Sharing Family Rituals When You Travel for the Holidays
My husband and I started a tradition of celebrating our own private Christmas with each other before we went our separate ways for the actual holiday. We named it Fake Christmas. Twelve years later, we still celebrate Fake Christmas every year, now with our own kids.
Creating family rituals helps strengthen your family bond. It could be something small, like Taco Tuesdays or big, like an annual camping trip or a holiday adventure.
It was important to me to create a separate celebration for our family – even when our family was just two people – so that we can make our own memories, just us. I grew up with a large extended family that functions like one big family unit. I love my loud, crazy extended family.
We get together every Christmas at either my parents’ house or another aunt’s home on Christmas Eve. It is a loud, crazy party with lots of food and wine and everyone stays until well-past 10 p.m. When there are no young children, the party can go until past midnight. I remember falling asleep at an aunt’s house and being brought home in the middle of the night. Now that a few of us have younger children, we try to wrap it up around 10 p.m. for our own sanity the next day.
While I always have a blast, I wanted to create traditions just for my new family. The challenge is, I’m not willing to skip my family party. I also enjoy staying overnight at my parents’ house and having Santa deliver gifts there. Enter, Fake Christmas!
Creating A Special Christmas Tradition
Since we spend the holidays with family, we don’t get to have our own intimate holiday dinner. That changed with Fake Christmas. We block of the Saturday before Christmas to have our own intimate celebration.
The best part about Fake Christmas is the special meal. We pour over recipes to pick the perfect meal. To this day, our favorite has been braised short ribs with pureed celery root. We have also made lamb chops, roast chicken and filet mignon. Fake Christmas is our opportunity to make a special meal that we eat on our wedding china. Some years, we have taken shortcuts. One year, when everyone was under the weather, Fake Christmas dinner was take-out Chinese food, eaten on our wedding china.
After our fancy dinner, we usually exchange gifts. Pre-kids, we used to do stockings for each of us. We’d fill them with gift cards and little treats. The first two years we had a child, we did stockings as well. Until we realized that a stocking full of toys at Fake Christmas + a stocking full of toys at Christmas with the grandparents + the insane amount of gifts he received from family (first kid in immediate family) = way too much for one child. We have since cut back to one small gift from mom and dad for each child.
And finally, we sit down for a classic movie marathon: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
My oldest son is 7 and he now looks forward to Fake Christmas, probably as much as real Christmas. Our 3 year old doesn’t quite get it yet, but he has enjoyed each celebration.
We have thought about inviting close friends to Fake Christmas but opted to keep it just us. While we have a few friends who are like family, we don’t have many opportunities to celebrate, just us.
Other Family Holiday Traditions
While celebrating with extended family is fun and important, it is also special to have traditions that belong just to your family. You don’t have to create a special one-night celebration. You can do a series or family activities. You can also create opportunities for giving.
Here are some other holiday season traditions we have created with our kids:
- Give to Others: My husband and I grew up in religious families, however, we no longer attend church. One thing I miss about belonging to a church was the opportunity to participate in an Angel Tree. Four years ago, I learned about Operation Christmas Child. My sons and I have created boxes every year since. Even better, two of my son’s friends have begun making boxes with us. Last year, between the 5 boys, we made 28 boxes! We’ll be getting together this Friday to make boxes for the 2016 season.
- Visit Neighborhoods with Holiday Lights: I’m sure every community has a neighborhood that goes all out with their holiday lights. In our community, there is a neighborhood in Torrance called “Candy Cane Lane.” Each house goes all-out with their decorations and you can buy hot chocolate along the way. We only did this once because the cold and walking aren’t conducive to my autoimmune pain, so it wasn’t worth it to us. Don’t be afraid to drop traditions that don’t work for you.
- Movie Marathons: In addition to our movie night on Fake Christmas, I’m thinking of doing a holiday movie night every weekend after Thanksgiving. There are so many great movies that I’m looking forward to watching with the kids.
- Holiday Baking: When I was a kid, I knew a family that made trays and trays of holiday cookies to share with friends and family. All the women would bake together and it was a long-standing tradition. My family never did this. In fact, our tradition is probably that I come from a long line of non-bakers. My grandmother wasn’t a baker, my mom isn’t a baker and I’m not much of a baker. Surprisingly, but both of my sons enjoy baking so even though baking is outside my skill-set, we have started making holiday treats for family and friends.
- Create Together: As I mentioned, I’m not a baker, so we buy a Gingerbread House kit and make one together every year. We all enjoy the process and it doesn’t take a lot of legwork. I don’t think my kids even realize that you can make the pieces yourself.
- Trim the Tree: We live in Los Angeles. We don’t chop down our own tree and it is usually warm when we pick out our tree. We can’t even drink hot chocolate when we decorate since it is usually too hot for a hot drink. Decorating our tree together is still a time of family bonding. We play Christmas music and the boys take the lower half and my husband and I take the top half. Our tree looks a little haphazard, but it is a reflection of us. We’re a bit messy and chaotic. If you want a beautifully perfect tree, this definitely isn’t a tradition for you. If you’re OK with a messy tree, get the kids involved – just keep the glass ornaments out of their reach.
- Gift Each Other: Even though my boys are 7 and 3, I give them each $10 and take them shopping for a gift for each other. I want to teach them the joy of giving to others over the holidays, not just receiving tons of presents.
- Reach Out To Others: The holiday season is such a busy time, particularly if you work and have young children. One thing I noticed when I worked with the elderly was how different the season is for them, particularly if they don’t have family nearby. Consider those who may be lonely this season and have your kids write them a note or deliver some of those cookies you baked together. Some people who may enjoy an extra note during the holidays are: elderly neighbors, seniors in assisted living facilities or military personnel stationed abroad.
You don’t have to go crazy throwing a million new traditions into your holiday season. Think of what works best for your family at the stage you are in now and go with it. Like I said, sometimes our Fake Christmas meal is take-out. It is less about the act than about the time spent together. Do you have any special traditions?