santa baby
October 2, 2012 1:55 AM   Subscribe

Please share your non-traditional Christmas/winter holiday traditions.

My family (me, sibling, two parents) just lost our last living grandparent - with whom we were all very close - and now we basically have no extended family. Since I was a kid, we've always done Christmas at our "country" house with visiting grandparents, but now that we have no living grandparents I find myself getting depressed by the idea of doing our usual Christmas with "just" the four of us and without my amazing grandmother.

At least for this year, I'd like to try something different for the holiday instead of doing the thing where we pretend we haven't suffered a huge loss and that Christmas without relatives isn't super-lonely.

Soooo...I'd love to hear any non-traditional Christmas/winter holiday traditions that we might adapt and find meaningful.

Possibly important:

* My brother, parents, and I live near each other in NYC and we're a very close-knit family
* We are not religious; we celebrate Christmas as a time for family togetherness.
* We are open to travel.
* We do not care about gifts at all.
posted by socks are for puppets to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We have made Xmas eve non-traditional food day: generally, the person who is cooking on Christmas Day sits back and someone else has to produce something unusual, tasty and not too heavy. We've had two of us cooking 8 tapas courses in the past and all sorts of shenanigans. It's fun and bonding.

We have, over time, unconsciously assigned "traditional" roles to people too. Depending on where we are (my parents' or my wife's), my dad will put "elephant ears" (two sprigs of holly) on the pictures in the house. I will bring a variety of wine for us to try. My brother will put up some more lights. My mom will ice the cake. My father in law will make mince pies. We have a mixture of old and new traditions in there - some carried over from my grandparents and new ones we have evolved. By people falling into little roles we get ownership of the holiday and move on from the old ways.

We have also made the 26th the day for getting out and about, which is easier in the UK as there are a few horse racing events that day and other things to do. It starts with a lazy morning, cooking the breakfast my now deceased grandpa always cooked (since you asked: a tiny piece of Christmas pudding fried gently in butter). Then we head out into the cold and go do something to burn some energy instead of sitting about.

What we've also found is that not switching on the TV much works for us. We do care about gifts, so on the day itself we spend time with what we've been given - building it, using it, wearing it etc. But I like gift giving - the time and energy put into trying to find something that someone else wants, sometimes without even knowing it, is a fun exercise and reemphasises for us both how well we know one another and that we care enough to spend time finding something they want. But if you don't care about gifts, why don't you find a project and make something together - or give your family slots of time to direct what you do next - where to eat, what to see etc.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:42 AM on October 2, 2012

I know people who have a tradition of going on a cruise over the Christmas period.

The not-rich person version is what another family I know does: goes camping together. (Given your location, you might have to travel to warmer climes to make that work).

And I have a friend who bunks off solo over Christmas/New Year - books herself into a yoga or meditation retreat, or goes hiking, or skiing (depending on whether she is currently down under or i in the Northern Hemisphere). That might not work so well for a family together, though.
posted by lollusc at 3:40 AM on October 2, 2012

In my hometown area, there's a group called the Arctic League that gives toys to needy families on Christmas morning. Friends and I have been participating for about 15 years now. We meet around 4 am, stand in line for a few hours, then drive to the addresses given around 7am, delivering bags of toys. Many of us see each other only every 6-24 months these days, so it becomes a time to reconnect with each other and also give back to the community. Other volunteers work all night to get the last pieces organized, then spend the morning handing out bags to those of us driving around.
posted by knile at 3:49 AM on October 2, 2012

We like to go to the movies in the afternoon. (Well, except for my mom, who Hates Fun.)

Going out of town has worked well in several situations. We went to Chicago one year when my grandpa had died (I wasn't aware that this was behind it...) and stayed in a hotel right downtown on the river. It was snowy and we wandered around looking at the store windows before getting together with some friends and having a great dinner out. The city was so quiet and pretty, and the sky was so light (okay, it was mostly light pollution, but the snow did it, too!)

The other time was when I was married to someone whose sister had two kids. We went to a resort with a bunch of indoor waterparks. It took the burden off of any one person for hosting, but it was also kind of a present itself (the in-laws paid). It was great because we could go off and do stuff on our own (e.g. kid stuff and adult stuff), but then we came together for a nice dinner and presents. I have to say that we never actually went to the actual water parks; we spent the whole time in the paint-your-own pottery room :)
posted by Madamina at 5:13 AM on October 2, 2012

We have pulled-pork bbq for Christmas dinner with my extended family. This started with my grandmother back when I was a kid in the 60's. In Indiana, of all places. Dunno where that came from, but none of us can imagine doing anything different.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:24 AM on October 2, 2012

You could also try inviting othe friends to join your holiday celebrations in the country.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:03 AM on October 2, 2012

My wife and I watch the least holiday-appropriate movies we can think of. The Godfather, Sin City, Kill Bill, etc.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:13 AM on October 2, 2012

Literally the ONLY Christmas tradition we have in my family is that on Christmas morning we must eat breakfast sausages and applesauce. No one knows why. My mom thought it came from my dad's family and my dad thought it came from my mom's. Seriously, that is it. Once the breakfast sausages and applesauce have been consumed, there is basically no plan for the day.
posted by mskyle at 6:49 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm Jewish. Our Christmas plans are usually involve eating Chinese and going to see a movie together. Highly recommended.
posted by grouse at 7:20 AM on October 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

After my grandparents all passed away we definitely ended up being the only non-Chinese gentiles picking up Chinese takeout at our local place on Christmas night. Huge Chinese buffet with just the nuclear family is our big Christmas treat...and leftovers for daaays.
posted by town of cats at 7:31 AM on October 2, 2012

Came to echo grouse, Chinese and movies.

Another option is to rent a cabin somewhere an easy drive from where you are. Do board games, traditional movies and just have a nice, quiet Christmas.

Our tradition involves driving up to KY on Christmas Eve. My MIL makes chili, we get pizza and a bucket of KFC (natch). Then some friends come over, we have a Potlatch, and then we drive home. It's not very fun, but it fills a day.

My Cuban family also celebrates Nochebuena. As near as I can tell we roast a pig/lechon, have rice, beans, yuca, plantains, Tia Mexicana's 7 layer salad and I bring cranberry relish (this was a hold over from Thanksgiving, but now we do it on Nochebuena too.) We get those crunchy Spanish nugut candies and then we drink rum and dance to Salsa music. Azucar!

I'm rather partial to Nochebuena, but now that I'm married, it's chili and fudge. Ah well...
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:45 AM on October 2, 2012

Not my tradition, but I knew a family that competed to find the most pathetic, unchristmassy Christmas tree ever (think of the tree from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" before it got beautified). It was an annual event.

My most recent Christmasses have involved no tree, no special food, and glorying in having a four day weekend to myself. We just cooked normal dinner foods and spent time on things we wanted to do and refused to let societal expectations steal our time.
posted by Michele in California at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2012

We watch the Die Hard movies. They're Christmas themed! For every day of December, we watch a Christmas-linked film in the evening, but the Die Hard films are usually watched all in a glorious explosion-fueled row.

We also do a huuuge Christmas breakfast. It's so much nicer and more relaxed than doing a big lunch. Frying up bacon, sausages, eggs, fruit salad, really good bread with butter and jam, fresh juice etc, so lovely to linger over a big breakfast in the morning with presents or conversation, and far less fuss than an actual lunch/dinner.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:22 AM on October 2, 2012

The Christmas after my father passed away none of us could face our "traditional" Christmas so we arranged to go to a restaurant for Christmas lunch. Someone else did the cooking and all the work and we could just enjoy being together without the spectre of the empty chair at the table. This was in Australia where a lot of restaurants do a big Christmas lunch fixed menu set up though, I am not sure if they do that sort of thing in the US or not.

You could all meet up and stay in a nice hotel in New York, look at the nice NYC decorations as I hear it is amazing over Christmas and you can all pamper yourselves with in hotels spas and the like and spend time together.

I know it sounds unlikely now but in a year or 2 you will probably want to start bringing back some of the traditions your family did, when the missing doesn't hurt as sharply, it becomes a lovely way to remember good times.
posted by wwax at 8:39 AM on October 2, 2012

I don't know how "non-traditional" these are, but these are our Christmas traditions:

In late September/early October, we make Christmas puddings together. Gotta do 'em early so they have time to age.

On the 23rd, what I refer to as "Christmas Evity-Eve," we prepare a meal based around traditional dishes from a nation or culture with whom our country (US) is at war, as a gesture of remembering that we are all one people and in the hope that peace will one day prevail. Sadly, we have never yet had a year where we didn't have more than one nation to pick from.

On Christmas Eve itself, I make oxtail stew.

My dad buys a whole side of cold-smoked salmon, lox, from some fancy gourmet food place. I make bagels from scratch. (Because we don't live in NYC, is why.) Christmas morning, we have bagels and lox for breakfast.

On Boxing Day, my parents host a ridiculously awesome open house, complete with all kinds of utterly amazing food they've made. My dad breaks out all his homemade charcuterie, smoked fish and sausages and pates and terrines, and they get fancy cheese and dry-cured ham and pickled vegetables, and my mom makes a million kinds of cookies and pies. Everyone they know even tangentially shows up, because god who wouldn't, and everyone goes home groaningly full.
posted by KathrynT at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Think of something that no other family would do. My family is from Western NY, but we are in Virginia. We ended up eating pizza and buffalo wings on Christmas Eve one year, more than 20 years ago and it stuck. Every Christmas Eve we all gather at my parents and eat pizza and wings in our jammies.

There are 23 of us, Mom and Pop's house is small, so we all end up squished together, the kids (12 of them) on the floor, and also have "A Christmas Story" on, then the kids all go outside to leave reindeer food for Santa.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2012

It's a New Year's Eve tradition but no reason you could't make it a Christmas Eve one: we melt horseshoes and predict the future. The horseshoes never lie! Here are some people on some blog or other doing it. This is a website where I've bought them in the past -- and don't forget the ladle -- but I don't see them right now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:19 PM on October 5, 2012

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