Friday Five Favorites: Christmas Traditions

childrens-choir-hiI don’t think very many people are likely to be reading their blog rolls or checking their Twitter feeds as per usual today, but I did want to write a post every day in December, so here I am, holding myself to that.

Here are five of my favorite Christmas (or around Christmas) traditions:

    • Stair carols. I come from a big family. When I hit my teenage years I still had very, very young siblings who were very, very excited about Santa coming. But a teen has a very different circadian rhythm, and my teen siblings and I may have been up very late the night before playing elves. So to compromise between morning excitement and morning need-to-sleep in, stair singing developed. Basically, kids weren’t allowed to come all the way downstairs until everybody was up and awake – that way no one got any kind of head start on stockings. A time was set as to when it was “okay” to deliberately rouse teenagers, which was significantly later than the little kids would and could get up. So the little kids, not allowed to directly interact with the teens, would sit on the stairs (because why stay in your room?) and sing all the Christmas songs they could think of at the top of their lungs. It could take a full thirty minutes to make it through a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with all the false starts, stops, and wrongly remembered lyrics.
    • Christmas morning elf. This is not the elf on the shelf who is spying on your kids. “Christmas morning elf” is something that my in-laws have always done. Every Christmas someone is designated to be the elf, and has the task of passing out presents. They have to read tags and deliver the gifts to others (possibly in a particular order). They have to make sure people get to take turns — no giving one person gifts twice in a row. The first Christmas morning I spent with my in-laws felt extremely organized and methodical compared to the “storm the tree and take what’s yours” atmosphere of my childhood. It was peaceful and relaxing. Plus, being the elf is a job kids take very seriously, while adults can lean back with mugs of coffee.
    • Tree trimming. My family always had a party to trim the tree — we would make appetizers, serve punch, and make an event of it. (Sometimes it would make an event of itself — the tree sometimes got heavy on one side and fell down.) My in-laws don’t go to quite that extent, but welcome help in putting up the ornaments. As someone who does not get too much into holiday decorations (we do not have a tree in our apartment, for instance), I appreciate using division of labor to make a task that might get tedious go faster. I also appreciate approaching it like a party and not like a chore. I also appreciate that when bad things happen to the tree, like falling down, we all feel invested because we all worked together on it, so we all will work together to fix it.
    • Food. My in-laws always have julgrot served with fruit on Christmas Eve. This is rooted in my mother-in-law’s mother coming from a very Swedish family. My mother-in-law (and this year, my sister-in-law) likes making julgrot because it is an extremely easy but very delicious meal. And because Christmas Eve can be very, very busy with other plans, it can be a relief to make something so simple for the evening meal.
    • Being open to other traditions. This year we attended a Mass at a local Catholic college, which makes sense because we’re out-of-towners, so we don’t belong to a parish around here. The college is run by an order of nuns, and many members of their order come from Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The second reading was read in Bangla (although it was printed in English in the program too). And during the offertory, several students and acolytes performed a ritual rooted in South Asian traditions called aarti (though it was spelled aroti in the program). I really enjoy this incorporation of other languages, cultures, and traditions. Firstly, I have firsthand experience of living in a different country, so I relate to the feeling of needing to recreate some of your cultural traditions in a new setting, to feel connected back to where you came from. I really like that it felt very easy to make room for that at this church we went to. Also, I sometimes struggle with tradition — it can have a lot of positive elements, but I have also had negative experiences with some traditions too. I think being open and flexible with and to traditions helps temper that for me.

      Being open to new traditions has helped my family grow, develop, and evolve traditions as our lives have changed. Like I said, there are a lot of us, so buying Christmas gifts for everyone would be expensive and impractical. We also have moved to different parts of the country (and world, in some cases!). So we do a Secret Santa style gift exchange managed through We make arrangements to send gifts or meet in person to open them. If we can’t be with each other, then we take “unboxing” style videos of opening our gifts and share them on social media. So technology has helped us stay connected to each other!

Well, I am totally aware that this post has a definite unfinished quality to it, but I am going to leave it as it is. I have fulfilled my obligation to myself for the day, and being a holiday, it is important that I also step away and give of myself to my loved ones. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a lovely day!


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