Subtle Christmas Traditions that Mean the Most

People are habitual; we thrive upon stability and often do not like change. Traditions—events, choices, or behaviors that reoccur of our own will—are a natural progression of humans’ desire to find meanings in our lives. Those celebrations, big or small, that we choose to participate in every birthday or holiday or weekend bring reason to come together. Communities are created; memories are formed; relationships are established; a history is born.

Christmas—perhaps the most celebrated of all holidays, religious or commercial—is all about tradition. Every year we bring out a Christmas tree. Every season the decorations are hung on banisters, mantle pieces, and windows. Lights are strung on landscaping, stocking are filled with toys, and church pews are filled to capacity. Traditions make Christmas because they only come once a year and are solely associated with the holiday. Peppermint hot chocolate whose smells are reminiscent of sitting in front of the fireplace at Christmas Eve. Cupcakes with snowmen faces or reindeer antlers that are shared with family at the annual Christmas party. These traditions are meaningful not only because of the item, behavior, or event themselves but because they are tied to the meaning of the holiday that gives reason for celebration. Christmas traditions are about so much more than the shopping, eating, and gathering that consume us for the month of December.

Some families have set Christmas traditions that appear every year; others have just a few that comprise the entire meaning of the holiday. My family does not have “traditions” in the sense that we expect to do certain things, attend certain events, or visit certain places all on a specified day or at a specified time. My immediate family—my parents, two younger brothers, and I—lived all over the country while my siblings and I grew up. Our extended family is spread throughout many states, so visits are sporadic and rarely comprise all of one set of family members. While growing up my extended family usually came to us—it was easier to have the grandparents come to the grandchildren, for example, so Mom and Dad didn’t have to cart loads of new toys around. Nowadays, my immediate family travels—to Pittsburgh or Albany, or even somewhere in between if the need arises. The boys and I are old enough now that we do not need to be at home for the holidays…home is family, not a place, as our many moves have taught us.


Some of the family in front of our Christmas tree. 2012.

Our Christmas traditions are subtle. No matter what house we’ve lived in, our mantle is always decorated with greenery and holly berries. The Christmas tree is always decorated with colored lights, homemade decorations from my brothers and my elementary school days, and bulbs that Mom has collected through the years. The Grandfather clock is moved—difficultly, and with new scratches on the floor each year—to the entryway so the tree can grace the corner of the family room. Josh Groban and Kenny G music consistently fills the background as we wrap presents, and the same sausage brunch sits upon the table every Christmas morning. The boys and I always open our presents before Mom and Dad open theirs; stockings come first, always with the little things like toothbrushes and deodorant that we need but would never think to ask for. And no matter where we are, no matter what state we’re living in or what family member is hosting the holiday, Christmas day Mass begins our December 25th. The celebration of the birth of Jesus can take place anywhere—that tradition needs no home but brings my family together, each 25th, every year in a tradition that gives meaning to everything else we do.

Merry Christmas and may your holiday season be filled with blessings.