Christmas Traditions, Old and New

In my family of origin, we didn’t have many traditions. Traditions were kind of a non-matter. In fact, I didn’t realize how (almost) anti-traditional we were until I met my husband’s family. 
Our first Christmas together was eye-opening. 
My family commonly wrapped Christmas gifts in random boxes that didn’t match the item (for instance a toy would be wrapped inside a shoe box). So, when we’d open a gift and see that little Leah was holding a size 11 men’s shoes box, we’d all say, “Not the original box,” so the little ones would figure out that you can’t judge a gift by its box. Well, in Kent’s family, you evidently can. As I unwrapped my first-ever Christmas gift from Kent and saw a picture on the box of a vase of flowers that doubled as a weird glowing, fiber optic lamp, I said jokingly, “Not the original box.” The look on his (and his family’s) face told me I’d made a serious faux pas. The gifts got even stranger after that but, eventually, he figured out what kind of things I like and vice versa- but it took much longer for us to fine tune our Christmas traditions. 
When I told him that sometimes my family “ran away” for Christmas and we stayed in a hotel and opened our presents and stockings there, but how sometimes we just stayed home and opened our gifts a couple weeks early, or sometimes we waited until Christmas Eve, or sometimes we opened one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day… yeah, he about lost it. Then, he went on a little rant (which has gone on for 17 years and counting) about how stockings should be hung on Christmas Eve and not until after watching Garfield’s Christmas Special and Muppet’s Christmas Carol, presents should be opened on Christmas morning, and so on… I listened but could hardly believe my ears. He assured me, however, that most families have traditions like this.
I was like, “You mean families do the same thing every year?! That’s so boring!”
Well, anyhow, now we’ve been married 15 years and this will be our 5th year with our kids and I realize that somehow in there we’ve developed a few traditions. And, honestly, I love it. Christmas is, after all, my favorite holiday (and favorite time of the year, and favorite music, and favorite movies, and favorite smells, etc). I’d like to share some of our traditions with you all- and here about yours, too.
1)     Teddy bear stockings. Alright, this is the one thing from my childhood that could most definitly be construed as a tradition. I don’t exactly know why the teddy bear stockings began, but here’s what I do know. Somewhere in time between my cousin Kevin’s birth and when my memory began, my Aunt Deedee made the cutest matching teddy bear stockings for her kids and her sister’s three (that’s me and my bros). Then, when another two kids came along, my mom magically (it really was magic) found the exact same plaid fabric and replicated the stockings. Every year, no matter where we were or what our Christmas looked like, there were our teddy bear stockings. So, of course, when some of us were grown and married, my mom bought up more plaid (this time the magic didn’t work and we had to start a new plaid) and she and her sister have made every in-law and grandchild a teddy bear stocking. When I look at our 5 stockings hung above our chimney with care, I remember the good ole days- the Christmas years ago when I woke up to a Pound Puppy’s face sticking out of my stocking, to that time my mom pre-packed our stockings and put them in a box so they could travel to the hotel with us. And I also remember the good nowadays, like when our dog chewed Kent’s teddy bear’s face off, and when I adopted 3 kids in November and my mom worked like a crazy lady to get their stockings finished in time for their first family Christmas. So, teddy bear stockings it is and teddy bear stockings it will be, even if nothing else remains the same.
2)     Christmas tree farm. When I was growing up, we always had a fake Christmas tree (except that year we hung ornaments on my mom’s Schefflera plant). But Kent’s family always had a real tree. This was a big debate when we first met, whether we should go real or faux, but I gave in pretty easily when Kent told me we’d have to sneak onto someone’s land and chop down the tree without getting caught. Stealing a cedar tree? Now that’s a tradition I could get into. So, for a few years, we did surreptitiously obtain a Christmas tree not-so-legally (except for that one year when we didn’t have a truck so we just pinned Christmas lights to the wall in the shape of a tree). Anyhow, when we moved to Arkansas 11 years ago, we heard of this amazing, magical place called a tree farm. You mean Christmas trees don’t have to be stolen? Whaaaat? So we drove out there- and, boy, did it take, like, forever to get there. I mean, this place seemed like it was out in the boondocks like we were lightyears away from civilization. (Which is ironic, and you’ll see why in a minute.) We kept going out there every year and, every time, it didn’t seem as far away as it had. And the experience got even more magical when we had kids. We were going out, as a family, and picking a tree- the tree- that we would decorate and put our family presents underneath and ooh and aah at for the next month. The Christmas trees and that farm have been a magical part of our holiday experience. As you probably guessed, we still go to that same Christmas tree farm except, now, it only takes us about 2 minutes to get there because, a few years back, we bought a house next door.
3)     Christmas lights. Now, I don’t know a family who doesn’t take a drive around town to look at Christmas lights. If there is one out there, you’re missing out. Big time. But what is most fascinating to me about this tradition is that I find myself driving by the same lights on the same houses year after year. You’d think it would get old, but it never does. When I was growing up, there was a doctor in Lawton, OK (which was “town” for us) and he decorated his big, fancy house with big, fancy lights. What I remember most about it is that the line of cars started about a mile before you actually got to his house, as if his house was the only one in town that had a single illuminated bulb on it. Now, it’s the Hodo’s house. If you live near Van Buren, AR, you’ve got to drive by. No, you won’t see anything that’ll make your eyes pop out of your socket. No, driving by it won’t make the kids magically quit pestering each other in the back seat. Yes, you may run out of gas while you’re waiting in line. But you’ve got to drive by it anyway. At least two or three times every Christmas season. And why? Because it’s tradition.
Hodo’s Christmas Light Show Facebook page
4)     Gingerbread Houses. I remember making “gingerbread” houses in fifth grade. It was the only memory I have of making these as a child. But it was so much fun. Each student saved their milk carton from lunch that day and, when we got back to class, our teacher handed out graham crackers that had been broken into just the right sizes. Using icing, we “glued” the graham crackers to the side of our milk carton and then decorated them with candy. Then, we laid them out on a large piece of cardboard and sprinkled coconut flakes on them. Our little gingerbread town was the delight of our classroom that week. This magical memory stayed with me and, when we finally had kids, we busted out the graham crackers and leftover Halloween candy and got to work creating our own Gingerbread houses. It’s fun to see how creative my kids can be with their decorating and who doesn’t love to be up to their wrists in icing and candy?
5)     Christmas movies. Like going for a drive to look at Christmas lights, I don’t know a person who doesn’t enjoy watching Christmas movies. In our family, three favorites are Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Elf, and It’s A Wonderful Life. As I already mentioned, the first of those was a tradition in Kent’s family and we have carried on that tradition with our kids. Next is Elf, which seems like a natural choice, but there was controversy in our house for many years regarding the movie. We saw it originally when it was first released in theaters when we were in college. I left thinking it was a truly funny movie. Kent, who has a better sense of humor, hated it and said it was super annoying. Come to find out, that’s what lots of people thought the first time they saw it but, in time it came to be considered one of the top Christmas movie of all-times. But, wait, I’ve saved the best for last. It’s a Wonderful Life is a hand-me-down tradition from both my and Kent’s sides. His dad and my mom insist it must be watched every holiday season. As a little girl, I remember being bribed by my mom to watch it with her… Seems like I cut out about the time Harry comes home with Ruth Dakin Bailey, if you don’t mind. But around seventh grade, I watched it all the way through a loved it. I decided then it was the best movie ever made. And it is still my favorite today. (P.S.- Every year when Kent and I watch it together, little tears run down his face at the end. It’s super cute!)
Ata boy, Clarence!
6)     ***New tradition alert*** For the past couple years, there’s been a small cedar tree sitting beside I-540. Just after Thanksgiving, some amazing, daring soul parks their car on the shoulder, hops out and decorates that baby to a shine before Highway Patrol can write them a ticket. I love driving by it! This year, I noticed another wild cedar/ living Christmas tree when driving up I-49 and it got me thinking: This world doesn’t have enough rogue Christmas trees! So, we started a new tradition this year- Decorating a random tree!With 3 kids under 10, we didn’t get super cray-cray or anything. We chose a nice, modest cedar about half a mile from our house that sits in front of an abandoned church building and added some Dollar Tree garlands and ornaments. It’s easy to see when driving down our country highway road. To me, it sure is a beauty and I’ll think about our family tradition every time I drive by. More than that, though, I hope it puts a smile on some soul’s face this holiday.
Rogue Christmas tree 2017
7)     Duck! There’s a bonus tradition! Several years ago, Kent and I went skiing at Sipapu with his sister and her husband. Per her request, we drove to Taos and ate at a fancy restaurant, you know the kind that has, like, 3 things on the menu and they all cost over $50? So, she and I ordered duck. Neither of us had ever had it before but let me tell you- we got our $50 worth. It was the most delicious meal I’ve ever had. So, a few years later, I happened to notice that the grocery store sells frozen duck around Thanksgiving/Christmastime. I bought one and it inspired me to make a fancy meal reminiscent of the one we had in Taos. There was polenta, potatoes au gratin, bacon green beans, raspberry chiffon pie, and other mouth-watering delicacies. Knowing the meal was too good not to share, I waited to make it until New Year’s Day and we invited a couple friends over. We broke out the wedding china and celebrated delicious food, good friendship, new hopes and dreams- and two more duck-lovers were created in the process. It was a success! Ever since, I’ve made that fancy duck meal sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. This year, we’re jumping the gun and having it Christmas Eve with Kent’s parents. I can hardly wait!
The original duck/skiing crew.
Here’s one last Christmas fun fact: I never believed in Santa Claus. In fact, I thought that kids only pretended to believe to humor their parents. Kent set me straight on that one- he was raised a “believer” and convinced me that kids really do believe in Santa. Now, our kids believe. I couldn’t stand the thought of lying to them so I told them Santa isn’t real. Instead of persuading them of the truth, it has only solidified their belief in him!
What are some of your unique family Christmas traditions?

2 thoughts on “Christmas Traditions, Old and New

  1. Rachel, this has brought back so many wonderful memories of our Christmases! I love the fact that the teddy bear stockings hold such a special place in your life. I enjoyed every stitch in each bear! And you are absolutely right about \”It's a Wonderful Life\” being the best movie ever. The movie was a tradition with my mom and two sisters. We would watch it every Christmas, but we had to wait for it to come on tv, and not miss it airing! So we waited and watched for it. When I first saw it on DVD, I saw the Bailey family had a dog, something I never noticed all the years I had watched it. And when I was growing up we always had a real tree. Pop would put the lights on, then we got to do the ornaments. On New Years Day we would undress it and Pop would chop it up and we burned it in the fireplace. Best smell ever! Our first Christmas married we got a real tree, but when Uncle David came over it made him sick, so we went to a fake tree. The real tree was a tradition I gave up for his family. I love it that you and Kent have taken from each family and made your own traditions!


  2. I didn't realize y'all had a real tree growing up. How funny that I so firmly thought trees should be fake because that's what we always had (aside from the Scheflerra, haha!) I'm sure my kids will have some crazy memories of Christmases past, too.


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