My husband, John, and I were married at a young age. Fresh out of college, we started our life together with nothing. No money in the bank. No furniture. No help from the parentals. Zip. We didn’t even have pots and pans to cook mac and cheese, which was about all we could afford at the time.
But we didn’t care. We had each other, and we were excited about our future. That is, until our first Christmas came around. We had no tree. No ornaments. It was depressing. Yes, we made do. And we certainly didn’t complain, because we were fortunate. We had good jobs, a lovely apartment, and we were never hungry. Still, our little Charlie Brown tree with its smattering of cheap, wooden Walgreen’s ornaments was sad.
So when we had our daughter, Claire, we started our first family tradition: Each year we buy her an ornament of her own, knowing that by the time she’s out of college, living on her own, she will have a Christmas tree covered with joyous delights. Claire started picking out her own ornaments when she was old enough to talk. She’s collected a mix of ballerinas, puppies, gingerbread houses, snowmen, women and, more recently, quirky creatures like the narwhal pictured here, all of which reflect her wonderfully artsy personality.
Shopping for Claire’s annual ornament and putting it on the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving with her 20-plus other ornaments has become our favorite family tradition.
It made me think: Many families have holiday traditions. Which ones might spark fresh ideas for all of us? I posted a few queries to Facebook. Here are some that will make you smile. You might even want to give them a try.
Holiday Poetry Slam
“The in-law side of my family has a tradition of reciting poems over homemade appetizers. We work on the poems the week leading up to Christmas and, before opening presents, we take turns sharing. Often inappropriate and always funny, the tradition is not far from a Friars Club Roast. We munch on the food while reading, and we’re always too full for real dinner.” —Ginger Scott, Glendale, Arizona
“We keep all the charity solicitations that arrive in the mail in a basket all year. On the eighth night of Hanukkah, instead of getting gifts, we all sit around and discuss the different organizations and give each family member money to contribute to the organizations they deem most worthy.” —Jessica Tolmach, Greenwich, Connecticut
Before moving from the Chicago area to Austin, where the climate is warmer this time of year, we’d set out luminarias on Christmas Eve. With snow on the ground, we’d place them on a sled and set them along the sidewalk. When the luminarias were all in place, we’d light a candle in each of one. I used to think it was so Santa could find our home.” —Nicole Hoeffer-Korensky, Austin, Texas
A Gift of Laughter
“We have a relatively new tradition in lieu of giving out Christmas gifts: We choose a TV show from the 1970s or 1980s, assign everyone a role, and dress up in character and take pictures. Instead of shopping for gifts in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we are at thrift stores and resale shops unearthing the clothes, wigs and props we need. In 2015, we did WKRP in Cincinnati. This year we are doing Three’s Company. We’ve already planned 2019. It’s Cheers.” —Andrea Avery, Phoenix, Arizona
“My mother used to make Scotch shortbread every Christmas from an authentic recipe she got from a Scottish neighbor in Chicago. She made it just the right size to fit in coffee cans so she could ship it back to my grandfather in South Dakota. My grandfather always remembered his mother’s shortbread and, try as she might, his wife’s attempts were never as good.” —Penny Bentley, Phoenix, Arizona
A Very Pinterest New Year
“On New Year’s Day, we invite a group of friends and family to each pick a Pinterest recipe and then we spend the day making the dishes. Together we enjoy our first meal of the year over wine, good or bad food, and lots of love.” —Cheryl Blanco, Austin, Texas
Sing-Along New Year’s
“For New Year’s Eve, my husband and I like to make apps and watch musicals. We view it as a time to build the ultimate charcuterie board and drink all the French 75 cocktails we can!” —Jenny Babich, Phoenix, Arizona
Family Melting Pot
“My mom (and me and my siblings and our families) are Jewish and my stepdad (and my stepsiblings and their families) are Catholic. So in order to spend a combined ‘winter holiday’ together, we created ‘Taco Fest,’ which takes place between Christmas and Hanukkah each year. It is a strange blend of activities that we’ve been celebrating for 15 years now.” —Rachael Cordova, Phoenix, Arizona
A Little Italy
“Having an Italian background, our family tradition is… what else? Food. Every year after Thanksgiving, I make 100 cheese ravioli. Some are for our Christmas Day dinner. The others I freeze to serve to myself and friends. I usually run out by June.” —Mike Cerasoli, Chicago, Illinois
The Memory Tree
“My husband and I have a special Christmas tree filled with ornaments from every place we travel. When Christmas comes around, we have a glass of wine, unwrap the ornaments, and decorate the tree together. Such sweet fun reliving all of our vacation memories. Especially after almost 14 years together!” —Brady Andreas, Phoenix, Arizona
Gaming the Holiday
“In an attempt to shift the focus from gifts to family fun, we instituted a Minute-to-Win-It-style competition. Kids of all ages compete in silly games battling it out for yearlong bragging rights. It’s crazy fun. Last year, we ended the games by forming two teams that had to use gift wrap, bows, etc., to race-wrap the grandparents from head to toe. The laughter and love that fills this time together is the whole point of the holidays if you ask me. And the kids—ages 4 to 15—can’t wait for the next year’s competition!” —Molly Logan Anderson, Chicago, Illinois
Each year I make my kids a Christmas Eve box. It includes a new pair of jammies, microwave popcorn, their favorite movie snacks, hot cocoa mix and a Christmas movie. We all watch the Christmas movie before bed, with a roaring fire. We started it 17 years ago with our oldest, and have never missed a year!” —Erin Wright, Wallace, Kansas
Let Them Eat Pie
“My husband’s grandma made sure there was a ‘pie for every person’ at the family celebration. Not that anyone would eat the whole pie, but just to make sure everyone felt special. By the time I joined the crew, the lineup of pies on the counter was epic and hilarious. Lots of pie to taste and to take home with us. A funny and sweet thing!” —Emily Tyra, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
When Friends Are Family
“We celebrate Tamale Day (or so we have named it) with our friends just before the holidays. We know we won’t see most of them until after Christmas, so it is a way for us to get together about two weeks prior and celebrate as a friend-family. As the name implies, everyone brings their favorite tamales; each couple usually leaves with five dozen, so it’s a full-day event.” —Krysti Roush, Phoenix, Arizona
The Gift of Giving
“For years we’ve volunteered to be a decorating committee of sorts for a small assisted-living residence. We have a blast going in and decorating for the holidays, reminiscing about Christmases and Chanukah past with the residents, and making new friends! We also bake tons of cookies to bring along.” —Tammy Hathaway, Strong, Maine
Paying It Forward
“I buy a new ‘giving plate’ every year and load it up with stuff I bake. I give it to someone who has had a particularly rough year—a death in the family or a lost a job, for example. I also make up a plate for anyone who has helped me when I was in serious need. It’s not much, but it’s nice to let them know that their assistance hasn’t been forgotten. And it’s also nice to feel like your help is appreciated.” —Kelly Shoemaker, Stafford, Virginia
Fun—Any Way You Slice It
“I love to make my clock cheesecake for New Year’s Eve. It never makes it to midnight. It’s gone before the clock strikes 12!” —Lisa Allen, Joppa, Alabama