Family Traditions Counting Down to Christmas

Well, It Has Varied… a Lot

By Jeff Salter

Topic: How do/did your family countdown to Christmas? Did/do you have any special family traditions? [AS]

In preparation for this week’s topic, I re-checked my previous posts which dealt with Christmas. We’ve actually covered [here at 4F1H] quite a bit of territory already… though not this specific question.

The easiest and shortest answer is to say that I’ve experienced several different Christmas traditions, over various periods of my life: as a young child, as a teen still living at home, as a young husband, as a father of young children, as a parent with older children, and as a grandparent. Plus, there were stops along the way.

Having parsed out those different phases of my observation of the Christmas season, perhaps I can share a few memories from each.

As a young child

Some seasons, we all baked cookies, with little decorations of colored sugar or those silver things that looked like BBs. Each of us picked our own cutter designs and did our own decorations, and we kept them in separate boxes [I ate my cookies and my siblings ate theirs].

At least once each season, we would all pack up and go to New Orleans to “shop” … which really was to look at the extravagant decorations, especially those in the Roosevelt Hotel. One of the big city’s stores (Maison Blanche I think) had a goofy character called Mr. Bingle, who pushed the commercialized “spirit.”

I’d spend hours poring over the Sears and Montgomery Wards special Christmas catalogs — wishing and hoping, though realizing there was no chance I’d get anything expensive.

A fond memory is riding with Dad in the station wagon in our annual hunt for a suitable tree. For my ultra-frugal Dad, “suitable” meant free, as he squeezed every penny twice. I clearly remember him just pulling off on the shoulder of a road, and we’d walk into any un-fenced property and hunt down the fullest pine we could find that wasn’t too long to fit inside (or on top of) our vehicle. Often when we got it home we discovered it had a “bad” (flat) side, which Mom would rotate to be against the wall. One of these trees was so pitiful that we sent out to our own nearby woods and cut some extra branches to temporarily “graft” onto our Christmas tree!

As a teen still living at home

The year which really sticks out is Christmas of 1965 when we were in Iowa. I had just turned 15 and has a negligible social life (in this northern clime). I was still part kid and part teen and still found the Christmas catalog compelling. I had seized upon a gift I thought might actually be possible — some sort of primitive race car set. I talked it up with my mom and dad incessantly and must have believed they were actually going to act on it. As Christmas approached, I spotted a gift with my name and it was the size and shape of what COULD BE a low-end race car set. I had somehow deluded myself into believing they came through for me. Alas, when I opened that gift, it was a pitiful, vinyl-covered stadium cushion bearing the name of my high school. I was crushed.

As a young husband

My wife and I had only one Christmas together (before our first child joined us) — 1970. On my newspaper salary we couldn’t afford any gifts for anybody, so we crafted a gift for my folks and one for her folks. We found a little $2 or $3 counter-top tree at a grocery store to put in our little 3-room rental.

As a father of young children

For the Christmas of 1973 I was stationed at McClellen AFB in Sacramento CA and we had one toddler. We were living paycheck to paycheck on about $600 per month. What I recall most about that season was taking the city bus – they had a special “Santa-fare” [ten cents to go anywhere that you didn’t have to change buses]. From the stop near our apartment we could go non-stop to downtown. So, for 30 cents, the three of us traveled to a walking outdoor “mall” in downtown Sacramento and bought a couple of Christmas ornaments. I’m thinking we must have also eaten a minimalist lunch there, but can’t recall what it may have been. Then 30 cents to get us back home.

After my Air Force hitch and by the time we had our second child, I recall most of the Christmases being an effort to split the holiday time between my parents and my in-laws. Sometimes that got stressful. After my parents divorced, it was even more difficult because we then had THREE destinations for the holiday.

I remember a Christmas with my sister and her family in Mississippi… and at least one in which she and her crew stayed with us in Jonesville LA.

As a parent with older children

After many years of packing up our whole family and driving to the in-laws (or to one of my parents) I finally got my wish: to spend Christmas at our own home with just our own four individuals. Thus began what is the closest to a “tradition” that I can come up with: We’d let the kids wake us when they woke up (provided it was after 6 a.m., as I recall). Then they’d look at the tree (and gifts) while I made a pot of coffee and put a Sara Lee coffee cake in the oven. Then we’d open gifts. We lived in Bossier City for 26 years and our youngest was in kindergarten that first year. About half way through those 26 years, we already had kids leaving the nest, of course.

During many of these Bossier years, we’d have other family over for Christmas dinner… after all the gift unwrapping. This was sometimes my in-laws, but often my Mom or my Dad and Step-Mother. Sometimes different combinations of those parties.

As a grandparent

As a grandparent, first with very young grandkids and now with half of those grandkids in their 20s, it’s been different every year. Sometimes our local daughter’s family celebrates with us…and they alternate Christmas destinations with the other set of grandparents. Sometimes our Louisiana son’s family celebrates with us.

Our plans are complicated by weather, by illnesses, by medical issues that restrict my travel ability, etc. So each Christmas is different.

I don’t do nearly as much shopping as I did when our own kids were young.

Some of my previous Christmas-related posts (which I think you’ll enjoy):

[JLS # 618]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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12 Responses to Family Traditions Counting Down to Christmas

  1. Lucy Kubash says:

    Very nice post, Jeff. You have a good memory! It is something how Christmas celebrations do change and evolve over the years. Just like us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Change. I think all of us have seen many changes in our Chrtsmasses, mine certainly have.
    Indeed, we have covered Christmas up one side and down the other several times, which is why I try to avoid holiday themes. When I make the schedule at any given time of the year, I just won’t schedule any holiday topic that falls within that time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Our one big Christmas tradition, that has never changed through the years, is to read Luke 2 late on Christmas Eve. It always brings back the real reason we are celebrating.

    Other traditions are decorating the tree right after Thanksgiving, ham on Christmas Eve, Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding for Christmas Day dinner, Waffles for Christmas Eve breakfast, Swedish Pancakes for Christmas morning breakfast, and opening one gift each on Christmas Eve.

    Since our kids all live in different states, and don’t care to travel on Christmas (I don’t blame them), and we are not in physical condition to be traveling long distances by truck anymore and don’t care for the Christmas hassle of flying, Arnie and I spend Christmas by ourselves. All 7 of our former neighbors whom we knew well on the cul de sac have changed except for two houses. Be we enjoy relaxing for Christmas and doing our own thing now. We usually watch a couple of good Christmas movies on Eve and Day. And we deliver home-baked goodies on Christmas Day (or whenever them return home) to the two neighbors we’re still close to (the guys 🙂 ) and a couple other houses near by.

    I’m glad we’ve kept our traditions. And I love to talk about Christmas and find out what everyone else does that brings them and others joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      We usually also attend a candlelight service at church on Christmas Eve… and there we hear Luke’s account of Christ’s birth.
      Sorry that some of your neighbor friends have moved away… glad you still have at least two households with people you know.
      Wonderful of you to deliver home-baked goodies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love to bake, so seeing the smile on their faces when we deliver the packages is a blessing. Arnie wears a plush Santa hat and I wear my red voyageur toque hat from when I used to do the primitive camping. It’s a long, wool knitted stocking cap with a tassel on the end and a pewter charm sewn into the rim. I made it myself. It’s just something fun we do.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    It’s true, as we age, we have to be flexible as the younger generations begin to take over things we did earlier. It’s nice when they choose to continue traditions they remember, because it shows that they consider them important.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Agreed… nice to see traditions I remember being carried forward.
      I think it bothers my wife more than it does me… but I don’t see many of “our” traditions going forward with our grandkids.
      For one thing, everybody seems to be zooming in different directions… and, too often, faces are buried in cell phones.


  5. Elaine Cantrell says:

    It’s fun to look back and remember the way we were. One thing is true for all of us: things chang whether we want them to or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Searching for a tree with your dad sounds fun.
    Oh how disappointing to get a stadium cushion instead of the race-car set.
    I used to love looking through the catalogs when I was little. I remember Sears and JC Penny. I wanted my kids to have that experience as well so I signed up for some mail-order catalogs. Starting in August we just let them stack up and then when they get ready to write their letters they will spend hours looking through them to see what they can find. It is more fun than looking online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I can’t even guess how many hours — over a period of weeks — that I’d peruse those Christmas catalogs. At that point, nowhere in any form was a greater collection of toys, including sporting goods. [many decades before the world wide web, of course.
      I don’t actually remember whether those catalogs held any magic for my kids (now 51 & 47). But I know we still had Christmas catalogs until around 1990 or so… when one of the big companies went out of business and the others started charging $$ for the catalogs.
      I don’t think my grandkids would spent five minutes looking through a paper catalog, no matter how colorful.


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