Christmas is a time filled with traditions – the things that happen every year. When I say that, I don’t mean the traditional arguments about who will host lunch this year, or the last minute present-wrapping marathon. I mean the things that make you say ‘it doesn’t feel like Christmas without/until/unless…’
Christmas as a parent is an exciting opportunity to carry on your own family traditions or introduce new ones. But how do you choose a tradition? What makes a good tradition anyway?
In my opinion, a good Christmas tradition is fun for your family. If your family loves watching movies together, plan to watch a Christmas movie on December 24. If you’d rather remove your eyeballs, roll them in glitter and hang them on the tree, do something else. Does the idea of Boxing Day at the beach fill you with excitement (sun, sand and surf!) or dread (sun, sand and surf!)? You know your family. Set yourself up for success by choosing activities that you will enjoy.
A good Christmas tradition is easy for you. Are you able to repeat it next year? Do you want to repeat it next year, or does the thought of hand-making 100 unique Christmas cards make you want to stuff tinsel down your throat? Know yourself and your limitations.
A good Christmas tradition is not likely to be original. I hate to break it to you, but you didn’t invent the Christmas tree. Neither did your parents. So if you can’t think of any amazing ideas for new or unusual traditions, stick with old ones. Check out Pinterest for inspiration, or ask your friends what they do and borrow any you like. Just remember the rules from above when you choose.
Perhaps most importantly, traditions are not in charge. Don’t let the tradition take over. Traditions are wonderful and can be a lot of fun, but they are not the be all and end all. If you find yourself missing out on seeing your kids open the presents because you need to make sure the table decorations are at the perfect angle, you need to take a step back.
Finally, Christmas traditions are not perfect. Life with kids is messy; Christmas with kids even more so. Just run with it. I’m preparing myself that my Christmas tree isn’t going to be a vision of perfectly placed baubles that I can Instagram from a hundred different angles for the foreseeable future. I know that there’s a high chance that the Advent Book Tree will be unwrapped in a single sitting. It’s possible that our family Christmas dinner will be chicken nuggets (because I know my toddler will eat them). I’m okay with all of that. Perfection makes for great photos, but boring memories.
So now let me share with you some traditions that my family has (or may have in the future… or that I’ve just heard about). They fall into four rough categories – carols, decorations, gifts and food.
They are everywhere right now. The Westfield is filled with shoppers humming ‘pa-rum-pum-pum-pum’ as they frantically navigate Coles. One store employee confessed to me that he ‘cleanses’ on the way home by listening to death metal.
Carols are a key Christmas tradition with a rich history.
I am unashamedly a fan of Christmas carols. I have a playlist with five hours of carols. I hope to add more as I find albums I love. I enjoy playing and singing carols. One of the highlights of Christmas is our church’s Carols in the Carpark event. This year will be the first one that my two-year-old will be old enough to enjoy. Celebrating the truth of the season with our church family is an integral part of Christmas for us, and I’m really excited to continue that with both our boys.
This is the really fun stuff. The obvious tradition is putting up a tree – we’ve done that every year. When our oldest was born we added a new tradition of buying a new decoration for our kids each year. This year our tree must be toddler-proof. I have visions of coming out and finding my son swinging from the top of the tree with baubles over each ear. Thankfully that hasn’t happened. Yet.
When I was a child, my mum made an Advent calendar quilt. Every year she hung it for us. Before it was packed away again, she wrote a small summary of each Christmas on the back. There are at least fifteen Christmases worth of memories there. Last year, I made my own for our family. I have filled each pocket with a treat for the adults. Every night I place one of my son’s Duplo people (or Peppa Pig) in the following day’s pocket for him to pick out in the morning. He loves running over in the morning to see who is ‘stuck’.
We are actually using two Advent calendars this year. Our second one is a book tree. I collected 24 books (some Christmas themed, some not) and wrapped each one. I’ve placed it into something that roughly resembles a tree shape (not as straightforward as it seems…did you know that a lot of kids books are the same size?) and we unwrap a new book to read every afternoon. On Christmas Eve we will unwrap a childrens’ Bible and read the Christmas story. So far it seems to be going well. There is still time for my crazy boy to scale the bookshelf and unwrap the remaining books. On an unrelated note, it takes an awfully long time to individually wrap 24 books. This might be one of those traditions that I don’t know if I can handle doing every year.
Another new tradition this year is a late evening drive to see the Christmas light displays. I don’t know how well this will work with a toddler and a newborn, but we’re going to give it a shot!
It is easy to go completely nuts with presents when you have kids. In reality, my kids already have far more toys than they really need. To try and minimise the craziness in our small apartment, we follow the ‘something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read’ mantra. There will also be a new pair of pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve.
I want my children to learn how to give to others from an early age. We have so much when so many have nothing. There are three ways I am trying to teach this at Christmas.
Firstly, sorting through the toys and donating some (that are still in good condition) to a charity. This encourages kindness, promotes recycling, and also helps combat clutter.
Secondly, giving new gifts to a reverse Christmas tree. At the end of our Christmas Eve kids-focused service at church, the children bring out presents to put under the tree to send to those in need. Stores such as Target and K-Mart have donation trees as well.
Thirdly, buying a toilet. Oxfam and TEAR both sell Christmas cards that provide a particular item for a community in need. In the past I’ve given my sister a toilet and my brother a goat.
Let’s face it – Christmas celebrations pretty much always revolve around food. Whether it be a lamb roast with all the trimmings on a 40 degree day, or a seafood extravaganza in the rain, chances are a lot of planning will go into your food. Aunty Jane will bring her fabulous ham. Dad will be in charge of salads again. Grandma will have made one of her spectacular puddings.
My mother’s Christmas pudding is the stuff of legends. I’ve been taught her secrets, as my grandmother taught her. I’d tell you, but then you’d ask me for some of her pudding – and I’m not sharing. Everyone in the family saves space for some of Nonna’s Pud and brandy butter.
Oh, the brandy butter.
It is potent – so much so that the designated drivers must count a spoonful as a standard drink. At least one newcomer has mistaken it for ice cream. Experienced family members know it is best applied sparingly. It’s ohhh so good.
But it isn’t the pudding that my family members instantly think of when they are asked about their favourite Christmas food. When we were still in school, my mother had a brainwave. One year, she bought a box of Coco Pops. We were informed they were for breakfast on Christmas morning. To two teenage girls and a young boy, this was brilliant news.
But there was a catch.
Once the box was gone, that was it… until the following Christmas.
And just like that, my favourite Christmas tradition was born. Roughly 15 years on, we have all married and moved out of home. We are masters of our own grocery shopping now. We can eat whatever breakfast cereal we choose.
Except for Coco Pops. They belong to Christmas.
I look forward to introducing my boys to this tradition – though I confess it’s mostly because it will stop them bugging me to buy Coco Pops throughout the year. My mother is a genius.
So have fun choosing traditions that will help you celebrate Christmas and creating memories for your children. A final word – please don’t feel like you’ve missed the boat on traditions because your children are older. Two of my most treasured family traditions (the Advent calendar and Coco Pops) were introduced to our family when I was a teenager and were just as wonderful as if we’d been toddlers.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and buy the biggest box of Coco Pops I can find.
I might even share them this year.