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Keep a family Christmas tradition – or start something new

Keep a family Christmas tradition – or start something new
Part of what makes Christmas so memorable are the unique traditions that families create and continue year after year.

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Growing up, my holidays were filled with family gatherings, church programs, Christmas parades and visits to Santa. As far back as I can remember, we’ve always gathered with my dad’s side for a delicious meal, presents and a reading of the story of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas Eve entailed opening presents with my parents and siblings, and having to wait until the next morning to see what Santa brought. Many of my friends grew up with similar experiences. Like my husband and me, they, too, are now carrying on traditions from their childhood and creating memories with their young families.

My friend Laina Thornton and her husband, Aaron, are celebrating their first Christmas as parents to 10-month old Avonlea. Growing up, Christmas was a major event in Laina’s household (the Gaddis family), with lots of traditions included among the festivities. One of her favorites was the night the family would don pajamas and drive the neighborhood looking at lights.

“It was a surprise to us which night until the adults would say, ‘It’s pajama night!’ We did this when family was in town and all went together,” said Laina.

The popular “hide the pickle ornament” also was a staple in the Gaddis home. While the origins of the tradition are uncertain, the premise is simple. A glass, pickle-shaped ornament is hidden in the tree and family members compete to see who can find it.

The winner receives a special gift or is given the privilege of opening the first present. The Thorntons now have their own pickle and Aaron takes the task of hiding it seriously.

“He has hidden it ridiculously well and I don’t know where it is,” joked Laina.

The two will implement some new traditions, as well, including opening a special Christmas Eve box. Laina intends to wrap up Christmas pajamas, a holiday movie, hot chocolate, and other snacks to enjoy during the movie.

“I’m planning to start this with Avonlea,” she said of the idea she found online.

A Lesson in Giving
One prominent theme I found among my friends is using Christmas as a chance to teach their children the importance of giving. “Last year, we started packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child,” said Karen Nixon. This year, she and her husband, David, let their children Macy, 5, and Bennett, 2, pick out things for a child their age and packed two boxes.

“This is something we’ve decided to do every year. It’s interesting having conversations with them about children around the world who don’t have toys and a Walmart nearby. You can even track your boxes online to see what country they wind up in.”

Leslie and Josh Higgins go a similar route with their 2-year-old daughter, Adalynn.

“We always get an angel from the Salvation Army Angel Tree,” explained Leslie. “I’ve started getting one that is the same age as Adalynn, and this year she started helping pick out gifts for the little girl we got. I explained that we were buying her Christmas because she didn’t have anyone to get her presents. Of course, she asked, ‘why’ to everything I told her, but she got into helping pick out the gifts.”

Beth and Nathan Sell also embrace this idea with their sons, Caleb, 2 ½, and Daniel, five months. “We are starting to pick an Angel Tree child the same age as each of our kids this year,” said Beth. “I am excited because I think Caleb will finally understand what it is about.”

Countdown with an Advent calendar and Scriptures
Keeping the emphasis on Christ’s birth also is a key factor for many families. Amy and Brian Price do an Advent devotional each Sunday in December with their sons Noah, 13 and Gibby, 10.

“We started when they were little and found plush material candles and wreath,” shared Amy. “Now that they are older, we use real candles and they take turns lighting one. We also sing a verse from a Christmas hymn.”

Many also use Advent calendars to count down to Christmas and incorporate Scripture with the nightly December ritual.

“Four somethings” help balance parents and children
Hearing the varied traditions from my friends has me even more excited about the coming holidays, especially for my daughter, Madelyn’s, first Christmas. A tradition we started when my son, James, was born was the “Four Somethings” gift idea.

Suggested by my former boss (thanks, Zena!), the concept is to give “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” to our children. This leaves some wiggle room to include a fun toy or splurge item, but also can be something as basic as new sheets, socks or pajamas, for the need or wear item.

Marking milestones with heirloom ornaments
We also will add a new ornament to our collection. It includes a piece from each year of our marriage highlighting major milestones such as our wedding, new home, new jobs and new babies. My mother handed down the ornament tradition to us, which she inherited from her parents. Each year on Christmas Eve, she and my dad gift all their grandchildren with a new ornament keepsake.

Christmastime has always held some of my fondest memories and it is, by far, my favorite time of year. I am grateful for the opportunity to pass down some of the same traditions my parents started with my siblings and me, and I love seeing how many of my friends are doing the same with their own families. Who knows … I may even “borrow” a few of their ideas and start some new holiday traditions at my house!

By Brittany Ransom

This article appears in the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online