Having family rituals and traditions is a great way to get into the spirit of Christmas. So what are your family’s festive traditions for Christmas?
It may not be snowing outside and Santa may be held up a little so a glimpse of the man in red is less likely (he’ll still come on Christmas day though right?). The fake Christmas tree has gone up, the turkey has been ordered, or maybe the Christmas brunch has been booked, and the usual tussle over who gets to kick off the advent calendar has been had (me: 1, kids: 0). It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Except it isn’t.
Is it because we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf? Is it because this year the lights went on the tree with less fuss (more alcohol) and we missed out on our annual argument on the art of fairy-light-to-fir application? Or is it because we’re going out for a roast in the roasting heat this year instead of home for the holidays?
Well, it’s a bit of all of the above but generally, it’s just that our household is still young enough to believe in Santa (can’t bring myself to tell my husband), and old enough to believe in something more. I guess I’d call it a lack of traditions. And I’d like to introduce some before a major shopping spree followed by a frenzied ripping of paper in December becomes the benchmark for comfort and joy.
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There are lots of ideas on how to invoke some Christmas spirit, as anyone can discover with a quick bit of Googling. Some traditions are more conventional and well known, like leaving out cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer or Carols by Candlelight, while others are less common and a little unusual, like the Caganer – a defecating figurine present in Nativity scenes in Catalonia or roller-skating to Mass in Venezuela.
So what to pick? Creating a tradition for your family doesn’t carry weight so much for the act that it is, but for its repetition. That is, there is no right or wrong, best or worst, big or small. It seems to be just a case of what appeals to your family and what you can maintain. If you want to introduce some fun and memorable customs, the trick to making them stick is to rinse and repeat. Our family is going to try the ones below (it just doesn’t know it yet). And again next year. And the year after that….
The Christmas Story
At some point, Christmas changed for our kids from being a day with a sparkly tree and some really cool cardboard boxes to play with, to an expectation of presents delivered by a man in a red suit. So this year, we’ll be talking about how Christmas came about and what it means, from the origins of St Nicholas and his propensity for gift-giving (not receiving) to the Nativity and Christ-Mass.
It only seems right to balance out the serious side of Christmas with a sense of the ridiculous. In the absence of snow for making snowballs here on the Equator, a sweet squishy substance makes an excellent substitute for pelting your kids with. A marshmallow fight is surely a great equaliser for all ages and the perfect antidote for when family ties get fractious about mid-afternoon on Christmas Day after the Champagne and sugar high has bottomed out and chats about climate change and Kardashians kick in.
A Christmas Wish
This is one of the strongest memories I have about Christmas as a kid. My mum leaning into my face as I stirred her plum pudding with a wooden spoon with my eyes closed whispering what I want for Christmas while she tried to lip-read. The combination of the smell of the pudding and the magic of making a wish on something other than an eyelash or a candle always felt special. But it’s just too damn hot here for plum pudding. And I can’t lip-read. In fact, I don’t even listen most of the time. However, my mum now makes a mean ice cream plum pudding and I plan on making it and getting my kids to stir while they make their own Christmas wishes. I probably won’t get them the present they want (because I’ve already bought it), but at least they’ll get to lick the spoon.
Keys to the Door
I can’t find a definitive answer on who, when, and where this tradition started but the why is pretty clear – we don’t have fireplaces in Singapore (unless you count DIY felt fireplaces). Therefore, we don’t have chimneys. So how is Santa going to get in? Or so my son asked me. And I know he’s not the first. I know because there appears to be a whole industry out there dedicated to creating magical Santa keys. I won’t be buying, but this year, we will be taking a key and tying a special ribbon around it and leaving it on the front door for Father Christmas. I’m not sure how long we have till he cops to it and asks why we simply don’t leave the door unlocked. Address withheld. We own nothing valuable.
The Wishing Tree
Donating to those in need is nothing new but it never gets old. And we all know it feels good to give, but it’s easy to forget to pass that on to kids. Children always want more (so do we unless we’ve mastered detachment), but we probably underestimate how capable they are of giving up what they want and giving it away. So this year, the kids are going to get a kick out of playing St. Nick by doing one or some of the following: shop for a Christmas present, wrap it together and locate a community Wishing Tree to place it under; ask your children to select a few of their own toys to give away; take a long term view and sponsor a child; use the tradition of Boxing Day to give alms.
The Christmas Letter
I used to really like it when we received those long rambling letters from far-off friends and relatives, telling us all the ins and out of the year that had just been. Or rather I didn’t appreciate it much, then but I miss it now. Now, people send those electronic dancing Elf cards with their faces inserted on them, which are pretty funny – just not very much when you open the 17th one. This year, we will be creating a sort of family year in review. Whether we share it or not is another matter. Some ideas so far: A Christmas interview where we all get to pitch in with our best and worst; a photo book; family awards; a good old fashioned scrapbook using glue, printed photos (remember those?), drawings and notes; best quotes; or maybe we just go all out and do it Holderness “Christmas Jammies” style.
Welcome the Spirit of Christmas
We’re not quite ready for this one but it sounds like a lovely way to fess up to the fact that Father Christmas is not a real dude that lives in the North Pole with toy-making elves. Once your little one starts to ask “is there” or “isn’t there” questions, you can tell them that they are now part of the real Christmas story. In explaining that Christmas has grown and come about through generations of storytelling, ask them how they would like to add to the story. On Christmas morning present them with a little certificate for understanding the spirit of Christmas (and keeping it a secret from younger siblings). You can throw in a nice snow dome for good measure and hopefully, it will become a keepsake that they pass down themselves.
Other Christmas Tradition Ideas
- Write a letter to Santa (free downloadable template here)
- Make an ornament each year and create a collection.
- Write a memory on a plain ornament and add it to the tree each year
- Get a photo with Santa
- Make reindeer dust with a mixture of oatmeal and glitter (oatmeal to eat and glitter to find their way)
- Leave mince pies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer
- Make eggnog and mulled wine
- Go along to sing Christmas carols
- Track Santa’s movements on NORAD
- Watch Christmas movies and read Christmas books
- Dip cat paws in chocolate and make reindeer prints
- Buy White Christmas, wrap it and give it away as a token present
- Stay up late and go see the Christmas lights
- Write a letter back from Santa to the kids
- Recreate the 12 days of Christmas and discover everyday items each day
- Create an activity advent calendar that suggests one good deed each day for a gold coin
- Have the kids distribute the gifts
- Everyone buys one gift to put in a sack and then gets a number for their turn to take one out. Then everyone gets a turn to swap and steal.
- Everyone gets given one person to buy a gift for instead of multiple gifts for and from each person
- See a Nativity play
- Light a candle for loved ones