Holiday Traditions, Old and New
I grew up in a tiny family, my husband in a large one. While the celebrations of his youth were characterized by a lot more noise and a lot more food than mine, both of ours were centered around family and an abundance of love. Both of ours, too, were made all the more memorable by uniquely special mothers.
Now that we have our own nuclear family—and at 3, my son is just discovering the joys of Christmas this year—we wanted to start some traditions that would be ours alone. I wanted to pick up the torch my mom passed to me, and to make her memory a living one for my son.
After considering and ultimately rejecting the Elf on the Shelf idea (I don’t know if it was because my son is generally more nice than naughty, not requiring elf surveillance to modify his behavior, or because I was freaked out by the elf’s beady, watchful eyes—or, then again, maybe it was the memes of all the inappropriate positions people have been putting their elves in that sealed the deal for me), I settled on something a little more benign: an Advent calendar. My husband and I are spiritual but not religious, and so I chose not to go the route of a typical Christian Advent calendar, nor did I want to succumb to the purely commercial variety of Santa and sugary sweets. So I got creative.
Rather than make a home-made, Pinterest-inspired Advent calendar, I chose to save my time for projects with my son and bought an awesome felt-stocking one from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child.
I had fun shopping for tiny treats to stuff into the stockings (a challenge, since they are so small) and thoroughly enjoyed coming up with an activity for each of the days. To get my son into the spirit of giving, one day we baked cookies to share with the neighbors, another we chose toys from his room to donate to those in need. We hid special books under his pillow to save for bedime, popped popcorn and watched old-time holiday specials on TV (he loved Frosty the Snowman!). We made a handprint ornament, crafted a candy cane out of pipe cleaners, and wrapped presents. This Saturday we’ll be whipping up my mother’s traditional recipe for butter cookies, and on Christmas Eve we’ll leave milk and cookies for Santa.
I have cherished every activity with my son over these December days, but what I will remember most is his sheer exuberance. When do we shed that ability to jump up and down with glee at the anticipation of getting even the smallest of gifts? He was equally giddy upon receiving a Hershey’s kiss or a Spiderman toothbrush as he was upon opening a more substantial treat; and he wakes up eager to see what his surprise is for the day. His joy is contagious!
One of my son’s Advent activities was to drive around and check out the Christmas lights, something I always did with my mom growing up in the suburbs. I was doubtful we’d be able to replicate the experience in the city, but Brooklyn proved me wrong! Dyker Heights, just a 10-minute drive from our Park Slope home, embraces its reputation for over-the-top decorating. We went on a rainy evening, and even then cars were trailing behind us as we cruised up and down the blocks between 81st through 86th streets and 11th through 14th avenues.
Many homes are decked out by professional holiday decorators (I didn’t even know such a thing existed!) and others are adorned with slightly less fanfare. All together, though, the lights are a spectacular sight for families. If your kids are old enough, I recommend parking and walking up and down the blocks. We hopped out of the car a few times to get closer looks at Santa, a snowy carousel, some amazing carolers atop a wrought-iron fence, and more (“here, Mom, here!”).
On Track for the Future
I have recollections of my father having a train set when I was a kid—a special Lionel set that he unearthed just at Christmastime when the tree went up, and packed meticulously away again after the holiday. The black engine seemed so detailed to me as a child, the miniature trees alongside the tracks so quaint and delicate.
After my parents got divorced and my relationship with my father fell by the wayside, I would occasionally envision the tracks around the tree on Christmas morning. They weren’t there, of course, as he wasn’t there.
This year I got my son a Lionel engine and tracks with the intention of assembling it around the tree while he sleeps on Christmas Eve. He loved the trains we saw on our Lancaster vacation, riding the old-fashioned engine in Bucks County, and his wooden rail set is one of his favorite toys—so I am hoping this “special” set will hold an allure for him the way it did for me as a child.
We opted for the charming Polar Express from Lionel, and I plan on getting him a new car or accessory for the set every Christmas. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll pass the set on to his own children, and remember the holiday magic of his youth—we can only hope!
What are your family’s favorite traditions, new and old?