Yuletide Traditions for the Newly Married
November 12, 2012 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Help a couple of newlyweds start their own Christmas traditions.

This Christmas will be our first as a married couple and we want to start developing our own traditions (to compliment and/or replace those of our parents). Obviously, a lot of Christmas traditions are focused on kids. We don't have kids yet and don't plan to have any for at least another year or two.

For the past few years, we've spent Christmas Eve, Christmas, and usually Boxing Day at my parents' place (since Mrs. Asnider's parents live on the other side of the country and flights at Christmastime aren't cheap). Now that we're married, we don't want to do this. We'll probably still spend Christmas Day at their place, spend the night, and then go home on Boxing Day.

We're looking to start our own holiday traditions for those days that we're not with family, especially Christmas Eve, and I'm hoping that the hive mind can provide some suggestions.

General holiday traditions are welcome, but I'm specifically looking for things that you or someone you know started doing when they were newly married and/or newly living together and didn't yet have any children to play Santa to.

For what it's worth, neither of us is particularly religious but we often go to midnight mass at the Catholic Basilica downtown because my wife was raised Catholic and usually enjoys the Christmas mass.
posted by asnider to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
One thing we did for our first Christmas at home, was that my partner and I made our own stockings for our house. (And then we keep making them for our guinea pigs, as well...) It was nice to have something that was ours, not holdovers from our childhoods (and our respective parents).
posted by kendrak at 10:20 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

A new Christmas tree ornament each year, a nice special one that'll bring back memories of where you were when you bought it - maybe at a Christmas market or on a special outing somewhere.
posted by essexjan at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]

I also know a couple who made stockings for each other their first Christmas.

If you do a Christmas tree, I like the idea of an Ornament Party. A week or two before the holiday, invite friends and/or family over your house for some Yuletide cheer. You provide food and drink (no need for a full fledged three course meal--small snacks and dessert with some wintery adult beverages would be perfect). Ask everyone to bring an ornament. Decorate the tree!
posted by murfed13 at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We now have a kidlet, but we did find some of our own traditions.

We order Chinese Food Christmas Eve
We get a new ornament for our tree every year
We have a stocking for our cats (even tho' they are very bad and only deserve coal)
We make delicious Christmas donuts
We buy REAL Coca-Cola (not diet or anything, the true blue stuff)
posted by Danithegirl at 10:33 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

We adopted my husband's family's tradition of chili and hot chocolate on Christmas eve, and inviting any stray friends over who don't have obligations or might be unable to be at their usual locations.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:33 AM on November 12, 2012

Oh hey! I understand!

We dabbled in a few of the suggestions, but what has stuck over the years is going out to breakfast on Christmas Eve morning at a little diner near home. And that's the only day we go there. It's a long and leisurely morning with no responsibility before the rushing-from-family-to-family storm hits. It's nice. (We put away the phones.)
posted by ferociouskitty at 10:36 AM on November 12, 2012

(I adapted my husband's family's chili tradition by making sure there are both formats of Fritos, cheese, sour cream, onions, etc for Frito Pie. Eating an entire bowl of just chili seems wrong and kind of gross to me. I'm from Texas.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:36 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

when we moved in together, we needed to buy a tree since neither of us had one before. We made a big day of shopping for the ornaments and other christmas stuff.
Now every year we pick a day to go out and shop for a new ornament to add to the tree. It's a whole thing. We make breakfast, talk about where to look, and take our time walking around before choosing one to take home. I love it.

Traditions happen organically. If you make an effort to try out a bunch of different things with an open mind, you can find the ones that you really enjoy and want to repeat for years to come.

Try out baking (cookies, bread, bakers ornaments!), tour the christmas lights in your town, put together a silly christmas photo shoot, find your favorite classic christmas movie- or a marathon, go sledding, ice skating, go give your time to a few charities, put together a christmas playlist, make hot apple cider, go on a sliegh ride, go to a choir concert, go to the zoo, or a local history museum, buy new fuzzy slippers and hot coco and spend an afternoon brainstorming christmas gifts for family.

There is tons of stuff that have nothing to do with kids, but kids can easily slide into any of the ones above.

Congradulations and good luck!
posted by Blisterlips at 10:43 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My MIL makes chili for Christmas Eve! I can't stand it! I get a bucket of chicken to augment the other stuff.

Fix on a meal and always have that for Christmas Eve. Chinese food is excellent. Something low key that you can both enjoy.

If there's something special you like to eat, but it's kind of a hassle to make it, perhaps Christmas Eve or Boxing Day is the day to make it. Paella, the Italian Seafood Feast, Lasagna, whatever it is.

Or perhaps it's a special breakfast.

Perhaps agree to give each other gift cards for the holiday then spend Boxing Day spending them at the sales.

Have a special cocktail that you make for Chrismas Eve, I like Kir Royale, but whatever rings your bell. Dress up, dance romantically, kiss under the mistletoe.

Buy a book with blank pages in it. Each year write your Christmas wish in it. Take a picture of the two of you to insert. In future years you can review the pictures, and the wishes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:48 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider fondue! Don't make too much since there's just two of you but it's a really fun, cozy way to spend an evening and it's both a meal and an activity.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:51 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend does an countdown calendar of traditions and activities; it's a really lovely idea, and focuses on family and not stuff. Though I've admired hers for years yet resisted, I'm going to do it this year because we're all working on being more mindful of small, personal pleasures.
posted by peagood at 10:55 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My sister and her husband have to balance the actual holidays themselves between in-laws, so they built up their pre-kids traditions around Advent. They have an Advent wreath, and Advent calendars, and focused their couple time on counting down to the holidays rather than the holidays themselves.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:58 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife and I buy each other special ornaments for our tree each year. We try to find ornaments that relate to something special that happened each year and we always make a tag for the ornament with the year!
posted by sgo at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is kind of personal to me, but I'm going to tell the story anyway.

The first year we were dating -- dating! not even married! -- we went out and bought a small fake tree. I had a large one that had belonged to my ex and didn't fit my tiny apartment.

We went to Menards and poked around; they had various trees that were too big or small or ugly or expensive. Finally we found one that was just right, but they didn't have any on the shelf. We flagged down a stray clerk and asked if we could just buy the floor model.

"Which one is that?" he said.

"That one right there." We pointed.

He stood back and immediately transformed into something akin to a solicitous casket seller or Grey Poupon aficionado. "Ohhhhhh. The CARRRRRson." (The technical name was "Carson pine.")

We didn't even have a box, just grabbed it by the aluminum trunk and stuffed it in the back seat. We took it home and set it up in my tiny studio apartment so the lights stayed warm and twinkly at the foot of our bed. It made us feel warm and twinkly inside.

Every year now, even though we have more room and more ornaments, The Carson has pride of place. Christmas simply does not start until we bring out The Carson. ("Ohhhh, the CARRRRRson!") We announce its arrival on Facebook, which probably confuses our friends and relatives. (My mother has been known to ask about "the Crispin" or similar.)

We've done the "buy ornaments together" thing... and put them on The Carson. The Carson is cheap and came from a store I'd associate more with industrial floor glue. The point is that we remember why it happened and we do it every year, even though it doesn't mean a thing to anyone else.
posted by Madamina at 11:09 AM on November 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

A few days before Christmas, we put on pjs and drive around looking at lights, with our favorite Christmas music on the radio. This is a special indulgence for me, because my husband does not like Christmas lights, or, generally, Christmas music. Also: pick a favorite Christmas movie for some special night (or two. White Christmas, and Christmas Vacation, and Elf tend to be ours).
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another take on the ornament thing - we always buy one when we go on vacation, even if it's just a long weekend in another city. It can be a fun challenge when you go somewhere in, say, July, but we have never come up empty-handed yet.
posted by something something at 11:19 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

OH YES! We also watch Muppet Christmas Carol close to the time (we don't have kids yet) while drinking hot chocolate (often grown-up hot chocolate e.g. containing delicious peppermint or butterscotch schnapps). If we feel like it we might have pie later. Hopefully he won't check this thread and see it (please don't tell him I told you) but Mr. Pterodactyl tears up at a specific moment that is genuinely profoundly moving (feel free to MeFi mail me if you want to check which one and see if it's the same as YOUR tearful Muppet Christmas Carol moment. It is.)
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:24 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

The best traditions are the ones that develop organically. My husband and I have a yearly solstice party. During the first few years, we watched various Christmas movies that we loved as kids. For some reason last year, we ended up watching the 70s Flash Gordon movie. It was perfect--flashy and corny and all the right colors for holiday cheer. We've already decided it's a must-watch next year.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:34 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

We've tried developing new traditions over the years, but honestly, our favorite ones are the most simple, and things we've enjoyed since childhood. Selecting the perfect tree (must be real), bringing it home, hanging ornaments (most of which are from our childhoods) while listening to christmas music or watching christmas movies is probably our favorite. The key is to genuinely enjoy it and not take it for granted.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 11:39 AM on November 12, 2012

Oh, I forgot one thing that is pretty awesome and unique: We collect reggae christmas albums and play them all month.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2012

We don't get a tree. What we get is a huuuge, real wreath, which we hang in a specific place on the wall, and we hang ornaments on that. Bonus: kittens don't climb it. It looks wonderful, smells nice, and doesn't trip anyone or catch fire.
posted by amtho at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Christmas Eve we make ice cream sundaes with toppings my wife (and now daughter) will pick out and surprise me with. Then we watch a Mel Brooks movie that I've selected and they have to guess based on how I'm dressed up.

We also have a spot we go every year to cut down our own tree.
posted by ODiV at 11:43 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

We do the new ornament thing as well. During the year, wherever we're traveling, we always look for ornaments.

We also have a Christmas Eve party. We find that while many people go home on Christmas Day, there are lots of people who just want to hang with friends the night before.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2012

Buy each other an ornament and open them on Christmas Eve. Buy each other pajamas and open them on Christmas Eve. Make pancakes or waffles on Christmas morning. We watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation every single year on Christmas afternoon. I know it's dumb, but that's what we do.
posted by raisingsand at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2012

We've been living together for a few years now, and while we don't have anything quite nailed down as "tradition" I'm hoping a few things will stick:

-We usually go purchase a real tree together. Last year we walked it home, about a mile or so. The tree was about nine feet tall and quite heavy. There was a lot of swearing and odd stares from pedestrians. I hope we do that again.
-I acquired the family collection of Lionel model trains, and those go up around the tree. Now that we live on the ground floor, I will feel a lot less guilty about running them all day.
-Before all the family obligations begin (and for us, unfortunately, that means several days before Christmas), we will have a party for friends. I've got a nice growing playlist of non-traditional Christmas music and we all get drunk and run the trains at unsafe speeds. Some sort of "traditional" winter/Christmas meal is served - we cooked goose last year, and I think venison will be on the menu this year.
-There's usually Champagne on Christmas Eve, but I think the eve or day of is a perfect time to break open an unusually expensive bottle of something or other.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

YMMV, depending on your relationship, but I say spend this Christmas doing what you want to do this Christmas, without making it about tradition.

For me, saying "we're starting a tradition" puts expectations and pressure on the act, instead of letting it be fun for its own sake.

Traditions are a form of ritual, and the point of a ritual is to recapture the magic and emotion of an organic occasion.

Give yourselves a couple years to experience what life is like as newlyweds, and build your priorities (traditions) based on those experiences. If you pick "traditions" based on what you think you 'should' do, or should 'want' to do, it won't have the grassroots enjoyment of a good inside joke. Which is what I want out of a holiday tradition. :o) YMMV
posted by itesser at 5:38 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Food is a great tradition. You cook make a baked French toast, leave it in the fridge and pop it in the oven when you get home boxing day.

You could make a real awesome homemade eggnog.

You could actually roast chestnuts.

Discover a delicious cookie. Find one you both love and have it every year, forever. Then teach your kids to make it, etc.

Go Christmas shopping every year. Fun christmas shopping in the cutest spot you know. any old department store that has a Santa? Any fancy hotel nearby where you can get tea, hot toddy or hot chocolate? You both get to pick an ornament.

Music. Discover some favorite Christmas albums and play it, especially on the way to relatives for you Christmas events.

Christmas movies/shows. Buy your fav Christmas movies. I keep them all together and put them in my Christmas decorations (with Christmas books for my kids that I only pull out at Xmas). Play them after your tree trimming.

We do advent calendars. Look on Etsy. They have super cute ones.
posted by beccaj at 6:28 PM on November 12, 2012

We also do fondue Christmas eve-cheese and chocolate. It's easy but feels festive and social and indulgent. Open a great bottle of wine, too.
posted by purenitrous at 7:11 PM on November 12, 2012

Make your own advent calendars out of 24 little somethings holding something. Ad lib from there. Find ways to build on the tradition each year while preserving it and reinforcing it. This spreads the fun out over the whole month.

You could make one calendar together, but with you doing the odds and her doing the evens, or you could do separate calendars for each other. You could build a traditional-looking thing out of wood, maybe in the shape of a Christmas tree, with 24 little sealed doors to open, and hang it on a nail on the wall. You could just tape or glue 24 wrapped packages together in some shape that allows you to open each package in turn without destroying the total shape. You could make a Christmas train with an engine pulling 23 cars. You could put 24 little packages on the tree. A puzzle with 24 pieces? A mystery with 24 clues?

You might want to put a low dollar amount limit on the items (or on the total for one calendar) to make sure neither of you goes stupidcrazy and makes the other one feel angrybad. Silly and inexpensive gifts may be best, considering you need to get 24 presents and maybe these 24 items aren't even the main presents.

Maybe you get one sock on one day, so you have to wait for the other sock to show up, and maybe as a joke the other sock never shows up, or shows up the next year. As part of the tradition, always sneak the same thing stupid thing in each year -- which day will I get the horrible X? Maybe the person who gets X has to keep it all year but gets to give it away the next Christmas. But always give enough really good things to make it something to look forward to. Things like a gift certificate for a foot massage and back rub from you to her could go a long way during a stressful season (just make sure to say that it's nontransferable; you probably don't want to give your father-in-law a foot massage).
posted by pracowity at 3:00 AM on November 13, 2012

We picked a couple of holiday movies -- "White Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life" -- and we make sure to watch both in the week or so before Christmas. (Life is busier since the kids came along and now we sometimes only see one or the other, or have it on while we do chores, but that's OK.)

We buy a new ornament each year. We were both given a bunch of our own childhood ornaments, so the tree wasn't uniformly coated with red glass balls. :7) We don't always hang all the ornaments, so laughing at the crappier childhood art or wincing at the uglier, more dated items is fun.

We bake a lot. OK, my wife bakes a lot, and I eat a lot. She gives a tray of cookies to each of a few friends, and I generally get to enjoy the matching trays she gets in return.

Our church has a program for collecting gifts for people who can't afford them, and we used to make sure to grab a few (before the church switched over to collecting donations so the program could shop directly -- so it goes).

We hang all the Christmas cards that we receive on a wall (that has a big opening from the kitchen into the living room). That way we are reminded of our friends.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:48 AM on November 13, 2012

Watching the MST3K Episode of "Santa Clause conquers the martians" is something I started doing without realizing it.
posted by hellojed at 8:44 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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