These Times: Christmas traditions change over time

  • West Orange Times & Observer
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I love the Christmas holiday, but as my kids get older, I’m finding it’s just not the same. We have had our share of holiday traditions — some serious, some silly — and they are all wonderful memories for me and, I hope, my teen-age son and daughter. There are some they haven’t outgrown, thankfully.

When each of the kids was born, I bought one of those commemorative baby’s-first-Christmas ornaments from Hallmark. As they got older, I let them pick their own Hallmark keepsake, so my tree is loaded with Barbies (probably six years’ worth) and Disney characters such as Thumper and Nemo, Woody and Mr. Incredible.

There is also a pickle ornament that graces my Christmas tree, and the kids have always taken turns hanging it on the branches. Except for four years ago, when it was Adam’s turn and Allison hung it first. So, I wrote down “the incident” and noted that for the next two years, Adam got to hang the pickle. That written record stays with the coveted pickle when it’s packed after the holidays.

For many years, friends and family anticipated my Christmas card because I set up an elaborate scene with the kids. Allison was 3 when I dressed her in a long, red-and-green plaid nightgown and asked her to peer into the fireplace looking for Santa. The next year, when Adam was a few months old, I put them in Christmas pajamas, sat them by the Christmas tree and had her look sweetly at her baby brother cradled in her arms. Another “awwwww!”  moment. 

Adam was 15 months the following year — and not very cooperative. I put blinking Rudolph noses and reindeer antlers on them and instructed Allison to make sure Adam kept his nose on — at all costs. The result was a “perfect”  photo of her with a serious look on her face, her hand smashing the plastic nose into his real nose, his mouth wide open in a death scream and a cookie in his hand with one bite taken out of it — a bribe that obviously didn’t work.

I set up a Nativity scene in my backyard for the next card, complete with costumes, hay and a baby doll. Allison was an awesome Mary, patient and still, while I wrestled and pleaded with Adam to keep his Joseph garb on. I took an entire roll of film for this one. But all I needed was one good one, and I somehow managed to get it.

On a miserably hot December day the next year, I borrowed a sled and a “Let it snow”  sign, dressed the kids in warm winter gear and positioned them on the sled with their hands out and their eyes gazing hopefully at the snowless sky.

Another year, Adam was Santa and Allison was an elf. But the kids weren’t so little anymore and weren’t so eager to dress up and jump into a silly Christmas scene — not that Adam ever truly was — so my final cards were simple: my cute kiddos dressed nicely and smiling big.

Other Christmas traditions aren’t as complex. Every year, on a random night, we all — yes, all — put on our pajamas and drive around West Orange County looking at Christmas lights, singing loudly to carols the whole time.

Other nights, we watched Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown and the Grinch. As the kids got older, these TV-watching traditions included “Elf”  and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” 

Books played a big part of our Decembers. I kept a stack of Christmas books on our hearth, and we read a different one every night.

On Christmas Eve, our family always attends the candlelight service at our church. Afterward, in the kids’ younger years, I read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”  to them, and when they learned to read, they took over the duties.

I still let them open one present on Christmas Eve, something small. One year, I gave them watches (that was a cool year). Another, calendars (lame year).

We’ve attempted Christmas cookies many times, and more often than not, Santa looks like a blob devoid of any details whatsoever. (Our gingerbread houses looked like they were built in Tornado Alley.) Before the kids went to bed on Dec. 24, they placed their best-looking (!) homemade cookies on the Santa plate, filled the Santa mug with milk and put them by the fireplace. Not wanting to leave out the reindeer, a bowl of water and some carrots were left outside by the front door.

At that point, I had three jobs: tuck the kids into bed; bring out all of the presents and create a dazzling display of wonder; and then go outside to dump out some water, nibble on the carrots and toss some red glitter (from Rudolph’s nose, you know) near the reindeer feast.

These days, I simply kiss them good night and go to bed. While it’s nice to get a good night’s sleep before the big day of gifts, giving thanks, food and family, I do miss those innocent Christmases with my babies by my side.


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