Holiday Traditions

Although my husband and I have been married for over 10 years, our holiday traditions have really ramped up since our children were born. For me, this season is all about creating memories and we have melded some of our childhood traditions with some new ones to achieve this.

My maternal grandmother, Christine Miller, was the epitome of a Southern cook. Cooking for her family was one way she showed us how much she loved us. She had a second kitchen in her house where she did all her baking. One summer we all went to Chicago for a cousin’s wedding, and Granny made the cake. She baked it in Kentucky, loaded up the layers into the trunk of my grandparents’ huge Buick Electra and assembled, frosted and decorated it once we had arrived at my Aunt Wanda’s house. I have many happy memories of being deposited on a stool and being allowed to eat as many frosting roses off the wax paper as I wanted while Granny whirled around her kitchen. Anyway, before any big holiday, but especially Christmas, Granny would spend at least a whole day making special holiday sweets: fudge, chocolate-oatmeal no bake cookies, peanut brittle, divinity, and, my personal favorite, buckeyes, plus coconut cake, pecan, chess and buttermilk pies, and something called cherry delight. At my last job, year-end was my busiest and most stressful time of the year and I never had time to bake anything, but this year I expect to have some significant downtime. I also have a 5-year-old who loves to help in the kitchen and a husband with a culinary degree. We are so doing this. Maybe I’ll even attempt Heather C. Watson’s bourbon balls. Some other Christmas traditions we’ve already incorporated from my side of the family are opening one gift on Christmas Eve and giving the kids a new ornament every year. I’m not sure how opening one gift on Christmas Eve started, but I like that the kids can focus on one new toy or book before the madhouse that is Christmas morning begins. My husband and I pick out what that gift will be, and it is always something we bought for them, not a Santa gift. My mom, for many years, has given me a new Hallmark Christmas tree ornament every year, and we are continuing that tradition of annual ornaments with our kids. We start with sterling silver or personalized ornaments until a child is old enough to develop a special interest in something. This year, our oldest child received a Harry Potter ornament.

Growing up, we always had a Christmas tree with carefully coordinated lights and ornaments. The year of all silver balls and iridescent bows stands out in my memory. We had some other Christmas decorations like a wreath or other front door décor, a nativity set on the fireplace mantle, candles and greenery, but all in all it was fairly reserved. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a house that, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, looked like the North Pole. I stuck steadfastly to my tasteful, coordinated tree and understated decorations for years, but over time – and certainly at an accelerated pace since our children were born – I have started to crumble (much to my husband’s delight, I might add). We still use white lights, but the ornaments vary greatly, and no two are alike. There are the aforementioned Hallmark ornaments from my mom and the annual ornaments we give to our kids, but we also pick up an ornament whenever we travel somewhere. The “witch’s ball”, a heavy, hand blown blue glass orb purchased during a long weekend trip to Salem, Massachusetts, is one of my favorites. The kid-friendly nutcrackers, snow globes, snowmen and Santas aren’t everywhere in our house, but you can generally find one of those things in each room. I still coordinate all of my wrapping paper and ribbons and will always dream of a Christmas tree decked out in all white lights and sterling silver ornaments, but there is something about seeing the wonder and delight on your kids’ faces that makes you put out that damn dancing Frosty the Snowman every year (it has to stay in one of their rooms because, in Emily Ho Sanford's words, it makes me all stabby). We also decorate a miniature tree for the kids, and it goes upstairs, outside of their bedrooms. My in-laws always did this for their kids, and in fact gave us the mini-tree we use now. They also saved many of my husband’s childhood ornaments, some of which he made himself, and we decorate the kids’ tree with these.

Last, but certainly not least, my mother-in-law makes the best Christmas cookies in the world. These cookies are the real deal, rolled out sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes and frosted with homemade frosting tinted in varying shades. We make them every Christmas Eve with our kids and leave them out for Santa. Sometimes, on the Christmases my in-laws aren't with us, I might cheat a bit...shhhh!

In addition to continuing some of our own childhood traditions, we’ve also started a few of our own. We give our kids their new ornament the day we put up the Christmas tree, and they get a new pair of Christmas pajamas as well. My Martha Stewart influenced imaginary family sips Nutella hot chocolate stirred with candy canes, listens to Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas and decorates the tree together in said new pajamas, but our 2-year-old’s temper had other plans this year, so we decorated the tree without her. I bought a traditional wooden advent calendar the year our oldest child was born and fill it, alternatively, with candy (beware, if you use leftover Halloween candy, your 5 year old WILL notice) and tiny treasures like bouncy balls, spinning tops and wind up toys. Our kids eagerly rush into the living room every morning to see what that day’s door holds for them. In addition to leaving cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve, we also leave oats and carrots for his reindeer. Finally, per my previous post about the Louisville Mega Caverns, we will be making a trip to Lights under Louisville every holiday season. Hopefully, since moving away from Georgia, we can also have one other Christmas tradition: snow.

What holiday traditions do y’all follow?

Buckeye photo: