Find Joy in Holiday Traditions

People light up when you ask about family holiday traditions.  Some are classic...Christmas cookies, tree trimming, caroling.  Some are altruistic...volunteering at the soup kitchen, donating toys for less fortunate, random acts of kindness.  And some are just totally quirky.  (One person recently told me about karaoke on Christmas day; another told me about a designated “joke chair”…everyone would gather around, and if you wanted to tell a joke, you got in the chair and everyone would listen).  But the common theme that runs through them all is that they are memorable.  They are the experiences that become noteworthy and significant.  Ask an adult what gifts they remember receiving over the holidays, and most will probably give you a blank stare (or, perhaps one particularly magical childhood memory of an awesome present).  Ask the same adult to recall their family traditions, or what they remember most about the holidays, and the emotion-drenched memories will pour out of their face.

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"Maybe Christmas," he thought "didn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more."

As a mom of a young child, it’s on my mind... how do I make happy, momentous traditions for our family?  Naturally, the first place we turn is our own experiences.  Growing up, we were a…um…tad unconventional.  There was never a strong religious focus (holidays or not), but I frequently feared that religious folks would pass judgment on our unique festivities.  (And never wanting to offend folks, I would just sort of lay low and keep kinda’ quiet).  But, here goes!  Here are some of the holiday traditions that I remember and cherish:

We would string popcorn for the tree (which, my husband recently labeled as “trashy.”  Is it?  I never thought that)

We would trim the tree and listen to Nat King Cole, drink hot chocolate and engage is sisterly banter over who would get to hang the prized milk crate ornament.  (I'm not sure why we thought it was so cool)

We would open all the gifts (except Santa’s) on Christmas Eve.  But first, we’d be absolutely tortured with an un-Godly long drive around town to "ooo" and "ahhh" at all the lights.

Ok… here’s where it gets “unconventional.”  Ready?

We would celebrate Hanukkah… and often receive Christmas socks as Hanukkah gifts.   (Because, you know, Hanukkah is frequently prior to Christmas.  This way we could * wear * our Christmas socks on Christmas)

We didn’t go to Christmas Mass.... and we didn’t say a Hanukkah prayer or blessing.  We light the Menorah, exchanged small gifts and laughed at my Mom for not knowing more about the holiday her family always celebrated.


Here’s what I’m getting at, friends.  Traditions have a funny and captivating way of bringing us back to each other.  Traditions combat materialism.  Partly why I innately push back against the holidays is because the focus is so concentrated on “things.”  The sales.  The crowds.  The expectation to express your love in the perfect package, all tied up with the prettiest of bows.

Two things that are mighty powerful at contesting the narrow focus of buying and having cool shit are

1) Traditions and

2) Altruistic gestures (i.e. helping others, volunteering, donating…etc)

And the reason I am writing this whole silly blog post is to say: Holiday Traditions can up your happiness.  Take the emphasis off the gifts.  Research shows that kids/ families who are more focused  on the wish list experience less joy (not just during the holidays, but throughout the year….long term).  Traditions give us a sense of being a part of something beyond ourselves.

What are your hilarious, treasured, obscure, annoying holiday traditions?  In what ways do you come together with those you love and cherish this time of year?

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you peace and unbridled joy this holiday season.  May you light up with memories that will be firmly planted in your being for years to come.  Please love each other.  Please forgive each other.  Please honor each other.  And offer grace and yourself first, and then to everyone.

Go! Play!

Cailin Robinson