A woman hanging a wreath

It’s officially the holiday season, and that means it’s time to take part in yuletide traditions, even the ones we can’t remember why our family created them. Traditions are like time travel. They’re a way for us to hold onto the magic we once believed in as children.

I can replay many a Christmas past, my wonder-filled eyes then and seeing them now as an adult continues to produce a similar sense of awe. It doesn’t feel like Christmas unless I’m taking part in my family’s traditions. When my older brother and I visit my parents in December, it’s like we’re kids again, giggling and play-fighting, like our traditions are letting us slip back into innocence.

Let’s venture back to the festive traditions that started when I was just a tot, yet survived throughout the years. I hope at least some of these fill you with excitement and anticipation for your own seasonal merriment.

Santa Wedding Vows

Working as a department store elf in my past life has made me appreciate Santa even more. Seeing him makes me oddly giddy. My husband—who chose to marry me in spite of this—snuck Santa into his wedding vows, promising to go with me to visit him every year. Seeing Santa is like seeing an old friend who welcomes you with open arms. It’s truly special to experience, and we have yet to miss a year since we’ve been married.

Seeing Santa is like seeing an old friend who welcomes you with open arms.

Spritz Cookies

Sweets are an essential part of any holiday but especially Christmas because, of course, they’re Santa’s meal of choice. Each year my brother, my dad and I make spritz cookies together. We know the dough is ready once my dad is able to knead it into the shape of a brain by pressing his fingers lightly over the surface.

This is quickly followed by what looks like a baby’s bottom, which one of us always slaps. Then, we put the dough through a press with different shapes and cover with sprinkles. The amount of colored crystals left on the cookie sheets is enough for a second and third set of cookies. Our collective edible artwork is shared throughout our extended family, even though we could all eat a batch by ourselves.

The Pickle

Each year, my husband and I decorate our tree together. It’s truly meaningful as we combine our childhood memories onto one tree. One especially important ornament is a small glass pickle. Technically, the rule is whoever finds the pickle gets to open the first present, but we take turns since it’s just us two. Hopefully, our future kids will find the joy in searching for the Bickel family pickle.

Advent Calendars

Growing up, my mom had two advent calendars. So my brother and I didn’t have to fight over who got to do what day. The only problem was one of them ended on Christmas Eve, while the other had one last nativity character that needed to be velcroed onto its felt background on Christmas Day.

We came up with a system where baby Jesus is always the last piece to go up. In order to avoid a fight, my brother and I decided we’d each take one of Jesus’ tiny hands and put him up together. We still do that to this day, and we’re both grown adults. Bringing the tradition into our own home as a dog mom, I had to start an advent calendar with one treat for each day for the month of December.

Jesus’ Birthday Cake

After our Christmas meal at my parents’ house, we have dessert, but not the typical pumpkin pie or fruitcake. My mom bakes a chocolate birthday cake just for Jesus. We all sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus before blowing out the single candle. I love it. While it’s comical, it’s also a nice reminder of the reason for the season.

Scavenger Hunt

My dad loves to see us excited beyond belief. So when we were little, he came up with a game for our last present. He put two envelopes on the tree—one with my brother’s name and one with mine—each containing a rhyme-filled clue. Once we read them aloud, we would then race to find the next clue. We’d come back to the living room and read them aloud again, before repeating the process.

This would go on with at least one round where we had to venture outside into the cold, until the last clue would lead to our present. Now that we’re grown and married, our spouses have come to join in on the epic craziness. It’s a mad dash every year, practically a Christmas morning workout with all of us running around like kids in pajamas.

Gifts or Gags

My grandparents’ house is another level of chaos. Fifteen of us or so open presents all at the same time, with paper, boxes and bows flying about. My grandmother loves to hide money in our gifts, but a box with a bill in it isn’t exciting enough for her. She’ll throw in a framed picture from her wall, bags of rice, flashlights and even chestnuts to weigh them down and keep us guessing.

We open gifts unsure whether what’s inside is the actual gift or if it’s a ploy. I can’t count how many times she’s had us add up the money we found and almost always one of us comes up short. We have to go back through all the boxes and wrapping to find the missing cash. It’s insanity. Yet, I look forward to it each year.

No matter what your traditions are with your family, I hope you feel alive during this special time of year. At Christmastime, you are given permission to retreat to childhood and soak up the fun and the beauty of the season. I love traditions because they’re unique with everyone laughing and enjoying each other’s presence, all while putting aside differences. It’s rare we experience joy in such a habitual way.

At Christmastime, you are given permission to retreat to childhood and soak up the fun and the beauty of the season.

Christmases may mold and change throughout the years, but I look forward to the newfound beauty I’ll be able to see through a lens of love and togetherness. I hope this year finds you discovering new and inventive traditions, including those who you love the most.

What are some of your holiday traditions? Are there any new ones you’d like to incorporate?

Image via Joy Collins-Brodt, Darling Issue No. 2


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