Holiday Traditions Old and New

If you are like me, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is your favorite time of year. I love all of the togetherness that Thanksgiving brings. From the food and conversation to football games and naps, Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do love Christmas too. I love a good fresh snowfall, going to fun festive parties, and of course eating all of the yummy goodies that everyone brings to work. But I sometimes feel like we all get caught up in the retail and commercial side of the holidays.

I grew up in a home where Santa always brought us a few awesome gifts that we had been wanting and waiting for all year. Our family never was the “over-the-top, you get a ton of expensive toys” type of family. We were fortunate to always have gifts to open and wonderful food to eat, but more importantly, we had some memorable traditions that I now like to do with my own family.

The great thing about holiday traditions is that they give you something to look forward to as the holidays approach. Plus, everyone has different traditions that their family does, which makes the season a little more meaningful and personal.

Remembering Christmas Past

Growing up, one of my favorite things we did was go to late mass on Christmas Eve. I can not tell you how in awe I was as a little girl when we would walk inside church and all of the candles would be lit, the decorations would be up, and then we finally got to sing some of the traditional religious Christmas songs. My mother was our parish organist, so I always knew that the music was going to be special. Of course, I also got to wear a special Christmas dress, too. I can vividly remember coming out of mass one year and there was a light dusting of magical snow covering everything. We would always drive by the neighboring church’s live nativity on the way home, too. It just was always so spectacular to me as a child.

Having my own daughter now, I want her to be able to experience those same types of special holiday traditions. I don’t want her to only think of Christmas as the day when she gets to open presents. Since the holidays are quickly approaching, I asked my coworkers and friends what traditions they do with their own families and children. It struck me as being very interesting that every single one of them had different traditions. Yes, they had some in common, but I love that they all have something that is truly unique and special for only their family.

Holiday Traditions 2


One of my dearest friends that I have known since kindergarten celebrates on Christmas Eve with her in-laws. They have a traditional Swedish dinner to celebrate their family heritage. They have all of the fixings like Swedish meatballs, and also the more traditional lutefisk (a fish dish). It’s something that her two daughters will grow up having every single year and it gives them all a chance to remember where their family originated.

Several of my coworkers have traditions that involve other special foods, too. Some have special meals on Christmas Eve such as soup, chili, or goulash. Others have a special breakfast on Christmas morning. On Christmas day, foods like ham or turkey become traditions as well, from the way they are prepared to what dishware is used for the meal.

For the Kids

Other traditions that some of my friends do are child-oriented, which I love. Some of my friends give their children new jammies and books on Christmas Eve, let their children help set up a special family nativity scene, and hide a special pickle ornament (a German tradition) for their kids to find on the tree. One tradition that a coworker of mine does involves only putting out Christmas- or holiday-themed books during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her family has about 40 special books that her children look forward to getting out to read only during this special time.


Where you celebrate the holidays can become a tradition as well. My family always spends Christmas Eve at my in-law’s house. We go to late mass, come home and get our jammies on, and then spend the rest of the night (and into the wee hours of the morning) drinking champagne while opening gifts. Since we are away from our own house for Christmas, we write Santa a little note to let him know we won’t be home. He visits our own house a few days early for a fun morning surprise.

Family Time

We have a few other traditions at our house, like having an Advent calendar, making and frosting cutout sugar cookies, and watching Christmas movies leading up to the holidays. Elf and Christmas Vacation are two of our favorites! While at my in-laws on Christmas Day, we bake Jesus a birthday cake and our daughter gets to put Jesus in the nativity scene’s manger. Of course we eat a big turkey dinner and watch whatever team is playing football too.

Holiday Traditions 1


Giving toys to Toys For Tots and receiving a new ornament from her birth family are also traditions of ours that we enjoy with our daughter. Some new traditions that we may start beginning this year are taking hot cocoa and blankets in the car while driving around looking at Christmas lights, making a gingerbread house, and letting our daughter help in getting our holiday cards ready to mail. It sounds like a disaster ready to happen, but I know she would love being involved, so I think we may let her color and draw on the envelopes for some of our close family. I’m excited to start something new and have something that our daughter can continue with her own family someday, too!

With so many traditions out there to do with your family, what is your favorite holiday tradition? What new tradition are you going to start with your children this year?


Melissa was born and raised right here in Iowa. Although she grew up in southwest Iowa (about as close to Missouri and Nebraska as you can get!), she has called eastern Iowa home for 15 years. She and her husband Eric live in North Liberty, along with their 4 year-old daughter Kennedy. Melissa attended the University of Northern Iowa where she earned her BA in Early Childhood Special Education and her MAE in K-6 Learning Disabilities. She currently teaches kindergarten for the Clear Creek Amana School District, where she has taught for 14 years. In her spare time, Melissa loves to be outside playing or working on projects in their yard, spending time with family and friends, and baking up goodies for her family. She also enjoys taking walks with their two dogs, plump beagle Lenny and shy dachshund-beagle mix Cooper. Life as a full-time working mommy keeps her very busy, but Melissa wouldn't have it any other way!


  1. I love this post! Christmas is my favorite time of year and I cherish the traditions that my family made growing up. I’m so excited for Skylar’s first Christmas and have been thinking about new traditions we’ll implement next year when she’s old enough to actively participate. Thanks for the great ideas!

  2. Thanks Jessi! Christmas has taken on a whole new level of special since Kennedy was born. It’s been fun watching her marvel at so many holiday things that we as adults don’t even really pay that much attention to. The holidays through the eyes of a 3 year-old are pretty fun!

  3. Thank you for sharing these, Melissa! We LOVE that you get to be here for Christmas! We, too, want Kennedy to know what Christmas is really about. Christmas Eve Mass is essential for me to feel Real Christmas. I’m so glad you are sharing all that with us now! Can’t wait to recreate it all again this year. New surprises and old traditions!


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