I do love this time of year, and I’m trying to squeeze every ounce of fun I can out of the season. I’ve learned, maybe more than ever this time around, that life really does feel like a roller coaster. There are always going to be ups and downs – frequently within a single day.
But it’s nice to hold certain things constant and, at Christmas, traditions offer a center of gravity. Solid ground when renovations get stalled, pipes break and Christmas gifts get flooded, work responsibilities spike, and masks get thrown to the ground in a fit of rage.
While I tend towards minimalism, I am deeply sentimental. I don’t hold on to a lot of “things” at Christmas but it is a time steeped in rich memory from my childhood, along with more recent additions as our little family unit has developed a unique set of holiday experiences.
This is a bit of a recap post – I’ve touched on a number of these items individually over the last few weeks – but they all bear repeating. Because, to me, these traditions are a big part of what makes the Christmas magic so palpable.
Every year there is a new Star Wars LEGO set under the tree. Every year there is a new ornament (for everyone) and new-to-them PJ’s for the kids (I tend to source these second-hand). Every year there is a family calendar for my parents and in-laws. Every year there is sugary cereal. Every year there are new earrings for me, new socks for him.
A lot of our favourite foods stem from childhood memories. (Isn’t it fascinating how deeply the foods and flavours we’re introduced to when young shape our culinary preferences as adults).
Every year for Christmas morning breakfast we have my Mom’s version of Cinnamon Coffee Cake. It’s really “monkey” bread, which we make with biscuit dough. I prepare the dough the night before – extra cinnamon, please – and make up the gooey caramel sauce in the morning before baking it. A side perk – the whole house smells of cinnamon and butter and brown sugar. It’s heavenly. Also – we open our stocking stuffers first (team #wrapthemall) and then have breakfast before turning our attention to the main gifts.
We always, always, always have an unbaked cherry cheesecake at Christmas. This is my favourite dessert and was something I had every Christmas growing up. John prefers blueberry topping, so I will sometimes make a second (much smaller) blueberry cheesecake too. For me it’s cherry all the way.
In the last few years I’ve started making John’s favourite seafood casserole with curried rice and shrimp on the side. It’s delicious and his all-time favourite meal (which his mother only made on special occasions when he was growing up).
When my parents were just starting their church ministry, money was in very short supply. One year, for Christmas, a congregant gave them vouchers to a pizza place. They bought the pizza on Christmas Eve which launched a decades-long tradition. My mom always made homemade pizza crust (growing up we topped it with had ground beef, hotdogs and green peppers – interesting combo); when we were first married, John and I opted for calzones (I can’t help but think about Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec when I write the word calzone), but the last few years it has been homemade donair pizzas on top of store-bought Naan bread. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious!
I can’t imagine a Christmas without watching The Grinch (both the 1966 AND 2018 versions). Home Alone is a classic that gracefully spanned the years.
But my favourite movie tradition is less than a decade old. Every year one of my dear friends comes over to watch White Christmas with me. We chat and laugh and snack. We know most of the words by heart (“Mutual, I’m sure” being discussed at various points throughout the calendar year).
Christmas eve TRADITIONS
When I was a child I lived for Christmas Eve and, to this day, December 24th is almost always my favourite day of the whole year. The magic of Christmas is buzzing; the gifts are ready, the hard work is mostly done. Cheesecake is prepped and waiting in the fridge. I’ve filled my tank with viewings of White Christmas and redemptive stories of miserly grinches. The house smells like a forest collided with an apple pie convention. I just love it.
And one of my favourite activities on Christmas Eve is attending our church service. Growing up, despite the fact my father WAS A MINISTER, we didn’t have Christmas Eve services. We had elaborate concerts with readings and plays and songs which I participated in with gusto at some point in December…but nothing on Christmas Eve.
When I got married and we moved to new locations – and attended new churches – they all had Christmas Eve services. Some are candlelight (my favourite) but with or without candles I love being in church on Christmas Eve to be reminded of the real reason our family celebrates this time of year. The tangible gifts and the intangible; the friends and the funky socks and the time with family and delicious food are all just gifts from the real Gift Giver.
We come home and sing carols, read the Christmas story from Luke 2, and then tuck the kiddos into bed. Stockings get stuffed, the adults might squeeze in one last Hallmark movie, and then I try to get some sleep.
It doesn’t always work – even in my thirties I can’t escape the magic of Christmas Eve.
What about you? Any favourite traditions? Do you love Christmas Eve as much as I do? Do you wrap all your stocking stuffers?
*Pictured above: what was an annual Christmas Eve tradition of hosting another family for supper prior to the Christmas Eve service, complete with “Christmas crackers” and festive napkins and treasure hunts for gifts. It became too much – too rushed, too stressful. Last year we postponed this until after Christmas…and it was so much more enjoyable! New tradition?