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10 Moms On Their Family Traditions For The Holidays

Written by Sara Langer

Photography by Photographed by Maria Del Rio

Once we hit November, the end of the year feels like it’s really creeping up on us. Between school breaks, work parties, shopping for gifts, travel to see family, or hosting people in your home, this celebratory time of year can also quickly become stressful. But for many of us, the holidays are an important moment to connect with loved ones, give back to our community, and reflect on the year before and the year ahead. And family traditions can be an important and meaningful way to celebrate the season. According to psychologist Marshall Duke, “Family rituals tell children a story about who they are and what is important to the family, and it creates a connection that comes from feeling like they are a part of something unique and extraordinary.” With this in mind, whether you have long-standing traditions in your family or want to create some new ones, we’ve asked 10 mothers to share their inspiring holiday habits. Read ’em and get inspired for the season ahead.

“I don’t live close to any of my extended family and my husband and I don’t usually travel during Thanksgiving, but we’ve been hosting dinner at our home for the last several years. Sometimes we have family that come into town to celebrate, but I always open my doors to any friends in the area that don’t have family nearby to spend the holiday with. I want my friends to know that they always have a seat at the table. Since we started hosting Thanksgiving at our house we’ve started a fun tradition. Everyone writes down three things they are thankful for and we encourage people to be a bit tongue in cheek and keep it lighthearted. We put them all into a hat and then pass the hat around the table and we each draw one, read it aloud, and then guess who wrote each one. Usually, we have a mix of friends and family that have never met or don’t know each other very well, so it’s a fun way to get to know one another and break the ice.”

“Every year after my mom got the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving day she would make us all go outside on a long walk. I grew up in Maine and by late November we sometimes had snow on the ground. It didn’t matter the weather, we bundled up and went outside. As we walked we took the time to talk about what we were thankful for and what we were looking forward to eating that evening (always pumpkin pie for me). We also talked about our hopes for the holiday season and how we may give back to our family, friends, and community in the coming year. Now as a mother myself I really appreciate this time my mom made for us to get outside, connect, and slow down during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Growing up, we were always home, just our family of four together on Thanksgiving, but as an adult there hasn’t been consistency year to year with my holiday plans. However, I always make time to get outside. Whether that is a walk before Turkey dinner or a hike instead of Black Friday shopping, I take the time to connect with my own family of four the same way my mom did.”

“My husband and I are not religious people, although we both grew up in pretty religious families. We do feel like we are spiritual people and we have a great connection to the natural world, the changing seasons, the shifting of light and dark. For the last several years we have hosted a Winter Solstice Celebration on December 21st or 22nd, celebrating the light that will come as the days start to become longer again and honoring nature and its transition throughout the year. Now that we have a baby, we are thinking about the traditions we want to share with him, the lessons we want to teach him about the holidays, and why we celebrate. We’re not sure how we will address Christmas and Santa, although we suspect those will probably be magical parts of his childhood too. We know for sure that we will continue to celebrate the Solstice, the changing of the seasons, and honoring our Mother Earth.”

“Growing up in a big Colombian family, we always celebrated ‘Dia de las Velitas’ on December 8th, which marks the start of the holiday season. The night before, the 7th of December, everyone light candles, lanterns, and luminarias, and places them all over–around their homes, parks, downtown areas, everywhere. The candles honor the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. Celebration ensues and goes into the wee hours of the morning. As an adult I do not practice Catholicism in the way my parents did, but it is important for me that my daughters learn about their heritage. I remember this night being so magical as a child, seeing my whole community in the orange glow of candlelight, being out late at night, and seeing my hardworking, often serious parents, cut loose a bit and celebrate. I knew it was a special night. We’ve had the chance to travel to Miami with the girls a few times for the celebration, but we have started to do it at home in New York, too. Last year we invited friends over, I made buñuelos (Colombian donuts), and filled paper bags with battery operated votives all over our apartment. The orange glow was so nostalgic to me and I was filled with pride hearing my young daughters explain the significance of the celebration to our friends.”

“I am amazed by how motivated my son is by the tiny pieces of chocolate he gets in his Advent Calendar. This year I am going to try something new. In addition to a small treat, each day there will be a note with an act of service written on it. Some will be bigger than others, but every day during the month of December he will be giving back. Some of the ideas are simple like ‘donate three toys’ or ‘write a thank you note to the school bus driver’. One day I plan on taking him to a soup kitchen now that he is old enough to help and another day we will have a hot chocolate stand and he can pick the charity we donate the proceeds to. I will intentionally leave a few blank notes for him to decide how he wants to give back. This will be our first year doing our ‘Giving Back Advent Calendar’, but I have a feeling it will become a yearly tradition.”

“My mom was a nurse and she often had to work on major holidays. My parents divorced when I was 6 years old and I didn’t know it at the time, but she often had to work holidays because she would make more money those days and she was struggling to make ends meet as a single parent on her normal hourly wage. She also explained to me from a young age that doctors and nurses always need to be available to help people who are injured or sick, even on Christmas. Depending on the custody arrangement and my mom’s work schedule for a particular year, I didn’t always see her on the actual holiday. I don’t remember exactly when–my mom recalls it being a few years after the divorce–we decided that the second Saturday in December was our official holiday. No matter what was going on, my mom would make sure to have that day off of work and arranged it with my dad that I would be at her house that weekend. She would always give me a few special gifts and we would make a day of it, usually doing something festive like baking cookies or going to see Christmas lights. Sometimes it was a bit more extravagant. One year we dressed up and went to the Nutcracker and then got ice cream sundaes for dinner. That day is one of the highlights of my childhood. And my mom and I still celebrate the second Saturday of December every year. Two years ago I took her to Ojo Caliente in New Mexico for a relaxing spa weekend. It was one small way to thank her for the years of sacrifice and hard work raising me and always making the holidays feel special, even when it wasn’t easy.”

“Once we had kids, staying up until midnight to ring in the New Year felt like a chore (and required several afternoon espresso shots). We never got it together in advance to arrange childcare or come up with exciting plans. We are lucky enough to have a great village of friends with little ones around the same age and we wanted to celebrate together in a family friendly way, enjoyable for the kids and adults alike. We live close to the beach and we enjoy watching the sunset while letting the kids romp around in the sand. Last year we decided to invite friends over to toast the final sunset of the year. We made a big pot of soup for an early dinner, everyone brought their favorite beverages, the kids ran freely, and we clinked glasses as the sun went down below the horizon for the final time in 2017. We finished our celebrations early enough in the evening that even friends with late night plans could join in.”

“I am Jewish, but my husband is not. I grew up pretty involved in our local synagogue community, I had a Bat Mitzvah, and I even went to Jewish summer camp one year. Unfortunately, as an adult I haven’t maintained that same level of involvement. My husband and I are still figuring out how we are introducing our young children to religion, but we both agree that the community aspect of Judaism is something we want to uphold with our family. Hannukah was a special time of year during my childhood, and so far we have celebrated with our children, lighting a menorah together as a family, sharing meals, and giving gifts. In the last few years we have decided to host dinner at our home every night of Hannukah, except for the first and the last night, which we reserve just for our family. We invite friends and family who are Jewish and who are not. We enjoy sharing the holiday with everyone, coming together, and making our home a meeting space for community, even if it’s just a handful of nights a year.”

“I am in a book club and every year we do a ‘Cookie Exchange’ in early December. Everyone makes a different kind of cookie dough, but you don’t bake the cookies before the party. You portion out the dough so you have enough to give everyone in the group a small amount–enough to make about four or five cookies. We all get to go home a with a bag filled with a variety of cookie dough that you can stash in your freezer. You can bake them off a few at a time or put them all in the oven if you need to bring a plate of treats to a holiday gathering. One of my fellow book club members recently admitted that one year she never baked any of the dough, she just ate it all one by one out of the freezer! I might try that this year.”

“My family is spread out across the country and many years on Christmas we would gather at my aunt’s home outside of Las Vegas. After we spent the morning leisurely opening gifts and enjoying a big Christmas breakfast, my aunt would set up an assembly line putting together paper bags filled with packaged snacks, apples, oranges, toiletries, bottled water, socks, and often hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We’d then drive to an area of Vegas that has large encampments of homeless individuals and families and pass out the bags. She wanted to make sure that even those on the street has something to fill their stomachs and keep their feet warm on Christmas day. I did it last year with my kids and their cousins for the first time. At the end of our delivery my niece said, ‘Next year, I’m going to bring one of my new toys to give to someone who needs it more than me.'”

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