I love traditions. It may be something simple – like having a carrot cake muffin the morning of my anniversary, since that’s what I ate on the way to get married – but it has a way of breathing life and meaning into what might be Just Another Day. Traditions help us keep the memory of loved ones alive, allow us to impart a family legacy, imbue a treasured constant in a forever-changing world.

When I think of family movie night, I automatically envision big bowls of buttered popcorn and cups of root beer, a fond memory from my childhood (and a mandatory “intermission” for bedtime, followed by much protest). My love of reading probably stems somewhat from family story time, when the kids would pile on Mom and Dad’s bed and Dad would read from a book that was probably above our heads (he had a way of trailing off into silence, and we would all chime in with “read, read!” if he was quiet for too long). When I think of Thanksgiving, I chuckle at the thought that I used to groan at my parents’ insistence that we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for – gimme dessert already! – but now I can’t wait to voice all the blessings God has bestowed. Christmas Eve was always spent at my grandparents’ house, and we got to open their presents to us that night, instead of waiting for Christmas day.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is a close second – we have so much to be thankful for, and my children are both Thanksgiving babies – but Christmas is a time to celebrate Jesus. What can be more important than that? Since having children, raising a family, I’ve become more aware of the traditions we want to start or continue, values we hope to instill in their hearts.

I remember many Christmases with wrapped packages overflowing under the tree and around the perimeter of the room. We were fortunate to have been able to afford more than some, and those times do hold special memories. However, getting older and having kids has a way of shifting your priorities. Phil and I have a desire to downplay presents, and focus on charity. Christmas has become so commercialized; even with good intentions, I find myself so easily caught up in the holiday pressure of finding The Perfect Gift, having everything Just So, focusing on how many check marks I’ve made on my to-do list. Why not funnel some of that energy into doing good for others and being a witness for Jesus? After all, it’s His birthday. Trying to live economically and be good stewards of our time and money has also contributed to this shift in perspective.

Each year our church coordinates a variety of charity drives. For Thanksgiving we put together dinner baskets for needy families. For Christmas we do Operation Christmas Child and a toy drive with the Arctic Mission. It has been so much fun involving Gwendolyn in picking out toys and items for children who can’t afford these things. Last year she kept talking about “toys for kids, toys for kids!” and was so excited about it. I want to impassion my children with a desire for helping others while they’re still young so it will become second-nature to them, their lifestyle.

Somewhere along the line family members agreed we would just do gifts for the kids, or organize a Secret Santa so we weren’t going crazy with the presents. Our own little family will do Christmas stockings with small treats for the kiddos. When Phil was a little boy, his parents got him a small Lego set each Christmas, so one of these years we’ll start doing that for Gwen and Josiah. This is mainly for her birthday, but every year I’m adding a new charm for a bracelet, and I’ll pass it on when she’s perhaps sixteen or eighteen.  Josiah will get a Matchbox car each year.  I plan to keep these collections a secret. Nichole gave me Your Birthday Book: A Keepsake Journal which I started for Gwen, and this year I got one for Josiah. These types of traditions just make me feel warm and fuzzy and emotional and my how time flies! I can just imagine waking up one day soon, filling out the last page in the sixteen-year book, buying the last charm for Gwen’s bracelet, wrapping them up for that special day… remembering how it all started. *sigh*

I am a firm believer in taking one holiday at a time, sucking the marrow out of each occasion before moving to the next. Therefore… no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving! Now that it’s December and turkey leftovers are all gone, I have Christmas music playing ‘round the clock and the Christmas lights on all day. I get so excited about taking decorations out of storage, uncovering and unwrapping each item like it’s a newfound treasure. I particularly enjoy taking out all the tree ornaments; each one has a story, and I’ve had some since I was a little girl.

My siblings and I each had our own shoebox filled with ornaments, aside from the family collection. I still have many of those ornaments, and now I’ve started shoeboxes for Gwendolyn and Josiah. Since they were born around the holidays, it’s a good excuse to add to their collection. They each have “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments, pink and blue booties, hand-print impressions, and this year I will add a piece from Grandma Edna’s collection. We’ve already hung Grandpa Norman’s glass train on our tree this year.

My in-laws gave us the Little People Nativity Advent Calendar this year. Rather last-minute I came up with a list of 25 activities and treats for each day. It has been so much fun to watch as Gwen gets excited about what each new day brings. Not only does it give me a chance to be creative in what I plan each day, but it affords some special time for all of us and helps us focus on what’s important.

The first activity in the advent calendar was to set up the Little People nativity scene, which was Gwen’s present from the grandparents last year. We have designated it a Christmas toy, so we’re only going to have it around December-January. We also break out a couple other Christmas-only books and toys, and so far these have been a hit with the kiddos.

I’m half Danish, and my family had a tradition of eating ableskiver at Christmas.  I forget if we had it for Christmas or New Year’s, but I’ve decided that will be our Christmas morning breakfast, followed by the opening of the stockings.  I’m not sure if this is Danish, or just my crazy family, but we always went to my father’s parents’ for Christmas Eve, and at the end of the evening we would all hold hands around the Christmas tree, and circle it singing favorite Christmas songs and carols, ending with a Danish song.  We would make fun of this tradition every now and then, but I just love it now and am so glad we do it.

I am excitedly counting down the days to Christmas each morning with Gwendolyn, relishing these special times and the traditions we’re passing along and making together.

What are some of your family traditions?