Yuletide Traditions

Recently on her podcast, Dana White talked about how holiday traditions happen without us intending them to—that our real traditions are the things we do every year without really planning on it. Since I heard her say that I’ve been paying more attention to my little family’s holiday habits. Here are some of the things that I’ve realized are our traditions:

  • We buy our Christmas tree from a local farm within two weekends of Thanksgiving. Both my husband and I grew up in families that waited until Christmas Eve to set up and decorate the Christmas tree, but when we moved in together we agreed that it’d probably make us happier to have the tree up earlier, in anticipation of Christmas. We were right! We’ve been doing it that way for the last six years.
  • We decorate the tree slowly. The day we bring it home, we give it a name. (This year’s tree is named Tiffany. I think it’s the first year we’ve had a female tree, actually!) Then we let it sit in our house naked for a few days before stringing lights on it. After we hang up the lights, we enjoy those for a few days—or even sometimes a week—before we start putting other decorations up. When we were first together we used to put the Christmas balls on the tree and let those hang out before putting up any other ornaments, but for the last few years (i.e., post-baby), we’ve decorated the whole tree in one swoop.
  • I wrap presents within days of buying them. I really enjoy wrapping gifts, so it feels like a treat to wrap them a few at a time. Plus, I’m pretty sure if I waited until just a few days before Christmas to do all the wrapping that it would feel like a huge, stressful chore instead of part of the slow Christmas build up that I like.
  • We go to a local drive-through light show. The best parts are these two tunnels of lights they have set up. We bring our car to a crawl going through the tunnels because we really want to savor the experience. The light show is one of my favorite Christmastime activities.
  • I bake a cake. My dad’s birthday is Christmas Eve, so growing up I always had cake on Christmas: For me, it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without cake. If I see my dad for his birthday (which happened this year—hooray!), it’s his birthday cake. If not, it’s Jesus’. Either way, there’s a birth to celebrate, and we’re eating cake!
  • We have Christmas dinner at my in-laws.
  • We take down our decorations within a week of New Years’.

Here are some things I’m hoping will become traditions (meaning, we’ve only done them for a year or two, so I don’t really feel like we can call them “traditions” yet):

  • Watch Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas during the month of December. I’d really like to add The Grinch to that list too, but my son wept when I tried to show it to him this year—so it goes.
  • Planning the Christmas budget at the end of August. It might sound absurd to start thinking about Christmas shopping when it’s still hot outside (and if I were a “better” minimalist, I might not feel compelled to join in the Christmas consumer frenzy at all), but I’m so glad I did it this year. We’ve really up-ed the ante on attempting to be conscientious consumers over the last couple of years, and I’ve found that shopping conscientiously takes a lot more time, planning, and creativity than my old strategy of waiting until late November to even begin thinking about Christmas. Time and planning is a must!
  • Taking a nighttime drive sometime during the week before Christmas to check out our neighbors’ holiday light displays. My sister-in-law told me last year that this is one of her traditions with our niece, and I thought it was brilliant: Free light show with the price of gas!
  • Baking, baking, baking. I’d really like making and decorating sugar cookies with my son to become a tradition (it was one of my favorite things that my mom used to do with us at Christmastime growing up), but I almost didn’t do it this year because of the hassle factor. I baked a different type of cookie every weekend, though, during the month of December & the whole family enjoyed that.
  • Holiday-themed breakfast on Christmas morning. This year we’re having gingerbread pancakes. These, in themselves, may become a tradition—but I make no promises, people.

So there’s a sampling of what we do during the holiday season. And I’m pretty sure the January declutter is going to become a tradition in our house too. (Although, admittedly, I did an extensive amount of decluttering this fall too!) So now I’d love to hear from you:

What are some of your holiday traditions?


Skip the Stockings

We did most of our Christmas decorating (and decluttering) last week, but when I got to the bottom of our Xmas decoration box, our stockings were still sitting there, waiting to be hung. The empty curtain rod hangers that I’d hung them from last year have since been replaced by, well, a curtain rod and curtains, so I wasn’t sure where to put them and left them crumpled in the box, to think about later.

Then I read Joshua Becker’s post about holiday expectations and realized that there was absolutely no reason why I had had to hang up stockings. In fact, if I DID hang up stockings, I would inevitably feel the need to fill them each with something—or many somethings—even though I’ve already maxed out my Christmas budget. I realized that hanging stockings would add a burden to my heart instead of increasing the joy in my heart.

So the stockings are hanging out in the decoration box down in the basement this year, until mid-January when we bring the box back upstairs to put all the other decorations away.

I thought about getting rid of the stockings entirely, but they’re personalized, and my grandmother actually knitted my stocking for me when I was a baby. So that one, especially, has got some sentimental value, and I wasn’t quite ready to make the decision to part with any of them yet. But I think that’s all right—they don’t take up very much space.

(Photo by Ben Askew © 2007)

Simple Pumpkin Pie

I love pumpkin pie and wanted to learn to make it, but my first attempt four or so years ago left much to be desired. I’d used whole wheat flour for the crust and tried to roll it out with an empty wine bottle (since I didn’t have a rolling pin). The crust was lumpy and thick. I think I may have cried about it.

That Christmas my relatives bought me all of the pie crust-making supplies, but I was still too intimidated to try again. Plus, I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t REALLY making the pie from scratch unless I roasted a fresh pumpkin myself, which is a pretty time-consuming endeavor for a full-time office mouse, casual baker like myself.

This fall I decided it was finally time to try again. I embraced canned pumpkin as the only thing that (for me) was going to get the job done and even found a super simple, no-roll pie crust after spending all of 45 seconds on Pinterest.

Finding a recipe for filling that didn’t call for evaporated milk was a little more challenging. (I don’t keep evaporated milk in my cabinets and really didn’t want either me or my husband to go to the store to fetch some.) Eventually I found an evaporated-milk-free recipe—super yum!

I had a bunch of filling left over after pouring it into my pie crust and didn’t want it to go to waste, so I whipped up another two batches of pie crust (really, it was that easy to make: this didn’t feel like a huge hassle) and experimented with cupcake-sized pumpkin pies. They aren’t as tasty as the full-size thing (the crust-to-filling ratio is suboptimal), but they’re pretty cute and were worth the extra effort.

I think I might even offer to make the pies for Thanksgiving this year. So easy! So good!