Peek Into Our Christmas: Favourite Traditions

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.

FAVOURITE GIFTS

I’ve already mentioned that we’re big fans of giving the same gifts over and over, just in different iterations. And I’ve written about some of my favourite items to give (men + kids) and to receive.

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.

favourite foods

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!

favourite movies

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

Christmas Eve 2019 – things will look a bit different this year after the renovations…but the twinkle lights and cheerily wrapped packages will be just as enjoyable.

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?

19 thoughts on “Peek Into Our Christmas: Favourite Traditions”

  1. I’m loving all your Christmas-y posts! I just love this season and yes- Christmas Eve is my favorite. I love the excitement and anticipation- “magical” is the perfect word for it. We have so many favorite traditions, including decorating sugar cookies “for Santa” on Christmas Eve (and we still leave the cookies out for him, even though my kids are teenagers.)
    I just had a major present-wrapping session yesterday. I only wrap some of the stocking stuffers, depending on what they are. Our cats even have stockings, but I’m not wrapping their stocking stuffers- I have to draw the line somewhere!
    I’m glad you’re enjoying the season! I hate to even bring it up, but do you suffer from post-Christmas depression? I do, and I’ve tried so many different ways to deal with it. With all the excitement and happiness right now, sometimes the though will pop into my head “but it will be so sad when it’s all over!” Sigh.

    1. Aww – thanks. I do love Christmas and it definitely provides a lot of blogging fodder!!

      Glad to find another fan of Christmas Eve. We did the cookies for Santa a few years, but since my kids never believed in Santa (!), it feel kinda flat. I think it’s sweet to have that tradition carry on each year, though!

      The fact that your cats have stockings means your line is drawn a lot farther than mine; I love it! Are you the one who had an Advent calendar for your cats, too? That is hilarious and the epitome of being festive.

      We always wrap all the stocking stuffers (growing up my Mom would wrap them in plastic bags…); it was a huge shock to me to be visiting extended family one year and to receive my stocking…with all the gifts unwrapped. It had never crossed my mind that some people didn’t wrap stocking stuffers! But I can see that making sense. When you grow up with certain traditions, you get the sense everyone does things the same way. My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up but our stockings were always bulging (mostly with necessities like toothbrushes and toothpaste and deodorant, but I loved the feeling of abundance and didn’t really care about the contents).

      Yes – I find after Christmas is a huge drag, especially here in Canada. Somehow the lead-up to Christmas makes the cold, icy weather seem more tolerable and, even though I know it’s not true, I feel like when Christmas is over it will be time for spring. Not so, Elisabeth, not so. In fact, we haven’t even gotten to the longest slog of winter. I think that is one reason I tend towards minimalism at the holidays as it feels a bit less tragic and depressing to undo everything.

      I will say that last year was the best year for this – instead of packing all the events in before Christmas, we actually hosted a few families AFTER Christmas which helped extend the festive cheer while slowly easing us out of “party” mode. In previous years we would have people come over before Christmas (including being VERY busy on Christmas Eve), but it’s much nicer to have the distraction after Christmas.

      I also find the Christmas tree to be a bit of a trigger. I hate to take it down and think it’s beautiful, but also very melancholy once the gifts are unwrapped. I usually leave it up until January 3rd or 4th, but understand now why my Mom was always anxious to get the tree down after Christmas. It always makes me a bit sad to see the tree after Christmas…

  2. I love this! So many wonderful traditions!

    We always have mulligatawny soup for dinner Christmas Eve, and (when I’m with my parents) my dad makes a fabulous beef roast for Christmas dinner. We do wrap the stocking stuffers, which is very time consuming, but I love the stockings.

  3. I’m working on filling out a “christmas survey” that I will post next week and it’s showing me that I am still establishing traditions for my little family. I’ve mentioned before that it’s changed a lot, like Christmas Eve was our big day of celebration and Christmas Day had a lower key morning and then we’d see my dad’s extended family. Now it’s the reverse – Christmas Eve we are w/ Phil’s extended family and then it’s just our family on Christmas Day. I was hoping to take our older child to mass on Christmas Eve or Day but w/ Omicron in MN and cases really increasing here, I think we will stay home again as I can not see him keeping his mask on for the entire mass. πŸ™ But I would like to get back to going to Mass on Christmas Eve.

    The thing that has probably changed the most is the food traditions. I did not know I had a gluten intolerance until my last 20s so a lot of my faves from childhood are not options anymore. I could make them GF but some GF stuff is just not great and not worth the effort when everyone else can have the glutenous version! I tried to make homemade GF cinnamon rolls a couple of years ago. It was sooo much work and no one else seemed to really love them so I’m still trying to establish a Christmas morning meal!

    1. I’ve done a number of elimination diets (and avoid much dairy and gluten now, but don’t have a strict intolerance, so still eat favourite foods)…and a lot of the time I just found it easier to avoid certain meals/treats because they were a) too much work to adapt and b) they just didn’t taste the same.
      That said, I don’t mind eating the same meals on repeat, so I’ve got a good selection of vegan/GF/DF desserts, meals, and even breads that I enjoy in a pinch!
      I’m hoping Christmas Eve church services stay open; capacities have been cut way back because of Omicron and we have to pre-register for everything. Nothing I can do, but certainly pray things calm down and we can celebrate in-person instead of online!

  4. As a couple, we don’t have a ton of traditions. We do put up a tree, get a new ornament, send cards, and exchange gifts every year, but other than that, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge. We sometimes go see family, sometimes stay home. We sometimes go see holiday lights, sometimes not. We definitely don’t have food-related traditions because my husband hates food. Ha!

    But I love hearing about how people eat particular foods on holidays and fond memories of holiday mass. It’s so interesting how different people grew up!

    1. A new ornament and cards each year are definitely great traditions (I’m a bit biased since those are some of my favourite traditions).

      Your husband hates food? How is that possible!?

      Actually, I’ve heard of other people that are very blasΓ© about food and food traditions but I can’t even imagine. I love eating the same foods each year, love the cultural experience of trying new foods when traveling…anything involving food, I’m all in (unless it’s spicy and then I avoid it completely)!

      We have not gone to look at lights yet; I don’t think it has ever taken us this long into December before going. Maybe tonight?

      1. My husband has a lot of dietary restrictions and a lot of food makes him feel sick, so the act of eating is very challenging for him. For this reason, there isn’t a focus on food in our house! We definitely don’t consider food when we’re traveling, except for hoping there’s a good grocery store or co-op near by. I LOVE food, but it’s so hard for me to see him struggling with it, so I let the food traditions go and try to just focus on what we both can enjoy.

        1. I’m so sorry – I take so much for granted with being able to eat just about anything. That sounds very, very hard and I can absolutely see why food isn’t a central focus of celebratory events. And I’m sure it’s hard for you to watch someone you love with these challenges that are so present in day-to-day life (having to eat every day).

  5. Oh, I adore this! Thank you so much for this round up of all of your favourite Christmas things… I might have to do one of these posts myself πŸ™‚

  6. I loved reading about all of your Christmas traditions! It’s such a magical time of year and even more so with children. My parents always made Christmas such a special time, even though we didn’t have much money, and even though I don’t have kids, I still find ways to make this time magical. Some of our traditions are making Christmas cookies (the sugar kind with tons of frosting!), having a fancy steakhouse dinner every Christmas Eve with my mom and stepdad, and watching my three favorite Christmas movies every year (Christmas Vacation, Elf, and The Santa Clause).

    1. We have just been talking about how we need to watch The Santa Clause again this year. The kids saw it for the first time last year and loved it!

      A fancy steak dinner sounds like a wonderful (and delicious) Christmas Eve tradition. I rarely eat steak, but one of my favourite meals with a steak and a twice-roasted garlic baked potato meal at a local steakhouse. It is pretty much impossible to beat! My mouth is literally watering as I think about it!

  7. I have such fond memories of Christmases at my parents’ house myself and love that it is the same for you and that you’re also trying to set your own traditions with your family. Your tree is beautiful!
    And I had to laugh at “The house smells like a forest collided with an apple pie convention”… I mean, what could be better than that? πŸ™‚

    Non-bake cherry cheesecake sounds divine! Do you have a recipe. I love cherry-everything and am appalled that it’s super-difficult to find tart cherries in this country (and if you find a jar, it’s super-expensive. What’s up with that? Should it be a staple?) The cinnamon monkey bread sounds delicious, too. I love cinnamon!

    One of my favorite memories is Christmas Eve at my parents’ house (as you know, in Germany Christmas Eve is the “main event”) and I miss it. I haven’t been home for Christmas in a few years. (Jon and I used to spend Christmases with my family, but then one year we couldn’t go, because we had to plan a trip to Germany for another event that year and we haven’t been back from Christmas since. While we do have our own little traditions and enjoy our quiet Christmas, I wish we could be with my family again for the holidays).

    1. I feel so blessed we can see my parents again this year; I’ve only missed a handful of Christmases with them since I’ve been born. Because the rest of my family is scattered a lot further away, if they weren’t able to make it to my house, they’d be alone at Christmas which makes me sad to consider. Very, very thankful the border between our two provinces has stayed open for the holidays!

      I have a very basic unbaked cheesecake recipe; just a basic graham cracker base (I just use butter and graham cracker crumbs, no sugar). After the bases are firm (30 minutes in the fridge) I make up the cream cheese. 12 oz of cream cheese to every 1 cup of icing sugar. I use 3 packages of cream cheese (lactose-free, which tends to be a bit softer) to make a 9×13 + 8×8 glass dishes. To the icing sugar/cream cheese mix, I add in about 1/2 of a tub of CoolWhip*. I divide this mixture evenly between the two dishes, spreading carefully over the graham base and then top with the remaining CoolWhip. Refrigerate overnight and then top with cherry pie filling (I split 2 cans between the two dishes)! *I use CoolWhip, but you could definitely use the equivalent of whipped cream…we just have lactose sensitivities.

      1. Thank you so much for the recipe! I have written it down (ahem, copy and pasted it into my Notes app LOL) and will keep it handy! πŸ™‚

  8. I love your traditions, and how you’ve started your own. That’s how it should be! And you and your husband seem to have a really great approach to it, too. Do what works for you and your family now. Don’t worry about next year, or about whether it’s totally the same as last year. I’m sure your kiddos love it, too.

    I commented on Stephany’s Christmas decorations post that I don’t really decorate as it’s just me, and my mother has very firm ideas about decorating, which meant I never got to play around with my own ideas while I was growing up. I’d love to have even some lights or just a sign or two, but, well, I just don’t know where to start, where to put them, etc. And I’ll overthink the whole thing! Kids help, I think, because they love it no matter what you do. And, you can refine / change over time. But I love seeing others’ decorations!

    1. I always decorated the top of my bed when I was a kid; I’d have a string of tinsel and multi-coloured lights and I loved falling asleep under their warm glow.
      My Mom was always so good about allowing us to help; she wasn’t fastidious about the decorations. Abby has a little tree in her room that she decorates 100% independently, and I let her do the swag this year. Both kids helped hang the ornaments and I basically didn’t move them around (for the first time EVER! they are definitely getting bigger)…but other than that, I mostly do it on my own. Hopefully the kids don’t think I ambush the decorating too much. We don’t put up that many things, anyway, but they seem to enjoy what is there!

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