What holiday memories do you have from your childhood? They are likely tied to family traditions. When I was growing up, my family lived far away from our extended family members, so we were almost always traveling on Christmas Day. So unlike many of my friends, whose grandparents, aunts, and uncles all lived nearby, we didn’t have the tradition of waking up at home on Christmas morning, opening presents, then heading for brunch at my grandparents’ house. Instead, we sometimes had “Christmas morning” (in other words, the opening of gifts from Santa– I mean, my parents) on an entirely different day. I remember one year when I was a teenager that we finally got around to opening presents one evening in early January– but that’s one of my more memorable holidays because it was so different.
Traditions and routines create important memories. They give everyone something to look forward to and develop unity in our families. Now that I have four young children, my husband and I are negotiating which traditions from each side of our families to incorporate with our kids. We also have to consider my husband’s work schedule–since he is a nurse, he has to work on Christmas Day every other year. Just as with my family did during my childhood, we have to be flexible on the traditions we choose.
Before moving to Indiana two years ago, I worked for a foster care agency in Colorado. Just as this can be a difficult time of year for adults (stress, family boundaries, grief), kids in out-of-home placements often have a difficult time emotionally and behaviorally during the holidays. I encouraged foster and adoptive families to find ways to incorporate traditions that were familiar to the kids placed in their homes. This helps create a sense of familiarity and normalcy, and also shows respect to their experiences with their biological families.
Here are a few thoughts for you to consider as you implement holiday traditions with your family:
- Keep it simple. Do you feel like the pressure is on to create the perfect holiday memories for your family? I just saw a post on Pinterest called “101 Christmas Traditions for Couples.” Seriously? Even the title is overwhelming. There are so many fun and meaningful ideas, but trying to use them all would just be stressful. If you are married, discuss with your spouse which traditions you’ll keep from your own backgrounds, and be open to trying something brand-new.
- Be prepared to set boundaries. Saying “yes” to one tradition might mean saying “no” to another… and not all of your extended family members will be understanding about you ditching their way of doing things. Communicate your plans early, calmly, and compassionately. Then stick to it.
- Be flexible. Yes, the point of a tradition is to do something the same way every year. However, that might not always be possible.
- Choose meaningful traditions. Many peoples’ holiday traditions involve certain foods, readings of Bible passages, attendance of church services, gifts, lighting of candles, family gatherings, singing or listening to music, etc. Since you can’t do everything, pick what’s really important to your family’s values.
Here are a few fun traditions that I’ve come across from friends and clients over the years:
- Let each person open one present on Christmas Eve, then the rest on Christmas morning.
- Give each child a new ornament every year that has to do with one of their interests or personality.
- Have a “Christmas Eve Box” that contains a new pair of pajamas for each child, a snack, and game or movie.
- Make “Blessing Bags” to hand out to the homeless (containing snacks, water, toiletries, socks, gloves, etc.)
- Read the Christmas story from Luke 2, with the kids dressing up and acting out the story.
- Let your kids have a slumber party in their sleeping bags under the Christmas tree (not on Christmas Eve, of course, because Santa might wake them up!)
- Wrap 25 children’s books and put them under the tree. Each night in December, unwrap and read one before bedtime.
Kelly, Alex, and I wish all of you a wonderful and meaningful Christmas season!