It’s no secret that traditions help form family bonds. Holiday traditions can highlight the importance of values, connections, and create strong memories that last a lifetime.
What better way to start than to decorate for the holidays? I invite them all, just like my mom always did: family, friends, acquaintances, everyone. I can still hear her saying, “they might enter as friends, but by the time they leave, we're family.” Boots would get kicked off and lined up on the front porch until you'd swear we ran a shoe shop. We'd bring boxes of decorations out of the attic. Mom always let the kids lay out a plan (which we rarely stuck to) before we threw our hats and down vests on to head outside. By the end of the day, the entire house, most of the yard, and – when the guys were feeling particularly brave – even the rooftop would be transformed into a winter wonderland.
A week later, Mom would be ready for round two. Yet again the invitation was open and so were her arms. Her hugs were the best; she always knew who needed to be held for just a little longer. I can still see her standing in her kitchen, wearing her slippers and Sport Knit pants, with one of Dad’s t-shirts covering her blouse. “Works better than an apron,” she claimed. Her kitchen would transform into a cookie factory. Some would mix. Others would roll the dough. There'd be cookie sheets popping out of the oven for hours on end. That was always the best smelling day of the year. Then comes my favorite part: “The Decoration Station”. It encouraged us to get artistic, which obviously meant more sprinkles; but, the competition was the best part. Each year we voted on the winner - the “Cookie Master”, who got to take home our homemade trophy each year. When the next holiday season came around, the trophy came back to be handed off to the new Cookie Master. Definitely the favorite of the fun holiday traditions!
The Saturday before Christmas had a slightly more narrowed guest list, including immediate family and a few favorite cousins. We always met at the same time, at the same tree farm, bundled head to toe in our warmest hats, scarves, coats, snow pants, wool socks, and boots. After all, finding the “perfect tree” was no small task. Looking back now, I think maybe we could have sped up the tree finding process if we hadn't always gotten so sidetracked with Hide-and-Seek-Snowball-Fight (a game of our own invention). By the time we cut the trees and dragged them back to everyone's vehicles, hot cocoa was more of a necessity than an option.
Each year, every one of my siblings and I would receive a personalized stocking stuffer signed “Santa”. They varied every single year - some being unique ornaments sporting our nicknames, engraved jewelry, gift sets of our favorite candies, and more. It certainly became a challenge to find new ideas after so many years, but even us kids started getting in on the fun as we got older, leaving it a question as to who gave which small gift. One year, they even went as far as to stuff our original stockings with our own personalized Christmas stockings with our initials on them - the ultimate stocking stuffer!
When Christmas Day finally arrived, Mom would have us all looking so sharp before the brunch crowd arrived. I can still see Mom wearing her sweater twinset. That's probably why I have one, too. Hers was cashmere. Mine is cotton. I think she'd still approve though. Our crew was never too fond of your typical “breakfast” foods, so brunch was always something out of the ordinary. My all time favorite? Clam chowder on Christmas morning - I’ll never forget that out-of-the-ordinary brunch choice!
Years and years and years ago, before print was dead, I picked up a cheap barbecue booklet at the checkout stand of our local grocery. Sponsored by a famous charcoal company, the 60-some pages held beautiful color images of all the delicious meals you could cook on your grill simply by using this charcoal. On page 26 was a recipe for Peppercorn Beef Tenderloin with Dijon Mustard/Balsamic Vinegar Cream Sauce.
When Christmas rolled around the next year, as it always does, the family clamored for a repeat performance. I obliged. And every year since then we have made it for our Christmas dinner. Nowadays the sons-in-law do the grilling and I supervise, but aside from that, little has changed.
You probably have similar traditions in your family; Christmas matching pajamas, meals your family makes, charities you support and so on. They make the holidays such a special time. Wouldn’t it be great if every day of year felt that special?