We have this joke in our family: If you want to get me to do something, just tell me it’s a “tradition”. I’m the tradition-keeper/creator/drill sergeant in our family. This goes double for Christmas time. After I moved out for college my mom once told my siblings not to let me know that they’d gone to a different tree farm than normal to cut down the Christmas tree (seriously!).
I’m learning to let some of these go so as not to make myself crazy and thus defeat the point of trying to get in the Christmas spirit. As I am fully aware of how ridiculous I am when it comes to tradition-adherence, here is a self-deprecating look at some of my Christmas magic-making traditions (both past and present) and how they’ve changed now that it’s Nathan and I carrying them on. I’d love even more to hear some of yours; I’m always looking for good ideas.
Getting the Tree:
OLD: This MUST be done the weekend after Thanksgiving to allow for maximum tree-enjoyment time. We must all drive out to the tree farm in North Bend, we must walk around forever and get into many fights involving tears and angry words about “whose turn it is to pick out a tree” (“Nuh-uh…you got to pick the tree LAST YEAR!) Once we somehow decide on a tree we all go in the little shed and drink hot chocolate and eat a candy cane while my dad tries to tie it onto the car.
NEW: This still has to be done the weekend after Christmas, this year we went and cut down our tree a few hours after running the half marathon. We found a great new place where all the trees are basically perfect so we just pretend to fight for a few minutes (we TOTALLY got YOUR tree last year!) because, well, it’s tradition. But now I grab cider for both of us and then actually help Nathan get the tree on the car.
The Nativity Set:
OLD: My family has a really beautiful ceramic nativity set made by my great great aunt Dede. It’s been the in family at least twenty years and is still in the original cardboard apple box, with the original packing peanuts, and the pieces are wrapped in the original paper towels! After the house is decorated we gather ‘round the box and take turns plunging our hands into the nasty packing peanuts to see what we pull out. Sounds pretty normal, right? Well, I have no idea how this started but once all of the pieces have been pulled out we take turns sticking our heads IN the box and then pulling them out to have the peanuts stuck in our hair. Everybody has to do it. I can only imagine what Nathan thought the first time he witnessed this whole situation go down.
NEW: The first year we were married my mom bought me my very own beautiful willow tree nativity set, complete with a large cardboard box, packing peanuts, and paper towels. We haven’t changed a single thing about this tradition in our home. I’ll let you know how the peanuts and paper towels are doing in twenty years…
The Candlelight Service:
OLD: Every year I try to keep myself up so we can go to church for the Christmas Eve Candlelight service. It’s simple, peaceful, and solemn and always just what I need to get my heart in the right place. We sing Christmas carols and read the Christmas story out of the Book of Luke, the last one we sing is “Silent Night”. The church is completely dark and everyone is holding unlit candles. One candle is lit at the front and the flame is passed back through the church until everything has a soft quiet glow.
NEW: Nothing has changed about this tradition either, it’s my favorite one. I know it’s a favorite for others too because there are a few old friends that I’ve mostly lost touch with, but I see them every year at this service. It doesn’t get done until just after midnight and I love getting to officially wish everyone “Merry Christmas” before heading home.
Painting Ornaments: Every November Nathan and I go to paint the town and we each paint an ornament. It’s really sweet that he humors me this way, I’m usually WAY more intricate with mine so he just ends up sitting there waiting for me to finish (and he usually leaves to make a Starbucks run). It’s so fun to take them out every year and see what we’ve painted from years past. We’re starting to amass quite the collection.
Christmas Dinner and Devotional: We are so so lucky. Our families actually like spending time together. Every year on Christmas I host a dinner with both of our families and it’s a huge blessing not to feel torn between two houses. It’s not very fancy, usually baked potatoes or something I can prepare ahead of time, and it’s quite crowded…there are 15 people just in our immediate families. But it’s a great time to get together, eat, play games, and Nathan usually reads us a Christmas themed devotional after dinner. We have a favorite that is made up of the stories behind the people who wrote beloved Christmas Carols.
So, yeah, I’m a little crazy. I’ve always been a very sentimental and nostalgic person so this personality quirk isn’t entirely surprising but I’ve been trying to be careful this year to only celebrate the traditions that build in meaning, not obligation to this season. There can be so much a sense of expectation and performance that really steals the joy and magic. I’ve had to learn that just because it was great once doesn’t mean it will be great the following twenty times. I can tend to really fall victim to trying to incorporate traditions merely to try to recreate the magic of something that happened in an organic way, which is just not the same thing. It’s a learning process…hey! Maybe cutting one tradition every year can be my new “tradition”!