Tuesday, December 3, 2013


When it comes to Christmas traditions, most families either have them or wish for them.

When I got married, I fell into the 'wish for them' category. I longed for a 'story book' Christmas with a lovely tree surrounded by a happy family, singing Christmas carols, eating Christmas cookies and drinking hot apple cider or hot chocolate.

That longing was the driving force behind making sure my children grew up with Christmas traditions: activities they could count on happening from year to year. Sights, sounds, and smells that they would associate with Christmas and family.

No matter which category you belong in, I want to share some of the traditions we have developed over the years. Feel free to share your traditions in the comments.


When my first-born child was only 4 months old we began the tradition of limiting our gift giving to 3 gifts per child. I heard or read about the idea that Jesus received only 3 gifts, so that should be adequate for our children. It sounded reasonable to me and has certainly kept us from over-indulging (or breaking the bank now that we have 7 children). They almost always receive a book (and for some of them it would not be Christmas without a new book), something practical, and something they want. Some years, one of the three gifts was shared between two siblings, like the year my two older girls received a play kitchen or the boys shared a large Lego set.


We have done advent devotions several different ways over the years. For a long time, we had an advent wreath that had weekly devotional thoughts and a song that began the first Sunday of advent. The children always liked taking turns lighting the candles each week.

Later, we switched to Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent a devotional story with daily readings.

After several years of Jotham's Journey, I made Jesse Tree ornaments
jesse tree ornaments and devotions
Jesse Tree ornaments
(thanks to my friend Chesna who designed them)
and bought The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas
 This is a daily devotional that has an ornament to hang on the tree to represent each devotion. The daily readings begin in Genesis and follow the prophecy, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Each of these devotions has a Christmas Day reading which we sometimes do at breakfast Christmas morning, if we are in our home.


Many years ago I bought Better Homes and Gardens Cookies for Christmas

 from CBD on clearance. It is a wonderful cookbook with many of our favorite Christmas cookies. I have tried nearly all the recipes in the book.

Sometime in December, the children and I will take a day and make cookies: some to eat, some to freeze. Our favorites are Buried Cherry, Swirled Mint, Spritz, and Gingerbread Cutouts.

I'm not sure which they like better, the baking or the eating, but it is a fun time.


We like to teach our children to think of others at a time when they are frequently asked, "What do YOU want for Christmas?"

We like to participate in the following:

Salvation Army Angel Tree- this is the tree set up at Wal-Mart or the mall that has paper angels on the tree with a child's name and gift requests. We choose one and have the children help choose what we will give from the list.

Operation Christmas Child- pack a shoebox with items for a boy or girl of a particular age category. Samaritan's Purse delivers the shoeboxes. We have done several of these over the years. My children enjoy picking out practical items and fun items to put in the shoebox.

Children's Hunger Fund- now that most of my children are older and earn money, we have contributed to CHF as a family. CHF has very low operational expenses so nearly all of the contributions go to feed children. It is one of the most cost effective charitable organizations in America. (link to website)

Adopt an Elderly Person- one year, with our small group at church, we adopted some ladies that my family had met on our Meals On Wheels route. It was a great experience for the children to see how grateful each lady was for our gifts to them.


We try to do this together and make it a little 'party'. We have Christmas cookies, of course, and I will get a selection of cheeses, a summer sausage log, crackers, fruit, and maybe dip. We put on Christmas music, decorate the tree and snack on the goodies.


eclectic tree ornaments
 Any visions of a perfectly themed and color coordinated tree quickly disappeared when we started this tradition. Every year, each child receives a new ornament. Sometimes, they all get the same type/style of ornament; sometimes everyone's is different. They each have a box to keep their ornaments in so when we decorate the tree they can put on their ornaments. Obviously, the younger children don't have as many personal ornaments, so they get to help with the other ornaments. Our tree is very eclectic, but it is fun to remember the events surrounding some of the ornaments or to remind the younger children why they don't have a certain type of ornament (they weren't born yet!) Eventually the children will 'age out' of this tradition and they will take their box of ornaments to their own home.


On Christmas morning, we wait until everyone is up (or we wake them up) before anyone is allowed to dig into stockings or open gifts. My mother made each child a beautiful cross-stitched stocking as well as making my husband and me crazy quilt stockings, so even though we don't participate in the Santa game, we do fill stockings. Once everyone is up and in the living room, stockings are a 'go'.
cross stitch stockings

crazy quilt stockings


I guess finding Lindor Truffles, an orange, and a new toothbrush in the stockings could be considered a tradition. Socks, small toys, and nail polish are often found, also.


After stocking contents are stashed somewhere, we have breakfast. Recently, my husband has been making Belgian waffles on Christmas morning complete with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.


the big bow
After breakfast, we return to the living room to open gifts. To quell the debate of who gets to open their present first (for we take turns opening gifts), I have a giant bow that goes on a gift. Whichever present has the giant bow, its recipient gets to begin the gift opening ritual. On the back of the bow, I note the child and the year so the next year it goes to the next child in line, by birth order. Yes, this means that once every 7 years a child gets to be first, but it teaches patience. Everyone takes turns opening gifts, once again by age. So, if child #3 is first, #4 would be next all the way through #7 and then dad and mom. As my children get married, we will put the spouses in the line by age order.

Opening gifts takes a while at our house, but I love the orderliness of it and the fact that everyone gets to appreciate the others’ gifts and reactions to their gifts; there is no mass mayhem that is over in 5 minutes.


Alas, even though I have pianists, guitarists, drummers, and vocalists at my house, my vision of family gathered around singing Christmas carols has never really happened. Maybe someday…

What Christmas traditions have you cultivated?


9peasMom said...

I too long for the Christmas Carols but it never happens like I envision - but we do sing our hearts out in the van while driving around during this Season.
I love your stockings, they are beautiful!
The 3 gifts tradition is such a good one, we also keep our gifts to a minimum (they used to get 3, but it changed to 1 with 2 family gifts so it still is 3 but in a different way. I love stockings, but my mother-n-law does them so well that we no longer do them at home but enjoy receiving the stockings at Grandma's house. Our traditions evolve when needed, but the Advent wreath and a few others we are rock solid on. I love these type of posts, and learning about new traditions!

karentrina said...

I think our traditions evolve a little, too. As the 'children' get older, some things evolve. I think a shared gift still counts, though. We have done the family gift and counted it as one of the 3 gifts, too.

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