Christmas Traditions We’ve Kept, Chucked, and Created for our Family

I was the middle of five kids and I get warm fuzzies just thinking about Christmas mornings as a kid.
For years we had paper routes and before we could open our presents, we had to deliver those darn papers (they were HUGE!) but we practically ran our routes so we could get home and open our gifts as a family.

My first Christmas as a wife felt off though. We had done a TON of traveling in November and early December that year (two weddings) so we stayed home, just the two of us. I wanted to make Christmas special but none of the old traditions seemed to fit into our new life. I felt lost and depressed.

Once we had kids, Christmas felt a little more “normal” but we still had a lot to figure out: Which traditions would we carry on from my family and my husband’s family? Which ones would we throw out? Finally, after a few years, we started creating NEW traditions for our family.

Now after 10 years of marriage and 9 years of parenthood, our Christmas traditions feel like home. Here are a few traditions we’ve kept, chucked, and created over the years:

Traditions We’ve kept
Nativity Countdown:
We had this exact pocket calendar countdown when I was a kid. When Micah and Benji were about 3, I asked my mom if she would buy one for us. I’m so glad she did. I love counting down to Christmas and the soft velcro stuffed characters are just right for little hands.
Reading Christmas Story on Christmas Eve: As a kid, our Christmas Eve was chalk-full of tradition, but the most meaningful one that we carry on in our family is reading the Christmas story from the Bible right before the kids go to bed. My parents always wanted use to remember the reason we celebrated and I’m proud to carry this tradition into our family.

Open one present on Christmas Eve: After reading the Christmas Story, we got to open one present. In all reality, it’s probably why we were so good during the Bible reading. Ha! We let our boys open one present on Christmas Eve too, a tradition they love.

One gift at a time: On Christmas morning, we open presents one at a time, taking turns to watch each person open his or her present. This tradition is specific to my family (when my husband was a kid, they started out one at a time but ended up in a free-for-all opening fest by the end). Opening one at a time extends the special gift time on Christmas morning and helps our boys learn patience and appreciation too.

Mystery Gift Giver:
My dad started this tradition and I love it. On the card of each present, he would write our name and then create a Mystery Gift Giver: From The Sugar Plum Fairy or From The Dog. As we grew older, we realized that the mystery gift giver actually gave a clue into what was in the present but they were really tricky to figure out.
My husband and I have a lot of fun thinking of Mystery Gift Giver clues to put on our boys’ presents each year, like From Buckbeak for a Harry Potter Present.

Traditions We’ve Chucked
Pizza vs Potato Soup:
Growing up, we always had Potato Soup on Christmas Eve. But in my husband’s family, they always ate Pizza with their Dad on Christmas Eve. I love this. It’s simple and fun and a nice break from the frantic pace that comes right before Christmas day. So, we’ve adopted Pizza as our Christmas Eve dinner in our family.

Stocking Stuffers: I loved opening my stocking as a kid. It was the one thing we could Free-For-All on Christmas morning; we didn’t even have to wait for everyone to be up. My parents (oops! SANTA!) always put an orange, nuts, and mini-boxes of cereal in our stocking, like Lucky Charms. This was a BIG deal because we never got “Sweet Cereal” at any other time of the year (Yes, I had a sad, sad childhood).
In our family, I feel like I’m floundering every year on the stocking stuffers. My kids are “eh” on oranges, the nuts would become projectiles, and one of my sons hates cereal. I’m still figuring out our stocking traditions.

Real tree: My family is going to gasp in outrage over this next confession—We don’t have a real tree in our house at Christmas. Yes, I know, Arpke family. I have committed THE Christmas Sin by using an artificial tree.
We’ve had a real tree a few times but it always ended up being a headache, plus it made Aaron sneeze like nuts for a month.
img_6236We actually love this tiny tree that is made out of a tomato cage and garland. It came from my Sister in Law’s December wedding the first year we got married and we’ve used it every year ever since. It’s sweet and small and easy to get out and put away. It’s not real, but it’s become our family tree.

Tons of decorations:
When I was a kid, my Great Aunt Shirley gave us an ornament every year. I loved those beautiful ornaments as a kid; they held such precious memories as we put them on our tree year after year. When I got married, I had a box of ornaments to decorate my own tree.
I’ve gotten them out some years but lately, I’ve left them in the big Christmas bin. Many are breakable and I have four wild boys. I also hate putting them all away after Christmas is over. Now, I decorate our tree with the ornaments the kids make at school each year, as well as our Nativity ornaments (see below).

Traditions We’ve Created

Nativity Ornaments: This is the third year we will be decorating our tree gradually throughout December. I made nativity ornaments that correspond to the Christmas Story and every other day in our Christmas Countdown, we read a short Bible passage to the boys and let them put an ornament on the tree. Then on Christmas Eve, we take them all off and let the boys tell US the whole story as they put the ornaments back on the tree.
img_6235The Nativity Ornaments (along with our calendar) helps us keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus, even in our tree decorating.

Countdown to Christmas: This is my favorite tradition that I’ve created for our family. I started it when Micah and Benji were three. Last year was the only year I didn’t really do it (because I was so stressed out with work) but I’m really excited for the boys to open each envelope and make special Christmas memories this year.
12307484_10102339165745448_8503215368114080042_oIf you want to read more about our tradition (plus a hilarious story about buying a real Christmas tree when I was a kid), read this post I wrote on Mothering Beyond Expectations.
Here’s what’s going into the Christmas Countdown envelopes this year:christmascountdown

I’m excited for this Holiday Season. Our traditions have grown and changed over the years and I finally feel comfortable in most of the Christmas Traditions we’ve created for our family—maybe one day I’ll figure the stockings out.

Which Christmas traditions do you keep each year from your childhood or your spouse’s childhood?
Have you created new traditions for your family as an adult or parent?
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