Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Traditions

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let's Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Family traditions are a tricky one for me. On one hand, it seems like so much fun to create traditions over every little thing, every holiday, every milestone, every everything. On the other hand, well, it's a lot of work and I'm not entirely sure how necessary every single one really is.

That said, many of our family traditions center around Christmas.

Thus far, they've changed a little every year. Sometimes we add new things, or tweak old things, or potentially drop things that don't work. I've chosen to give myself the permission to let go of those things that aren't really working for us on any given year. This year and last year, for instance, it was the mass mailing of Christmas cards. I do love doing them, in theory, but they are just a whole lot of work and a whole lot of money. With Facebook being as popular as it is, I can't think of too many people who would get a card from us that haven't seen plenty of pictures and updates over the year already, anyways.

Every year, save for this year (when we were bored and shut-in from a freak Seattle snowstorm), we put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving. We then drag out the small amount of decorations that we have for the rest of the house and pile our Christmas CDs next to the stereo. Our ornaments for the tree have a lovely mix of history. Everything from ornaments from my childhood trees, to ones that were made by my paternal Grandmother, to a set my husband and I were given for our wedding from my maternal Grandmother, to the ornaments we've collected at extended family ornament exchanges to the new ones each family member gets every year.

We celebrate St. Nick's day every year, as well. I honestly couldn't tell you a single thing about St. Nick (other than regurgitating what I read on that website I've linked to), all I know is that on December 5th every year growing up we put out our stockings and on the morning of the 6th we found that St. Nick left us goodies in them. I carry on this tradition with my girls, mostly because it's just so much fun.

A few years back we also started advent calendars. In the past they have been chocolate calendars from Trader Joes, last year it was a Playmobil calendar and this year it is a Lego calendar.

Christmas Eve is the day that is turning out to be chock-full of family tradition. Last year we made our gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve and will be doing that again this year. We also made a fancy Christmas Eve dinner last year, something I would like to carry on with, but is definitely one of those things I will reserve the right to stop doing if it's ever too much for me.

Gingerbread houses from Christmas 2009

On Christmas Eve we give our girls a pair of Christmas pajamas, a tradition that my husband's family always had and is a lot of fun. The girls also get to open one gift that night. I am trying to make it a gift like a game or some kind of activity. This year it will be Legos or art supplies. The presents get put under the tree after they go to sleep on Christmas Eve and Santa comes and leaves one unwrapped gift for each person. This is another tradition from my husband's family. Growing up, my family would have several wrapped Santa gifts under the tree, in addition to gifts from the parents and siblings. Santa's gift may not be the biggest one under the tree, but it's usually the one that the girls most look forward to receiving.

Matching jammies from Christmas 2009

We also are leaving some things open to the girls to start on their own. They enjoy writing letters to Santa and visiting Santa, so we try to do that every year, but I don't really push for it.

In addition to all of the ways we work on making Christmas special for our own family we also extend the giving to families in need. For the past few years I have, sometimes with the help of Iris, shopped for toys to give to Toys for Tots. This year we will be giving directly to a specific family in need and the girls have helped shop for the gifts. It feels really good to be able to share our bounty with those who could benefit from it and I love that the girls are learning a valuable lesson from it, as well.

The main thing I miss, deeply, is not spending Christmas with extended family. When I grew up in Wisconsin all of my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins all lived within a relatively short drive. We always spent the holidays surrounded by family. Every single year it breaks my heart to not be with them and celebrate the holidays. When all is said and done, for me, that's really the bottom line.

It makes me sad that my girls won't grow up with the giant gatherings of family in the same way I did, but I can only hope to foster their sense of love and togetherness in a different way.

As my own family grows, I try to continue to ask myself, are the traditions we are creating supporting family togetherness? Sometimes they are, sometimes not directly. Thankfully, nothing is ever set in stone.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon December 14 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I have never been good at Christmas cards - you've just given me a valid excuse not to send them this year ;)
    I really like the idea of opening a game/activity on Christmas Eve. We always did PJ's growing up too, that seems to be a universal tradition!
    And I'm with you - I'm not into traditions just for the sake of doing the same thing. If it isn't working, then don't do it!!
    ~Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

  2. I'm with you on letting traditions evolve and cease if necessary.

    I'd like to start giving the kids PJ's on Christmas Eve. That would be fun!

    And, the Seattle snowstorm was pretty crazy, huh? Beanie was pretty sad when it finally was all gone. Little did she know it was quite a treat that it lasted as long as it did.

  3. I miss my big family Christmases too. When I was little I had so many cousins. When my Grandma died when I was 12 all those gatherings ceased and I slowly lost touch with my cousins who came from different parts of the province and country to get together. Now that I have my own family it is just us. My brother doesn't want kids and my husband's family lives across the country. My kids have never met their cousins. So I get you on that. Merry Christmas!

  4. You have so many fun traditions! My parents always did the open-one-gift on Christmas Eve, and it almost always was new pajamas, though I don't think that was completely intentional. We've adopted the same tradition, but we tend to open something now on the fun and surprising side since we don't need as many jammies anymore. :)

    I grew up not around extended family, so it's totally normal for me to celebrate as a nuclear family — but I still do mourn the lack of easy connection to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins I see in other families (and in other branches of my own), even as I see I'm recreating that situation for my children.

  5. It seems like every time I "try on" a new tradition that doesn't work, I feel a little guilty. I think I'll stop that! Thanks for the idea of giving myself permission to do that. Why should we continue something if it just doesn't work for us?

    I have a fairly large family even just including my step-siblings and their kids. So the holidays are definitely about all that. Sometimes I feel it is the most important part, but then I sometimes feel like it is a hassle, too. Sigh... aren't I a jumbled mess??

  6. I like your attitude of tweaking your traditions and dropping things that don't work. We did some of that as our children grew up, and it worked really well. Some activities were great for one or two years but wouldn't have been activities we wanted to do every year. Others we still do even though our children are now 25 and 20.

    We aren't able to attend the large family gatherings on Christmas Day either. While I miss those, it has been peaceful and a lot of fun to have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our immediate family.
    Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

  7. Love the PJ tradition! I keep thinking I want to do that, but then find we are never in need of PJs this time of year (I tend to stock up in the early fall at my twins club sale). I need to plan ahead next year!

    I hear you about the extended family stuff. We have some extended family around, but its not like what we used to do when I was a kid -- a huge group of us staying at Kachess Lodge up in Snoqualmie pass. It was magical, but not practical in the long run, but I miss it!

    I think we might have to do gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve -- that sounds fun!

  8. Your traditions sound lovely! I love that you have allowed yourself to let go of what doesn't work! Many of us don't do that when we should :-)
    Cute pictures too!
    Happy Holidays!

  9. Thank you all so much for your kind comments! I am tickled that so many of you liked my declaration that I am free to drop traditions that don't work for me (or us). It feels so liberating to not be tied down by something just because you "have to" do it and not because you really want to.

    Oh! And for those of you who want to do jammies on XMas eve but don't really need to buy your kids any more jammies . . . just save a pair! If you buy a few in Sept, squirrel away a pair for each of your kids unil XMas. That's what I do! And yes, I definitely have issues with buying my kids too many jammies. It could be worse though, right?


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