?!

          • Lizzie

            “Piggy pudding?!” “No, FIGGY pudding. It’s made with figs.”

          • and bacon ;)

      • MC

        Yes yes yes yes yes A Muppet Christmas Carol!

      • Lizzie

        I love the Chieftains but I’ve never heard “Bells of Dublin” – looking it up on Youtube right now!

        • M.

          Oh dude you’re in for a treat! It’s a phenomenal album.

      • ItsyBit

        YAAAASSSS The Muppet Christmas Carol! So much love.

    • LydiaB

      Elf! Home Alone! It’s a Wonderful Life!

      But a particular favourite that NO-ONE ever seems to have seen is Raymond Briggs’ “Father Christmas” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0180691/ it’s wonderful and funny and beautifully animated!

    • Elf is definitely a house favorite. I’m very partial to the She & Him Christmas album. Also the Elvis Christmas album (that has always been my Dad’s favorite).

    • scw

      yes to mariah carey. I also love the vince guaraldi peanuts christmas one.

    • Eenie

      Trans Siberian Orchestra. I love their music. I play Christmas Canon at full volume every year to the annoyance of everyone around me.

    • Teresa

      Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Love Actually for movies. Nat King Cole’s A Christmas Song, Mariah’s All I Want for Christmas is You, The Eagles Please Come Home for Chirstmas and my top three songs, plus Christmas with the Rat Pack, She and Him Christmas, The Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack. I really love Christmas music!

      • Lisa

        I love Love Actually, but it’s funny because I really don’t think of it as a “Christmas movie.” It’s a good anytime movie!

        • Teresa

          Well, I watch it anytime b/c I love it, but it takes place around Christmas, so I can get my husband to watch it if I tell him it’s a Christmas movie!!!

    • Megan

      Everyone in my life makes fun of me for it, but my mom and I LOVE Kenny Rogers’ Christmas CD – The Gift. It’s FANTASTIC.

    • Every year I watch The Santa Clause and for just a minute I believe again. Also it ain’t Christmas without the Carpenter Christmas Collection. Karen Carpenter forever.

      Honorable Mention to *N’SYNC Merry Christmas, because boy bands.

      • MC

        I was just about to write The Santa Clause!! It’s the best.

    • Lisa

      Movies: White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown Christmas
      Carols: “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Here we come a-wassailing”, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, Greensleeves, “Lo, how a Rose E’er Blooming”

      • Lisa

        And can I say that thinking about my favorite carols got me all excited, and now I’m going through YouTube to find good versions of them all?

    • Lulu

      I basically listen to a compilation of every available version of “Little Drummer Boy” nonstop for a month.

    • emilyg25

      Elf! And I listen to Mariah Carey and Wham! every year.

    • K.

      Without fail, my family (and now my husband!) watches 3 versions of A Christmas Carol.

      1. Muppets, always.
      2. Albert Finney’s musical version.
      3. And my personal favorite (and my husband’s favorite too, by far)—Scrooged with Bill Murray. The last scene with everyone singing “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” is something I look forward to every single year.

      • Lulu

        For some reason, we always pair Scrooged with Die Hard, another under-appreciated holiday classic.

        • Bsquillo

          DIE HARD. That’s our fave too.

    • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation! Every year for as long as I can remember!

    • Jess

      The Santa Clause (I’m with Addie, for just a small moment, I go back to being a kid), Charlie Brown (I love the Peanuts), The Muppets (Classic.)

      Also, I will watch The Holiday at least twice (I can’t even feel ashamed of it. I love that movie).

    • Jenny

      Mariah Carey’s Christmas album is perfection! Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red album is giving it a run for it’s money, Motown Christmas album is great. Have your self a merry little Christmas, Josh Groban’s Christmas album, Ella Fitzgerald’s what are you doing New Year’s Eve, Come Thou Fount, Silent Night from Boyz II Men, River Joni Mitchell, Wexford Carol Allison Krauss and Yoyo Ma, UGGGGGG, is it The Friday after Thanksgiving yet, I SOOOOO want to listen to it all!

      Fav movies: Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf, Home Alone, It’s a wonderful life, Love actually, Muppet Christmas Carol, The Santa Clause, While you were Sleeping, White Christmas, Joyeux Noel, West Wing Season 1 xmas ep, West Wing Season 2 xmas ep, Studio 60 on the sunset strip xmas ep, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon

    • C

      Peter, Paul & Mary! Although the CD I have now is just not the same as the cassette I grew up listening to (it was recorded off the TV special and had way more songs). Other things that get regular play are the Seattle Men’s Chorus holiday albums, TSO, Celtic Woman, Philadelphia Brass, and an assortment of choirs for hymnal stuff. And now I really want to listen to Christmas music despite it being October.

    • Meg Keene

      The family stone. I know, but I need to normalize family stress.

      • Cleo

        Don’t justify. I have an abnormally sweet Leave it to Beaver family and I love that movie. It’s full of awesome.

      • EF

        for reals. this one is underappreciated.

    • Grace

      Call me old school, but I have to watch Christmas in Connecticut and White Christmas! LOVE me some Bing Crosby.
      Music-wise, I love the non-traditional songs that show up on pop stars’ Christmas albums and the “mix-tapes” like The Hotel Café presents Winter Songs.

    • JDrives

      Elf! It’s not a proper holiday season until I’ve watched it at least 3 times. Also, Nightmare Before Christmas, and any/all of the Claymation movies. As for music, Harry Connick Jr.’s brassy, jazzy, fun “When My Heart Finds Christmas” and Amy Grant’s “Home for Christmas” because the song about Mary makes me cry every time.

      • Lisa

        Yes to all of the claymation! I love me some Rudolph.

        • JDrives

          Rudolph is definitely my favorite!

          • Lisa

            I have a feeling that, given our similar taste in Christmas movies and wine, we might have a lot of things in common. :)

      • ItsyBit

        The Rankin/Bass clay-mation movies are far and away the best things ever.

    • Tonikat

      Oh, Glad to see some love for Trans-Siberian Orchestra! Next to one specific Christmas album by a punk band, that’s the only Christmas music my boyfriend likes listening to.

    • Whitney

      For songs, I loveee “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” and an oldies version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
      And as for movies, my family ALWAYS watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” together. And my sister and I stay up late together for the Family Stone and Love Actually.

    • ItsyBit

      As for music: A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1 is one of my favorites. It’s so weird and totally 80s but I grew up listening to it every year and just LOVE it. It just makes me smile like a little kid. I also think that the Elf soundtrack is great (weird to say?). They pulled some really awesome jazzy/big band holiday songs, AKA my other music love.

      • msditz

        A Very Special Christmas! This was also the soundtrack to all of my childhood Christmas memories. I love the Keith Haring art on the cover

    • msditz

      National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation! We watched it on the regular growing up, and now the tradition with my husband is to watch it while we decorate the tree. It is our official kick-off to the holiday season.
      As for music, this is going to sound weird, but trust me: last year, Seth Macfarlane (yes, the creator of Family Guy) released a Christmas album called Holiday for Swing! My sister gave it to us last year and I thought it was a joke, but it is a legit, really awesome album (if you like old-school crooner Christmas carols, which I love). The last song on the album is “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and it is magical.

  • My mom always used to get the Pillsbury Grands cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning (it was quite a treat because we NEVER got them any other time of year). The first Christmas I spent in Washington with my then-boyfriend, now-husband instead of going to California to see my family, I had purchased some Pillsbury Orange sweet rolls to make, and it turns out that’s what my husband’s mom used to make them on Christmas morning! It was such a coincidence and it’s turned out to be a small thing that we’ve been able to continue much to both our delight.

  • elle

    We attend Friendsgiving at a dear friend’s house every year and it is my favorite thing ever. It started with 15 of us crammed into the friend’s tiny first apartment out of college, drinking cheap wine and partaking in general debauchery. Over the years, it has expanded – everybody started getting married and now a lot of us have kids. The friends now have a beautiful home that we celebrate in. The meals have become more delicious, the wine more expensive, and debauchery less ridiculous. It is my absolute favorite!

    • Teresa

      Yes! I love Friendsgiving as much as I love our family Thanksgivings! So much less pressure, amazing food, great wine (our friend works for a distributor!), the best company. A delight!

  • Jana

    For a few years when I was a preteen, my parents would whisk us away to a local soup kitchen on Christmas morning to serve lunch/dinner to our city’s homeless population. I remember HATING it the first two years (as an eleven year old, you tend to think firmly about yourself and how much it sucked that you had to WAIT to open presents grumble grumble grumble) but by the third year, I came to really enjoy it. I’m sad that my family stopped the tradition; my husband and I might bring it back in the coming years.

  • Megan

    We spend Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas day with his family. With my family, everyone is responsible for making an appetizer and we all snack and drink and play cards before opening gifts.

    Other favorite – when my husband and I first started dating, my parents lived across the country, so we didn’t spend our first six holidays together. We started a tradition of going out for a really nice Italian dinner together and then exchanging our gifts to each other before separating to spend time with our families. Even now that we are together on the Christmas, we still pick a night for our nice dinner and spend our own holiday time together.

  • Ashley Meyer Garrett

    My favorite Christmastime tradition is Christmas Eve. There are no presents, just food and family. We usually all go to candlelight church service together then meet back at my aunt/uncles house. Every year we eat a meal that is (on purpose) totally different than holiday food. We’re in Texas so it’s Tex-Mex very often or could be Italian or Asian. It break things up.

    Then after dinner we all circle up and everyone gets a number from 1 to 12 and we sing the 12 Days of Christmas (each person singing the verse of their number). My family has done this since way before I was born and I have SO many fond memories of my family hilariously forgetting the lyrics or singing so loud or just laughing because they are embarrassed to sing. (it’s a rule that everyone has to sing – you bring your new boyfriend of 2 weeks? Yes he sings too!) It is such a fabulous tradition that anyone could replicate and we still talk about how Great Aunt Betty would cuss under breath when she forgot it was her turn.

  • Lulu

    Six weeks after we met, my now-husband and I cut down our first tree together, and an insta-tradition was born. We load up boozy thermoses and trek out to a farm where, no joke, there are Newfoundland dogs who pull your tree on a sled back to your car. On the way back, we stop in the town where Groundhog Day was filmed and eat lunch in their quaint little square.

    It is also not Christmas if I don’t drink gluhwein out of a ceramic boot. Some years, friends and I go for the perfect Chicago holiday trifecta in one marathon day: breakfast in the Walnut Room in the old Marshall Fields followed by a shopping interlude, brats and gluhwein at the Christkindlmarket, and a sing-along showing of White Christmas at a vintage theater. It’s the best.

    • Lisa

      I am so sad that we won’t be able to go to the Christkindlmarkt this year and add to our boot collection! It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas, and some of our first ornaments came from the booths there.

      • Lulu

        Last year, they actually abandoned the boot for a plain mug! Total heresy. I blame Rahm, of course.

        • Lisa

          WHAT. Totally unacceptable.

          Though I think one of the mugs we got from our honeymoon in Germany wasn’t a boot either so maybe there’s something there…?

        • Jess

          There was also a couple years ago that they did a hat. It was the worst.
          Bring back the boot!

    • Caitlin

      CHICAGO CHRISTMAS LOVE! ;)

  • savannnah

    My mother grew up in a German catholic family, stopped practicing when the Church translated everything from Latin to English, and promptly married a conservative Jew ten years later. Our family grew up Jewish, and although my mother never converted, she makes a mean latka now and speaks more Yiddish than my father. We never celebrated Christmas, at much cost to my grandparents (we are the only grandchildren) My mother never let us see her sadness around that but every year on December 23rd we used to pile into the car without my dad and drive around and look at all of the elaborate Christmas lights and decorations for hours and go get hot chocolate. When I was little, I loved the lights and thought everyone celebrated the festival of lights with us. When I got older, I resented this drive because it made me feel isolated and alone. Now though, I understand it was how my mother celebrated and mourned Christmas every year and it was her way of sharing her childhood with her three very Jewish children. Now that we are grown up and don’t usual travel back home for new years, my dad makes sure to pack up a thermos of hot chocolate every December 23rd and they head out to see the festival of Christmas lights.

    • Lisa

      This is so bittersweet. The lights are one of my favorite traditions, too. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Cleo

      I want to say hi and as a fellow Jew, I understand your feeling isolated and alone on those drives. I like looking at the lights okay, but they’re a reminder of how I don’t fit in to the “norm.” I love being Jewish. It’s a huge part of my identity and I wouldn’t change anything about it, but it can feel isolating.

      In general, December is a tough time of year when you have constant visual and audible reminders of how you’re different and now, when you have people in high positions of political power screaming about how saying “Happy Holidays” is an abomination and ruining America.

      • jspe

        Fellow Jewish person here! I’ve felt totally different about the lights. Because my family used to put our menorah in the window of our apartment, I always felt like “oh look, everyone puts lights or candles in their windows.” As an adult I feel pretty differently, but as a kid it was never isolating. (not invalidating your feelings, just sharing a different perspective.)

        but oh I love christmas trees so much. One year I got one with my (now wife), and it was hard for my parents, and I couldn’t figure out how I felt about it – the tension between really liking having an indoor tree with lights that smells so good! and knowing that it was also a way i was assimilating…I don’t know. YMMV, but I still can’t figure it out.

        • jspe

          So much of this thread is people describing their awesome traditions of being with people they love, eating good food, and finding a way to feel cozy and bright during a cold/dark time of year…and so who doesn’t want part of that?

          Except, for you know, the subtext of baby Jesus. So hard to figure out how to adopt tradition without accepting the overarching Christmas paradigm.

  • Eggnog.

    Spiked, spiced, plain. Doesn’t matter. Eggnog is all I need for the holiday spirit. Preferably eggnog with spirits. :)

  • Cleo

    I’m Jewish. So I have Hannukah traditions – my mom makes latkes and spiced apple cider and everyone in the family gets 7 presents. On the 4th night of Hannukah, we go to Target or Toys R Us and pick out a new toy to donate to a kid in need. We also take a family photo of my Mom’s side of the family (since we all live close together) every year. We’ve done this since I was 1 year old (and I’m the oldest grandchild), so we have an amazing 30 year record of our family.

    For Christmas, because even if you’re Jewish, you have to have a Christmas tradition if you live in the western world out of necessity (everyone’s off work and few places are open), this is what we do: for Christmas Eve, my parents and sister and I go see a movie (we pick which one we want to see at Thanksgiving), then come home and watch however much is left of It’s A Wonderful Life on NBC. On Christmas Day, we go to a family friend’s house (also Jewish) and my mom makes turkey soup with the leftover, frozen turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, and play board games and watch TV and eat dinner. It’s nice and low key.

    • eating words

      So true: “For Christmas, because even if you’re Jewish, you have to have a Christmas tradition if you live in the western world out of necessity.” Growing up, we always went to my grandparents’ favorite Chinese restaurant. I miss the sense of community we always felt in the restaurant that night; my wife is from a Christmas-celebrating family, so now we spend the day with them, but I want to find a way of balancing that with Jewish Christmas things.

      And I love your tradition of picking out a toy to donate!

    • Meg Keene

      Oh brilliant. We need more stuff to do on Hanukkah, which we all know is a little… light in the traditions department as pretty minor holiday. We don’t want to do 7 nights of presents, and 7 nights of latkes would make us gain 20 pounds and feel like dying. Anyone else have good Hanukkah traditions?

      And the last bit is acutally the most painful part of Christmas for us. David JUST WANTS TO DO JEWISH THINGS FOR CHRISTMAS, and that’s not really something we can make work at the moment. (Grandparents, grandkids, etc.)

      • eating words

        I don’t know anyone who makes latkes every day! We usually pick one night during Chanukah to make them, and it’s a huge mess and tons of fun. One year we had a latke-making party with friends and made some doughnuts, too. The Jewish people among us got to have some Jewish-centric fun, and the non-Jews were excited to do something different and eat yummy fried things.

        We don’t do Chanukah presents, though we might get cards for each other sometimes, and we try to light the menorah each night. I’m happy just lighting it, singing the blessings together, and watching the candles burning in the dark. If you want to make it more of a thing for the kids, maybe sing some additional songs after lighting the candles?

      • Roselyne

        All my Jewish friends go out for Chinese food at Christmas… maybe that’s just a Montreal thing?

      • Lisa

        We decorate big time for Hanukkah too (Happy Hanukkah streamers, dreidels, sparkly hanging things, electric menorah in the window, lots of silver and blue) so it seems more like it’s own separate event. There are a lot of traditions around candle-lighting (e.g. everyone has their own menorah, some family members push all the candles toward each other and build up the wax over the 8 days). We usually host one big party with dreidels, candles, and latkes, and in the morning we stuff the leftover latkes into breakfast tacos. The best!

      • E.

        i grew up celebrating Christmas st my moms house and hanukkah at my dads house and i loved our hanukkah traditions! We always picked 1-2 nights where we had friends over (usually 1 night family friends and 1 night our kid friends). On those nights we went all out with latkes, homemade applesauce, matzo ball soup, gelt and playing dreidel. We always listened to the same tape chanukah at home. I actually bought the cd of it after last year because i live too far away to go home and its not the same without it! For presents we just picked one night and we always got books. We lit the candles and sang every night and my sister and I would fight over who got to set them up and light them. I should add all my memories of this are from when i was 8+ and i loved having an active role in all of it.

      • LTurtle

        We used to eat latkes a couple times, play dreidel, and light candles for Hanukkah. Now we have different traditions because, as atheists, we decided to stop celebrating religious holidays. One of our faves though I think would scale down for Hanukkah really well. For the 3 weeks leading up to the Solstice (which we do celebrate) we have a family “advent” calendar, each day lists a fun activity we do together. (Baking cookies, walking the neighborhood to look at all the lights, making gifts for grandparents, cutting out paper snowflakes) It’s a nice way to have some focused family time that isn’t about presents. This might work better when your kids are a bit older, but my kids say this is their favorite part of the holiday season.

      • Last year we made latkes on one night, Sufaniyot one morning, and lots of totally good for us recipes that we ONLY cook that week. We also obviously lit the menorah each night, and we did 7 small presents for J – one each night. This year we’re doing all the presents the first night (he only gets 5 from us anyway – we do the want/need/wear/read thing+ a big special gift). You can also play dreidel (it’s super fun with kids), and we make crafts (last year we made star of Davids out of popsicle sticks and construction paper menorahs and dreidels and hung them up everywhere). I also bought blue & white lights to hang up around the house, and last year we bought toys and dropped them at a local fire station that was accepting holiday donations – that was HUGE for J, because omg fire trucks. I know Han ukkah is minor, but I think it’s pretty easy to make fun for kids.

        We’re also working Christmas back in because J really, really wants to, and I’ve recently decided to just say… SURE, let’s do it. I mean, we’ve celebrated it before and then not celebrated it and then celebrated it again, so as long as the emphasis isn’t on amassing more stuff, I’m fine with it. We’ve decided to have a tree and we’ll decorate it, and we’re going to have stockings that we’ll fill with candy the night before. We always watch Love Actually and Home Alone around Christmas, so I think we’ll have a PJs & candy day the day of Christmas. We’re not doing any gifts on Christmas, but we will be visiting family who celebrate it and I’m sure dude will be getting gifts.

  • Leah Klein

    Interfaith couple here! It makes holidays a BLAST because we don’t have to share any holidays.

    My parents give 8 small-ish gifts for Hanukkah, like gloves or books or snacks, and our tradition is on the last day we get a family calendar my dad makes (from Shutterfly).

    My MIL gives me 8 small gifts for hanukkah as well, but when we head to their house for Christmas day, there is always a pile of gifts for me! She’s so thoughtful. She always asks me to help decorate their tree, as well. The past two years, my in laws have invited my parents over for Christmas Day to share a meal. I love that!

    In our own home, we have stockings for each other, and I light my menorah every night.

  • lmba

    I’m hoping someone here has some insight and experience with Kwanzaa. Our family situation is thus:
    – I am White, my partner is Black/bi-racial (1/2 white, 1/2 Nigerian, but identifies as Black)
    – We have 2 kids who are 1/4 Black, 3/4 White

    We are not part of a Black or African community, as there are almost no Black folks where we live! We’ve been thinking about celebrating Kwanzaa, but don’t have any experience with it. Does anyone here celebrate it? What do you do exactly? Considering the high level of “Whiteness” in our family, would people feel it was inappropriate for us to celebrate it in our home?

    Practical and political thoughts are all appreciated. :)

    • RMC

      I am not Black so definitely can’t speak for the community but I do not think that it would be inappropriate for you to celebrate Kwanzaa given your husband’s identity. Any tradition that is part of your heritage is fair game and not considered appropriation as far as I am aware and I travel in relatively lefty/progressive circles that are pretty sensitive to that. It’s exciting to (re)discover part of your heritage and make meaning for yourself and your family so good luck to you and your husband in doing that!

  • Keeks

    My family is German, and I studied German for a very long time so my family revived some traditions – gluhwein, Christkindlmarkt, and stollen. LOTS of stollen!

    My husband is Italian and inherited his great-grandfather’s pizzelle iron. You have to stick the iron into a flame to cook the batter! We went on our first date the day before Christmas, and he stayed up late the night before to make pizzelles for me and I stayed up late baking stollen for him!

    Now we have a new tradition – we spend a day together baking stollen, and the day after that we make pizzelles together. And then we eat it all within a day. :)

    • Amanda

      My grandmother’s family is German, so there’s so much stollen! My grandfather’s family is Polish, so we make a lot of chrusciki. My mother’s side is Italian, so Christmas eve’s feast is what’s important. It’s such a wonderful American tradition to include all of little things from our ancestry.

  • TeaforTwo

    We got married in mid-December, and so now our tradition (which we have only done once, but plan to do every year!) is to decorate our Christmas tree on our wedding anniversary. Instead of anniversary gifts, we buy an ornament that is the traditional anniversary gift material. (Paper last year, cotton this year, leather next.)

    Having our own tree and Christmas traditions feels like a real symbol of “We are a family, this is our family Christmas” to me. We also received a number of beautiful ornaments as wedding gifts because of our December wedding, and I love remembering the people who gave them to us, and the day we became each other’s family while we put them up.

    Bonus: the tradition feels really scalable for when our family grows. Lots of fun just the two of us with champagne, but will still work when we have kids with hot chocolate and stories about “your great-aunt so-and-so gave this to us when we got married.”

    • Lisa

      This is absolutely beautiful, and I LOVE the ornament idea!! All reasons why I thought a winter wedding sounded magical, but I couldn’t convince my California-born husband that it was a good idea.

    • emilyg25

      I love this!

  • Mary Jo TC

    I just wanted to thank you for this thread today Meg. I think I needed it. Lately I’ve been feeling like there’s not much to look forward to in our lives (due to some financial and career issues mostly), wondering if I have depression (again), but this reminded me of some little things I can do to bring some cheer and happiness into our lives in the next couple of months. Thanks.

    • Lisa

      I wish you a season filled with love and light. (And internet hugs for the tough times you’re going through.)

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, I feel you. I want to say obviously, but I’ve only been sharing on IG not here, since I’ve been on leave. But… obviously… it’s been a SHIT few months for us. So right now we’re trying to figure out things to do that bring joy that are also low stress. Because high stress is something we can’t cope with right now, and frankly, piles of shit we don’t need feels stressful.

      • Morgan D

        Preach. The holidays are often a high-stress time for my partner and I, so we’ve experimented this year and last to redefine “traditions” that help us bring out the best in ourselves and the season.

        One new “tradition” is having firm time-limits on our attention to things that feel rigid/less negotiable/less authentic (eg. only spending a certain numbers of hours with certain family members). Another is carving out time that feels good to us, no matter what, because – let’s be honest – if we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for us. Last year, this looked like cramming family obligations on both sides into an admittedly-sometimes-stressful Thankgiving tour-de-force, with the great offset of having an obligation-free Christmas/New Year’s with friends closer to home.

        Some highlights: having real boundaries with family nonsense (stressful to decide to do, but such a comparative relief during/afterwards); grabbing a shared babysitter and going out to do something guaranteed to make us laugh and spark thoughtful conversation (e.g. seeing “Homo for the Holidays” in Seattle); each couple gave each other couple “one gift for each of the five senses,” which was so simple and grounding and uplifting all at once that it changed the way we think about gifts in general; and, finally, not doing anything Christmas day except taking our time, listening to music, and cooking a shared meal while drinking wine in our PJs.

        This year, we’re doing the same Thanksgiving tour-de-family, and then taking our first vacation just for ourselves. It’s also been a crap few months for us and we haven’t done anything like this in the 6 years we’ve been together, so we’re taking ourselves to Hawaii, dammit! Turns out that it’s cheaper to fly through Seattle on the way back home to Oakland, so we’re spending New Year’s with the same people we Christmased with last year. Our plans: wear something sparkly, drink wine, and talk and laugh a lot over pizza.

        I don’t know the details of your situation, and so recognize that any/all of these specifics could be your own version of stressy rather than stress-relieving.

        All of which is simply to say, in times of stress, I’ve finally learned that the best thing to do is “just say no” to the stress and “yes” to what helps me/us feel/be best. This mostly means less “stuff” and more “good experiences with good people.”

        It’s been super hard to enforce on ourselves/others the first couple times, but peace of mind and spirit is addictive enough in its own way that, once it has a chance, it’s its own gateway to happier habits/”traditions.”

    • JDrives

      I feel you on this. We also have a lot going on that makes me look towards the holidays with sadness and uncertainty instead of my usual boundless joy. I’m actually tearing up (mostly in a good way!) reading everyone’s stories about family traditions and the special ways people share love this time of year.

    • Whitney

      I completely agree with this! My husband and I moved abroad two months ago, far away from home. It’s our first married Christmas and also the first without seeing our families. While it’s an exciting time (we live in Paris!), I know I’m going to feel a bit sad and isolated when the holidays come around. But this post has me excited to find our own new traditions. =)

  • TeaforTwo

    I’ve already written about anniversary tree-trimming, but my actual favourite Christmas tradition is and always has been church on Christmas Eve.

    My husband grew up Catholic, and actually attended a boys’ choir school from 8-18. He is now an atheist, but agrees to come to church with my on Christmas Eve, because I love it so much, and he is wonderful to me.

    And you guys. This is the only time I ever get to hear him sing, and his voice is just so, so beautiful. Years of training went into that voice, and now he’s mostly given up music, but sitting next to him while he sings Christmas carols is always my favourite moment of the holidays.

    • AP

      This warms my heart:)

  • InTheBurbs

    Another tradition that my wife and I have done every year since we started dating is to listen to Christmas from St. Olaf on MPR and then afterward eat homemade chicken pot pie. It’s always the weekend after Thanksgiving – and they broadcast the Sunday afternoon performance – this year it will be Dec. 6 at 3pm. It’s a great way for us to get into the holiday spirit.

    • AGCourtney

      Northfielder here! The St. Olaf Christmas Festival is the best.

      • Jenny

        Awwww! Northfield! I went to college at Carleton. This makes me a little secondhomesick.

        • Caitlin

          My grandma went to Carleton and my uncle went to St. Olaf so it has a special place in my family too :)

        • AGCourtney

          That’s actually where I work!

          • Jenny

            Sigh! I miss Carleton and my Carleton people! My secret dream is that they will decide to hire a public health faculty member in 2 years!

      • Charlene Ericson

        I grew up in Faribault! My mom retired last year from Carleton.

  • My friend Wendy’s birthday is on 12/21. She’s a talented touring musician and songwriter and instead of throwing herself a party every year, she invites all of her friends to come caroling in her neighborhood (Manhattan Beach). We sing all of the old staples, but with tens of instruments – including, without fail, an upright bass – and harmonies to die for – it’s an insanely special night. I look forward to it every year, and so do all of her lucky neighbors!

    • Ashlah

      That sounds amazing! I would love to live in that neighborhood.

  • Danielle

    My favorite “holiday” tradition as a Jew is watching movies and eating Chinese food on X-Mas. It’s just fun to do our own low-key thing when so many others are celebrating this big massive commercial affair.

    Now I’m married to an atheist Christian, and we plan to visit my sweetie’s family during X-Mas. I’d be lying if I said that I won’t miss my other tradition.

    I tried to post about this earlier on this site, to… not so much understanding…. but “the holidays” are a really alienating time for me as a Jew. These are just not holidays that mean much to people of my background.

    • Jess

      I get where you’re coming from on that standpoint. I’m from a christian background, so I don’t experience it, but I get how incredibly alienating it would be for everyone to be celebrating a huge thing, all commercials & conversations about it, etc. It dominates every aspect of life from (really) Halloween through New Years.

      That would be tough to face if I didn’t have a relation to the holiday what so ever.

      • Danielle

        Thank you for understanding. It’s great that everyone else is (seemingly) so happy, but December is the one time of year I truly feel like a minority.

        Also… why is “joy” and “light” relegated to one time of year? Why don’t we act happy and grateful for people all the time, as often as we can?

        • Eenie

          I don’t think joy and light should be relegated to one time of the year, but in the northern hemisphere winter has shorter days and that is why for me personally I need emphasis on light and joy because I just naturally get depressed with the decreased sunlight. Summer just naturally embodies light with my lifestyle so I don’t go out of my way to emphasize it.

          • Danielle

            I get what you’re saying in a literal sense. But the repetition of “cheer” and “light” begins to feel very forced for me, after a while.

            Also, hear ya on seasonal affective disorder — sunlamps FTW!

          • R

            Yes, this! The older I get, the more I feel like I need warm weather getaways in the winter time to keep myself sane/joyful. January is the worst for me, but it’s really been helped by a quick weekend girls’ trip to Miami, or having a get together with a bunch of friends during a month that is usually a bit quieter on the party front, after all the holiday festivities. It’s a lot easier to feel happy, positive, and optimistic in the warmer months. And fall is always so fun and festive too, with the changing leaves in bright pretty colors, crisp days, Oktoberfests, pumpkins and apples….but January and February? No.

          • Eenie

            I’m about to move to the south and while I’m glad it will be warmer I’m still going to miss the idea of snow (I’m leaving my XC skis at my parents’ place). I will not miss Michigan winters and lake effect snow. Also I plan on having a housewarming in January and inviting our local friends as a kind of friendsgiving/new holiday that doesn’t compete with families.

          • Mary Jo TC

            How far south? I moved from Cincinnati to Nashville and notice a huge difference in our weather. It’s typically always about 5 degrees warmer here than there. We get so little snow here that the city doesn’t invest in plows and school is called off for a frost. I love it. It’s likely to be a bigger difference for you coming from Michigan.

          • Eenie

            Georgia! I spent two weeks down where I’m moving to (including some time in Nashville and Alabama) last year and it just rained the whole time. I know snow will be rare. My current debate is whether I should get new tires (5/32’s of tread left) before I move in December. I’m leaning towards yes because I feel like it’s an unnecessary risk.

          • Mary Jo TC

            And they’re such a wasteland for holidays! 2 months of gloomy weather with no reason to celebrate. Sure, you might get MLK day and/or Presidents’ day off if you’re lucky, and some people like to celebrate Valentine’s if they’re paired, but Christmas is a year away, and the weather won’t be warm again for sooo long! You’re lucky to get to go someplace sunny during the worst of it, not everyone can.

          • R

            Absolutely lucky, and I definitely don’t take it for granted. I shouldn’t even complain — I grew up in upstate NY, and now I live in the DC area, so it’s a relatively mild and short winter here, and when we do get snow, my office is always closed. And yet, I feel like I can’t handle it as well as I used to. On the flip side, I’m becoming a pro at heat and humidity!

          • Alison O

            Light is integral to my experience of Christmas–like it is actually the defining element. If all I did were put up some extra string lights and candles, that would feel much more like Xmas to me than anything else Christmasy that didn’t have a component of light. A tree with ornaments but unlit looks super sad. Every night when I turn the tree lights on when I get home from work, it’s an indescribable little bit of magic and comfort. We have an artificial tree, and my partner wouldn’t let me take it down until February because he loves it so much. I love seeing lights on other people’s homes and thinking of who lives there and how they are celebrating the season. I live in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood now, and it’s a real bummer how dark it is all winter long. What I think I’m spiritually connected to is what has drawn many peoples for centuries to the solstice, but I grew up a quasi-Christian celebrating Christmas, so I call it Christmas!
            And, I would distinguish this kind of light from the lamps prescribed for SAD. For me those are not so much cozy, more alien abduction.

          • Cleo

            ” I live in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood now, and it’s a real bummer how dark it is all winter long.”

            I get where you’re coming from in a theoretical sense, but Christmas is EVERYWHERE and it’s suffocating for those of us who don’t celebrate it because it’s not our religion. Please think about what you’re saying. In a thread that started with someone explaining how “holidays” feels alienating to her because she’s part of a minority that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, you’re discussing how that same minority creates a “bummer” of an atmosphere for you.

            How you feel in your neighborhood? That’s about how I feel and I’m sure many other Jews feel the same way when we’re bombarded with Christmas and told Christmas is SECULAR (I’ve had arguments at work about that). It’s a bummer to be constantly reminded that you don’t belong.

          • Alison O

            My comment was not in response to the beginning of the thread; it was in response to someone talking about winter and light, and what I’m speaking to is the point that it is a bummer that winter is dark and so light is a helpful antidote to that and happens to be associated with Christmas. I did not say that people CREATE the bummer. I guess I’d blame astrophysics for that? (As an aside, I don’t feel alienated in my neighborhood, so I wouldn’t compare that to how you or others might feel. More analogous might be having been a non-drinker or vegan.) Your own painful history of alienation and suffocation, which is obviously not a minor bummer, may have primed you to interpret the statement as an attack in a way that it was neither intended nor constructed. Regardless, I’m sorry you feel so much pain around that!

    • Giselle

      You and your sweetie are like me and mine – except I’m the atheist and he’s the Jew! The last point you (and some others on the thread) are exactly what my fiancé says about “the holidays” and feeling alienated or excluded. It’s no fun to feel that way.

      This winter will be the first one we celebrate together (he’s been deployed or on base for 3 out of 3 Decembers we’ve known each other) and I am pretty stoked. We’ve talked a lot about the feeling we want to have for our own family around this time of year (warmth, spending time together), and ways we can honor both our backgrounds/traditions.

      So, this first year we’re going to do everything we both want to do. Sharing what we do and the other person is all in. We’ll see what works for us or not. Here’s what I’m bringing to our December:

      1) ALL the pine – I get the lower boughs from tree lots for cheap (or free) and arrange them on mantels or staircases or doorways with white lights. No tree taking up a lot of space, still get all the ambiance and a place for ornaments.
      2) Always have a pot with clementines and cloves and cinnamon on the stove to simmer for a few hours at a time = smells like baking without actually baking.
      3) Charcuterie on Christmas eve and opening one present together.
      4) Making him a very non red and green stocking.

      • Danielle

        That sounds lovely! I wish you and your fiance a wonderful time developing your new traditions together :)

        For the record, I am a fairly agnostic, not really religious Jew. Last year we had a solstice party as a neutral winter holiday compromise (we are both into nature) with friends, food, and a fire in backyard for s’mores roasting. I LOVE S’MORES. It was great! We’d love to do it again this year, but (awesomely) my sister is getting married in Israel around that time, so we won’t be home! Maybe next year.

      • eating words

        You remind me: having pine boughs all over our house has become our compromise on not having a tree. And now I’ve come to really love the smell of pine in the winter.

    • eating words

      Fellow Jewish disliker of “the holidays” here! The inescapable, terrible Christmas music is the worst for me. Also, the widespread assumption that Chanukah is somehow an important holiday and/or my substitute for Christmas. Also, as Jess said below, the fact that Christmas dominates every aspect of everything for weeks.

      I’m now married to a Jew-by-choice who grew up as an atheist celebrator of Christmas (in the form of family time, good food, and presents). I’m getting used to spending Christmas with her mom and cousin, but I really miss the feeling of Jewish community on that day, whether we ate Chinese food or just got together as a family. Now that it’s my wife’s first holiday time as a Jew, I’m hoping to start weaving some Jewish-ish traditions back in. Maybe we can go to the annual klezmer party at our synagogue after we open presents. :)

      • Meg Keene

        It’s just such a complicated mess. We cut a lot of Christmas stuff after I converted (though Christmas with my religious family was always part of the deal, and never bothered us in theory at least. That’s what interfaith is, secular Christmas is more of a problem for us, with the assumption that everyone… is default some sort of Christian, even if they’re an atheist one). But cutting all of ti ended up making me feel really depressed, and felt dishonest to me. I hated it, I was miserable. So we’ve been working stuff back in. We’ve had a tree for the last two years, for example. But we’re still working and re-working and probably will be for forever. And SO many conversations with the kids, now and to come.

        Also, right. Hanukkah is just not an important thing. And no one can ever really manage to act like it is. I mean, FFS, I don’t think we’ve EVER managed to light candles every night, because… um… who cares? Our Jewish life revolves around other, very real holidays on the calendar.

        • Ashlah

          As a Christmas-celebrating atheist, I wish elementary schools would stop teaching that Chanukah is like the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. I would have loved to have a better understanding of the more important holidays, rather than grow up with a totally skewed view of what it means to be Jewish in December. That whole time must be so strange for elementary-aged Jewish kids.

          • Eenie

            Yes! As a couple who are raising our hypothetical kid(s) non religiously I want them to still understand other people’s religions and have some traditions of our own that don’t have religious undertones. But that is so so hard to accomplish.

        • BSM

          I’ve never been able to verbalize exactly why I never really had a problem with religious Christmas (even though I’m an atheist with issues around Christianity/organized religion) but felt really weird about secular Christmas. Thanks for putting to words to it.

      • Jenny

        Even as a Christian, who actually really likes some Christmas music, the terrible inescapable Christmas elevator music played on the radio/stores is the worst!!!!!

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, it’s really hard. We do some version of Christmas, but we’re Jewish, and our kids are Jewish. It’s hard for David to do Christmas at all, and we now have to fight things out for the kids. Make sure school programs are inclusive. This year we’re going to have to have a talk about Santa not being real. It’s just… tough. And makes you feel like an outsider.

      Also, side note: I didn’t write the subtitle on the article (and just saw it, still coming back from leave slowly), and it’s problematic as fuck, so I just changed it. Caroling and eggnog are not universal in the slightest.

      • Danielle

        Thank you very much, Meg. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Yeah, that subtitle was… not very inclusive. I actually read it and thought, “This article is not for me,” (like, literally not intended for someone like me to read/comment on), then I thought, “Nah, fuck it!” I’ll Jewish-Grinch it all I want!

        • Meg Keene

          No. Hated it. For the record, it came from our LEAST Christian staffer, who I think was just like “I donno. Is this what you people do in December? I’m clueless.” ;)

          • Danielle

            That’s kind of hilarious!

            I don’t want to be a hater, this site is amazing and I have appreciated and benefited from it for YEARS. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, consideration and empathy <3

  • Anna Lindsey

    One of my favorite holiday stories (and one I hope to recreate when we have kids) is my parents switching our gifts. It only works once, but it’s brilliant. My parents switched the names on all of my brother and my gifts. We spent the weeks leading up to Christmas shaking boxes and guessing what our gifts would be. On Christmas morning, my parents made us open a small gift first, which turned out to be an ornament. Mine said “son” and my brother’s said “daughter.” We laughed, and told our parents the mistake they made. Then my mom said, “Oh, I guess we accidentally switched ALL of your presents!” Child. Mind. Blown. We still laugh about it to this day.

    • Lizzie

      Ok, that’s a pretty clever trick.

    • Lindsey d.

      For several years, my mother tormented us by NUMBERING all of the gifts under the tree. She kept a carefully hidden notebook with a list of who each number corresponded to. It stopped the year after she lost the notebook! That was an interesting Christmas morning.

      • ClayJar

        My parents numbered the presents at least once, but it wasn’t significant torment. You see, it was traditional that you *could* *not* *touch* the presents before we opened them on Christmas Eve (one clothes “present” before church, and the rest afterward). That added significantly to the pre-Christmas build up, as you had nothing but size, shape, and other visual indicators to go by. (Hardness of apparent corners and edges and amount of deformation by other presents were two useful indicators — shirt boxes stood out like sore thumbs once you got the hang of things.)

        One particularly memorable Christmas, I’d figured out enough presents ahead of time that we just had Christmas a couple days Early. To this day Mom and Dad deny that ever happened, but none of us could ever forget it.

        • Eenie

          My dad always says all the gifts are fragile and we shouldn’t shake them. We never believe him and have broken several gifts.

        • Lisa

          I’m particularly good at guessing presents so my family has spent several years developing strategies to throw me off my game. My favorite year was the one where I knew I was getting a few show tickets I’d requested and was befuddled by this super heavy large box for me under the tree. When I opened it on Christmas, I found the giant Webster’s dictionary, several paperweights, and an assortment of other large hardcover books. Underneath all of that were some “coupons” for my show tickets! The look on my face was probably priceless.

    • Janna

      My grandma would write our names on the presents in shorthand. So we never had any idea whose gifts were whose.

  • Margret

    Growing up, my favorite traditions were getting new pajamas on Christmas Eve, and then special breakfast casserole on Christmas morning after opening gifts. I was a kid who liked routine. As a married somewhat-grown-up, I’ve found that I like the fact that we’ve done something different for Christmas every year while we’re still trying to figure out what works for us. A few things that have seemed to stick (as we approach our 6th married holiday season…wait, how did that happen?!):
    -My family’s scalloped corn recipe makes an appearance at all holiday meals, because my husband loves it
    -We watch “Elf” on Thanksgiving after dinner as kind of a kick-off celebration
    -The tree goes up as soon after Thanksgiving as possible (because I LOVE Christmas decorations), and it doesn’t come down until January 7.
    -Our tree is hung upside-down from the ceiling. I have no idea how I thought of it, but we did it starting our 2nd married Christmas and it stuck. I love it! And I also love that after being in our new town for less than 6 months, we were meeting people who knew about us because they had heard about our Christmas tree. And that my office loved the idea so much that we now hang our office tree upside down too!

    • Eenie

      Please explain how exactly this happens so people can steal it!

      • Margret

        (1) It is a fake tree, we haven’t figured out how to water a real one yet :)

        (2) Screw a hook into ceiling (ours is into a beam). Then we use fishing line to hang it up. It gets strung all through the branches and looped around until it feels “right”, then just…hang it. We’ve never had any problems. Here’s a picture of last year’s tree:

        https://instagram.com/p/wDHteYS8Dr/

        • Eenie

          Love it! Thanks for sharing.

    • Lulu

      Scalloped corn! After my parents divorced, my dad’s sisters tried to make my mom’s recipe, and it was so not okay that eventually she caved and would send hers with me every time.

      • Margret

        When it is good, it is SO good. But also easy to screw up! As the years have gone on I’ve gotten WAY better at it.

  • ckd02006

    Yay holiday traditions!!

    1. When my mom had her first Christmas tree as an adult she had no ornaments at all, so every year she bought me and my sister a new ornament so that when we moved out we wouldn’t have a bare tree. It makes decorating my tree like opening a box of childhood memories. Now I share this tradition with my fiance and we buy each other ornaments every year, so we’re building our own box of holiday memories.

    2. My dad did a dramatic reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas every Christmas Eve when I was a kid, complete with different voices and the same commentary every year. It was awesome, and by now I have the whole book memorized.

    3. Holiday movies, anyone? Ours is Muppet Family Christmas–it was a TV special in the 1980s where all the Muppets AND the Sesame Street gang spend Christmas together at Fozzy Bear’s mom’s house. Classic Muppet mayhem ensues. It is not Christmas without at least one viewing, complete with singing along.

  • Lizzie

    Growing up, my family had many of the same Christmas-related traditions as others have posted already, but one I miss a lot is the cousins’ gift exchange. There are 8 grandchildren on my mom’s side, and for at least a decade we all bought little dollar-store gifts for each other and exchanged them on Christmas Eve, while we were shut in our grandma’s room so the adults could put presents under the tree. The thought we put into our little gifts was always touching, and the flurry of wrapping paper all over the floor was a fun preview of the next morning.

  • Bsquillo

    Our traditions have been changing a lot over the past several years as we learn to celebrate the holidays when more people are scattered around the country, more family members are dealing with illness, and we’re trying to split holidays between different families. But here are some of my favorite old AND new traditions:

    -getting PJs from my mom on Christmas Eve
    -White Elephant gift exchange with my husband’s large extended family
    -watching Die Hard with my husband
    -watching A Christmas Story several times with my brother during the 24-hour marathon on TV
    -watching football bowl games (surprised no one has mentioned this yet) while in a food coma
    -playing a local gig with my band where we charge a small cover, and then use that money to go on a Toys for Tots shopping spree

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Mine centers around food of course! Thus far the only tradition we really have is the ridiculous brunch I make every Christmas which features the most decadent, delicious and rich baked French toast you’ve ever tasted.

    • Danielle

      That sounds delicious! Would you mind sharing the recipe, or where you found it? Thanks :)

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        There are several recipes I use as a guide but one good one to start with is Ree Drummond’s which is on Food Network’s site. I sub out the milk and use heavy whipping cream and I do an overnight soak. For my topping, I don’t use flour like she does but just a simple brown sugar and cinnamon blend similar to what you would do for cinnamon rolls. I wish I could tell you what else I do but I’m one of those cooks who measures nothing et cetera

        • Danielle

          Thank you! OMG sounds SO DELISH! :)

      • so good!!

        try the paula deen baked French toast – my mother in law makes it every holiday, and it’s the best! haven’t given it up yet. It does use half-and-half and an over night soak and a pecan (praline) topping. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/baked-french-toast-casserole-recipe.html

        • Danielle

          Thank you! I’m gonna look that one up too.

        • Teresa

          My sister makes this one every Christmas morning–I can vouch for it’s tastiness!

    • Meg Keene

      SEND ME THAT RECIPE. We’re doing brunch this year.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        see below :-)

    • BSM

      Yum! We started the tradition of beignets for Christmas Eve brunch. Last year we made way too many, which was terrible/wonderful :)

  • Amanda

    Christmas has had a bit of a black shroud since my grandfather passed away 8 years ago, honestly. He **was** Santa Claus–he dressed up as a very, very convincing Santa at Shea Stadium for his union’s annual Christmas parties. When I was about 3 and my brother was 4, we were in line to sit on Santa’s lap, and my brother said to me, perhaps in the snarkiest tone he’s ever used, “You know Santa is just grandpa, right?” From then on, I stopped sending my letters to the North Pole, but instead sent them directly to “Grandpa-Santa.” So there’s a lot of grief around Christmas still, that we don’t exactly know how to fill.

    The thing I really look forward to now is going Christmas shopping with J. We get bundled up and spend a beautiful day in New York. I love the city around Christmas–the cooler air, the lights, the windows. Thinking about all the people we love and finding the right gift for them in little shops. Picking out our tree together and him carrying it home on the subway, which he hates. Listening to David Sedaris read the Santaland Diaries while we trim the tree. It’s a really warm, cozy time for the two of us. I’m excited to start our own family and extend that beyond the two of us.

  • jgal

    Love reading everyone’s and we have many in common:
    -Ornaments every year from parents so we have a full tree’s worth of our own
    -Beginning on our honeymoon we’ve bought an ornament for every vacation we take together, so we can reminisce when the tree goes up right after Thanksgiving
    -Christmas eve: we spend with the in-laws, we go to church around 4, then go to a restaurant nearby for an early dinner…then we go home and my husband and I open our gifts to each other. We love this because we get to slow down and really enjoy our time together and not have to worry about rushing off somewhere.
    -Christmas morning: we make a special breakfast and then call my family who we don’t see on the day of; then we head to my in-laws for a family gift exchange and we spend the day there
    -some Sunday in December: we spend Christmas with my family and do our gift exchange; this is one of the best things we’ve done because we can spread the fun out and not feel rushed having to run from place to place; also my family is really awesome and understanding and they don’t get hung up about the official day as long as we have a day together. We also do Thanksgiving Day with my family to strike a balance. Also, I think it helps that my family has other relatives to spend Christmas Eve and Day with, so they are not alone.
    -throughout the month we watch Christmas movies: Love Actually, Home Alone, Grinch (original animated), and many others and listen to lots of Christmas music including Trans Siberian Orchestra, Mariah Carey, NSYNC, and many many others
    -as a kid my Grandma and Great Aunt always took me to see some type of Christmas play – anything from Radio City Rockettes to other local productions, so this is something I’ve carried on and I pick a day to treat them to a Christmas play/show

  • Eh

    Our traditions are probably going to change since we just had a baby. For the past two years (and our plan for this year) we have had Christmas Eve supper at our house just the two of us (this year, the three of us). And then we spend the evening watching Christmas movies (this is a hold over from my pre-married adult years when I would watch It’s a Wonderful Life while my dad and step-mum would go to church). We wake up and have a low key Christmas morning at our house, we have breakfast and open gifts, then we call my family who we live too far away to visit during the holidays. In the afternoon we go to my in-laws for supper. Then we have another family Christmas on my husband’s side with his dad’s family another day.

    I grew up far from any extended family so we never had to leave our house for Christmases. Right now I don’t mind traveling an hour twice during the holidays to see my husband’s family but as our daughter gets older I would prefer to only do the trip once and not on Christmas Day. As a child, I loved staying home and playing with my new toys on Christmas Day. I know I am going to get a huge amount of resistance when we suggest merging the two Christmases onto one day (eg, mid-day with my husband’s parents and brother’s family and then supper with his dad’s side). My MIL and BIL love everyone getting together on Christmas Day – I have been repeatedly told that it means a lot to them that we have decided to not travel to my dad’s house for Christmas and that we travel the hour to see them.

  • KM

    Another tradition that is important to me and this time period – I always choose a child or two to buy present(s) for in a local holiday gift drive. I personally always choose the teenagers, rather than the little kids, because being a teenager in a family/foster care situation with few resources is particularly hard. I like to get that wished-for trendy item that just might make them feel more normalized/ help them feel confident they ‘belong’. We can bemoan the commercialization of holidays all we want (and I chime in to that too) but I love the emphasis on “giving” during the holiday season when it shines a light on families that really need support all year long.

  • snf100

    I love holiday traditions particularly how many of mine span generations.
    1 my grandfather carves wooden ornaments that each of his grandkids and now great-grandkids and grandkid-in-laws paint
    2 My grandfather also bakes cookie sheet sized cookies for us to decorate, and we get to throw how ever many sprinkles and toppings we want, no one can say anything
    3 I always watch the original how the Grinch stole Christmas, scrooged, a muppets christmas carol, and a charlie brown christmas, and of course a christmas story and now I make my husband join me
    4 my mom always made sure that I had new pjs on christmas eve (that has fallen by the wayside) but I am looking forward to doing it in the future with my own kids
    5 I always received a new ornament in my stocking and most years it was related to what I was doing or what had happened in the past year, my husband and I celebrate our dating anniversary in december so he always gets an ornament to commemorate the year and I can’t wait to start getting ornaments for my kids in the future
    6 We get our christmas trees the day after thanksgiving, the whole family, grandparents aunts uncles and cousins tromping through a tree farm to all find our perfect trees
    There are so many more surrounding the food we eat and the church service we attend that bring it all together for me

  • Katy

    With divorced parents my Holidays have involved a lot of driving. This will be the first year flying to my in-laws, which will be a big change!

    Some things we’ve done, some that others have mentioned: ornaments picked up on vacation, going out and cutting down a real tree at a farm and picking out an ornament for the family lady ornament exchange lunch, decorating the tree while listening to the classic christmas songs (Frank Sinatra Christmas pandora station!), Christmas cookies, having stockings full of useful things – new lotion, mascara, socks, body wash, hair ties etc. Stockings were always the thing we’d open before my parents woke up, and Santa brought us one large unwrapped gift each. That was always the crazy toy my parents would never buy us normally. My youngest sibling is 16, and to this day, “Santa” still visits my moms house. She’s still doing it, and it’s a fun way to keep that bit of magic.

  • LindsayCO

    Every Thanksgiving, my whole extended family votes on a movie that we go see together on Friday morning while everyone else is doing black Friday shopping. Then we head back to eat lots of leftovers and discuss how awesome or not so awesome the movie was. The amount of people varies from who can make it that year, but it’s something that I will keep doing every Thanksgiving and luckily, my fiance is on board with that! :)

  • Alison O

    My family was pretty mellow about holidays, and I’m the same with my partner. For Thanksgiving it’s usually just the two of us, and I make some of our favorite iconic dishes (plus Tofurkey!) and get some sparkling fruit juice. One year on Thxgiving we skipped rocks at the reservoir and then ate Skittles and Nerds for dinner because all the grocery stores were closed, and we used to eat those on our dates in the beginning of our relationship. For Christmas, we have a tree which is the most important thing for me for atmosphere and that magical quality during winter. We also have additional lights and make a point to use candles and drink festive drinks (pumpkin nog, etc) and plaly Christmas music (I like classical and early-mid 20th century classics). We’ll drive around and look at people’s lights or the foliage or decorations at fancy stores. Window shop. Overall, the thing that distinguishes holidays from not holidays are the decorations. Otherwise, my partner and I try to incorporate whimsy and gratitude and reflection and connection and specialness into every day. Why reserve it for holidays?

  • Lulu

    Appreciating more small things as I reminisce:

    We always ate lasagne on Christmas Eve. The autumn I was born, my great-grandmother died, and my grandmother and her siblings couldn’t bear to have their traditional Christmas, so one of their new traditions was an easy, low-stress, cook-ahead meal. We had so much fun because nobody was fretting over food!

    For years, my town had “Christmas Card Lane,” where a whole neighborhood did elaborate lights and each family painted an enormous wooden “card.” After Christmas Eve dinner, we’d drive and look at the lights. As we pulled back up to my grandmother’s house, we would hear jingle bells in the distance, and then we’d walk into her present-filled house having just missed Santa Claus.

    Our Santa gifts came in “brown paper packages tied up with string.” I know lots of people leave them unwrapped, but I loved unwrapping them. In contrast, my mom wrapped family gifts elaborately, in what would have ruled Pinterest had Pinterest existed. I loved sitting with her and helping make bows, then feeling the thrill of being exiled when it was time to wrap my presents.

    We also had the most heinous stockings ever seen, lovingly crocheted in the worst color schemes of the ‘70s and ‘80s. When my brother married, my mom used it as an excuse to start fresh, and I took and still adore my hideous L-shaped neon green masterpiece.

    On my dad’s side, there was an elf hat that got brought out every year, and the youngest grandchild had to wear it while s/he passed out everyone’s gifts. I hated this and found it endlessly annoying, yet I miss the silliness of it.

  • JDrives

    Every Christmas Eve for the last several years, my mom hosts Christmas Eve dinner with me and my siblings. We have a really nice dinner, drink entirely too much wine, and watch Richard Jeni’s standup “A Big Steaming Pile of Me.” We know all the punchlines but we laugh like fools every time. My siblings are sprawled throughout the state, so being able to be together and have silly family time is so precious.

    • JDrives

      Also, my sibs and I go Christmas-light-looking every year once they come into town! There’s a neighborhood that goes all out for Christmas for several blocks. We bring thermoses or stop by a coffee shop for peppermint hot chocolate, and drive through the streets Oohing and Aahing and blasting Harry Connick Jr’s Christmas album.

  • jspe

    Would love to know some creative holiday season presents for young ones that aren’t things. A membership to a kids museum (if there is one)? A college fund? The little ones in our family get so many things they won’t even notice if my wife and I don’t get them a present, but it’s important to me to show that we respect my BIL/SIL celebrating Christmas.

    • CW

      One of my great aunts could give to Heifer International on the kids behalf and send them a paper ornament of the animal given. I still have the little animal ornaments, and the legacy of giving to others at a time so full of things.

      • kcaudad

        a few family members have done this with mixed results. I think it’s best as a ‘family’ present or for older kids who ‘have everything’ and can understand giving to others who are less fortunate. also, giving to a charity that might mean more to them could be good (a local food bank, humane society, ‘sponsor’ a child from their area, etc.)

      • jspe

        love that they come with ornaments. or, heck, I could still gift an ornament and also the donation.

        • another lady

          yeah, I think it’s helpful when it comes with a small little ‘gift’ to help them understand or remember (world wild life fund does this and you can ‘sponsor a sea turtle, then get a little cookie cutter or stuffed animal or turtle trinket to give with the donation certificate.)

      • tr

        Maybe I’m just a selfish jerk (okay, I’m definitely a selfish jerk), but I’ve never been big on charitable donations in lieu of gifts.
        I mean, if you make the donation to a charity I’m passionate about, and that’s why you make it, then yeah, go right ahead. That’s awesome. But when you pick your preferred charity? Sorry, it’s no longer meaningful. I just feel like you (a) wanted a tax refund, (b) didn’t feel like shopping, and/or (c) are passive aggressively taking a dig at my lifestyle.
        If you’re going to give to charity on the kids’ behalf, make it to a cause they’re passionate about (for instance, the ASPCA for a kid who’s obsessed with dogs), and explain what that group does for the thing they’re passionate about.

    • Eenie

      My grandma bought us Coco-cola stock every year (she loves coke). It was still a material thing, but we’d get our stock statements printed on red paper and put under the tree every year. It helped me understand about the stock market a little bit. It was about $50 per grand kid, she’d save the money up and purchase them throughout the year so we each had a different amount of stock. By the time she passed away and my mom cashed them out for us, I had quite a bit and it went towards a trip I went to Peru shortly after her death.

      • kcaudad

        grandparents can do the college savings plans. otherwise, you could do a bank bond or CD that matures on their 18th birthday year, or money towards a college fund, etc.

      • jspe

        That’s so smart! I switched the words and read “$50 grand per kid” and started dreaming how I would spend my money if I had enough to give each niece/nephew $50K each year, but, uh…yeah. love it.

        • Eenie

          OMG I wish. My grandmother also sent everyone in college $50 a month with a nice handwritten card. I loved getting that money because she told us not to save it and make sure to spend it on fun things with friends. She never lived near us, but she was my only living grandparent and did make an effort to be involved in our lives. I’ve considered doing this for our nieces and nephews but I don’t think I can swing it. I plan on getting them books instead or a check for some amount with the cents = to their age.

      • Beck

        I’m an elementary school teacher, and I always hint at the idea of giving a magazine subscription to kids as a holiday gift. I remember eagerly awaiting the next issue of my favorite magazines to come as a kid (and I still do as an adult). Some high quality kids’ mags: Ranger Rick, National Geographic, and American Girl (the first two have different versions for littler and bigger kids)

        • Louise

          YES! I agree! (also an elementary teacher…) Cricket magazines are great too– we got Ask for our niece recently.

    • Ashlah

      Last year I gave my husband a state parks pass. I don’t know how old your family’s kiddos are, and if they would even understand what that is, but it’s an idea the whole family could enjoy together.

      • jspe

        great idea!

    • kcaudad

      I have 8 neices and nephews who get TONS of toys each year from their grandparents. we have done the following ‘experience’ gifts with good results: museum memberships, park passes (state, city, etc.), movie passes/gift cards, gift cards to favorite ‘family friendly’ restaurants, gift card to local ice cream shop (or other ‘special treat’ place they like), book where you record yourself reading a story to the kids, personalized items with pictures (mug with their face on it, pillow with a picture of you and them from an event, etc.)

      • jspe

        love these!

    • Jenny

      Depending on if they have it already, I loved getting day passes to the gym that had a pool, or a punch card to the pool.

      Also, depending on the age of the kids, I like the idea of having the present some one on one time with you to shop for a gift to give to toys for tots, or something similar.

    • Louise

      My husband and I struggle with this for our nieces and nephews… we love them and want to show them that, but they get SO much stuff on Christmas, they too would not notice. We haven’t come up all winners, but we did a magazine subscription for my niece that seemed to be appreciated (and comes throughout the year, when the rest of the gifts are less shiny and new),

  • JC

    This one is pricey, but my family loves to go to the theatre during the holiday season. Sometimes it’s traditional, like the Nutcracker or a live performance of A Christmas Carol. Last year, we went to our local theatre’s production of Mary Poppins, which was so magical, I was in tears. We also tend to schedule these outings for the days after Christmas because 1. They are cheaper then and 2. We celebrate the religious season of Christmas, which is twelve days, not just one. Reason 2 only applies to some here, but Reason 1 applies to all, and I heartily recommend supporting your local community theatre!

  • Audrey

    Ooh, my friend has a holiday tradition of (a week or two before everyone goes out of town) inviting his friends over to view holiday episodes of old TV shows. I look forward to it every year – it’s one of the best non-family traditions I’ve been a part of.

    • Audrey

      Another set of friends make cannolis for Christmas and we sometimes come over and help. It’s pretty time consuming when you do it from scratch, rolling out the dough and frying and everything. But so tasty and nice for when you’re tired of cookies!

  • Bsquillo

    For a totally non-religious holiday tradition….WHO IS EXCITED ABOUT THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE THIS DECEMBER?!

    • Yaaaasss husband and I have already made plans to see it on Christmas day. We’re buying tickets ahead of time so we have a hard time we have to leave family functions. So much yes.

    • Lisa

      STAR WARS!!!! I’m buying tickets for the midnight showing!

    • YESSSSSSSSSSS

  • Carolyn S

    My dad died when I was 20, which is right around the time that I think a lot of families Christmas/holiday traditions start changing anyway as everyone marries and moves away (ours holiday is Christmas so I’ll just be referring to that one from this point). Our Christmas tradition has therefore been next to non-existing for the past 10 years (not that we haven’t celebrated, but it’s been hosted all over, had differing levels of attendance, inconsistent gift rules, very little consistent TRADITION) Truthfully I haven’t minded, but I think it’s because we’ve all been so sensitive to everyone’s feelings that we all just settle for whatever is the most convenient. My husband, on the other hand, has celebrated Christmas at his parents home every single year since birth. I’ve participated in it once (it was awesome), then we celebrated separately the next year (families are in different, far-apart cities). This is our first married Christmas and we will be going to his parents for a week. I’m looking forward to this, but also reading this feed has me thinking about how we can start building some new family traditions for us while we squeeze around our families for the rest of the season. Between the two of us we don’t even own a single Christmas ornament.

    • Eh

      My mother passed away when I was 18 and Christmas was her holiday. The first few years Christmas wasn’t the same. A few years later as me and my siblings got married and my dad remarried we developed new traditions. Our Christmases look totally different now than they did when I was a child.

      Getting married is a great time to start some new traditions!

  • Anybody have any favorite traditions for Thanksgiving? It’s my favorite holiday, but my family never really got into it when I was growing up. This year will be the first year my husband and I are hosting, and I’m really looking forward to starting some of our very own traditions! Extra points for suggestions for how to foster magic and wonder around the table.

    • M.

      The best things I’ve ever done on Thanksgiving (only once each, but made an impression) were 1) a local turkey trot with my mom and step-dad, and 2) In grad school, a friend hosted a few of us who couldn’t go home. His family had a tradition that each person’s place setting had 3 popcorn kernels on it. Before dinner, everyone went around and said three things they were thankful for. It was lovely and emotional — I actually cried (it had been a hard year), and he said people often get a little verklempt. But it was really, really nice and added some…vulnerability and closeness and love that I had never really felt the way I grew up with Thanksgiving (standard parade, dog show, food, hanging out with family friends).

    • J

      Not to be a Thanksgiving grinch, but can I draw an analogy between how weird and isolating “secular Christmas” feels for some Jews and how “secular Thanksgiving” feels for some Native people? In my family, we def spend the day cooking and eating and enjoying each other, but we call it Thanks-taking and make sure to read a Jimmie Durham poem (or I think something by Leslie Marmon Silko one year) at grace. The Durham poem goes like this:

      In school I was taught the names
      Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro and
      A dozen other filthy murderers.
      A bloodline all the way to General Miles,
      Daniel Boone and General Eisenhower.

      No one mentioned the names
      Of even a few of the victims.
      But don’t you remember Chaske, whose spine
      Was crushed so quickly by Mr. Pizarro’s boot?
      What words did he cry into the dust?
      What was the familiar name
      Of that young girl who danced so gracefully
      That everyone in the village sang with her–
      Before Cortez’ sword hacked off her arms
      As she protested the burning of her sweetheart?
      That young man’s name was Many Deeds,
      And he had been a leader of a band of fighters
      Called the Redstick Hummingbirds, who slowed
      The march of Cortez’ army with only a few
      Spears and stones which now lay still
      In the mountains and remember.

      Greenrock Woman was the name
      Of that old lady who walked right up
      And spat in Columbus’ face. We
      Must remember that, and remember
      Laughing Otter the Taino who tried to stop
      Columbus and was taken away as a slave.
      We never saw him again.

      In school I learned of heroic discoveries
      Made by liars and crooks. The courage
      Of millions of sweet and true people
      Was not commemorated.

      Let us then declare a holiday
      For ourselves, and make a parade that begins
      With Columbus’ victims and continues
      Even to our grandchildren who will be named
      In their honor.

      Because isn’t it true that even the summer
      Grass here in this land whispers those names,
      And every creek has accepted the responsibility
      Of singing those names? And nothing can stop
      The wind from howling those names around
      The corners of the school.

      Why else would the birds sing
      So much sweeter here than in other lands?

    • Jenny

      My family does a Turkey trot in the morning. We’ve bounced around from houses and places for Thanksgiving, so traditions never stuck all that well, but my mom and I always do one, even the Thanksgivings we’ve spent apart. It’s my husband’s favorite holiday, so I make sure we have party potatoes and pumpkin pie for him no matter what house we have. We also make a pretty concerted effort at not letting obligations or stress come into play. It’s meant for the last few years saying, we are doing Thanksgiving here at our house, everyone is welcome. I also like to set the table and use our serving dishes and table clothes and candles and candlesticks.

  • Anon

    To be perfectly honest I don’t have a lot of happiness associated with my childhood Christmas/holiday season. Mom was very rigid and demanded perfection for every detail, so much so that it became a burden.
    Now as a married person I try to reclaim the holidays a little bit more every year and I’m trying to figure out what I want it look like for me. I want it to be stress-free, beautifully imperfect, restful and happy. That means I say no to attending some of the things I’m invited to. It means not buying lots of things. I started crafting my own ornaments last year, so I’ll begin working on something for this year’s tree soon.
    At work our department has opted not to exchange gifts. We usually pick up letters written to Santa at the Post Office and pick ones that sound like they come from needy families. Then as a group we buy the gifts on their lists (usually warm clothes and new shoes, or even groceries). Then the post office delivers the gifts for us as if they are from Santa. It’s been a really rewarding experience we look forward to doing every year.
    Christmas day will be sleeping in, exchanging of gifts, and no visiting. (We celebrate with family on Christmas Eve) There will be a dog walk to see Christmas lights and something simmering in the crock pot we can eat all day so I don’t have to cook. Oh, and since you reminded me the holidays are almost here…I’ll begin listening to holiday music tonight for the commute home. :)

  • Anon

    This is my first year celebrating the holidays since getting married, and one tradition I hope to “borrow” from my parents that they said they used to do when they were first married, is write down a bunch of silly predictions about the year ahead, about themselves, their friends, etc., then they would hold on to it for a year and open it at the next New Year’s Eve!

  • Suzanne

    I grew up in a jewish family, although my mom converted. We didn’t have a tree for the first 8 years or so but sometimes did Christmas with friends or her side of the family. We always did Hannukah though. 8 nights of latkes every night. As far as present go, my sister and I were given small things like socks, pajamas, notebooks etc, one a night, until the last night when we got 1 big present each ( an American girl doll, or a new violin case). I always preferred that to getting piles of stuff.

    Then after my parents divorced, my mom missed the family traditions around Christmas and she also started dating people who weren’t jewish so we started do Christmas with a tree and dinner, the whole deal. My sister and I had a really hard time with this. It wasn’t our holiday and we felt like we were forced to celebrate with our mom’s deadbeat boyfriends. So… I have some issues surrounding Christmas.

    Now, I’m married to a french man who isn’t jewish but whose whole family is atheist. They still do a Christmas dinner but it’s very much Christmas lite. Barely any decorations, no carols, no mass, no santa, just a ridiculously long Christmas Eve dinner (8pm to2am) and a few presents exchanged at midnight. So since I like food and wine, I’m happy to join in.

    But it’s true that holidays are tricky and while we don’t have kids yet, I know that they will be 10x more complicated when we do.

  • the cupboard under the stairs

    Some of my favorite fall/holiday traditions:

    -Drinking large quantities of TJs Spiced Cider, both hot and cold
    -Eating Thanksgiving dinner a day late (I’ve done this for nearly a decade; it’s a great way to avoid the grocery store rush AND Black Friday simultaneously)
    -Nighttime Christmas-light-scoping walks with hot chocolate & peppermint schnapps
    -Attending a Christmas choral concert (if it’s expensive, I volunteer to usher and get in for free!)
    -Eating my dad’s clam chowder on Christmas Eve
    -Listening to The Nutcracker while decorating the tree
    -Going for a Christmas morning walk on the beach
    -December 26th white elephant party with the extended family
    -Late-night gossiping with my mom over tea and leftover cookies

  • Rhiannon

    My family have a traditon that the even if the tree is decorated the star doesn’t go on the tree until the last person is home for Christmas and that person gets to put it on top. My brother couldn’t come home last year so when we Skyped him on Christmas morning we put the Star on top of the tree. Even thoug he couldn’t be there in person it still felt special.
    This year will be the first time my partner and I spend Christmas morning together in our first home (eventhough we have actually been together 8 1/2 years.) We’re taking a trip to Bath Christmas Market the first week of December so I’m going to suggest that we choose an ornament for our tree together – It would be lovely to do this every year.

  • tggsm

    This might get lost at this point, but I found a possibly great picture book about celebrations this time of year. (I’m a children’s librarian at a public library, and I order books for young children for a living! Among other things.) The book is called Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman (http://www.amazon.com/Over-River-Through-Wood-Adventure/dp/1454910240). Initially I thought it was a Thanksgiving book, but it actually never mentions any particular holiday. It’s a rhyming story about a grandma and grandpa who invite their children and grandchildren over to their house for “the holidays” and the various family units (racially diverse, one with a pair of dads) make their way there by car/train/plane/boat but all end up being rescued by a horse and sleigh. The big group arrives at Grandma and Grandpa’s for warmth, socializing, a big meal (no turkey that I could see), and lots of pie. There is snow on the ground and a string of white lights on the house, but otherwise there aren’t any markers of a specific holiday. Hope that helps someone!

    • Amanda Simpson

      Yes! I just picked up this book and plan to use it for Thanksgiving and Christmas prep. I love it and hope the baby will grow to love it too.

  • Dana

    Every Christmas Eve, we would all sit around drinking hot chocolate and eating Christmas cookies listening to my dad read the Night Before Christmas. Then in the morning we would wake up early and open our presents before having a big breakfast and getting dressed up to go to my Grandparent’s house. There were 5 of us kids and money was tight but we have so many great memories. Now that I’m married with kids of my own, we go to church on Christmas Eve and come home and eat Christmas cookies and hot chocolate while reading the Night Before Christmas. We open our family presents on Christmas Eve(as is tradition in my husband’s family) and the Santa ones on Christmas Day while eating powdered donuts before hitting the road to my in laws house. Some of my traditions, some of his and some of our own(the donuts).

  • Nat

    My whole connection to tradition is somewhat odd. I grew up in poverty with alcoholic parents.We didn’t have very much any time of the year and Christmas was no better. It was hardly ever brought up. The only presents I ever received were from the school principal or the Salvation Army. Thanksgiving was spent at the local firehouse. When I started dating my partner, I was very overwhelmed by her family’s holidays. They were very extravagant. I tried to force myself through it, without telling her how hard it was for me. That failed miserably and I ended up having panic attacks. The next two years, we pretty much hung at home with her going to her family alone some, that 2nd year was the best Christmas I had ever had. Last year, we ventured to her sister’s house for dessert on Thanksgiving and her parents on Christmas Day. We only stay for 2 hours max and go at a less hectic time. Everyone is real accepting of me. We are doing the same this year. We still spend a lot of time alone, watching sappy movies and eating cookies. That is my favorite tradition.This is our 5th Christmas together, 3rd living together and 1st as a married couple!

  • Lauren

    Every year on Christmas morning, my family cooks and eats a big breakfast together before unwrapping a single present. I like it because, food, but also because I think it helps us focus on what’s important about the day: loving and appreciating each other and our time together. Then when we do get to pour out our stockings and unwrap our gifts, we can be even more thankful for what the gifts represent – love from our family members.

  • Riot

    This year, the one I’m looking forward to most is a new one we’re starting. It’s our first Christmas with just the two of us, and I’m very excited. I read that on Christmas Eve in Iceland, everyone gives each other books – then they all go to bed with their books and chocolates. That sounds perfect. And second-hand books are $1 or $2, so this year, we’ll each be giving each other a book and some sort of chocolate on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, we intend to do exactly what we want, not what our mothers would do. I’m thinking platters we can nibble on all day, and maybe a Christmas movie. We have summer Christmases, so warm food isn’t required. No trying to cook a roast lamb (my mom) or turkey (his mom), as much as we love those. This Christmas is all about the two of us. We’re finally living together after four years of long distance, so I’m reeeeaaallly looking forward to this. Oh, and I’m making an edible Christmas tree out of Ferrrero Rocher chcolates – something tells me it won’t last long :)

  • LTurtle

    We don’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah anymore, because we’re atheists and it made us uncomfortable. We celebrate the Solstice and the weeks leading up to it. Having come up with our new traditions myself, or at least chosen them deliberately, I’ve given this a lot of thought.
    During the weeks leading up to the Solstice my kids get a small gift every morning, during the day we do a special family activity, and in the evening we light a candle. On the morning of the solstice we exchange gifts and have a brunch feast. That evening we invite friends and family over to join us in lighting candles and eating festive foods.
    On Christmas Day we just stay home in our pajamas and relax. It’s really nice to not have any obligations.
    Other things we do sometime during the holiday season; sort out the clothes/toys/books my kids have outgrown during the year and donate them to charity, enjoy a caroling party with extended family, decorate the house with lights and greenery, lots of baking. We mostly exchange homemade gifts, so we also tend to spend a lot of time making things and thinking/talking about making others happy.

  • Louise

    Well, I’m late to the party, but I love this topic, so I’m weighing in anyways… My favorite traditions are the small, informal ones. Every Christmas Eve, my husband and I have dinner with my dad and then go over to his parents house to stay the night so we can spend the morning with them. BUT, they usually are at his sister’s for a few hours after we arrive, so we have drinks in the hot tub and its just a lovely moment of peace in the marathon that is holidays with divorced parents and local in-laws. We usually raid his parents’ liquor cabinet, as one does, and I have spiked hot chocolate with whipped cream (because his mom has always made some by then for the next morning) and he has some fancy whiskey. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holidays, and it now shows up in our stockings for each other – he gets a little bottle of fancy whisky and I get a little box of fancy hot chocolate. My other favorite tradition is that there is almost always live music at my family’s celebration. My uncle, cousin and brother often spend the day jamming. It’s awesome, and is why I asked my uncle and cousin to play our processional and recessional at our wedding. But what really makes me feel like its the holiday season is the making. I love making gifts for people, so I start early and I love thinking about the person I’m making for while I’m making, etc. I also love enabling the making. Last year, we were living in India and didn’t go home for Christmas, but leading up to the holiday, our friends used our apartment as a workshop for the dollhouse they were making their daughter. So we got to help and watch as it came to life for a few weeks before the holiday, and imagine how their amazing 3 year old would react when she saw it. This felt WAY more like Christmas to me than the Christmas markets we visited or the beautiful displays and lighted decorations we saw in Europe.

    I guess what really makes something feel meaningful for me (this became painfully apparent while living abroad for a few years) is the history I have with it. My parents often made awesome gifts for me and my brother, so of course hand-crafting feels like the most authentic holiday activity to me… which, more to the point of the post, I guess could help me understand with how difficult it would be to be forced to celebrate or be surrounded by a holiday that you have no history or connection with, because its pretty much the exact opposite of how I enjoy my holidays. I can’t imagine how complicated it is to be negotiating this time of year as an interfaith family. I can empathize with having many different stakeholders involved in a holiday, but when their idea of celebrating feels inauthentic or alienating to your or your spouse… yikes. I am sure you will over time come up with some pretty amazing, creative solutions.

  • Jenna

    I only have three that really matter to me. One is putting up a Christmas tree, even if where I live it has to be artificial and apartment-sized (it’s about 5 feet tall). The tree must go up no earlier than the weekend after Thanksgiving and no later than December 18. Another is stockings – we don’t need to exchange big gifts but stockings are a must. And finally, Christmas cookies. The only year I didn’t bake Christmas cookies was the year my mom passed away.

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