Holiday Traditions

by kellie abrahamson
In this economy, getting into the Christmas spirit can be tricky. Over the years the holidays have become more and more about presents and less about spending time with family. So instead of getting your holly jollies by picking out a mountain of gifts, wrapping them in the finest wrapping paper and placing them under your 1000 watt tree, give your credit card a break and take a cue from our forefathers. They relished this time of year for the right reasons and built lasting family memories that did not include a new Xbox. Slow down, savor the season and make these fun (and frugal) activities your family’s new holiday tradition.

Around my house I’m usually the one who makes all of the holiday decor decisions. This year, though, we’re mixing it up and the whole family will have a hand in beautifying our home. Instead of driving up our electric bill with a ton of Christmas lights, the kids will be breaking out their glue sticks and construction paper to create a wintery scene for our front door. The tree will also be more creative this year- we plan on decking it out with homemade ornaments that speak to who we are as individuals and as a family. My daughter, for instance, loves animals, so her ornaments will no doubt be doe-eyed kittens and puppies, whereas my son’s contribution will consist of roaring dinosaurs and crudely-drawn images of Spider-Man. But we’ll also make ornaments from snapshots we took at family outings throughout the year by simply punching a hole in the top and tying it on the tree with ribbon. Most importantly, though, we’ll be setting aside time to do all of our decorating together so that everyone has a say and everyone can take pride in what we come up with.

When I was a kid every Christmas Eve my mother would tuck me and my sister into bed and read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. Today I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in 1987, but I vividly remember curling up in bed and listening to my mom, in her most animated, story-telling voice, recount one family’s encounter with Old St. Nick. Make those memories with your kids by reading them holiday stories. If you don’t have Moore’s classic on hand, dust off the old Bible and read the Nativity (Luke 2) or search out your copy of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You can make it a one night thing, like my mom did, or read a different story each night leading up to the big day. Either way, you’ll be starting a beloved holiday tradition and fostering in your child a love of reading. Bonus!

So not everyone has what it takes to be the next American Idol, but during the holidays that doesn’t matter. Turn off the TV and turn on the radio for a goofy, and yes slightly cheesy, classic Christmas sing-a-long. Better yet, grab a few equally silly friends or extended family members and go caroling around your neighborhood. No really, I’m serious. As dorky as it may be to stand on someone’s lawn and sing ‘Jingle Bells’ it’s also an unforgettable way to spend a fun-filled evening with the ones you love.

Why do people kiss under mistletoe? What does the Christmas tree symbolize? Who was St. Nicholas anyway? We celebrate the holidays with these icons but most people have no idea why. Find out as a family. Take one standard holiday tradition- the hanging of stockings, for example- and find out its origins. Then gather the family and, as you hang your stockings, tell them the who, what, when, where and whys of that tradition. There are countless strange customs we perform each Christmas so you’ll be able to take on one each year, making it a tradition in itself.
Another way to incorporate learning into the holiday season is to celebrate like people from around the world. Track down a recipe for Tourtiore, a traditional holiday dish from French Canada, and serve some up on Christmas Eve. Leave a seat at the table empty for travelers like they do in Poland. Do like families in Germany and hide a pickle ornament in your Christmas tree (the kid who finds it on Christmas morning gets an extra gift- strange but true). Incorporating another culture’s traditions into your own can be a fun way to add a little something extra to your celebration. For more ideas, visit

Last but certainly not least, the holidays are a time for giving and what better way to celebrate than to donate your time to one of the many charities in need this season. Find an organization you care about and volunteer your time as a family. If you’ve got small children, bake some cookies and take them to your local firehouse or police station on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning (yes, they’re open and yes, they too need some holiday cheer). Finally, teach your kids the joy of giving by gathering outgrown, gently-used playthings and donating them to children in need. Local shelters, churches and organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army can put those toys to good use, just be sure to call ahead to see if their accepting donations.