Holiday Traditions: To Do or Not to Do?

It’s the holiday season. Time for making memories! 

The Expectations

I’ve always had this picture in my head of the memories from movies and books: all of us snuggled in our cozy clothes and fuzzy blankets, sipping hot cocoa in front of the roaring fire, spending time together and enjoying each others’ company. Those are the memories I’ve always wanted to create as a mom. 

You know what? Those images will not become the memories of my family, because we actually don’t enjoy doing that. Ok, well, we do, but not in the way the picture has always presented itself in my mind. Let me tell you a recent experience we had…


We have made an Advent chain in recent years past. Each link of the chain has something written on it, and when it is that day to remove the chain to count down the days leading up to Christmas, we read the chain and experience whatever is written on it. Normally the things written on the chain links are things to do together as a family or for others, such as “Watch a holiday movie together as a family;” “Bake cookies and take them to the neighbors;” “Sleep in the living room in front of the Christmas tree;” and so on. We all come together, cut out our paper, write down our things, form the chain, and hang it on the Christmas tree so that every morning, we can find out what our chain link tells us for that day. 

The Attempt

This year, however, it was not happening. By December 2, I realized we needed to get this done or we would not have any chain left to hang! So that night, after school but before dinner, we tried to squeeze this “making the Advent chain” into our life. (Note: Next time, schedule it in for Thanksgiving break so that there is ample time and no one feels rushed.) Honestly, this should have been my first clue this would not end where I wanted it to end. I have enough training and experience with children to know this, yet my Mom-brain was not aware and kept pushing through.


The only paper we had was pastel colored card stock, so strike one there. (Note: Plan ahead and get the materials you want and need.)

We got out our calendar and started thinking of things for each day from Dec 2-24, but then I had to get the family calendar out to see what we already have going on in our lives. (Note: With four children and two adults, thinking of less “to do” and more “to say/feel” may work better in the future.)


The Obstacles

The kids mostly just wanted to do family movie nights every single night we were home. We are also going to be traveling earlier this year than we have in the past, so our chain needed to be shortened, yet again, to go only until Dec 22. No one could agree on anything. Arguing began. (Note: If you have an idea of specific things you want to do, make those chains first and separately. Then allow the children to create their own chains from a list of things you are okay with agreeing to. Win–Win! A.KA. the art of parent negotiating.)

Thankfully, at this point, it was time for dinner. We stopped fighting working on our memory maker so we could eat. We have all been battling a cold and cough, so at some point in the dinner, my youngest coughed/gagged and then none of the other children were hungry any more.  I am pretty sure everyone went to bed hungry that night; even I didn’t want to continue eating after that occurred. Once we had cleaned everything up, they all ran off to play cars and this fantastic imaginary world developed downstairs.

The Reality

I decided that instead of calling everyone back up to finish the Advent chain, I would sit down and write about the entire evening instead. Because really, isn’t that what memories are made of? The raw life experiences we have and watch our children do as they grow.  

If anything, I will mostly remember this as another great learning experience for myself. It will become one of those funny “remember that time…” stories I can tell my grandchildren and use to remind my children this:

There are 101 different things we “should” and “could” do as parents to make memories and have holiday traditions, but the important ones are the ones where we learn and grow together. 


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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