growing up, my house was filled with family traditions throughout the year. everything from eskimo and butterfly kisses after family prayers each night to making homemade pasta together every first sunday of the month. but nothing can really compare to the traditions we shared together around the holidays. i think it’s partly why i love this time of year so much… because of the childhood memories my family made and cultivated every year as i grew up with my four younger siblings. there were a few christmas seasons in there where my family didn’t have a lot financially, and i’m sure my parents felt that extra pressure consumerism tends to put on everyone during the holiday season in particular, but all the experiences and traditions and love we shared within my family always trumped anything under a christmas tree. i’m really thankful for the emphasis my parents placed on the season, and the memories that make this time of year an extra special one for me.
a few of my favorite holiday traditions my family shared growing up range from simpler things like watching home alone together on thanksgiving after napping off our turkey dinner in the late afternoon, to listening to the trans-siberian orchestra’s christmas album (their rendition of the nutcracker suite in particular) while decorating our house for the holidays…it always guaranteed a crazy dance party in the living room! there were also things like how my mom would always make an ice cream roll cake on christmas eve and we’d sing happy birthday to baby Jesus. i know that one weirds some people out (my husband included) but it was a fun family tradition and we meant it with the most respect.
the nutcracker ballet was also a huge part of my family’s holiday traditions throughout the years since my sister and i performed in it every single year since we were little girls up until we both moved to new york city to continue on to professional dancing tracks (there were a few years actually where all four of us sisters were dancing in it!) i will probably have the nutcracker choreography engrained into my mind permanently for the rest of my life, and will never forget the countless hours around the holidays we spent rehearsing and performing. there was always such anticipation and excitement built up around that time in our home since our entire family was involved. i really owe it to my parents for all the hours they’d spend driving us to and from rehearsals, sitting at the rehearsals, and then all the performances they had to endure. i think my mom will be sick of the nutcracker for the rest of her life. ;)
i don’t think my dad intended for this to become tradition, but one year when i was a teenager, my sisters and i were realizing we didn’t have christmas gifts for everyone in our family just yet (my mom in particular — she is really hard to shop for), and it was already the sunday before christmas. since christmas eve was on a monday that year, my dad loaded all us kids into the car that evening (sunday night) around 11pm and we drove down to wal-mart and sat in the parking lot together blasting christmas music and talking until the clock hit midnight! once it was midnight and technically no longer sunday (we try not to shop on the sabbath), we raced into wal-mart and everyone split up to try to grab last minute christmas gifts for each other while trying not to see each other in the store! it was so much fun! and a fun tradition for us kids to keep up with our dad every sunday night the week before christmas to shop at 12AM monday morning together for last minute gifts.
those are just a few of the fun traditions that have stuck with me from my childhood and teenage years. it will be fun over the next several years to see what traditions we are able to create and cultivate with eleanor and samson and this new little baby on the way. we’ve tried out a few the last few years, and hope to add more with time.
a few favorite holiday traditions we’ve enjoyed so far:
—view all the holiday lights! in addition to putting up our own lights, it’s fun to get out and see all the lights around the neighborhood or in your city! i think the lights at the national zoo in DC are still my favorite.
—read david sedarias’ holidays on ice together. better yet, get the audio recording and listen to him read the essays. so good.
—make a tradition of cooking the same dish or dessert together as an entire family in the kitchen. josh likes to make his famous ginger cookies each year and it’s always fun to be a part of that in the kitchen! we make a triple batch and deliver and share them with friends.
—get and decorate a tree together (and a tiny tree for the kiddos!) a couple years back, eleanor picked out her first christmas tree for the nursery, and we’ve kept up the tradition every year since.
—get together with friends for a dessert party, or ugly sweater party, or some kind of holiday themed party. we’ve enjoyed hosting pie nights or dessert nights in the past with friends. depends on baby’s arrival this year, but we hope to do one again this year! last year, our friends hosted an ugly sweater party and asked friends to bring a talent to share. we made up a little pas de deux to perform. it was a lot of fun! just finding an excuse to get together with good friends and be silly and eat yummy treats is always a good time in my book. the holidays are a perfect excuse to stop putting off hosting and just have a party already!
—wear matching christmas PJ’s for the entire family to sleep in on christmas eve! my mom actually sent our family some fun striped ones last year (you can see them HERE) and i live for these kinds of dorky family moments where we are all matching and coordinated and festive! a special thank you to josh once more for being willing to put those on. ;)
—complete 25 christmas challenges! my mom actually sent us a package several years ago when were newly weds with 25 of her favorite christmas stories as well as 25 christmas challenges. she asked us to read one story and complete one challenge each day. i share the list HERE if you’d like to join in and participate this year. it is a great way to get into the holiday spirit and serve.
—learn a holiday song or tune together and go caroling! since E and S are small, we spend a lot of time listening to all the christmas classics when we’re at home and learning the staples, like rudolph the red nosed reindeer or jingle bells! this year we hope to go caroling (maybe just to our neighbors in our apartment building) and bring along all their tiny pretend instruments so we can rock out while performing.
—make a little christmas film! i still never know what i’m doing when we’re making little family videos together, but we always have so much fun creating them! we’ve made a few around the holidays together. you can see our first one we made decorating our tree in our tiny harlem studio apartment HERE and last year’s with the kiddos HERE.
—decorate gingerbread houses! we actually kickstarted the holidays last week making these with friends!
—serve together. i’m not quite sure how to implement this one with our little ones just yet (if you have any ideas, please share!) but serving together in a soup kitchen or shelter is a wonderful way to spend time during the holidays (and throughout the year, frankly.) we recently helped serve breakfast at the meatloaf kitchen here in nyc with a few readers (thank you again for coming!) and hope to do it more often with many of you! nothing beats the way you feel serving others. i think i got more out of that morning than i gave back.
—enjoy the weather! if there is snow, get outside ASAP and build a snowman! we have tried to do this every year there has been snow! it’s just too fun.
—help support a good cause. we like to choose a charity to give to as a family. last year was extra meaningful since our kids (eleanor at least) were able to be a part of that process by helping pick out animals from the heifer international catalog to donate. (for example, giving the gift of sheep or chickens helps a family in need help themselves.)
—watch a special christmas movie. just like home alone was part of my family’s movie tradition growing up, we’ve been enjoying how the grinch stole christmas and it’s a wonderful life at our home for the past 7 years together (although i might be the only person on this earth who doesn’t totally love sitting down and watching it’s a wonderful life every single year. a great movie, of course, but you know….)
—enjoy a nativity viewing or christmas devotional. our church puts on a special christmas program each year, and it’s always a really beautiful evening of music and a devotional that can’t be beat.
—see the nutcracker! even after over a decade of performing in it, i don’t get sick of it. and josh has been a great sport of going with me almost every year to see it! i took eleanor to see the radio city christmas spectacular last year and this year we saw it again with josh and samson. that show is also a really great one if you’re here in the city. you can’t beat the rockettes doing their classic toy soldier number. you just can’t!
—visit santa claus (with or without kids!) even before the little ones came along, we haven’t missed a year of visiting santa together dating back to our days of dating in the city… cause you’re never too old to sit on santa’s lap, right? (also, cause i just think they photos are the cutest, see eleanor’s first visit HERE and samson’s first HERE.)
is it too early to say… happy holidays and merry christmas?!?!?!?!