Some of our current family traditions come from my mother’s traditions, somewhat altered to suit our family, some from my foster family’s practices and some are based on our own family’s situations.
My earliest memory of my family’s Christmas traditions were our taking the day long trip to spend Christmas week at my grandparents. We did go through the woods and over the river, actually several rivers, to get there. We would spend Christmas visiting with all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, visiting their homes for dinner and gifts as well as doing the same at our grandparent’s. Or Grandma and Grandpa would come to us.
We don’t travel as far these days since our son’s family lives less than fifteen minutes from us and my cousin is within eight minutes away.
When our son can work around his and his wife’s current work schedule, we usually have one of our holiday events at their home. It’s usually a combined Thanksgiving and Christmas between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They serve us a nontraditional meal and we exchange gifts.
We usually give them a special Christmas stocking with their joint gifts in it. This is a tradition that was passed down from my foster grandmother who made a stocking for us every year.
We have a semi traditional Christmas dinner and gift exchange with our ministry crew. We often have smoked duck or smoked turkey. We also often spend Christmas Day with my cousin’s family with a potluck dinner where the main dish is her husband’s very popular chili. I usually take the Christmas cookies and some uncooked peanut butter fudge which you can find in the Joy of Cooking cookbook.
We lived on a farm and my mother would make Swedish Tea Rings and we kids, would run the piping hot pastries to the neighbors. I did that for a few years until we found that most of our neighbors had gone on diets. The cakes are also very time consuming and as our lives became more involved with the mission trips and my husband’s jobs I switched to cranberry nut bread.
My mother would make fruit cake, all the traditional cookies such as decorated and cut out honey cookies, pfeffernusse and lebkuchen cookies.
I don’t make the fruit cake. I order the Grandma’s Fruit cake from Figi’s since our family and our son’s are the only ones who like it. This is similar to one of the recipes I grew up on.
I switched my cookie baking to Chocolate Crinkles and Mince Meat cookies which are a lot easier to make and very popular. I don’t make the cranberry bread anymore either, not enough people liked it.
We didn’t have the traditional Christmas stocking on just Christmas morning. We got to open a gift from the stocking every night for a week before Christmas as well as on Christmas morning. The contents were usually filled raspberry candies, a candy cane and a tangerine with our preferred little gift choices. I got things, such as a game of Jacks, pencil erasers, small jewelry and doll accessories.
Since we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah we switched the stocking gifts back to Chanukah. Our son didn’t like tangerines, candy canes and the filled raspberries are hard to find here, so we eliminated the cane and tangerine and replaced the filled raspberries with filled strawberry candies.
The small gifts worked until our son was older, then we switched the gifts to favorite little food treats. These were what we usually didn’t buy because they would be too expensive to buy regularly or are only available when out
on a trip.
My mother used to wrap our gifts in the busiest wrapping paper and label them with the tiniest, most hidden mark of the initial of our first names and pad the gifts with chains, nuts, tools, magazines and paper towel rolls because we were very good at knowing what was in our gifts. It became more fun to guess what she had wrapped them with and then figuring out what the actual gift was.
Another tradition she started was the scavenger hunt, because of the year she had gifts that couldn’t be wrapped for me, a Black moor goldfish and a fern. She put a message in one of my gifts with a clue that I had to interpret to find the next gift. She also did this to extend the gifts when there weren’t that many to put under the tree.
Our son has my same gift for knowing what is in a gift, just by holding it. So, I would wrap the gifts as packages within packages, or leave the tags off the packages or not put an especially easy to figure gift under the tree until
Christmas Eve after his bedtime. I also used the scavenger hunt to conceal gifts that couldn’t be wrapped or to put the extra gifts that our son would often get.
In my mother’s family as well as in my foster family, each year, one of us would get to be the dispenser of the gifts which we each opened one at a time while everyone watched. We continued with that tradition because it made the giving and receiving more special by honoring the individual.
Also, due to our distance from most of our friends and family, from the beginning of our marriage, we have packed up packages to send to our friends and family all over this country and Europe. We’ve added a special orphanage in Mississippi, soldiers in the war zone and missionary friends in India to our list of Christmas