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Make Space For Holiday Rituals

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Ever since I was a child I have loved the holidays and specifically the weeks leading up to Christmas. In my 20s I lived far away from my family and was working in retail so traveling home for Christmas wasn’t realistic. My family obviously carried on without me and I had my own life happening but I missed observing the holiday traditions we observed every year. Fast forward a decade and my own kids were arriving on the scene. Ten years of pent-up Christmas energy overflowed as I committed to creating a holiday season that lived up to my childhood memories.

So on came the holiday rituals, many from my own childhood but I layered on new ones as well. And every year spent a majority of my energy making sure that we followed through on every tradition, whether my family wanted to or not. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t actually enjoying each ritual because of the energy I spent trying to do ALL the rituals. Santa’s lap, The Nutcracker, Christmas cookies, Christmas Eve Fondue, St. Lucia Day, Zoo Lights, Holiday photo shoot, family decorating, the list went on and on. My December was full of Holiday Ritual Clutter and I didn’t even know it.

Once it dawned on me that I wasn’t feeling much Christmas spirit, only a small glow of accomplishment that I’d managed to keep all the balls in the air, I began to clear the Christmas clutter. There were rituals better suited to different childhood development stages. There were rituals that nobody liked but me. There were traditions I was able to pick back up once my kids left for college. And there were the traditions that everyone unanimously agrees are worth keeping.  If I had to do it all over again I’d acknowledge that fewer rituals are actually more fun, that it is okay to not practice every tradition every year and that some things are age-appropriate and can be jettisoned once that age has passed.

The advice I will pass on to my kids when they have families of their own is to lean into fewer traditions, keep them fluid from year to year and make space to be fully present to enjoy them.

With Littles: The Holiday Photo Shoot

Admittedly I only made it through 3 years of pictures with Santa; my kids were shy and the lines were long.  But I did do a holiday photo shoot each year of the kids in their finery with Santa Hats on romping around in our yard. The best shot I used for our holiday card. I loved everything about this tradition; picking my girls’ dresses, watching all 3 play and be silly together, tramping back inside for hot chocolate when we were done.  But once the kids got a little older they began to rebel. The girls didn’t want to wear dresses anymore. No one was excited to put on a Santa Hat. And I continued to try and ram it down their throats (you can imagine the quality of those shots) for a few more years before I finally gave up. Lesson learned: little kids are pliable, super cute and are not averse to taking direction. Tweens and teens not so much – let the photo shoot go when they start to give you attitude.

With Teens: Forced Family Fun

Speaking of teens, they are super tricky and it’s necessary to tread lightly when coercing them into participating in family traditions. After a few years of disappointing results I adopted the strategy of announcing that everyone would be participating in a day or evening of Forced Family Fun. I decided to call it what it was in the hopes that any attempts to resist it would be futile and it worked! Each year I would throw out a few options: Ice skating? The Nutcracker? Holiday Light display? The group would vote on the activity and I’d purchase tickets and get the date on the calendar. When faced with only one mandatory holiday family activity the teens dropped their attitudes and brought their best selves to the tradition. 

With College Students: Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies were on my list of rituals every year and boy I would work hard to fit them in, this was one ritual that I did but took little pleasure in.  Even if the kids were having fun, even though I liked to bake, making cookies sapped my energy and I finally gave up when they were teenagers and didn’t care so much about making them with me.  But now, now that they are grown up I have time and energy for cookie baking. The pandemic was what really got me into it; that year I made 10 different varieties, boxed them up and delivered to all the friends and family that I couldn’t see in person. Now that I don’t have 10 million other holiday-related activities going on I have the time to enjoy picking the recipes (I try to insert a couple of new ones each year and edit out the not-so-favorites), planning the packaging and the actual baking and decorating. And if I don’t have time to make as many as I’d like I don’t freak out. And my college kids opt in where they want to but this ritual has bcome mostly mine!

Evergreen: Christmas Eve Fondue Party

My family of origin always had fondue on Christmas Eve. I thought it was so cool, it was the only time we ever had fondue and felt really special.  I have kept up this tradition and this is the ritual that has always been a winner, no matter the kids’ ages – everyone loves it.  Our Christmas Eve Fondue has evolved to be more of a fondue party, with close friends and their families. We do a Secret Santa, my friend Kelsey bakes a Busch de Noël and there are separate tables for kids and adults. It’s really fun, everyone loves it and we were all devastated when we had to ditch it during the pandemic (2 years in a row!) Some traditions are evergreen, they just work, and those are the ones to keep going each year. The fact that there are only a few makes them all the more special and specific to the holiday season.

So the advice from this Christmas-Crazy is to edit down your list of rituals, don’t stress if you have to skip a year or two and lean in to the ones you keep. That is where the holiday magic happens!

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