Christmas is definitely, in my book, the MOST wonderful time of the year. I’ve loved it ever since I can remember, but for so much more than the gifts. I loved the smells, the sense of love all around me, and my family’s traditions.
I’m pretty sure I got my obsession with Christmas from my mom. She went all out with decorations, cookie baking, finding new Christmas movies to watch, etc. She loved Christmas and everything it meant for our family. Sadly, just after the Christmas of 1993, she passed away from cancer.
I think my love for the holiday grew even stronger, surprisingly, after her passing. It’s since been one of the hardest times of the year for me, but I continue to make the most of it and cherish everything about it. I refuse to let my sadness get in the way of the Christmas spirit. It’s important to me that my mom’s favorite holiday carries on, as do our traditions she had a hand in starting. They make me feel as close to her as I possibly can.
I felt inspired to write this post as I was decorating the Christmas tree with my two kids last weekend, simply because I love hearing about other families’ traditions around the holidays and I thought you might want to read about mine too. Don’t forget to tell me all about yours in a comment below, or on social media [links are over on the sidebar] – I’m all ears!
My Favorite Family Christmas Traditions
These traditions started when I was a child and are now ones I pass onto my kids. They’ve changed a bit over the years, expectedly so, but they always help me reminisce about Christmases of the past.
Finding and Decorating the Tree
Then: My family went to a tree farm every year where you could cut your own tree and then come inside for hot chocolate and cookies. I loved everything about that place and our yearly visits.
My mom was serious about getting the Christmas tree decorated a couple of days before Christmas. She and my dad would get it set up and bring out all our ornaments. Then, my brothers and I would line up and take turns putting ornaments, one at a time, on the tree. We’d rotate who got to help my dad put our angel on the tree each year (my mom had a list!).
Now: My kids haven’t yet had the experience of a real tree because there aren’t any tree farms within a 45-minute distance from my house. We have an artificial tree that I string colorful lights and garland onto to make it look like the real thing.
I usually get it ready to decorate the day after Thanksgiving. My kids each put on their special ornaments from every Christmas, and I help move around the ones that end up clumped, thanks to my youngest who sees a spot and laser-focuses all his attention on that spot for every ornament. We always have Christmas music playing on the TV as we decorate.
Then: My mom’s side of the family is 100% Polish, so a lot of the cookies we used to bake together were family recipes of Polish tradition. A week or so before Christmas, my mom would make her list of cookies she wanted to bake, go shopping for the ingredients, and we’d spend the whole day working on them (and eating them).
Now: My daughter and I have been making Christmas cookies together for years, and my son, who’s 6 now, joins in here and there for fun stuff like adding sprinkles and licking frosting. I don’t have the recipes my mom used to make, so I usually experiment every year with other recipes I find to see if I can get close to the ones we made together. I also have a few I make every year, like sugar cookies for the kids to decorate, peanut butter cup thumbprints, and nut butterballs (one of my all-time favorites as a kid!).
Watching Christmas Movies
Then: Remember all those claymation Christmas movies that you watched when you were a kid? Yep, I watched them too. In fact, there was even one called The Claymation Christmas Celebration that was my absolute favorite. Of course, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Clause, and Home Alone were on the list too.
From Thanksgiving through Christmas day, I remember my brothers, parents, and I all snuggled up on our couches, chairs, and bean bags with hot chocolate and blankets watching our favorites.
Now: My kids have seen a few of my childhood favorites, but I don’t own them all, so we can only watch the ones I find on my streaming services or for rent. Our annual Christmas staples are How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey version), the Santa Clause series, and a few Nick Jr. and Disney Jr. holiday compilations. We still curl up with blankets – all three of us on one couch – and have hot chocolate.
Seeing Christmas Lights
Then: My dad used to drive my brothers and me around in the car throughout our neighborhood and others nearby to look at everyone’s Christmas lights. We’d spend a good two hours doing it a few times through the season and I’d usually end up falling asleep about halfway through.
Now: It seems like fewer and fewer people put up lights now, or maybe it’s just my town, but there are a few roads near me where the neighbors compete with each other for the best decorations. I drive my kids down these roads a couple of times through the holiday season to see all the pretty lights.
Fortunately, my town makes up for the lack of house lights with its Holiday Light Show at the city courthouse. The show is incredible, filled with dancing lights and fun songs that repeat for several hours every night through the season. I bring my kids at least three times before it ends in January. My son loves to go right up by the courthouse steps and turn into a dancing machine. I love that he doesn’t care who’s watching and just does his thing.
Opening a Gift on Christmas Eve
Then: My parents picked one gift each for my brothers and me to open on Christmas Eve after we got back from visiting my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma. The gifts were usually pajamas we could wear that night or a small toy that we could play with for a little while before bedtime.
Now: I have my two kids open one gift from each other on Christmas Eve. My son visits the Secret Santa Shop at school to pick out a few gifts for his sister, and my daughter is now old enough to spend some of her own money on a couple of gifts for her brother. I love seeing them pick out the perfect presents for each other and getting so excited to exchange them on Christmas Eve.
Making a Huge Christmas Breakfast
Then: As soon as my brothers and I woke up on Christmas morning, we’d run into my parents’ bedroom and wake them up. Then, we’d run down the hall and into the living room to see what Santa brought. My parents would start working on a huge Christmas breakfast – pancakes, eggs, french toast, sausage, bacon, etc. – while we looked in our stockings. We’d open presents after we ate and cleaned up.
Now: I also call this one “Making the Kids Wait to Open Presents Because Now I’m the Mom and It’s Fun.” I do the same thing now, and it delays opening presents for a good two hours.
Seriously, I totally understand why my parents had this tradition now. We always thought it was just a way to have some togetherness before the chaos of opening presents ensued, but no – it was to make us wait in agony until we were allowed to open gifts. Well played, Mom and Dad, well played.
I want to hear all about your favorite Christmas memories as a child, or new traditions you’ve started with your kids! Leave me a comment below!
Amy is a mom of two, freelance writer, and blog manager who works with family-focused businesses to improve their content strategies. You can find her published work on Reader’s Digest Online, MSN, Niche, Frugal For Less, and other lifestyle publications.