Our Christmas Traditions

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Think of Christmas and the rush of images is dizzying, jingling bells and bulging stockings, the scent of evergreens mixing with spices from the kitchen, carloads of loved ones traveling great distances to be with the family. Such moments give shape to the holiday.


Christmastime is my favorite holiday. It is a wonderful time of the year for me. It is the most joyous and memorable season and has always been a magical part of my life. As the holiday draws near, my excitement builds, as I think of the traditions my family celebrates.


The season, filled with laughter and merriment, always starts the same. On Thanksgiving Day, while we are still suffering from our excessive over eating, we bring out the department store advertisements that were stuffed in the daily newspaper. The children scan the advertisements one by one and circle the pictures of the gift items that they like. Every one of them circle ten times more gifts than they would ever expect to receive but we are happy to start with some suggestions. The adults also search the papers looking for ideas for their holiday gift giving. We retire for the day early, and set our alarm clocks for the crack of dawn. The countdown has begun!


Family members, young and old, wake up early in the morning to start their holiday shopping. Off to the malls we go, shopping lists in hand, looking for the perfect gifts for our family and friends. Every delightful treasure is chosen with great emotion and love.


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Signs of Christmas are everywhere we go; enchanting Christmas music blaring from the intercoms, brightly decorated trees at every corner you turn, sparkling garland, life size candy canes and Santa Claus in every mall. People on their way in, their arms empty, push past people on their way out, their arms full of wonderfully shaped bags and boxes. The hustle and bustle of the crowds is exhilarating and contagious. Every year the shopping frenzy surprises me again. I love the ritual of it. It is one of those chores that makes me feel like the Christmas Season has begun. By the time the shopping is done, I am exhausted, but happy and anxious about the Christmas celebration.


Thanks to the invention of the six-disc CD player we have nonstop Christmas music filling every alcove of our house for the entire season. It is the perfect addition for a festive atmosphere. My favorite songs are the traditional Christmas carols. Holiday music has the ability to touch you directly, deeply and suddenly. It helps to rekindle the crisp memories of Christmases past and sets the stage for the wondrous celebration we are about to experience again.


My family immensely enjoys choosing the Christmas tree and adorning it with magnificent baubles of all shapes and sizes. We spend endless hours driving back and forth to the tree lots until everyone agrees on the finest tree. Some are too short, some are too scrawny, but we eventually spot the perfect one, tie it to the top of the car and head home for the festivities. When we bring the tree inside and the scent begins to rise as it warms, the memories brew. It makes you feel as if you are in a pine forest. It is one of those little things that reminds you of the approaching season.


We begin the decorating ritual by stringing popcorn and cranberries. Vibrantly colored, blinking lights are draped among the branches. All of our tree ornaments have been handmade by family members or friends. We have oodles of school made artistic creations crafted by my children and my nieces and nephews; God awful collages made from tongue depressors, crayons, glitter and paste, decorations only a loved one could appreciate. They are more than ornaments to us. They are real family treasures, vessels of Christmas memories. They document our family’s history like a photo album in many ways. We each choose our favorites as we carefully place them on the tree, reminiscing about Christmases past, dredging up memories of friends and relatives, of growing up and growing old. The final touch is the addition of the angel, which is an elegantly dressed baby doll from my childhood. She has a dress made of delicate white lace and ribbons and wears a beautiful gold lame halo. She perches on the very top amidst a fluffy cloud of pure white angel’s hair. The completed tree is a decorative masterpiece!


By the middle of December, our house has begun a transfiguration from an everyday place to a wonderland. The first box of Christmas treasures that we unpack is the collection of manger scenes. We have sets made of wood, glass, resin, china, ivory, papier-mâch� and plastic. We have fabric stuffed sets and several that play Silent Night when wound. Some are made of many separate pieces while others are affixed together as one. My favorite is a hand carved teak stable with figurines of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My best friend gave it to me when I was still in high school and therefore has a very special place in my heart. The most prominent space in each room of the house is reserved for the Nativity Scenes. We have acquired so many that we sometimes rotate them from year to year for lack of display space.


Advent calendars and fragrant candles are properly placed in their annual resting spots. We dangle delicately crafted paper snowflakes from the ceilings and tape them to windows and mirrors to create the illusion of a winter wonderland. Mistletoe is strategically suspended from the doorways. Holly and evergreen garlands are attached around the entryways. Knitted stockings are hung from the mantelpiece while wreaths are affixed to each door. The tables are covered with fancy red and green tablecloths. Every shelf, table and countertop is donned with Santas, snowmen, angels and Christmas bows. We even have Santa toilet seat covers and angel hand soap dispensers for the bathrooms. The lawn is decorated with a life size Nativity Scene and the roof is covered with thousands of twinkling multi-colored lights producing a sight so brilliant that it outshines the stars. By the time Christmas arrives the house is decorated from top to bottom; we have decked the halls! It is a magical sight!


By the third week of December, all of the gifts have been gaily wrapped in a variety of themes. There are shiny foil paper packages with large loopy bows and small elegant boxes with lace and ribbon. My son frequently wraps his gifts with the colored section of the newspaper and my daughter typically uses the fancy reusable gift bags with coordinating tags. The presents for children are always tied up with a candy cane or other candy treat tied in its bow and we often will have a gift for a family dog with a dog treat securely attached. The packages wait patiently under the tree for the big day, begging to be shaken and rattled by anyone that walks by. They are almost too beautiful to unwrap. They add mystery to the festive atmosphere and stir the excitement.


It is now time for the baking to begin! Baking Christmas cookies is a tradition handed down in our family for many generations. My grandmother used to come to our house when I was a child and we would make dozens and dozens in one weekend. The cookies I remember the most were the 1” sugar cookies that she made for each of the grandchildren. Each one was a different shape but all of them were thick and powdery, decorated with chewy gumdrops, tiny sparkles, and colored sugar, smelling of vanilla and nutmeg, and tasting like butter melting in your mouth. My grandmother is no longer able to bake cookies but my sister, daughter and I carry on the tradition. We bake for several days. We each have our favorite cookies to make and have had requests from our friends that we traditionally make cookie trays for every year. We like to have yummy sugary treats on hand for unexpected guests or hostess gifts when we are visiting others. What better treats can you imagine than creamy vanilla fudge, chocolate covered pretzels and caramel apples dipped in peanuts! These are individually wrapped for last minute gifts. We make gingerbread so the younger children can make a gingerbread houses. Decorating the little houses with a variety of gumdrops, candy canes, hard candies, pretzels and nuts keeps them busy while we are diligently working on our mission. The finished gingerbread houses look like something out of Hansel and Gretel. Everything is a mess when we are finished but the fragrant scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses and cloves wafts through the entire house. The aroma brings each of us the warm thoughts of our dearest childhood memories. These traditions of the holidays especially bond us together. Christmas is almost here!


Christmas Eve is a quiet day compared to rest of the season. We’ve finished the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking. The house is a festive sight!


We spend the day preparing some of the food for our special feast the next day. There are a few gifts to be delivered and a few cookie trays to be made. The totality of what we have done is our symbolism of the season. We seek to invoke the spirit of Christmas, the remembrance of how Christmas past felt, smelled, tasted, looked and sounded. After such preparation, Christmas then becomes the wondrous event that it is!


We always spend a few hours every Christmas Eve, on our way home from church, driving around gazing at our neighbors’ holiday displays, their lights like distant stars in the dark night. My favorite visit is to a neighborhood not too far from my house where every house puts out luminaries and nothing else. It is an awe-inspiring picture.


We’ve been counting down the days until Christmas on our Advent calendar and lighting a candle each night on our Advent wreath. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus, the reason for the very first Christmas. Think of how much joy has been inspired by the gift God gave to us of His Son! All of the festive activities that we have been participating in this season were preparing our home for the holiday but Advent has been preparing our hearts. We light the last Advent candle at midnight on Christmas Eve. After we light the candle, we have a birthday party for Jesus and me because it is also my birthday. I often wonder if I love Christmas so much because it is my birthday or if I was born this day because I had Christmas in my heart.


Finally Christmas has arrived. The gifts are neatly stashed under the tree and the ham and turkey are basting in the oven. Our home is aglow with excitement. The house quickly fills with family members coming for the festivities. We have many young children and have been convinced over the years that the first activity on the day’s agenda should be exchanging gifts. It’s the moment they have been waiting for. The younger ones are bouncing off the walls with excitement and anticipation. Their eyes are as wide as saucers at the sight of their bounty. They are mesmerized by the splendor of the tree. To see the looks on their faces means the world to me. There is no feeling better than seeing your children’s eyes light up with excitement, their voices ringing with laughter, when their dreams are realized. It makes you believe in Santa Claus all over again.


We dive into the presents with wrapping paper, bows and fancy ribbons flying everywhere in an unheeded mess. Squeals of delight fill the air as we scramble to collect our gifts. It is a present opening frenzy! Time and traditions change somewhat from year to year but the elated looks on the children’s faces stay the same, they are passed down from generation to generation.


Once all of the presents have been distributed, opened and admired, we descend on the dining room and gather around the table for a scrumptious Christmas feast. From year to year, there are few surprises in our traditional holiday menu. The banquet boasts of mouth-watering honey glazed ham topped with pineapple and maraschino cherries, and succulent roast turkey with golden browned skin and giblet gravy. There is always a snowy pile of whipped potatoes with rivulets of yellow butter running down its sides, orange flavored sweet potatoes buried under a froth of toasted marshmallow, mountains of sage flavored bread stuffing, burgundy glazed carrots and cranberry jubilee. The desserts are indescribable! It’s a feast as appealing to the eye as it is to the pallet. The tantalizing smell, a combination of the cranberries, cinnamon, hot baked breads, sweet pies, turkey, ham, cookies, candy apples, eggnog and hot cider, makes you eager to devour whatever is set before you. It makes your mouth water. It is the wonderful smell of Christmas!


Of all the traditions my family celebrates, the gathering together of relatives is the most important to me. It’s a time to share with everyone that is special to me. Knowing that each one will support the others whenever they are needed is an outpouring of love. As the family gets larger and some move away, it seems that it is more difficult to get together but each one realizes the importance of Christmas and the family bond, we share. The true meaning of Christmas is love and family. In the end, love is the greatest tradition of all!











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