Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Creating holiday traditions

Do things your family will remember for years to come

One simple way to create a new tradition is to take photos of your guests and use them the next year as place cards. Get the kids involved by creating simple “turkey” mementos with corks and pipe cleaners. photo courtesy of Crafters 4 Kids


The holidays are the perfect time to take a breather; yes, that's right. Take a few minutes and think about what means the most to you and your family. You probably will find that the things that are the most meaningful are the memories you've shared through the years. Often the gifts are soon forgotten, but trimming the tree with your kids' handmade decorations every year or serving a special eggnog recipe in your grandmother's silver punch bowl will usually be the rituals that you treasure.

"What is so awesome about family traditions is that they can be whatever you want them to be," says Sandy Sandler, founder of Crafters 4 Kids. "Even if your family never had a special tradition, it's fun to start off with a new tradition that you will carry forward."

Here are a few ideas for creating great holiday traditions to incorporate into your own family's holiday celebrations:

l Create a written record. "Have everyone write something down before dinner that they are thankful for and read it before starting dinner," Sandler says. This is also one of my own favorites in my family. I find that giving everyone time to think about this and actually write it down makes it more meaningful and makes people feel more at ease than they would be if they had to think of things on the spur of the moment. I also like to keep these notes and bring them out on different occasions. It's amazing to see how our lives evolve from year to year.

l Do it for the kids. When you create holiday traditions for the youngest members of your family, you will be instilling memories in them for years to come. One of my favorite traditions was started by a close family friend who gathered together all the kids in our neighborhood for a special party during December. Each child would sign his name in "Santa's Big Book" and write down what he wanted Santa to bring that year. Then "magically" Santa (my friend's husband, dressed in full Santa regalia) would appear, take each child on his knee and read aloud what the child had written. Twenty years later, those same kids love to visit with Santa and watch their own kids sign the big book.

l Take pictures. Sandler also suggests taking pictures of everyone each year at the holiday dinner and then using that picture for the following year's place setting. I'm all for being a year younger! Family pictures always are treasured as presents, too. My daughter creates a special CD of photographs every year for her grandparents. It's one of their favorite gifts.

l Create a special treat. Food can indeed create special memories. Having a "signature" dish is a great way to start your own tradition. My dad is famous for making his special peanut butter fudge every Christmas. He brings everyone a decorative holiday tin filled with fudge to take home. My mom always does her special Southern cornbread dressing, and my sister brings balls of homemade Boursin cheese wrapped in festive cellophane packages and tied up with ribbons that are wrapped around holiday cheese spreaders. I always have my buttery baked pecans on hand for snacking.

l Start a collection. This is one of the easiest ways to carry on traditions from one year to the next. Find a unique "collectible," and add to it each year. It can be as simple as unwrapping your kids' handmade ornaments and decorating a "Charlie Brown" tree or as elaborate as setting up tables and tables of snow villages complete with lights and trains, as one of my friends does every year. Another friend collects silver mint julep cups every year and serves her famous bourbon punch to friends who drop by on Christmas Eve. (Yes, we still make it to midnight services!) I have to admit I have several trees—one decorated with my Celtic crosses, another one with "all things peacock" and another one with my red Bohemian glass ornaments.

l Give to others. It's perhaps one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays. Sandler suggests "spreading the love" by volunteering with members of your family at a food drive or a homeless shelter, helping others enjoy the holidays. There are plenty of ways to make someone else's holiday brighter. Whether you "adopt" a child from the angel tree at the local mall or support your favorite charity's holiday programs, it's always a great tradition to celebrate the season by ultimately giving the greatest gift of all—yourself.

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