Chicago mom shares her family Christmas traditions

As I was planning for this Christmas season I was contemplating the many Christmas traditions I’ve experienced over the years. There are some I had in my childhood, some I’ve carried over into adulthood with my own family, some new traditions we’ve started and some we’ve tried and for one reason or another, failed to continue. I thought I’d share some of these traditions.

The Advent calendar – What an easy tradition to have and what child doesn’t love the surprise of finding or reading what’s inside that little door every day? As a child we always had an advent calendar with a verse each day about Christmas. Now, we’ve moved on to a verse with chocolate. We open the doors every three days in our house, so each child can have one piece of candy and there’s no question about whose day it is to get the candy.

Reading a different Christmas book every night of December – I’ve collected more than 30 books with a Christmas theme, most of them purchased at Goodwill. Some stories are simple board books while others are longer stories with elaborate artwork. We’ve done this for the past five years…until this year. We have them all sitting in front of our fireplace, but for some reason haven’t opened a single book yet.

Driving around town looking at lights and decorations – We start this annual tradition with a stop at Starbucks for peppermint hot chocolates. We sip as we drive around hunting for a house that most resembles Clark Griswold’s masterpiece.

Dining at the Walnut Room – This is a tradition my husband grew up experiencing. I didn’t grow up in Chicago, so I wasn’t familiar with the magnificence of eating around the giant Christmas tree in the State Street Macy’s Walnut Room. There’s always a two- to three-hour wait no matter what time we go, but we spend our time looking at the toys, the animated windows and, of course, drinking peppermint hot chocolates.

A new ornament every year – After we’ve put up our tree, we take the kids to a store to let them each pick out one ornament to put on the tree. They have everything from Barney and a drum set to a GIANT bulb and a bicycle. We write their initials and the year in an inconspicuous spot on each ornament. Someday when they have their own families and tree, they can pull out the ornaments they’ve collected over the years to hang. And I do realize that by the time they’re 18, we won’t be able to see any green on our tree.

Buying Christmas ornaments as souvenirs – We do this throughout the year as we travel. We buy an ornament at our destination as a souvenir and save it for Christmas time. It’s always fun to look at the ornaments and reflect on the memories of all the places we’ve been together as a family. They include Elvis (from Graceland), a dragon (from China), a hiker (from Acadia National Park) and a White House (from Washington, D.C.).

Jesse Tree – The Jesse tree is typically a tree or branch you use to place one ornament (often made of paper) on each day of December that tells the story of the Bible leading up to the birth of Christ. We haven’t been able to do this every night, but we do so as often as we can. Note: I just noticed that in addition to the paper ornaments, our Jesse tree is currently decorated with mini-Monster truck ornaments.

Building a Gingerbread house – This is one of those traditions that has thankfully gone by the wayside in our house. We typically bought a gingerbread house kit, made it and then let it sit out for days as the children nibbled a little off every night. It often got shoved around and crumbs were left all over the floor and the kids ended each evening sprinting through the kitchen and living room as they wore out their sugar highs.

Angel Tree gifts – The Christmas season gets so busy with focusing on gift-buying, Christmas card sending, picture taking, parties and every other thing, that I like to have at least one thing our family does that isn’t focused on ourselves. Together, we buy gifts for one or two children through Angel Tree. These are kids who have a parent in prison. We buy the gift, wrap it, and then the gift is given to the child from their parent who isn’t able to buy them a gift. Our children really enjoy picking out gifts for the kids.

Christmas around the world – The past six years we’ve gotten together with my sister’s family to do an “Around the World” Christmas dinner. We basically cook entrees from different countries and pig out. The first year we were really elaborate and had 12 entrees and desserts and a world map on the wall with tags indicating the country each entree was from – 12 entrees and desserts for seven people…three of which were kids.

Since then we’ve toned it down by skipping the map and having only five or six international entrees and desserts. This year, we’ll have a total of 11 family members and cover China, Mexico, Greece, Australia, India and Sweden (Ikea Swedish meatballs).

What traditions do you enjoy with your family?

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