Establishing Christmas Traditions

Traditions. We all have them – and well we should! I’m not as traditional as Teyve (from Fiddler on the Roof) but I do believe strongly in the importance and value of traditions. Traditions are important because they give us both stability and anticipation.

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Christmas is a time when traditions become more evident. Do you hang white lights or colored? Is there an angel on top of your tree or a star? Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Do you use an Advent calendar or hang stockings?

I think there are two times when Christmas traditions have to be clearly defined. First, when you get married, you need to blend the traditions of two birth families into one. Second, when you have children, you have to decide what traditions you want to keep – and establish – with your own children.

I’m currently on the second round of establishing traditions – with a 20 month old who is experiencing this Christmas more actively than his first. It is making me think very carefully about the traditions we have and want to continue – and begin – with our own family. As I’m in the midst of this process, I’ve learned three simple things about traditions.

Traditions don’t have to be overly complicated or involve a lot of time. Sometimes, the simplest things (like driving around to look at lights as a family) are enjoyed the most.

That said, remember that traditions can evolve and change over the years. What you do with a 2 year old and a baby is naturally going to look different than when you have a 12 and 10 year old.

Finally, remember to give yourself grace! Just because you’ve observed a tradition in the past, doesn’t mean you need to do it every year. We love coming home to lights outside the house in the bushes but can survive just fine without them for a year. Maybe we’ll hang them next year or maybe we’ll change that tradition. We can decide that next Christmas!

If you’re looking to establish traditions as a family, there are four areas where I think it is simplest to start. For each of these areas, I’ve shared some of my thoughts – as well as our traditions – below. Feel free to share your traditions in the comments below. I love to hear how other families celebrate Christmas!

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Christmas Baked Goods

This is the time of year when everyone seems to bake. Even if you don’t bake regularly during the year, Christmas seems to bring out the baker in all of us.

In our house, it didn’t feel like Christmas until we started rolling and dipping buckeyes. Yes, we were a little perfectionistic about the size of our buckeyes and the smooth dipping but that simply comes from years of practice when you’re making 500 or 600 buckeyes (or more!) a year. We became known for our “Barz Buckeyes” and it is a baking tradition I love carrying on. Here is the buckeye recipe we use, as well as some of our tips and tricks!

My dad was the master at candy cane cookies and my mom turned out big batches of caramel corn for our teachers. My mother-in-law is rolls and frosts the thinnest butter cookies possible and presses out spritz cookies faster than I ever will. My Grandma Barz is known for her spicy pepparkarkor that all the children and grandchildren love.

Maybe in your family, you are known for fudge or your saltine topped toffee. What do you like to bake at Christmas time? Whatever that recipe is, claim it! It doesn’t matter how simple or fancy as long as your family enjoys it. Be proud of your baked good tradition and serve it joyfully. Just don’t forget to teach your children how to cook the family recipes so they can carry the traditions on!

Christmas Music

I’m a former music teacher and from a musical family. Musical traditions are important to me! Christmas music is everywhere we turn at this time of year, but I still have my favorites. If you’re looking for some new Christmas music to listen to around the house or as you drive in the car, here are some of our favorites.

Have you heard of the Piano Guys? If not, check them out on Youtube. They are a group of talented guys who play piano and cello. Their instrumental arrangements are also unique and enjoyable. Then, listen to their Christmas cd – A Family Christmas. This cd is often on repeat in my kitchen cd player.

Another new – and great – Christmas cd is That’s Christmas to Me by Pentatonix. This is another group you can check out on Youtube! There are 5 up and coming artists who sing acappella. My music students loved whenever I showed a Pentatonix clip in class. On this cd, I especially love their arrangement of “Mary, Did You Know?”

Another great acappella cd that the whole family will love is Snow by Go Fish. Go Fish is a group of 3 dads that sing music that kids and parents will enjoy together. This cd features fun twists on Joy to the World and White Christmas, among others.

I grew up decorating the tree to brass music. To me, it’s not Christmas without good brass music. The Canadian Brass are known well (for good reason), but the London Brass are my favorite. I particularly like their Christmas with London Brass cd. It’s classic music that never goes out of style.

Christmas Books

I love books! I always have and always will. One of the new traditions we started is the unwrapping of a Christmas book to read each day in December. As a former teacher, my library was full of books that I couldn’t wait to share with my own children! Of course, the books will change as our children grow older and I’m sure to add new ones along the way. For now, I simply know this. Nathan is loving unwrapping a book every day!

If you’re looking for book ideas for your family, check out this list for 25 Christ-Centered Christmas books as well as my 10 favorite Christmas books for children.

Christmas Movies

I saved the simplest for last because every family has their favorite Christmas movies! I’m sure you already have some movies that you watch as a family every year, but if you are looking to expand your collection, here are 5 of my recommendations. I’d love to hear what Christmas movies are favorites of yours!

Growing up, White Christmas was a family favorite of ours. My sister and I can sing along to all the songs, especially sisters. With an all-star cast including Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, it’s a classic Christmas musical.

In my husband’s family, the favorite is It’s a Wonderful Life. Another classic, this movie stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, who reflects on how the world would be different if he had never been born. Also starring Donna Reed, this movie does a great job of reminding us that our lives are wonderful – because they are ours.

Miracle on 34th Street is another classic that I’d recommend for Christmas viewing. The interesting thing with this movie is that the original version was filmed in 1947. The newer version was filmed in 2000 – and is just as good (if not better) than the original. I prefer the newer version but know many families who watch them both during the holidays.

If you have younger children, I recommend The Muppet Christmas Carol. It wasn’t until I was older and read Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol that I realized how well the Muppets followed his book! There are countless direct quotes from the book in the movie, which make it a fun way for the children to be exposed to this classic work of literature.

I was never a fan of Will Ferrell until I watched the movie, Elf. There is just something about this lighthearted movie that makes you smile. For those of you who have seen this movie, you know how many quotes there are to be shared. My favorite? “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud so all can hear.”

That’s a bit about our family as we continue to establish our Christmas traditions. What Christmas traditions do you have in your family? What Christmas traditions would you like to establish?

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  1. Growing up we would always pile into the car a day or two before Christmas with our hot chocolate in to-go mugs and drive around to look at Christmas lights while playing and singing Christmas music. While my kids are still at the chocolate milk stage, I am looking forward to doing this tradition with them each year.
    This year I started a new one with the Star from Afar, since I wasn’t fond of the creepy elf thing. Each day the kids have to find where I put the star and move the three wisemen there. Then on Christmas morning the star is over the nativity. It comes with a book about the birth of Christ and is such a neat way to keep the kids focused on the birth of Christ.
    Thank you for sharing your traditions, I am going to have to go check out the new Christmas music!

    1. I just heard of Star from Afar. I love that so much more than the elf – and keeping things focused on Jesus! And chocolate milk? We’re going to do that with Nathan, too, as we look at lights. Merry CHRISTmas to you and your family, Cara!

  2. I agree, traditions don’t have to be complicated. We enjoy watching Home Alone every year and eating finger foods on Christmas Eve. As a child, I always enjoyed going to the candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve. I love your idea for unwrapping a book each day. I’ll have to remember that for next year!

  3. I love reading about your traditions! Isn’t it fun to start doing these things with your own family? We are definitely redefining our Christmas traditions now with the girls involved!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I love reading about others traditions as well. Children have a way of redefining many things – and I know our traditions will continue to change as the kids grow older, too. They won’t always be this little. Sigh. I’m working at cherishing the little moments!

  4. We have some traditions we didn’t plan. When our children were old enough to remember one Christmas to the next, they created the traditions. “Mommy, but we always do this. . . ” (even if it only ever happened once).

    1. That is an excellent point, Jody! Children do have a way of remembering things and starting traditions on things they remember and like! 🙂

  5. I love to hear about other families’ traditions and sounds like you have some fun ones. And I can’t wait to check out the Piano Guys and Pentatonix Christmas CD’s! I totally agree with your thought that traditions can change over the years. For instance, we made gingerbread houses for years…our kids even wanted to do them when they were in college! But after they were on to their own homes, I no longer make gingerbread houses – although that tradition may be resurrected some day with the grandchildren….we’ll see! Here are a few other traditions we have: Music – older Christmas CDs by First Call (an a capella group), and Sandi Patty; Movies – White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut (the 1945 version w/Barbara Stanwyck, and The Christmas Gift with John Denver. I always read The Children’s Christmas Carol by Johanna Spyri, even when there are no children to read it to! We always put our nativity set in the same place. We still drive around to look at lights, even though there are no kids with us. And I always bake special treats, but I like to change them up from year to year and try new recipes.
    All in all, I love Christmas and all its traditions, new and old!

    1. Thanks, Addy! It sounds like you have delightful traditions as well. And I’m sure the grandchildren will love making gingerbread houses with you someday soon! 🙂 I like to try new recipes for special occasions too…but sometimes my husband wishes I would just stick to his tried and true favorites! Ha. Enjoy your Christmas traditions – this year and every year!

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