Welcome to Blogmas 2017! We are so excited to have Elizabeth Spencer with us today from Guilty Chocoholic Mama blogging with us today!
How To Start New Family Holiday Traditions: A True Story
Once upon a Christmastime, there was a busy mom who had A LOT to get done on Christmas Eve Day. She needed her children to be occupied with something that did not require her involvement, oversight, or assistance, so she suggested they plan an at-home Christmas Eve service for their family that night. The children disappeared into the playroom, and the mom disappeared into the kitchen. The mom got her work done, and later that night, the children “invited” their parents to a candlelit service in their living-room-turned-sanctuary. The whole thing turned out to be the best Christmas gift since the original Christmas Gift, and everyone lived (mostly) merrily ever after.
So, of course, the mom in this little yuletide tale is me, and the children are my now-teenage daughters. What has become our traditional at-home family Christmas Eve service truly was born this way. I just threw the “go plan a Christmas Eve service” suggestion at my daughters without really expecting much. But year after year, they’ve surprised and delighted us with hand-written “programs” and welcome signs and decorative lighting and instrumental duets and readings and raps and dances and videos.
If you’re hoping to start a new family tradition that will become a classic, here are a few things I learned from our very accidental success.
Get the kids involved.
First, some full disclosure: I did not set out to involve my children in our then-new tradition. To be brutally honest, I “involved” my two daughters to get them out of my hair…so I could tackle my to-do list…so I could be “Cheerful Christmas Mommy” the next day. Thank goodness my rather ornery coping technique ended up working out so well. In any case, you see my point, don’t you? If your children are going to embrace your new tradition, they’re going to need to be invested in it. Maybe your kids aren’t old enough or interested enough to plan an entire event or project, but you can still give them a choice of one or two specific roles to play within the larger plan. On the other hand, maybe your children are both old enough and interested enough to craft a live-action Nativity scene on your front lawn. (If they do this, please send pictures.)
Base your new tradition on your family’s needs and preferences.
It doesn’t matter what Facebook friends or Pinterest people say you should do if it doesn’t work for the actual humans who live in your house. Early in our marriage, my husband and I spent every Christmas Day either with his side of the family or mine, on alternating years. Because of this, we claimed Christmas Eve as our at-home day and, as a result, didn’t want to venture out to a Christmas Eve service. Thus, our in-house event was born and made perfect sense for us. But maybe your family loves to go to church on Christmas Eve, and you want to start a new tradition of delivering a plate of cookies and a Christmas carol to a shut-in near the church. Maybe your family enjoys playing games together…and so you start a tradition of giving a new board game every year, with an inaugural round on Christmas Day. Maybe brunch on Christmas morning is a big deal; you could start a tradition of everyone in the family choosing a menu item and (if you’re that kind of family) helping prepare it. Whatever you add to your holiday line-up is supposed to be a want-to, not a have-to.
Keep it simple.
You don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway: the holidays are not the time for adding something (else) complicated. Here again, you’re looking to increase joy, not stress. For example: a couple years ago at holiday time, a teenage-heartbreak crisis led my daughters and I to make an ice-cream-and-French-fries run at 10 o’clock one night. We went in our pajamas (thank you, drive-through!) and cranked up Christmas music and
admired holiday light displays en route. There was no planning, no preparation, and a total expense of under $10. Yet my girls have brought it up again and again as a happy memory, in spite of the circumstances that precipitated it. We’re looking forward to repeating that very simple tradition in years to come…minus (please, God, hear my prayer) the heartbreak factor.
Just because you “do” your new tradition one way one year doesn’t mean you’re locked into doing it that way forever. Some years, my daughters have worked on our Christmas Eve service for weeks in advance. They’ve put together handmade programs and made up dances and practiced instrumental duets. Other years—like last year, when they were both crazy-busy with school and extracurriculars practically right up until Christmas—they stripped it down to our favorite “live music video” (basically, acting out this song) and a fabulous YouTube version of the Christmas story. Both variations, along with all those in between, honored the spirit of our tradition. If pizza for Christmas Eve dinner is your tradition, you might make it homemade some years but have it delivered the next. If you normally go see a movie on Christmas Day but figure out that everything in the theaters is awful, throw in a DVD and pop some popcorn and do the thing at home. The point is togetherness and the accumulation of memories, not being driven by details.
In our family, we maintain that looking forward to something is at least half the fun of it. So often, happy moments surprise us, and while we of course want to savor spontaneity, sometimes we feel we missed out a little on the chance to anticipate. When you’re putting together your new tradition, be ready to receive delight from it. Maybe it won’t go exactly as planned. Maybe it will be a one-and-done, and you’ll try something else next year. But as long as your family is doing the thing together, in the spirit of love and celebration, it will be a source of rejoicing…and that is absolutely something to look forward to.
What now–classic holiday traditions were once new to your family?
What are you trying this year that might become a classic?
I’d love to have you share about it in a comment…maybe it needs to become a tradition in my house, too.
Blessings this Christmas season to you!
Elizabeth Spencer is a Midwest mom to two teenage daughters who make her look really good as a mother. She’s been married for more than 20 years to an exceedingly patient husband and lives with her family in a 100-year-old farmhouse that needs 100 years’ worth of work. She blogs about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama. You can also read her ramblings on Facebook.