What holiday traditions have you kept or created as your lives have changed?

Guest post by Ducky
Vader Ornament

Currently, my husband and I live in my childhood home with my father. Every Christmas here, we do what my dad has always done: put up the tree, and decorate it with multi-colored lights and ornaments dating back to the ’70s. When I was born close to Christmas, my birthday became the day that our Christmas tree went up as part of our family celebration. Even after my parents’ divorce, it was like an un-written rule in both their houses that the trees went up on my birthday. The other tradition we had was that my mom used to spend the three weeks before Christmas baking hundreds of cookies to give, sell, and just enjoy.

As my husband and I dream and prepare to be out of my childhood home, we talk about starting our own Christmas and holiday traditions.

My husband is non-religious, and I grew up a semi-religious Christian who hates commercialized Christmas. I want things to be simple and embrace the spirit of giving, sharing, and love because I feel that’s what this holiday should be about.

We consider things like, “maybe we won’t put up a tree at all and just display a few of the decorations we have collected over the years… Or we’ll make Christmas brownies instead of cookies… Maybe even once every five years skipping the holiday all together and going on a cruise…”

How do you reflect your offbeat selves during the holidays? How do you ditch the old traditions without feeling like maybe something’s missing?

Comments on What holiday traditions have you kept or created as your lives have changed?

  1. I’ve always loved the holidays and decorate the first chance I get. With my husband I’ve had to adopt new (and weird-to-me) traditions. Christmas Eve is just as important to them, so we get together and have tourtiere. In his family, the adults all contribute to stockings for each other, whereas in my family only the kids got stockings.

    Now that we have our own kid, we’re trying to blend those ideas and add our own. We go out walking through the neighbourhood as close as we can to Christmas to look at all the lights on the trees. We gorge on Mandarin oranges. We read holiday-themed books before bedtime.

    And since our child’s birthday is just 4 days after Christmas, our new tradition is to take down the tree on Boxing Day so that the focus is purely on his birthday after that.

    One book that we’ve really loved is The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox. It has some great ideas on how to create your own traditions and rituals for holidays and other milestones.

  2. My husband, local cousins and some friends all get together around Christmas and do a secret santa. We take turns hosting, and just eat good food and play games. Ok sometimes the games aren’t what would be considered holiday [i.e. Cards against Humanity], but they are good for a laugh. We’ve found that it’s a nice way to actually limit our holiday spending overall and for someone to get one good gift instead of 10 small ones.

    We still get together with our families for Christmas dinner and spend times in traditional ways also. In years past we would make it a point to watch a set in the time of Christmas movie, this year the local Alamo Drafthouse is showing Die Hard tonight so a group of us are going. I guess our overall tradition is regardless of what we decide to do, eat, play, or watch we know we will be in the company of good people we want to be around.

    Happy holidays!!!

  3. Around Christmas we gather with my high school friends (there are 6-7 of us) to celebrate. We schedule at least one meeting about a month before to decide on a day that’s good for everyone, decide on a menu and what each of us will bring, and have a trusted person take care of the gift draw (as there’s never all of us at the meetings, and no other way to make sure that someone doesn’t end up with her own name).
    We used to have a dinner or a lunch, but a few years ago we decided we’d rather spend more time together for once, so we gather for brunch, often in our pajamas, and proceed to eat, do our nails and stuff like that until about dinnertime.
    With my family of origin, we exchange gifts and then have the same meal every year on Chrismas day.
    since my nephew was born, we also take the same picture every year, with everyone sitting on the same sofa in the same order. It’s nice to see additions and to see the babies grow.
    There are more traditions that were established during the past years at my own place (one of my favorites being watching all 8 Harry Potter movies starting the night of Dec 25) but this year due to adverse life conditions they won’t be honored. I can’t help but hope that next year it will be better.
    But it’s been such a horrible year that I really don’t feel like celebrating anything, I’d rather curl up in a ball and just wait for it to end at last.

  4. My husband and I (together nearly six years, married since August) spend Christmas Eve and most of Christmas day separately. People have a really hard time accepting this, especially now that we’re married. We’ve discussed keeping Christmas Eve to ourselves starting next year, but lots of people keep suggesting the same thing: Stay home on Christmas and make family come to you. That’s a perfect solution for some, but it sounds horrible to me! We aren’t apart for Christmas out of obligation, but because we each love our family Christmases and don’t want to give them up. (Plus I have no interest in playing host!) So while I’m really excited to form our own traditions, I also struggle with how I can maintain the ones I love.

    • You could try trading Christmases! I guess that’s the question: would you rather go to every one of your family’s Christmases without your spouse or would you rather go to 1/2 or 1/3 of your family’s Christmases but always be with your spouse?

      Perhaps you and your spouse could alternate. There are four main alternating options as I see it: 1. Even years, go to your separate family’s Christmases, and even years, stay at home for Christmas. 2. Even years, go to your family’s Christmas together, and odd years, go to your spouse’s family’s Christmas together. 3. On a three year cycle, go to your family’s together, your spouse’s family’s together, and then stay home together. 4. Year 1: Go separate ways. Year 2: Go together to your family. Year 3: Go separate ways. Year 4: Go together to spouse’s family. Repeat. This one would mean you spend 3/4 of Christmases with your family and 1/2 of Christmases with your spouse!

      Have you ever tried doing something different for Christmas? The sense that I get from your comment is that you haven’t tried, but I certainly don’t know. You might enjoy something different, or you might hate it. But you won’t know unless you try it.

      And if you do try alternating, make sure you try a full cycle before giving up. You might find that you love having your spouse with you at your family’s Christmas enough to trade off going to their family’s Christmas.

      • We’re actually both perfectly content with going to our separate celebrations, it’s everyone else who has a problem with it πŸ™‚ We’ve always maintained that we’d revisit our plans once we have a baby, possibly doing Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other. You’re right that other solutions might make us happy too, but neither of us feels the need to mix up what’s already working for us. I LOVE my big family Christmas, and I think I would have a really hard time missing it, even for one year.

        • Great! I’m glad you have a holiday plan and structure that works for you. I’d love to hear more about your families’ traditions–I love my family’s Christmas too, but it’s hard to imagine loving it as much as you seem to. (Please know that I don’t mean that as a dig or an insult. I’m just fascinated by others’ traditions.)

          • For me it has less to do with the specific things we do at Christmas (although I do love me some Christmas waffles!), and more to do with the atmosphere and the people. My family Christmas has over 30 people (including lots of kids), so Christmas to me is a loud, rambunctious party, whereas my husband’s is about ten adults and it’s relatively subdued. It just wouldn’t feel the same πŸ™‚

  5. For the most part, my partner and I have been able to continue participating in the holiday traditions of our families because we live so close to them. And, because our two families live only an hour apart from each other, we’ve been very lucky to get to spend Christmas Day with both of them, starting with one and heading to the other halfway through the day.
    There is one particular tradition that we’ve started for ourselves which I really love. On Christmas Eve we take a short ferry ride over to a small town and walk over to their Main Street grill and just enjoy dinner together at the bar. It’s a nice restaurant and just enough removed to feel like a retreat, and we usually end up having a lot of fun with the staff and other patrons there. It’s also nice because of how busy our Christmas season has become. My partner works at a Catholic school, directs a Catholic choir, and sings in another choir that is Episcopalean. Add their advent season calendars to parties with family and friends, and we tend to get a bit burned out by the time we actually reach Christmas. So our Christmas Eve tradition has really become a way to intentionally carve out time for each other and slow down for a day. πŸ™‚

  6. The biggest change in traditions for my husband and I is that we’re not doing Santa Claus with our daughter. We’ve talked about Santa as a character, and Santa as someone who helps others at Christmas, but have nixed the whole go-to-the-mall, wish list, milk and cookies, stranger bringing presents in the night thing. This is in part because we feel Christmas has become too commercial, and because I’ve worked with children living in poverty and no longer feel it is fair that some children get oodles of gifts from Santa while others get nothing. Our families are fairly accepting of this decision.

    We’ve put more of an emphasis on Advent through lighting candles, reading stories, listening to traditional music, and doing different activities associated with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This has helped to keep the season in balance, and allows us to feel more connected to our faith and communities.

    Other traditions: decorating, baking, watching movies, making ornaments and other gifts, and drinking candy cane hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. My husband and I also each took turns taking our almost-three-year-old to the dollar store to pick out items for the other spouse’s stocking, and the results were hilarious and touching (at least when it comes to what she chose for my husband’s stocking; I have no clue what is in mine). I think we’ll make that trip into a tradition!

  7. My fiance and I are both atheists, and more specifically, I am an atheistic pagan. I grew up in an agnostic household that basically celebrated Christmas by default, and was occasionally dragged to midnight Christmas Eve church services (which you can imagine how much I despised given that Christmas Eve is my birthday, and I pretty much hated going to church after about age 14). My fiance grew up in a way, way, way Christian household, where Christmas was a Religious Family Affair.

    Anyway, we started living together earlier this year and later got engaged, and we were talking a couple of weeks ago, and we agreed that it was kind of silly for us to keep celebrating Christmas. But, we both grew up with the holiday decorations, the food, the family time, and the gifts, and neither of us wanted to leave it behind. And then it occurred to me that, duh, I’m a pagan, so I also celebrate the Winter Solstice. So we decided that we would do our own little Solstice celebration with food and gifts for each other, and lots of decorations (which are basically the same as Christmas decorations, conveniently enough). Because we thought of the idea so late this year, we didn’t do anything really other than decorate and exchange a gift, but we have plans to do more next year.

    It also works out really well, because both his and my family live in the same city we do, so we spend a lot of time running around to people’s houses. By doing our own holiday a bit earlier, we get to have a nice relaxing celebration of our own, and it’s easier to take the family craziness in stride. πŸ™‚

    • Could you elaborate on your atheistic pagan beliefs? My brain is trying to work through the concept with how I understand the definitions of atheism and paganism. I am always curious about these things!

      • Sureβ€” the short explanation is that while I don’t believe in any higher power, I do revere nature as its own sort of supremacy. To that end, I observe the eight holidays along the wheel of the year as a kind of acknowledgement of the turning cycles of life. While a lot of pagans may incorporate various deities into the celebrations of the eight holidays, as well as weaving in various stories associated with their sets of beliefs, that is not something that I incorporate into mine. For me, it is simply about being in tune with natural world as much as I can, and it is a way for me to foster a connection with nature, even though I live and work in a reasonably large city.

        I also enjoy the symbolism of the four (non-periodic table) elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Associating different human qualities with each of these can be a nice, non-binary way to (loosely) categorize things, especially when you think of the elements as blending together into more of a spectrum rather than a delineated set of categories with no overlap.

        I also like the idea of a sort of scientific reincarnation after death, according to the physical law that matter can be neither created nor destroyed; essentially, upon death, our atoms separate out into many things, just as we were built from many things, and very originally from the material of the big bang. We are young in consciousness, but our matter is as old as the universe. I think that’s pretty awesome. πŸ™‚

        Anyway, I hope that helps explain things a little. Feel free to ask if you have any other questions!

        • this PERFECTLY sums up my beliefs as well. We do Christmas with the families since that’s when people are all together in one place, but the important holiday to me is New Year’s and to a slightly lesser extent Solstice. I celebrate cycles and renewals, clean slates.

  8. One tradition that I’m glad of is that my family all get together to celebrate Christmas a few days after Christmas. I’m one of four siblings and we all have spouses and/or children. We live quite far apart and don’t see each other that often, so it’s great to be able to all get together without timing conflicts with our partners’ family Christmases.

  9. My family’s christmas traditions have changed drastically since I was a child. I have a mixed family, both in terms of religions and in that my mother is my fathers second wife and all of my siblings are minimum 20 years older than I am. As a child, all of my siblings would come home and we’d have a big christmas breakfast with presents and then a day of lounging and picking at the christmas candy. It wasn’t religious at all, really, just kind of together-y.
    Once my siblings started their own families, we started celebrating at one of their houses, so the youngest children in the family could be the ones waking up in their own houses to their own trees. It also became much more present oriented. Don’t get me wrong, I got my fair share of loot when I was a kid, but the sheer volume of gifts was kind of overwhelming.
    Now most of my nieces and nephews are grown, and our family has shrunk in various ways, either by emigration, death, or divorce. It’s bittersweet to once again be in my childhood home Christmas Eve, waiting to see my siblings for a quick bite tomorrow because they have a long drive here and back so they won’t stay long. Wrapping presents was fun, but most of the holiday talk was my mother complaining about something that wasn’t exactly how she wanted, and it has me a little let down. I’m thinking this is my cue to really make some traditions of my own.

  10. After dating my now-partner for a year, I discovered he had nowhere to go for Christmas. As I’m Polish, Christmas Day is more of an after-party after the super-traditional Christmas Eve, so I offered to spend the Day with him. I let a few of our friends know what was going on…and what I expected to be a small gathering swelled into a wonderfully relaxed party of about 50. And in subsequent years, it’s only gotten bigger.

    Every year around November, people start asking if I’m having Orphan’s Christmas again. We see the usual crowd of orphans who have no plans to return home for the holidays, or no homes to return to. Everyone brings food (despite my best efforts, we always end up with too much of everything), my partner plays Lovecraftian Christmas carols, and we all just hang around and relax. As much as I love my traditional Wigilia with the family on Christmas Eve, and as stressful as organising a massive party during the Christmas rush is, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without all my friends around.

  11. We used to try and do it all, but now with a kid I didn’t want to drive across the state for Christmas dinner. So the weekend before, we go to my parents across the state and then on Christmas Day I’ve advocated for our own small morning celebration. I then go to a silent yoga class and we all head over to my in-laws for dinner. When we were just dating or newly married we sorta went with what the traditions were,but now I’m saying we need our own thing.

    We didn’t set out to create a silent yoga between events tradition, it just sorta happened two years in a row and now feels right. This year we skipped the evening Christmas carol sing and instead all piled into our king size bed (dog included) and sang Christmas carols with the lights out and fell asleep. Will that be a tradition? It was fun, but we’ll see!

  12. I’ve found the best way of creating traditions is to just try different things that seem like they would be fun and keep doing the ones that you enjoy the most. Traditions are less something that you have to specifically create than things that evolve on their own. Like we play around with recipes for our holidays, one year making a turduken and piecaken, another year doing a traditional Christmas feast with a goose and mince pie, and another with a fried turkey. The things that are the most popular such as a sweet potato casserole recipe I found that mimics the one at Boston Market and a Brie en Croute recipe my mother-in-law dubbed the brie bread get to stick around. The mince pie not so much; it’s someone’s tradition, just not ours.

    One of our favorite traditions every year for the holidays is our Nightmare Before Christmas party that happened by accident because we had to postpone a Halloween party with our friends because of bad weather one year. Rather than just cancel it we redubbed it our Nightmare Before Christmas party and added Christmas elements. It is the type of party where someone can show up all Gothed out or in a ugly holiday sweater. We can enjoy some pumpkin beers and holiday cookies. This year we dipped blue cake balls in a chocolate fountain, which everyone had so much fun with, we’ll probably do it next year as well.

    Some people won’t like your spin on traditions. My mom is not fond of our black Christmas tree and was very concerned that her grandson would not know what a real tree look like (ironic since we only had plastic trees as kids growing up) so we decided on a whim to get a little mini potted real tree. So now every year we have our black tree with our Victorian Skeleton topper and a nice traditional mini piney scented real tree.
    As a couple you also need to think about what traditions you each feel most strongly about. For example my father’s French family had a tradition that they leave their letters to Santa in the oven for the elves to take to Santa on St. Nicholas Day. My husband’s family would have Chinese food Christmas Eve during which Santa would bring presents when the kids were out helping pick up the food. At first it felt a bit odd for our son not to wake up Christmas morning for his gifts so we compromised and gifts are done Christmas Eve and stockings in the morning.

  13. My grandmother died about 8 years ago, and I haven’t felt like “Christmas” was Christmas since then. Part of it is, as you say, that you’re stuck with the traditions of others who you visit during the holiday. I’d love to find a way to figure out what’s meaningful to us and simply do that, separate from what all of our various relatives would have us do. Maybe that would help me reclaim the Christmas spirit, instead of just missing her every year.

    • its tough to loose a loved one and holidays are changed forever. I cannot say that the pain of missing them ever goes away but I have learned that there are things you can do to make it feel like maybe they are there in spirit. My hubby lost his grand pa almost 3 years ago. when his family gets together for the holidays someone always brings something that belonged to him like his favorite Santa statue that grandma made for him, and its placed where the action is. Also at some point we get someone to give a silly story involving grandpa. Something to bring a smile and a happy memory. We also listen to his favorite music it plays softly in the background.

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