Holiday traditions. The two words elicit a lot of emotion from me. In years’ past, I have let myself got bogged down by traditions, but this year my soul has yearned for them! I think that’s why we put up our Christmas tree the second week of November, just like so many others. I suspect that’s also why most homes I see have a plethora of lights and decorations outside. We have been longing for something to look forward to, something that feels familiar. Because 2020 has been anything but familiar.
What are your holiday traditions? Have you added anything new? Have you started traditions early? I think we have done all three at our house this year. I decided somewhere around October that I was going to soak Christmas in. I would cling to the things I love most and let go of things that I always think I will get to, but then never do. (Like Christmas cards. This year I officially gave my self permission to let social media be my Christmas card!)
The other key to soaking in the holidays is to write down your traditions and share them! Share them in FamilySearch’s memories, on your favorite social media platform or even in a journal that will someday be read by family that goes after you. Because that’s how you keep traditions alive!
Below I’ve shared some of our favorite traditions along with some of our readers and their origins in hopes that it will spark your memories – maybe of recent years or those of your childhood. It’s never too late to bring a good tradition back to life, or to create a new one that feels less stressful.
Holiday traditions and family stories
A few days before Christmas Eve we will start working on our Christmas Eve dinner. It’s a tradition that has been going on nearly 35 years in the Furniss Family, my maternal grandparents. That would be the tradition of fresh tortellini on Christmas Eve. It started with my grandparents, their five daughters and spouses and all the grandchildren. I am one of those grandchildren. Every year a few days before Christmas Eve many of us would gather together to make the tortellini that sometimes up to 60 of us would feast on. As a child all I did was stick the the round pastas together that were filled with cheese and make the little tortellini crowns. I wouldn’t think much more about until Christmas Eve when I would savor each bite as we would tear into them and devour them within about 10 minutes. Now, since all of our families have grown so large we don’t all get together on Christmas Eve but many of us carry on the tradition in our individual families which means, I Rachel Trotter, see the project through from start to finish.
This year I will make the dough, the filling and work with my kids, my mom and my sister and her kids together to do what I call the “many hands make light work” process. Now that I have older children – my young adult son and teenager sons can roll out the pasta like nobody’s business. We will probably work for three solid hours putting those babies together and then they will rest until they are thrown into boiling water on Christmas Eve.
The story of the tortellini is a lovely one. My aunt and uncle spent several years in Europe and brought the recipe back with them and shared it with us. Each Christmas Eve my Uncle Archie would talk about the tortellini – how they are shaped like the crowns of the Three Wise Men and how they are the colors of Christmas – white and green pasta with red sauce – a beautiful thought to me. After he would explain that we had these delicate wreath candles he had made and we would wish the person to our right a wish. I loved it. It was always a quiet, almost spiritual experience for me.
Some traditions elicit more traditions
The thing I always love about the tortellini making is the banter that occurs while we make the fresh pasta. Of course, my children will have World War III before we officially get started – another great tradition – but once we get working we will talk – my mom often shares stories of her youth, we talk about Christmases past, we talk about anyone missing from the group.
We have heaps of other grand traditions, but I also wanted to share some of yours because I always like to hear about new traditions and try to adapt them to mine.
Christmas Eve Pjs? Maybe not
Many of us open one gift on Christmas Eve and they are PJs. What’s better than new PJs on Christmas Eve? But Heidi VanEtten’s family mixes it up a bit – they get to pick any present they want to open and Doris Thurston’s family does a gift exchange with her children and they open that gift.
Naomi Cox’s family also has a special Christmas Eve dinner, but it has international flair.
“We do a different country each year and it has to be a dish you’ve never made before. It’s a really fun tradition I’ve enjoyed,” Naomi said. That would take some great planning and create some great memories and family stories.
Cassie Bugnet’s family has finger foods on Christmas Eve and then celebrate with having the children dress up and do a live Nativity. Rachael Campbell always has dinner with her family at her grandma’s where they exchange gifts, sing Christmas songs and read the Nativity out of the Bible, another great and enduring tradition. At our house the youngest children act out the Nativity. One of my daughter’s middle name is Mary, so she always feels that’s her rightful title.
Emily Miller and her husband don’t live close to family, so they started the tradition of visiting a memory care ward of a local rest home and singing Christmas carols. This year may look a bit different, but I’m sure there are ways to still make this idea work.
“That has been a special experience for us, and hopefully for them, too,” Emily Miller said.
I have no doubt it is special for them. I’ve heard Emily’s voice and that alone would make it special.
As we launch into Christmas Day the traditions are grand too. Many of you have special holiday breakfasts. My cousin Sandy Sacks eats cinnamon rolls while they open gifts and then cooks a big breakfast afterward. She got that one from her sister. I’m trying it this year. Bought the cinnamon rolls tonight. We don’t want to leave any room for hangry on Christmas morning!
My dear friend Michele Thompson divides family time by having breakfast with her family and a later meal with her husband’s. A great way to share family.
Rachael Campbell celebrates breakfast with biscuits and gravy and many in her extended family do as well.
It seems many patriarchs and matriarchs of families host a big Christmas breakfast – my parents and my in-laws do as well. For Vicki Duersch and her family it is quiche and sticky buns. Yum!
My mother-in-law, Linda Trotter, also reminded me about the tradition of each person opening gifts, one at a time – no tearing into the gifts at the Trotter house. “We open them with much ceremony one at a time and cheer for whatever each of them opens. It lets us see their reactions. Love it!” Linda exclaimed. It’s a great tradition. I love it too.
As Christmas evening time rolls around, Kevin Cummings has some cool traditions.
“My family Christmas dinner is always a meat fondue. Lots of bread and salad with plenty of time to sit and talk. We also have Christmas Crackers — a tradition we picked up when we lived in the UK,” Kevin said.
And he’s right about that, fondue is a great conversation food. We love it at our house (it’s our go-to for New Year’s Eve!)
I have found with traditions that sometimes I let them bog me down, get mired in them. I did this with the tortellini a few years back, so we just kind of stopped it for a bit. Then, I realized it was a tradition my children deserved. It’s a lot of work, but this year it’s already been worth it. Traditions and storytelling are like bread and butter, talking about them and carrying them out is the stuff of legend.
Now I ask again – what are your favorite holiday traditions? We would love to hear them and so would your loved ones! Write them down or record them. They will become the stuff of legend!
Rachel J. Trotter is a writer at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire, and help you tell yours. She has worked as a writer since her college days over 20 years ago. She loves telling people’s stories. She lives in Ogden, Utah and is busy raising six children and loves working on family history alongside her husband, Mat.
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