I could almost smell the turkey roasting when Mom set out the laminated pilgrim scene in the early days of November. The pumpkins, Indians, pilgrims and corn stalks were carefully arranged along the top of the black piano. We eagerly awaited Thanksgiving—and the Christmas season that followed.
The day after our family feast, four boxes with torn lids and bulging bottoms would be carried up from the basement. The decorations they held would soon spread down the banister and along the exterior roofline of the house. Others would adorn the fresh tree cut during our annual snowmobiling quest to find the roundest, tallest, most fragrant pine tree in the forest near Island Park, Idaho.
Decorating the house for Christmas was almost as much fun as Christmas morning itself. Un-boxing familiar ornaments, holiday candles and stuffed Santas rekindled our love for the magic season. And, of course, the day after Thanksgiving was the day Christmas music began playing constantly all over the house.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas tape and our Ricky Tanner record were favorites, while Mom added her own version of “O Holy Night.”
Once the tree was decorated and colored lights blinked throughout the house, we basked in the Christmas spirit. Each year Mom made a booklet with pages for each of us to write down our Christmas wishes. Some years our lists were very long, as we hoped good behavior would result in a magical Christmas morning.
One year my family of nine was facing financial hardship. A school teacher’s salary and a new baby in the home made money very tight. This was the year our family was in charge of delivering Sub for Santa gifts in the ward, where dad was bishop. Each auxiliary had been diligent in gathering funds and toys to give needy families within the ward’s boundaries.
Two days before Christmas, we finished rapping the gifts and loaded them into the station wagon. Part of me secretly hoped our family would be the beneficiaries of this generous collection of goodies. As our station wagon pulled past the stop sign on Taylorview Lane, my hopes sank. We really were going to give all these gifts away.
As a new non-Santa-believer, I understood that the gifts I’d receive this Christmas morning would be directly related to my parent’s budget. Even if I was better behaved than my friend Lindsey across he street, my Christmas morning would likely pale in comparison to hers.
Our wheels crunched along the frozen streets until we reached a government housing development. To my surprise, I was beginning to feel excited. I could tell my sisters were, too, because we were all singing Christmas tunes faster than Sister Richardson could have ever led them. She always gave the elderly organist a workout by hurrying the tempo for every Sunday hymn.
Pulling into a parking stall, Dad whispered that we were very lucky to be elves tonight. As he got out of the car and opened the trunk, we weren’t sure what our role would be. The sub-zero air made me hope my job would be to stay and keep the seat warm, but Dad motioned all of us out and loaded our arms with gifts. I grabbed two Barbies—easily identified by the jingle bell paper I’d wrapped them in—along with some lighter packages.
Dad started toward the dimly lit porch and we followed. As we stacked red and green packages outside the door, I said good-bye to any hopes that these gifts were for me. Then I began thinking about how this young family would react. After quietly stacking the last few boxes, we all hid behind a snowdrift. My older sister rang the doorbell, and then rushed to join us.
When the door opened, we all leaned forward to hear the response—first, a mother’s gasp. Small feet pattered to the door and we heard exciting squealing. “He came, he came!”
“Mom, you were wrong,” we heard a child say. “Santa didn’t forget about us this year!” A warm teardrop crawled down my wind-chapped check.
This was the true Christmas spirit. For the first time, I felt the joy that couldn’t be contained within me. I wanted to leap, sing, cry, and rejoice.
As we drove home that night, we weren’t singing aloud. But because of that experience many years ago, a Christmas song begins in my heart as soon as I begin helping with the Thanksgiving dishes.
Since that memorable Christmas, our family traditions have included anonymous gifts to those who may need a little help. While we enjoy wrapping the treasures, our biggest joy comes in sneaking up to the doorstep, then rushing off before we’re caught. We’ve probably given more gifts this way than we’ve given to each other. We’ll always need a way to continue capturing the true Christmas spirit in our hearts and in our homes.
Tips for Creating Family Traditions
Don’t put undue pressure on yourself. You probably already have traditions, but don’t realize it because it’s “just the way you do it.” Ask your children what you family traditions are. You may be surprised at what they think holiday time is all about.
Pick a tradition that doesn’t depend on a big budget. Traditions are more likely to be handed down through generations if their success isn’t dictated by your pocketbook.
Be consistent with fragrances, foods, songs, and decorations. Seeing a 12-inch stuffed Santa with my name embroidered on it or smelling cinnamon sticks always evokes my sense of tradition.
Read your ancestors’ journals and biographies to see if they had family traditions worth rekindling.
Don’t forget Christmas is a 24-hour day. Maybe your tradition could be something after the morning madness ends. Play basketball at the church after lunch. Go caroling at noon. Hold a family recital or art festival in the afternoon. Consider a family gift like a game or puzzle that can be enjoyed Christmas evening.
Consider a Christmas with no presents. Donate the money you would have spent to a worthy cause. Consider taking a family trip instead of exchanging gifts. Time together can be more memorable than opening last-minute gifts.
Avoid stress. Traditions don’t have to be perfect. Don’t make your family uncomfortable if things don’t go as planned.
Use the special talents of your family members. If your teenage son can carve wood, ask him to care your stocking hangers each year. If your family has musical talents, encourage members to write lyrics or compose a family theme song for the holidays.
Have a “Secret Santa” drawing with specific rules. Perhaps you can’t spend any money, but must do one good thing each day. Reveal the Secret Santas on Christmas Eve.
Do the “12 Days of Christmas” for someone in your neighborhood. They may not need a partridge in a pear tree, but being remember for a dozen consecutive days would surely brighten anyone’s holiday.
After your children go to bed Christmas Eve, create sleigh tracks and reindeer prints outside your house. When the children wake up, have them look for signs that Santa came.
Perhaps the most common—and most important—family tradition is reading or acting out the Christmas story from the Bible. Always bring the true spirit of Christmas to your home by remembering the birth of the Savior.
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