All I Want for Christmas is a few special moments with my sweetheart.
December 10, 2007 7:11 AM   Subscribe

What are your Christmas traditions? How did you develop your own (rather than doing what your parents did?)

I've been married for 6 years now, with my husband for 10, and for all our Christmases together, we've done what his family always did on Christmas Eve with his family, and what my family always did on Christmas with my family. We're really like a Christmas tradition that's all our own, but we just can't think of anything. It would have to happen on Christmas Eve morning or Christmas morning or late evening, and we don't want it to involve a meal at all, and we're not terribly religious. We don't have children now, and probably won't, but it would be nice to include them if we change our minds. We're looking to carve a little time out of the holiday rush for something that's just ours. Any suggestions?
posted by ferociouskitty to Human Relations (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think most couples do what you have done, which is to take the traditions from each of their families that they most like. My wife and I have done that and have sort of mixed and matched. We do have little kids, so some of our traditions reflect that, but I will list some of ours.

1st Saturday in December: Decorate the tree
Monday the week before Christmas: Drive around and look at decorations
1 or 2 weeks before Christmas: Go through our home and clothes and donate items to charity
December: Find a needy family and buy them some gifts. Sometimes we have done a 12 days of Christmas thing.
Dec 23rd: We call this day Christmas Adam (just to be silly b/c Adam came before Eve). We have a small party with our friends.
Dec 24: We read the Nativity story (we have little kids so we act it out), sing Christmas carols, and eat our big holiday meal. For our kids, they get to open one present (and that present is always Pajamas).
Dec 25: One thing we always do is open presents one at a time so that it is more special. In the evening we read again from the scriptures to cap the day and try to make it more centered on Christ.

That is all I can think of right now. Best of luck and Merry Christmas.
posted by bove at 7:22 AM on December 10, 2007

My parents accidentally started a tradition of mailing out funny picture Christmas cards by mailing them for two years in a row. Now, three kids and 25 years later, they're still doing it. I don't intend to do this because it is a dreadful pain to come up with a new idea every year.
posted by crinklebat at 7:36 AM on December 10, 2007

I saw this take on the advent calendar and thought it would be fun for a couple. Spend a while thinking of activities (or small gifts) that can be hidden in the numbers - you can recycle your favorite ones and come up with some new ones each year. Then the tradition has some continuity and something new each year!
posted by barnone at 7:40 AM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Your" tradition doesn't have to be different than your parents in order to be yours. It becomes yours because you make it so. The tradition may be a simple as deciding when to open presents, or what kind of cookies to make, or that you will drive around on Christmas eve to look at the lights, or that you will take hot cocoa in a thermos and park on a hill to look over the city. It could also be how and when you decorate the tree, or what movie you watch on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. (A Christmas Story; It's a Wonderful Life; Miracle on 34th Street, etc.)

You could also start a tradition that you give each other a special ornament every year. Be sure to write the year on it. Then, each year as you decorate the tree, those ornaments will serve as reminders of the past years, and you'll find yourself talking about them. You could even write a note about something important that year, to include in the ornament box.

Christmas could be the day you make it a point to look at your photo albums or videos together.
You could take a walk around the neighborhood to see the lights.
You could volunteer at a soup kitchen.
You could build a simple craft project from a kit.

The possibilities are endless, and even a very simple thing is an important tradition, because it's yours.

Merry Christmas!
posted by The Deej at 7:40 AM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

How did you develop your own (rather than doing what your parents did?)

I think this is a function of the particular people in question. What are you and your husband like? That would affect a custom that you started. Anything we suggest here is going to be flying blind, without knowing what you two are into, what characteristics of your marriage would come into play.

"Traditions" seem to originate as something someone does first out of necessity, and then it's just done for so long that that's How It's Done -- instead of being something someone sat down and cooked up and said, "This is what our family will do, and we declare this Our Tradition."

But if you've got the leeway to start from scratch:

- You could write a Christmas letter to each other. Write about the year you've had and your hopes for the year to come. Seal it, date it, and put it in a special box. Next year, when you have your specially-set-aside letter time, take out the previous year's letters and read them; then, write the new ones. You could stash a bottle of Champagne with the letters also (if they will be kept in a cool place; the attic would likely wreck the wine), and toast to the happy times past and future as you read your letters. Then, save the letters in a binder, so you can read the years before too. Eventually you will have a lovely commemorative keepsake that will be treasured in your golden years, and will be priceless to your descendants.

- You could place a geocache or a letterbox.

- You could make up thermoses of hot cocoa or Irish coffee and walk or drive around looking at Christmas lights.

- You could make Advent calendars for one another. It's hard to fill an Advent calendar for someone with small, thoughtful gifts -- I guarantee that the process would become very meaningful once you got in the habit of looking all year for the tiny perfect trinkets to fill the calendar.

- You could go to a nighttime church service. You said you aren't "terribly religious" but if you have any sort of Christian background, even the most secular kind, you might enjoy the Christmas Eve service. Even the most dour Protestants get their pageantry on for Christmas Eve, with music and candles and beautiful carols. It could be a spiritual experience for you without being a devoutly religious one.

- I know lots of people who have a time at Christmas where they watch a particular movie on DVD, and it becomes their holiday movie. There are so many -- silly sweet ones like Ralphie in Christmas Story and Buddy in Elf, classics like Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life... or instead of just one, you could just designate a "Christmas movie time" where you get cozy in PJs and slippers, pop a bunch of popcorn, and watch whatever that year's selection is. Make it a goal to never repeat (which might mean you eventually have to watch some clunkers, but hopefully Hollywood will stay ahead of you).

- Hide something in the Christmas tree for one another. Not the fake "tradition" of the Christmas pickle, but something meaningful to you.

- Or, take that a step farther and make a silly treasure hunt with rhyming clues, that lead the other around the house searching for a gift. (The possibly-one-day-children will adore this. My parents made treasure hunts for us all the time when I was a kid and my brother and I remember it so fondly. As a parent, I now marvel at how much bang you get for the buck by hiding a gift and some bits of paper!)
posted by pineapple at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2007 [5 favorites]

Two main Christmas traditions spring to mind that were developed, rather then inherited.

Firstly, every Christmas eve as a group of friends everyone goes out for a meal, and then we go to the same pub every year for drinks. Since everyone knows which pub we go to, there is always random people you haven't seen since last year who know if they turn up, others will come as well. The pub is an old haunt, but no one really goes there any other time of year anymore, since everyone lives else where in town it's a long way to travel, but on Christmas eve it's the only place to go. - We also do Secret Santa on a bring a gift, get one back at random system so anyone can be involved with no planning required.

On New Year's Eve we have our traditional "Bad Santa" gift exchange, which is just like Secret Santa - only the presents are rubbish, broken or trick/gag gifts. Past gifts have included modeling balloons where I carefully opened the pack, punctured holes in every single balloon, and resealed it, a small Queen Mother statue (Which was traditionally given back the year after so someone new got it each year - until my ex ran off with it), a set of harry potter plastic drinking glasses (Which now get used as a toothbrush holder in my bathroom)

Just recently, we have started having a gathering of friends late Christmas evening, nothing major, just all get together, pull up a chair, pour some more wine, and chat until you drop. This year I've tried to take hold of the tradition to make it a bit more interesting and am encouraging people to bring left overs from family meals, and putting on some mince pies and Christmas pudding - nothing major and by no means a party, but a way to keep up the cheer and good mood of the day, while escaping from parents before they get a bit to much.
posted by paulfreeman at 7:52 AM on December 10, 2007

When I was a kid, my mom acquired a set of four ceramic candleholders. They are green, and have holly berries daubed in red all over them. They are uglier than homemade sin. Collectively, the four candleholders spell out "NOEL". Mom always put them on the mantle during the holidays.

It is not Christmas until I rearrange them to spell "LEON".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:41 AM on December 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

We always read Christmas short stories on Christmas Eve. A different one each year. We sit together as a family and take turns reading passages aloud. It's esepcially nice with some egg nog and a fire in the fireplace thrown in.

Also, my mom always makes a special chowder for the occasion.
posted by lunit at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2007

Mrs. advicepig's family writes clues on the presents and you sit there trying to guess before you open it. Clues vary from simple rhyming clues to the "who do you think you are? Will Shortz?" variety.
posted by advicepig at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2007

We always give one gift on Christmas Eve. Not sure how it started except that my dad would probably give the gifts the minute he buys them because he simply can't wait.

We always went to church Christmas Eve which actually was just a sing-a-long and ended with everyone lighting candles and the church lights turning off as we walked out to Silent Night. So church,yes, but not terribly church-like.

Taking out the Christmas decorations always feels a bit ceremonial in that we end up doing the "remember when we got that one in ____" .
posted by jdl at 11:05 AM on December 10, 2007

If we're all together (this means: both my parents, my sister & her husband, and my boyfriend) the tradition for the last several years is to play 1000 Blank White Cards on Christmas Eve -- or at least attempt to; usually we just crack ourselves up making cards, get a bit too drunk to play properly, my brother in law cheats and attempts to scam his way to victory as he does in all group games, and then the rest of us end the game in disgust -- and on Christmas day we go see a movie. For three years running, it was the LOTR series. Ugh.
posted by brain cloud at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2007

Our family chose a new main dish to make for Christmas Eve dinner one year when I was a little girl, and we've made it every Christmas Eve since. It's not your usual turkey/ham, so it makes it feel very much like our tradition - we don't make it any other time of the year, and we don't know anyone else who makes it, ever. You could find a recipe to claim as your own, too. Pick something that takes enough effort to feel special.

(For reference, we make Stone City Inn Elegant Chicken, a vegetarian's nightmare and a carnivore's delight. It's especially good served with well-cooked wild rice and fresh rolls.)
posted by vytae at 12:08 PM on December 10, 2007

We make gingerbread houses - sometimes using left over Halloween candy, and sometimes not. I found a recipe on the web and I make small houses using index cards as the side and roof patterns. My three kids really love this.

We also make Christmas cards that we send out. Some years it has been snow shaped stickers, sometimes it is more elaborate, depending on ages of kids that year and abilities.

One tradition that I have kept is reading the "Night Before Christmas" right before bed.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Doesn't anybody read "The Night Before Christmas" anymore? That was one of our traditions when the young 'uns were, well, young. Any excuse that got the sweethearts to snuggle up to Dad was a good one. It fell into disuse as they up. I expect to pick it up again for the next generation.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:32 PM on December 10, 2007

My mother assigned an ornament genre to each of us when we were growing up, and then bought us an appropriate ornament for the genre every year.

My brother was a teddy bear, I'm an angel, other brother was a train...
posted by chickaboo at 12:38 PM on December 10, 2007

One of our favorite traditions is to attend the nutcracker ballet either the weekend before christmas or on the eve. It's fun, you don't have to do anything, it never disappoints, really helps to de-stress and gives you a great boost of that christmas'y' feeling.
posted by Craig at 1:00 PM on December 10, 2007

We like sticking or tying bows on each other because 'All I Want for Christmas is You'. (Location of bows depends on whether this is a family tradition or a tradition just for the two of you.)
posted by happyturtle at 1:18 PM on December 10, 2007

I remember when we had several family obligations on Christmas/Christmas Eve. It seems pretty hectic. I think it's important to carve out some time for just the two of you.

I think your own traditions develop when you say either 'You know what I would like to do on Christmas?' or 'That was nice. Let's do it again next year.' Pay attention to your own needs.

All-blue lights on the Christmas tree. (38 years now)
When we lived in DC we always, whatever the weather, went down to the ellipse to see the trees on Christmas Eve.
There is a special Christmas Eve meal that has been pretty much the same for 20-some years.
One present opened Christmas Eve (usually sleepwear); the rest the next day.
Now in VT there is a Christmas Eve service at a nearby church that is 180 years old with no electricity or central heat.
Candle lit- simply magical. (and I'm an atheist)
posted by MtDewd at 1:57 PM on December 10, 2007

I have a couple of traditions with my past boyfriends and friends.

- put the tree up on Thanksgiving. See, we have thanksgiving dinner the day before the actual day. On Thanksgiving, we put up the Christmas tree and eat leftovers while we watch football (at this point, I have to say GO COWBOYS - I don't necessarily agree with that statement, but I'm in Dallas. If I say otherwise, it's Sacrilege).

- We always have our own christmas meal on Christmas Eve Day - usually dinner but one time we had it for breakfast. The idea was that we wanted our own meal that we could keep up forever. And no matter how crappy the family dinners went (oh, BELIEVE ME.....), we always had our own dinner. We use all of our own recipes, but include one or two recipes from either family.

- The tree gets decorated differently every year, but we always add a new ornament that we picked out together. An ex and i also used ornaments that used to below to his mother - not alot, because they were uuugly, but a couple of the more unique ones.

- there's a prestigious neighborhood in the area I grew up that has Christmas decorating contests every year. So every year around a week before Christmas or so, my best friend and I get hot chocolate in a thermos and drive around looking at Christmas lights. Afterwards, we give each other...

- Stockings. We're in charge of making stockings for one another. There's usually a theme and a price limit (can't spend more than $5 per item, or $50 as a whole - with a red theme). Last year, we actually had to MAKE the stockings ourselves and spend no more than $25, which meant we got a lot of dollar store stuff. But it was fun and definitely our own holiday.
posted by damnjezebel at 2:22 PM on December 10, 2007

We follow what I believe is a Latvian tradition, but might just be a family thing.

The night of Christmas Eve is when everything happens; xmas day itself we just go to the beach or something. After a big dinner (involving the best of fresh Australian seafood) we go to the tree, light the candles & do the present thing. One person acts as father or mother xmas, sits under the tree and rummages around amongst the presents. People are called up to receive presents one by one, and have to do some kind of performance to 'earn' the present. You might recite a poem, sing a song, read a passage from some book; it's up to you. Little kids do dances or sing songs that they've learned at school, or play some ear-bending piece on an instrument that they're learning. My dad always comes up with corny limericks about family members, many of which begin with "There was a young woman from Riga..." and involve heavily laboured rhymes. Mum, in turn, typically recites short Latvian folk songs about the doings of a paganistic "heavenly father" who only wears a very thin cloak of christianity.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:30 PM on December 10, 2007

We go to the sing-a-long Messiah every year. I liked going to the one in my hometown which was conducted by a witty, amusing fellow who had conducted my youth orchestra when I was a kid, but we go wherever we can. We like the ones that either don't have professional singers or are very relaxed about the whole singing thing- the ones where there is reliably ~30% of the audience who can sing well and about 15% who can hit every single note in the long runs of 32nd notes. I am a mediocre singer, and my partner, a professional musician, had his voice ruined by encephalitis in his long-ago youth- we fit right in. The real surprise is that it is exceptionally fun and sounds GOOD. You bring (or borrow) a score and a great time is had by all.

A quick run o' the google doesn't turn up any sing out loud Messiah concerts in Cleveland, but call your local churches- they're always somewhere.

My partner and I have followed in the tradition of getting a tree up in the mountains annually, paying $10 for a permit from the USFS and driving up some lonely little mountain road before dragging down a tree that is several feet larger than our car. Finding ourselves on the porch cutting off another five feet so the tree won't scrape the rafters is pretty much a tradition, too. It is a LOT of fun and way more entertaining than a tree lot or even a u-cut place. Its a full day outing.

We also like to put candles on the tree (small, carefully positioned, fire extinguisher nearby) and light them to sing carols at Christmas. When you do it by candlelight only it seems so very special. When I grew up we did this christmas eve and then went to bed in silence- a wonderful way to welcome Christmas day.

We also put ribbons on the cat every year, but I don't think that counts as tradition. He's in the tree most of the time regardless, so he might as well be decorative, yes?
posted by arnicae at 2:46 PM on December 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you start a christmas tradition then one day you'll have to stop, and it'll be a wrench when that happens. All christmases afterwards will just remind you of how things used to be. Why not just have a lovely time instead.
posted by gatchaman at 3:46 PM on December 10, 2007

my favorite tradition is to listen to dylan thomas' 'a child's christmas in wales' (on the record player- cds are NOT traditional!) and drink port/eggnog/hot chocolate. it makes you feel all literary.
posted by genmonster at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot a personal tradition: having a few drinks & listening to The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl: A Fairytale of New York, over & over.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2007

I only did this one Christmas as a teenager, so it hardly counts as a tradition, but it was lovely: a Christmas Day hike with friends, late in the afternoon after all the present opening, and all the mid-day dinners are over. It is awesome to get out in the cold and do a short one hour hike and come home as it is getting dark.
posted by coevals at 5:39 PM on December 10, 2007

I'm perhaps repeating what others have said, but... Traditions, at least genuine traditions, I think happen by accident. It's really what you like or want to do.

One example is my homemade chocolate chip cookies. My ex-husband LOVED them and as a special Christmas treat, I baked them for him on Christmas Eve. The next year he wanted a repeat and then eventually we had children, and we would set them out for Santa... who by the way, would often go into the kitchen, find them and finish off all the rest too. ;)

One year Dan pointed out that without knowing it, I had created a family tradition of baking chocolate chip cookies, as a family (as the kids grew), every Christmas Eve.

That's just one example, but some others are looking at lights, or charity work such as working in the soup kitchen... or whatever. The point is that it's something you enjoy doing and want to do.
posted by magnoliasouth at 6:25 PM on December 10, 2007

A few easy traditions for a couple that can grow with you...

1) We exchange an ornament each year--something that sums up the year prior or shows a particular interest or skill of the other person (example: an ornament I picked up on the sly in Rehobeth during our vacation there this summer, or a racing horse ornament to symbolize the passing of a grandma with a racetrack fetish)

2) Opening stockings together. It's fun to find little, and mostly inexpensive things to stuff a stocking with and open them together each year. We usually have our favorite candys, an orange (or other stocking-size fruit), a magazine, and a few little trinkets that are fun.

3) Pick out a movie you both love and watch it together one holiday evening (bonus points for hot chocolate/hot toddys/wine served with the movie). It's nice if it's the same movie, so it's almost more about spending time snuggling together on a cold night than it is about the movie.

4) My grandparents started a tradition around a hideous oil painting of a house they found at an antique shop. They bought the painting and take turns giving it to each other. But, each year, something gets added to the painting. A tee-pee in the front yard (for boy scouts) becomes a mash tent (my gma was a nurse). A rooster gets added to the roof (for the farm gpa grew up on) and a street sign with their current's another funny way to see how much has happened over the years, and how creative you can get adding things to the painting--with paint, or glitter, etc.
posted by batcrazy at 11:42 AM on December 11, 2007

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