While Redefining The Holidays, I wrote that my family has some traditions that we’ve kept through the years, even as my sister and I have grown and moved across the country in opposite directions.
We eat creamed eggs (and ham for non-vegetarians) on Christmas Eve. Does that sound like a strange meal? It was once a Christmas morning tradition, where we’d have creamed eggs for breakfast after opening presents. But then the extended family changed our gathering from evening to morning, and we didn’t get a chance to have creamed eggs for breakfast. So we moved it to Christmas Eve.
When my sister and I were just entering our teens, we decided we needed a new tradition. Long after Santa was discovered, we made a tradition that after our creamed eggs and ham, we would all sit together in front of the fire and pass around ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, each of us reading one stanza before we pass it to the next person. I remember once my grandmother called long distance while we were just beginning to read, and she joined us, reading stanzas from her copy in New Mexico.
The tradition continued long after my sister and I left the house for college. When significant others made it home with us, they joined in the tradition. Sometimes one or both of us didn’t make it for Christmas, so we conferenced in via telephone, I in New York or Los Angeles, my sister in St. Louis.
After we read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, we each open one present from beneath the tree. And then we either go off to bed, or – more likely – we spend some time getting our presents together for the next day’s celebration.
They are simple traditions, but there is comfort in tradition, isn’t there? Sure, sometimes we groan about reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, but in truth it brings us all together in the present, as it reminds us of good times in the past.
Ten Simple, Frugal, and Fun Holiday Traditions
1. Attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service at your church – children love this. Or light a menorah or kinara each evening. Or light a peace candle and place it in the window at sundown. Remember that the ceremony is as important as the candle – make sure to infuse the lighting with meaning and significance.
2. Work on creating your family tree together. Each year, get together and research another generation of your family tree. You might create a scrapbook for this purpose. Add stories and anecdotes if you have them or can find them. Read favorite past stories to youngsters and new members of the family.
3. Make holiday gifts together: eg, cookies, fudge, marmalade, jars of spices or seeds, calendars, salts, soap, bubble bath or bath salts, candles, sachets, knitting projects, sewing projects, dried soup mixes, coupons for experiences/services, your family’s traditional homemade foods (eg, frozen tamales, cannolis), and so on.
4. Make holiday decorations together: trim the boughs with holly and cedar, create bread dough ornaments, string popcorn and raw cranberries, make a wreath from plants in the garden, make pine-scented candles or potpourri vessels, build a homemade gingerbread house.
5. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food bank. While this is a good tradition to have other times of the year as well, in the Northern Hemisphere the holidays are the coldest time of year – when more homeless people need the warmth and safety of shelter and good meals. This experience leaves a lasting impression on many children – suddenly meals, shelter, and gifts are not taken so much for granted.
6. Decorate wrapping paper together. Collect newspapers, magazines, used printer paper, paper bags, and other reusable paper. Then use holiday stamps, crayons, ink, scissors, and whatever else strikes your fancy – to personalize your wrapping paper together.
7. Redistribute the wealth together. If your family can afford to somehow help another family who is less well-off, get together and figure out the best way to help. Could you give the other family much-needed gifts? Invite them over for dinner? Make them some homemade frozen meals they can pop into the oven when they need them? Tutor their children in English? Help set up a scholarship fund for their children to go to school? Help parents get a job, or a better job with a livable wage? Babysit their children so the adults can have a night out together? Send the children of a parent who is serving overseas a care package? Be creative – it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it shouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Northwest Native Americans have a tradition of potlatch ceremonies, where the more wealthy families throw a big feast and give gifts for those who are less well off. There is no expectation for the gifts to return – the return is the feeling that you have given what you can to help others. But even if you don’t feel wealthy right now, remember there is someone else out there who is less well-off than you. Give what you can – even if it is time and/or experience, it can be very helpful to others more in need.
8. Play games together. Dig out that old Scrabble board, Boggle, Pictionary, deck of cards, or whatever you have in your basement or closet. If you don’t have any games, you can usually find them at local thrift stores and garage sales for cheap. Then spend the evening drinking eggnog and playing games!
9. Sit in front of the fire and take turns reading a book together. It can be ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, like my family (above). It can be a favorite family story, or a new book each year. And if there are family members who can’t make it home for the holidays, call them on the phone and make them a part of this tradition.
10. Reflect on the past year and make plans for the new year together. What would you have done differently if you could? What will you chance about yourself and your work as you move forward into the new year? What goals did you reach this past year, and what will you strive to reach in the coming year? How can those around you help you with your new goals, your new journey? How can you support one another to reach these new goals?
Please Share Your Own Traditions!
I find it incredibly useful to hear what others are doing to create traditions and consistency throughout the holidays. So… please add to this list!