Do you believe in Christmas traditions? If your Christmas spirit is waning, you may need a trip down memory lane. Here’s why I still believe in Christmas traditions!
by Kim Payne | Kim Payne has two sons, four publications, and too many notebooks and journals to count. She dreams of cool ocean breezes and iced coffee. You can follow her on Instagram @instawithkim.
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Christmas is my favorite time of the year. That may be a cliche, but it rings true for me. The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on how we celebrate as mothers, how we celebrated as children, and how our mothers celebrated as children.
Holiday traditions can be magical and impactful. Displaying a tree seems to be a common tradition, but do you pick out your tree on the same date every year? Do you always choose fresh or artificial? Do you use the same type and color of ornaments? Do you play holiday music while trimming the tree? What about candy canes and hot cocoa with marshmallows?
These could be traditions you have started with your own family or brought through generations without you even realizing their origins.
Some movies depict the Christmas card photo shoot in August and visiting Santa at the mall. There are carols and wrapping paper galore in every place we visit. Sometimes, either in adolescence or adulthood, it may seem silly and time-consuming to have certain holiday moments. We can get grinch-like and annoyed, but look a little deeper, and you may be surprised that those family holiday memories are indeed special and can make a great impression on those involved. (Even if their heart hasn’t grown to realize it yet.)
I had a stirring inside of me to learn more about my family and I spoke with my mother. I discovered that each year, my mom, my grandparents, and my uncle started their Christmas festivities on my grandfather’s birthday, December 16. That was the day their tree was chosen, set up, and decorated. My grandpa would call his artist friend and commission a Christmas window scene on their living room bay window. (I didn’t even know what kind of home my mom lived in when she was a child.) My mom said she looked forward to that window scene for months and that it was always pretty and festive. It is one of her favorite Holiday memories.
Her family also took an annual Christmas Eve car drive to look at holiday lights while they were dressed in pajamas. They came home and indulged in hot chocolate and cookies. My grandma was a fantastic baker; I imagine the cookies were tasty and decorated with colorful sprinkles.
This image delights me. To think of my mom as a young child, with her younger brother, and my grandparents, all dressed in pajamas (maybe even Christmas-themed) driving in grandpa’s station wagon (yes, that was his car of choice) looking and smiling at the simple but powerful effect of twinkling lights makes me smile. It adds a glow to my heart.
On Christmas Day, her family would head to her aunt’s house and all of the relatives would be gathered together for food and fun. This was in California in the 60s.
As I reflected on my mom’s memories, I started searching for my own Christmas childhood. Even though we did not have a specific day that we decorated our tree, we always had a real tree because my mom loves the smell of pine. We decorated with handmade school ornaments and metal ornaments with engravings of our birth year. There was also silver tinsel on the tree and even though it made a mess, just like those pesky pine needles, we loved it.
The wrapped gifts started appearing under the tree but we knew the special big ones were hidden at the top of mom’s bedroom closet. Did we peek? Ah, we might have once or twice. There were four of us girls so we were bound to have at least one curious amongst us.
We would beg mom to open a gift early. We would shake the boxes trying to hear any clue of what awaited us. My mom decided to let us open one present every Christmas Eve and we were allowed to choose which gift. This was California in the 80s.
I kept the tradition of Christmas Eve presents with my boys after I became a mother. Actually, my sisters kept the tradition with their own children, too. My boys and I, as well as my mom, and other siblings, would head to our sister’s house each Christmas Eve to ensure we would all be together in the morning. The Christmas Eve presents could be opened at 7PM. Then in bed by 9PM. (As the children got older, that bedtime was a little harder to adhere to but even if they couldn’t fall asleep, they could not come out to the living room.) The children would all rise early but we had a set time of 7AM before the presents could be opened. The stockings and unopened gifts left by Santa were the exceptions.
Both of my sons had memories of being the first people to wake up on Christmas morning. Heading to the living room by the brightly-colored tree, they would spy the stockings laid in a row at the base of the tree with a name tag beside each stocking. Grabbing a prime seating space near the tree, they would explore their stockings. The adults would arise, get their much-needed coffee, and if the clock said it was time, the gifts would be passed out to each person. The pure excitement as each person waited in their seating space for their name to be called and for a gift delivered to them was adorable. Even the adults got into a happy moment. It was organized, but fun chaos.
By 7:30AM, the only gifts still waiting to be unwrapped belonged to the older adults and very small toddlers. A homemade breakfast would follow and the Christmas parade would be on TV as everyone admired their new sparkly items. At 3PM, the dinner feast of ham and traditional Thanksgiving-themed sides (minus the turkey) would begin. This was Nevada in the 2000s.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about my family. Take a pause this holiday season and reflect on your traditions: past, present, and future. As my mom lovingly told me after her recent trip down memory lane, “doing this took me back to a happy time, so thank you, I enjoyed doing it.”
Keep believing in the magic of Christmas and family, as it can bring you the biggest gift you could imagine.