Our Favorite Christmas Traditions

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Charlotte and I are not holiday BFFs.

I read about Charlotte in a magazine. The article gushed over her colorful, fun Christmas decorations. She turns her tree into an Advent calendar by placing prize-filled paper bags on it, one for each day of the month until Christmas. She makes yarn pom-poms. She helps her five children create felt and sequin garlands. She even custom-decorates her wrapping paper. Charlotte really knows how to do Christmas.

I’m afraid that Charlotte would find my holiday prep bitterly disappointing. Christmas in our house is very low-key. The decorations are minimal (mostly just the Christmas cards we receive); the tree doesn’t go up until mid-December (and it’s artificial); and the gift wrapping is pretty awful (I never got the knack of it).

But that doesn’t mean we don’t “do” Christmas. We have a few favorite traditions that make the season special.

Advent Wreath. Darren enjoys the readings, prayers, and candle-lighting that lead up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Two evenings a week, he turns off all the lights, has a child light a candle, and reads the family a short devotional and prayer. Although no one else is as enthusiastic about it as he is (Gamerboy refers to this season as “Dadvent”) those quiet moments of just candlelight and prayer are surprisingly profound.

Christmas Riding. My younger sister and I named this tradition long ago. Mom would pile us and our older siblings into the minivan and drive through our little town to look at Christmas lights. It was an easy tradition to continue once I was married and had my own children. We added the extra fun of getting hot chocolate, or in the case of this year, peppermint milkshakes. Not all of our Christmas Riding adventures have been successes—once, my bad sense of direction took us down dark, one-lane back roads with no lights, an experience more like Stephen King than Hallmark—but it’s one we look forward to every year.

Cheese Straws. If you’re Southern, you know what cheese straws are. My grandma made dozens of these crispy, cheesy snacks at Christmas. Somewhere over the years, I lost her handwritten recipe, much to my dismay. Fortunately, I can find other recipes easily online. I bake them while Darren and the kids put up and decorate the tree. My family devours them hot from the oven, washing them down with a cold glass of eggnog. Here’s the recipe I usually use.

Christmas Break. When I was asking the family about their favorite Christmas traditions, Bookgirl piped up with this one. After thinking about it, I decided she had a good point. Two weeks of no school, not even geography flashcards at the supper table, makes for a much-needed break after a busy fall and holiday season.

Christmas Eve Service. Our church closes Advent and welcomes Christmas with a traditional candlelit service. It features Christmas carols, lots of greenery, and little candles (or glow sticks, which are less likely to leave scorch marks on church furniture). Even better, it’s very accommodating to excited, restless kids. After all, it’s almost Christmas!

Ordering In for Christmas Eve. Since we live far away from any family, big holiday meals with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are not something we can look forward to. So Darren brought in a tradition from his own growing-up years: eating Chinese on Christmas Eve. We’ve reinterpreted that to mean that we all order from our favorite restaurants. Sometimes Darren visits as many as four different restaurants on December 24th to pick up everyone’s requests. Other years, we wait until Christmas Day to eat lunch at a local Indian restaurant. It’s not exactly Christmas dinner at Grandma’s, but it’s something to look forward to.

Obviously, my house is not as festive as Charlotte’s. But to be honest, I bet she’d see that we enjoy the season as much as she does. As long as we make room for the traditions that we love the most, we wake up on Christmas morning ready to celebrate.

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So whether your holiday looks more like mine or Charlotte’s, I hope it’s full of the traditions that you most enjoy. From the Jones family to yours, Merry Christmas!

—Sara

Photo Credit: iStock

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