I’m sure I’ll get heat for this, but I’ve never been a huge Christmas lover. Sure, I enjoy holiday cocktails and presents as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fanatic like so many other people I know.
But once my husband and I started a family, the feeling of the season began to evolve and take on a whole new meaning. I was so excited to continue some traditions that my family had carried on for decades, like opening matching family Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve. I also got excited about creating some traditions of our own as a young family. And not just any traditions, but traditions that exemplify the spirit of the season and the magic of giving more than the “stuff’ that this season tends to put so much emphasis on. If you’re looking for inspo for holiday traditions of your own, look no further.
- Setting boundaries
This may not sound holiday related but hear me out. When I was a kid, Christmas Day felt like a marathon. After opening presents from Santa at home, we quickly got dressed and spent the rest of the day bouncing from house to house visiting aunts, grandparents, and anyone else who had extended an invitation. As a kid this didn’t bother me; honestly it typically meant more presents. My husband expressed a similar practice when he was a kid, and even said that it made him not really enjoy Christmas because of the stress from moving house to house all day. As parents, we vowed not to do this. We happily open our home up to any family who would like to visit, and even occasionally make an outing, but only if it feels right for our family. Setting that boundary hasn’t been easy, and extended family hasn’t always been understanding, but we’re not just arbitrarily making rules; we’re starting a tradition of healthy limits and spending the day doing what we want to do instead of what we feel like we should do out of obligation.
- Advent calendar
While advent calendars are rooted in religion, our family has adopted a secular tradition. Throughout the month I hide little treats in the drawers of our countdown to Christmas calendar, as well as sweet little notes for my 3.5-year-old to find. He looks forward to reading the note and finding the treat every morning, and it’s a fun and easy way to count down to Christmas. It also keeps us in the moment when time seems to move in such a hurry this time of year.
- Giving up old toys to make room for new ones
When December hits and the topic of Christmas gifts starts to come up, we also discuss the fact that we’ll be subtracting toys at the same time as we add some. We focus on gratitude for what we have and discuss that more things does not always equal more joy. As self-described minimalists, my husband and I also like that this tradition helps us cut down on clutter.
- Donating old toys
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is always a haze of wrapping paper and eating unhealthy food. The last few years we’ve made a healthy addition to that week when we’re home most of the time anyway. In alignment with our “out with the old, in with the new” tradition, we gather old toys or clothes, as well as any toys we got as gifts that we just don’t need, or duplicates, and donate them. We include our preschooler in the donation drop off, which has an added bonus of him getting to experience the joy of charity. It also reinforces the spirit of the season. We try to switch up where we donate yearly to spread the wealth.
One great organization we’ve discovered through this tradition is Project ReGive, which is an annual donation drive, with the goal of supplying new, unused gifts to local charities who donate them to people in our community who may otherwise not receive any gift. Did you get the same gift twice? Maybe your relatives don’t realize you’ve grown out of a certain type of gift. Instead of returning it, consider “ReGifting” it to someone who may not have a gift. Gifts must be unused, and either in original packaging, or with tags on items. Here is a list of other local shelters that may accept toys and clothing items, new or otherwise:
- Crossroads Family Shelter (Providence-(401) 461-1755)
- Holy Family Home for Mothers and Children
- Community Care Alliance Woonsocket Homeless Shelter
- Advent House Inc (Cranston- (401) 273-8946)
- Sojourner House Inc
- Children’s Friend
- Amos House
- Federal Hill house
Be sure to call around before donating. Some places have specific items they will and won’t accept, and these parameters can change at any time.
- Solstice/Yule celebration
Not every holiday tradition’s origin story is commonly discussed. We as a family aim to learn about traditions derived from lots of different practices. Many modern Christian Christmas traditions stem from ancient practices around the Winter Solstice, the birth of the sun, and the longest night of the year. And since the mid-1800s, the word Yule was widely used as an informal term for all Christmas activities; it means joy or jolly. We include these historically celebrated holidays alongside the traditionally religious celebrations to create a more well-rounded understanding of the season. Since the Winter Solstice is a reminder to honor our natural world and it is symbolized by fire and light, and the rising sun and the setting moon, we not only talk about it but also try to do nature-related crafts and outside mid-December bonfires.
Whatever traditions you embrace or reject, I encourage you to feel empowered to define the holiday as it serves your family. Not due to obligation, or forced festivity, but because they bring you peace and create beautiful memories.