I’m a very intentional person, but I must admit that some of my family's nicest holiday traditions have evolved with no help from me. It's sad, really, since I’d like to get credit for some of the most smile-producing moments. I don’t know if you can intentionally recreate someone else’s holiday traditions, but perhaps reading my family’s bright moments will spark a few ideas of your own.
1. The stocking tradition. When our girls were young, we drew a line in the sand concerning how early they were allowed to wake us to open presents. I don’t ever remember having to wake them up because they’d slept past the magic hour. At least not until they were teenagers, and even then, they were usually more interested in presents than sleep.
But they were creative little geniuses, and while they knew they couldn’t open their presents until we were all awake, there was no moratorium on their stockings. Every year, one or the other, whoever awakened first, would haul her stocking into her sister’s room, and they’d open them together. Giggles, comparisons, and swaps while their parents slept on created a tradition that lived on even into adulthood.
2. The Pillsbury cinnamon roll tradition. Pillsbury cinnamon rolls are a magic food from my childhood. My family lived on a tight budget with no wiggle room for prepared foods, but when I spent the night at my friend Linda’s house, oh my.
On Saturday morning her mom would crack open that magic can of deliciousness, pop the luscious treats into the oven, and amazing smells would fill the air. After slathering the finished product with sugary white icing, Linda and I were in cinnamon roll nirvana.If you’d asked me, I’d have unequivocally declared that heaven smells like cinnamon rolls.
When the time came to choose a special food for our family’s holy day celebration, it was a no-brainer—Pillsbury cinnamon rolls—food of the gods. My children embraced them as eagerly as I did, and for many years the tradition continued.
Now that my girls are adults and more concerned about unidentifiable ingredients and preservatives, the special food pendulum is swinging back toward homemade delicacies. Some years I make my own cinnamon rolls, equally delicious and less likely to kill us, at least from preservatives. Our favorite hash brown casserole usually puts us in a carbohydrate coma, and sparkling cider or grape juice tops off our Christmas breakfast.
3. The White Elephant gift tradition. This tradition began before we had children as a means to liven up our family's somewhat boring, all-adult Christmas Eve gathering. Let’s face it, without the excitement wide-eyed children bring, adults-only gatherings can be a bit dull.
One year we suggested a White Elephant gift exchange. “Everyone bring a wrapped gift, something you don’t want, but is still usable. We’ll draw numbers, take turns choosing gifts, then swap and steal them from each other.”
My brother-in-law took the idea and ran with it. He’s the master of White Elephant gifts and loves shopping for crazy, silly, or unusual items. His signature newspaper or grocery bag wrapping paper only adds to the effect. One year I ended up with a can of mackerel and a box of crackers. My husband got a box of Good n’ Plentys, a coloring book, and a box of crayons, and my daughter bagged a month's worth of Ramen noodles.
One of our most memorable W.E. gift exchanges took place the Christmas before my brother-in-law died. He was in the final stages of lung cancer, and the realization that this would be our last Christmas with him hung heavily over us all.
We gathered in the living room for the gift exchange, and my youngest daughter chose a pretty bag from under the tree. Inside was the book, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, a delightfully skewed and quirky version of the traditional Three Little Pigs tale.
Sensing the heaviness of the evening and trying to introduce some levity, she launched into a dramatic reading of the book, complete with different voices and hand gestures. Before long we were all laughing uncontrollably.
The White Elephant gift exchange had saved the day.
4. The chocolate-covered cherries tradition. When my husband was little, he saved his money and bought his mom a box of chocolate-covered cherries. He wrapped the box and proudly set it under the tree.
Christmas was still several days away, and one day he decided to open the box to check on the cherries. They were beautiful—creamy chocolate, gooey white filling, and a luscious cherry in the center.
Before he knew what had happened, he’d eaten one. He hastily wrapped up the box and put it back under the tree. The next day, he did the same thing, eating a cherry, then wrapping up the box again. When Christmas day finally arrived and his mother opened her gift, a single cherry remained.
Every Christmas thereafter, he gave his mom a box of chocolate-covered cherries—with one missing.
Last year was our first Christmas without my mother-in-law, but the chocolate-covered cherry tradition continued. This Christmas Eve, we’ll open a box in her honor, and, yes, there will be one missing.
Family holiday traditions knit our hearts together, give us a sense of family unity, and express our heritage and diversity. Best of all, they bind the generations together. They're as personal and unique as we are, and really quite special.
Now it's your turn. What family traditions do you enjoy? Share your stories in the comment box below. And if you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online, scroll to the bottom of the post, and leave a comment there.