Holiday Traditions

This post comes out of a recent conversation with friends over coffee, in which we were talking about our respective families’ traditions for the Christmas season and where those traditions came from.

  • Food: we cook much more frequently over the Christmas break than during the rest of the year, where by “cook” I mean really cook (as in make stuff that takes more time than we would normally have during a typical day). A big part of this is tied to work schedules: the lab where I work shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s Day each year and I usually bracket that with additional personal leave to stretch it even longer. This is something we’ve just sort of grown into over the past 10 years or so.
  • The Christmas tree: usually up around mid-December (these days tied to Ian’s arrival home from school) and down on the 1st or 2nd of January. My least favorite tradition, truth be told.
  • Christmas music: we almost always have some sort of Christmas or holiday-ish music playing during this same period, with “The Andy Williams Christmas Album” occupying a special place in the play list as the most important. I remember listening to this each year as a kid, and at some point we ended up with it on CD. Cheesy, but still my favorite Christmas album (probably as much for the memories as for the actual music).
  • Baking Christmas goodies: my fudge, Ian’s peppermint strips, sugar cookies (most decorated, of course), Deb’s pecan fingers, holiday breads. Some to eat, lots to share and give as gifts. This is something both Deb’s and my families did as we were growing up.
  • Clam chowder and candlelight church on Christmas Eve: the clam chowder part is from my family; we both grew up going to church on Christmas eve.
  • Hot chocolate and cookies before bed on Christmas Eve: something my family always did after coming home from church.
  • Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning: this is something my mom did some years as I was growing up, and I love getting up early on Christmas morning and making them for my family.
  • Christmas stockings before breakfast on Christmas morning, opening gifts after breakfast: definitely from my family, rather than Deb’s. Stockings were always one of my favorite parts of Christmas growing up, and still are. The challenge at this point is convincing Li to let Ian sleep until something he would consider a “reasonable” hour (maybe a little after 8:00 am, these days).
  • The bibliophilic elf: each year, each of us gets a book from a certain literature-loving elf, something we started about 10 years ago. This tradition is one of our own.
  • Jigsaw puzzles: more from Deb and Deb’s family than mine. Deb always gets a puzzle started and everyone helps, whether it is looking for a piece or two as they walk by, or pulling up a chair and sitting down for an extended period of time to work on it. There is almost always a puzzle or two under the tree for all of us each year, and we often work through half a dozen or more before the puzzle table gets put away.

We also tend to play lots of board and card games, and we tend to stay up late watching movies (or, the past couple years, binge-watching something Ian has found like “Firefly” or “Battlestar Galactica”), but I’m not sure those have yet reached what I would consider full tradition status. We also almost always spend a few days with my parents and with Deb’s parents somewhere during time around Christmas, either here or at their respective homes; again, part of our typical Christmas Season but not necessarily what I would call tradition.

 I’ve thought about some of these things this Christmas, given a conversation with Deb back in mid-December when we were talking about Christmas. There is actually quite a bit about “Christmas” I really don’t like: the busyness, shopping, unwanted obligations or things we do just because we feel like we ought to or are expected to (we all have them, right?), dicey travel conditions, the clutter, the overly-commercial aspect that Christmas has taken on. The parts I really like are the time spent together as a family (all of us home from work and school) and the food (the eating but even more so the preparation together). Some of that almost certainly comes through in looking at what we’ve turned into our family traditions.