When I was a kid, we didn’t have any family holiday traditions beyond putting up a tree and exchanging presents. I’m an only child, raised by a single parent who had no close family. So when I say family, it was just her and I, and”exchanging” presents meant my mom giving gifts to me, and me giving her something I made in school. Like the ceramic mushroom, or the rock painted like a lady bug. Some years Christmas dinner was just us two, some years friends would have us. Once we went to a restaurant.

I suppose that’s why, when I had my own family, doing something big and predictable every year seemed pretty important. My husband and I started some of our own traditions, too. I’ll be waiting to see if they make it to the next generation.

Bowties

I married into a large, Italian family, with a long history of traditions and gathering together, but once my husband’s family branch grew to 15 of us (his parents, siblings, and the various offspring), we broke off from the larger crowd. We carried some of the traditions with us, like a large family dinner together, including the requisite “bowtie” pasta (farfalle with bolognese sauce) alongside the turkey or roast beef. I became the designated pasta-bringer.

One Special Ornament

Before we married, my husband had decided to get a new ornament for his daughter each year. We met when she was 2, and this thoughtful idea is part of what charmed me about him. After a divorce, he didn’t have much in the way of ornaments, so this idea was his way of filling the tree, and of creating a collection for her that he could give her when she started putting up her own tree. The year we met, her ornament was a plastic shark filled with tiny candies. It still hangs on our tree many years later, and not one of the candies has been eaten.

As our family grew, we refined the idea, trying to find ornaments that tied to something meaningful that year. Three kids and a lot of years means our tree now overfloweth with those ornaments. It turns out none of the kids want to take their ornaments to their own houses. They want to see them at the family base. Can’t say that hurts my feelings. 🙂

Evidence of Santa

When the kids were little, we put no gifts under the tree until they were asleep on Christmas eve, and whatever “prime” gift was being given was built that night, usually into the wee hours. (I want to say here, *I* did ALL the building, wrapping, bows and tags. Hubs kept me company by snoring on the sofa.)

When they passed the age of Little Tykes golf carts in favor of video games, the late night building turned to other “midnight miracles.” Notes from Santa indicating he knew something particular about the kid were not uncommon. One year I sewed a big red felt bag and left it stuffed in the fireplace. Another year, my youngest had asked for a North Pole snowball. (He was starting to disbelieve in Santa. This was a test.) When he awoke, he found a plate of water and a note from Santa, apologizing for the snowball having melted. I don’t know if that bought one more year of belief, but he played along like it did,. The following year he got a glitter encrusted “magic” snowball that would never melt. Santa never forgets.

The Movie

When 3 am gift wrapping gave way to normal eves—which meant I wasn’t a walking zombie on Christmas day anymore—the by then early-teens introduced a new tradition. Because our dinner celebration at Auntie’s was late in the afternoon, they wanted to take in a movie beforehand, and so that tradition was born. And not a nice wholesome holiday flick. We’ve seen Tarantino films, R-rated comedies, and the pinnacle two years ago, The Force Awakens. It’s going to be a battle this year. Star Wars? Thor? The Mountain Between Us? Personally, I’m voting for Hemsworth (my favorite Chris) or Idris.

The Newest and Not-So-Greatest: The Shot-ski

I’m not so keen on this one, but it involves a new son-in-law, a shot-ski, and cheap scotch, so I can hardly say no. Besides, when my 80-year old mother-in-law joined in, I had to do my part. This year, though, in honor of becoming a published author, I acquired a bottle of Writers Tears Irish Whiskey. If I have to take a shot on Christmas Day, at least I can insist on drinking something meaningful. Sláinte mhaith! 

I’d love to hear what you do that’s slightly off the traditional track. Share your favorite family tradition in the comments. You never know, you might give someone else a wonderful idea.

Happy Holidays to those who celebrate, and for those who don’t, may you find peace and gratification in the New Year.

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