Growing up, we didn’t have what you would call holiday traditions. I remember some of my friends talking about how their families went on hayrides or caroling. Others would talk about how their extended family would come, and they would have a house full of people, that wasn’t us.
We weren’t raised with silver spoons in our mouths, not even close. We weren’t impoverished, but we certainly weren’t wealthy. We had what we needed when we needed it, and that’s about it. That being said, Christmas was extra special for us as kids. Whatever gift we got just seemed extra special since we didn’t get a lot the rest of the year, sort of like the movie, “A Christmas Story.”
As we got older, I remember my parents giving each of us $20 and we would draw a name, and that was who we were to buy gifts for. Back then, there weren’t mega malls to shop at. We would all pile into the station wagon and head out of town to shop at the closest version of a mall. There were stores like May Company, Montgomery Ward, and Sprouse Ritz. If you’re from the west coast, then you may remember what I’m talking about if you’re old enough.
Anyway, I would take my $20, which was like a fortune to a 10-year-old, and shop. Even then, that amount of money didn’t go far, so being creative with what I could buy was vital. Typically, I would buy some form of candy, and I can clearly remember a Lifesaver book of 10 rolls. I thought it was genius to buy that because it was like multiple gifts in one. I would look for something else to add on so I could maximize my money. At any rate, that was about as close to having a holiday tradition as I can remember.
Now that I’m older, much older, I think about what traditions still hold tried and true. What traditions are easy, inexpensive, and can involve the whole family? With a little thought and some of my own, I came up with five great holiday traditions that are fun and easy:
1. Christmas Ornaments
Something I did for years that seems to have dropped off was to attach ornaments to a gift for everyone. I did this for years, and I started it when my niece and nephew were very young as a way to begin their ornament collection and take it with them as they grew older, moved into their places, whatever. I would wrap the gifts, tie an ornament to it with ribbon, and they were getting 2 in 1. I did this for everyone in my family, and after my mother passed away, I attached some of her ornaments to share and remember her. I always did this without telling anyone which ornaments were moms, for whatever reason.
It’s a very simple and potentially inexpensive tradition to start, especially if you take advantage of the after Christmas sales and buy up the ornaments when they are dirt cheap. Through the years as we all moved further and further apart, and with the advent of the internet, it got easier to order online and have it direct shipped, which means no ornaments were attached. I think that maybe this year, I’ll start it back up and just purchase ornaments and ship them. Some traditions need to keep going.
2. Baking and Sharing
Christmas cookies are as much a tradition as the tree in some cases. Whipping up a batch of sugar cookie dough, pressing the shapes, and decorating them, it’s such great fun and even more so when you involve your children. I think it’s more fun with little ones simply because of the joy in watching them create and the excitement they have when they show it off and share it. It’s magical and puts everything in perspective.
I have been known to spend an entire weekend baking everything from cookies to cakes to bread, wrapping them in pretty cellophane paper, and sharing. I take my love of baking and add it in with the spirit of the season, and away I go. Not to mention that depending on what you bake, it can be quite cost-effective since you can split the baked goods and share them with various people.
3. Holiday Light Tour
Nothing screams Christmas like a house covered top to bottom in bright, glittering lights. Think “Griswald Family Christmas” and the utterly excessive amount of lights on the house. That’s what I’m talking about. I have always wanted to be in that house, but, alas, Charlie isn’t exactly on board, so we go out and look at other people’s homes.
Bundle up, toss some hot cocoa in the Thermos, jump in the car, and take off. Drive around town, in and out of neighborhoods, listening to holiday music on the radio, and look at the lights. Oh, and put the phones down or leave them at home…this is together time, not texting time. Some people do some fantastic displays on their homes and in their yards, and they love it when people stop by to see them. Why else would they put them up? Some towns even have light tours that you can pay to go on where they drive you on a hayride through neighborhoods. It’s a great way as a family to get out and enjoy the season.
4. Help The Less Fortunate
Considering the number of natural disasters we, as a nation, have experienced this year, there is no shortage of people in need. Imagine, if you can, that you have lost everything you own to a fire or hurricane. That is such a horrible feeling and one that I honestly hope I never have to experience. I have experienced two hurricanes in my lifetime and was fortunate enough not to lose everything I own, but I do know people who did, and Charlie and I jumped right in to help them.
Many years ago, I was a church administrator, and the holiday season was our busiest when it came to helping the needy. We would have a Thanksgiving food drive as well as a Christmas fundraiser to help families. It was a lot of hard work, but I always felt so gratified when we would deliver to the families. The looks on the little ones’ faces as we delivered wrapped gifts and boxes of food, would always make me cry. Not because it was sad, but because of the reactions of the children, they were so excited and grateful.
There is a multitude of organizations, churches, and schools doing fundraisers during the holidays and all year long. If you don’t have a church home, perhaps your local Salvation Army, city services, or shelter could use some help. Sometimes, it’s not the money the organizations need but, instead, the manpower. It takes a lot of manpower to gather, sort, package, and deliver to the needy, and many organizations would welcome the help. You just have to reach out and find out who needs what. This is also a great way to teach children what it means to help others and the true meaning of the season.
5. Holiday E-Mail Chain
This is a new one that quite honestly is a sign of our times. It seems that the days of sitting and writing out Christmas cards to everyone you can think of are numbered. Now, it appears that newsletters and email are the norms so rather than fight it, I say let’s embrace it with a Holiday E-Mail Chain.
The premise is simple. I start it by sending an email to one of my brothers saying Happy Holidays, maybe a funny image, news about what’s going on, etc. He reads it, adds on his message, and forwards it to my other brother, and so on. It ends up being a long email full of fun, family, and love. I think this one could take off and I’m going to start it this year and see where it goes. This is not something you want to do through Facebook since others see your FB page, and maybe your family member doesn’t want strangers knowing their business…just saying.
So, there you have it! Five traditions that can be started easily and, in some cases, for free. I think with the advent of the internet and social media, we have gotten a bit disconnected from each other as a society, and it’s high time we reconnect with each other…..in person!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS and HAPPY TRADITION BUILDING!