Eight Favorite Thanksgiving/Christmas Traditions

These days Pinterest is all a-flutter with pins listing favorite holiday traditions. (That, and chalk fonts. What's up with that?) Some of these tradition posts state the obvious, like "going to see Christmas lights." You don't say! Whereas others have offered novel ideas for Christmas fun. Bring on the crazy dinner!

It got me reflecting on favorite traditions from our family over the years. Here are just a few, maybe familiar, maybe not, that might spark your own thinking:

1. Hundred Dollar Holiday. This one was inspired by Bill McKibben (no relation, sadly) and his little book of the same name. The idea is simple: to downshift the consumerism of the celebration of Jesus' birth by limiting one's holiday spending to $100, or whatever amount you set.

For the first several years of marriage---back when we had more time than money---Robert and I did the hundred-dollar holiday. One year we wrote a cookbook with favorite recipes, photos and reflections. Another year we made candles. We frequently baked a slew of homemade treats for folks.

Now our celebrations are more traditionally, um, American; there are plenty of store-bought goodies under the tree. But the hundred-dollar Christmas has influenced the way we think about the celebration, whether that means incorporating homemade gifts as well, or not stressing over weird notions about gift parity and spending "enough."

2. National Day of Listening. This is StoryCorps's initiative to encourage families and friends to share stories with one another on the day after Christmas. Check it out.

At this point Robert is reading this and going "huh?" OK, we did it once. And I have no idea where the sound recordings are. But I'm getting an itch to do it again, especially now that the kids are older.

3. Christmas Eve Dinner at the Church.  This is especially for you pastors and church professionals. The church I used to serve had four Christmas Eve services, with very little time between them. As the associate pastor, my duties were much lighter than the pastor or the music director. So Robert and I would bring dinner (usually soup and bread) for anyone who needed a little nourishment, especially between the 5:00 and the 7:30 services. I loved it.

4. Hot Cider Christmas Eve. The previous tradition has given way to a new one, now that I'm serving a different church with a single Christmas Eve service. Two years ago I ran my first race, the Hot Chocolate 5K. A few days later Robert said, "I woke up this morning thinking about a "Hot Cider Christmas Eve." And just like that, a tradition was born. Our family bakes cookies and heats up cider for people to enjoy following Tiny Church's 7:30 service. (Join us!) The first year, I wondered if people would grab and go, but sure enough, people stuck around and chatted, not the least bit hurried to get home. How wonderful.

Garth-Williams5. Little Christmas on the Prairie. I honestly can't remember where I got this idea, but it's become a favorite tradition: to read the Christmas chapters of each of the Little House on the Prairie books to the girls (and now, to James). Oh, the chapter in Big Woods in which Laura gets her doll is so cozy and gay! And the Plum Creek Christmas, in which Pa gets trapped in a snowbank during a blizzard and must eat the Christmas candy to survive, is truly harrowing.

6. Holiday Recipe. Most people have one of these---a special holiday food that they do not make any other time of year. Ours are the pralines. Which is strange, because there's nothing overtly Christmasy about them. But they are a culinary trigger just the same. It's not the Advent/Christmas season without them, and if we're eating them, then the season has arrived.

7. Festival of Lessons and Carols Broadcast.  This is the most steadfast of the holiday traditions, aside from the pralines. Every Christmas Eve morning we listen to the public radio broadcast of Kings College (Cambridge)'s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. We have a special coffee cake we always bake (see #6), and even the kids know to hush when the chorister begins to sing "Once in Royal David's City."

8. Fundraiser for the Homeless. Last year the girls wanted to do something to help people who are homeless, so we launched an idea for them to give away copies of their music and art in exchange for different levels of donation. In the end they raised more than $1100 for Homestretch, which blew us away. You can read about it here.

Let me state the obvious and say, this was a lot of work. I'm not sure we are feeling called to it this year, though some friends have already asked. If we do, you'll be among the first to know.

Sprinkled in the midst of this is a bunch of stuff we don't do, namely Christmas cards and outdoor decorating. It's also OK to let some traditions wax and wane (see #2).

What are your favorite Thanksgiving, Advent and/or Christmas practices?