Special family traditions enhance holiday season
By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 2000
We all know children add to the fun of holidays. That's why we go to all corners of the Earth to get the presents they ask for, attend all their school functions and get them to Santa's lap one way or another.
And, of course, the nice folks at Pillsbury and Dixie sugar have convinced generations of mothers that if you don't make those obligatory cookies with your kids, then you've pretty much completely ruined Christmas.
Well, there are many ways to enhance the holiday season with your children that often don't require more shopping or stress. They are called traditions. If you don't have any special ones in your home, the time to start them is when you have young children. I've been asking parents around town at parks, schools, the grocery store and the doctor's office to share any fun and different things they do. You might also revive a family tradition that has been forgotten if you ask parents, grandparents and other family members to remember what they did when they were young.
One of the favorite ones I've heard about is something my daughter's former family child care provider did when her children were young. Throughout the holidays she would give her kids a piece of straw every time they did a good deed or helped each other out. They excitedly placed the straw in the manger scene set up in the living room to make a softer bed for Jesus. Then on Christmas day the baby Jesus was finally placed upon his bed of hay.
Another variation on this is to set up your creche one piece at a time, starting 12 days -- or however many pieces you have -- before Christmas. You can take one minute every morning for the family to think about the coming birth of Jesus. On Christmas morning Jesus is the final piece added.
Neil Hunt, a letter carrier in St. Petersburg, starts his family's Christmas morning reading from the Bible about the birth of Jesus.
"We don't open any presents until we read it," he said. "This way they think about what it's really about."
Hazel Karcher, whose children are grown, said she placed a little baby crib under her Christmas tree to represent Jesus' birth. "It was really Christmas when the children saw us put the crib out," she remembered.
Of course, there are plenty of traditions related to the less spiritual side of Christmas. Our next-door neighbor, Dennis Shea, moves all the wood out of the fireplace and makes footprints from ashes to show Santa came through. My husband's father used to do the same with shaving cream footprints. Flour is also another way to simulate snow.
My uncle used to use flour as a security device to keep his curious children from sneaking into the living room at night. He spread flour along the slate hallway leading to the living room and warned my cousins that if Santa saw any little footprints in the flour he would know they were peeking and take their presents back.
The elves make an early visit to Betsy Cureton's house to build anticipation for the Big Guy. When her three children wake up Christmas Eve morning, they rush to the tree to see the candy canes the elves hung the night before.
"They know the elves have been working and that Santa is almost here," said Cureton. The tradition has been in her husband's family at least as far back as when his father was a child.
St. Petersburg mom Holly Piper started a new candy cane tradition at her house this year. They hung canes on the tree when they decorated it so when anybody visits, the first thing 3-year-old Harry does is pick one off to give as a little gift. This goes for everybody from friends to the mail carriers.
Another Christmas tree tradition from my husband's grandmother comes from Germany. Parents hide an ornament that looks like a pickle on the tree on Christmas Eve after the kids go to sleep. The first one who spots it Christmas morning gets an extra gift.
Georganne Young, mother of three sons ages 18, 16 and 11, has been putting artificial 3-foot-high trees in each of her sons' rooms since they were born. The little trees serve as decoys to keep them from pulling ornaments off the main Christmas tree. She lets them have total freedom as to how they decorate their own trees.
"They've put GI Joes all over it, cars all over it, even dirty socks," she laughed. "But in 18 years I have never had one broken ornament on the big tree. They have never messed with it."
Young also makes each boy one ornament for their personal trees every year. Now when they have a tree of their own some day they'll have 18 or more ornaments to start out with.
Kathy O'Keefe of St. Petersburg has combined religion and Santa for a new family tradition. Her young son made a key out of foam paper in Sunday school to represent the key to Jesus' heart. Since their house doesn't have a chimney, the O'Keefes have started hanging this special key outside their door so Santa can slip in to deliver presents.
Many families say they make a tradition of taking their sleepy but excited children to attend services on Christmas Eve. Mike Hill, a father of two sons age 18 and 2, is continuing the tradition he loved as a child by taking the family out to breakfast after midnight Mass. Then when they get home at 1 a.m. Christmas Day they each open one present before going to bed.
My husband and I remember also being allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. He and his brother and sister always got to open Aunt Lynn's present. This was the eccentric aunt who gave chopsticks and Tarot cards.
The gifts my sister and I always opened on Christmas Eve were from our next-door neighbor, Betty Smith. She was the manager of a bank branch and was flooded with gifts from customers. Being a banker and fiscally responsible, she would "re-gift" two of those gifts to us every year. We didn't care about the re-gifting aspect, we just looked forward to something other children would never get such as cheese balls, fancy pen sets and crystal clocks.
Food is a great area in which to start or continue a tradition.
Ann-Marie Meder's family eats her mother-in-law's home-made Chex trail mix from Thanksgiving to New Year's. It is her husband's favorite holiday food and they have a tin they refill every time they visit his mother's house.
For Lana Slagle, popcorn was a key Christmas food. Partly to eat, but mostly to string. Her children grew up stringing popcorn many nights before Christmas.
Others make rice pudding a holiday tradition. Some fill it with coins and then whoever gets the serving with the most coins is supposed to have good luck all year. I think this comes from an English custom of tossing sixpence into the pudding at Christmas.
Elena Coundoriotis has brought a New Year's tradition from her native Spain to St. Petersburg. As the final 10 seconds of the old year are counted down you shove a grape into your mouth with each one.
"It's actually pretty hard to do," she said. "You have to be fast."
- You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at Oliviachar@aol.com; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, PO Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
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