Family History

Christmas Traditions Connect Generations

Some families go caroling. Others get new pajamas. Many more eat a particular food. Still others line up to hang stockings in the same order every single year.

Elizabeth Decker tells her family, “It’s not Christmas until we’ve caroled.” Photo credit/permission: Karen Fife

Elizabeth Decker tells her family, “It’s not Christmas until we’ve caroled.”
Photo credit/permission: Karen Fife

Christmas traditions vary, but they all serve to bind families and to bridge the gap between generations. Traditions may be as simple as gathering for prayer before opening gifts under the tree or as involved as hosting a neighborhood cookie exchange. They all create memories and a family identity, and many have been passed down through the years.

“My family makes homemade caramels and hand dips them at Christmas every year,” Amber Turley says. “I have memories of doing this with my grandma at a young age. My mom carried on the tradition, and now so do I.”

Peggy Urry says, “My mom made gingerbread houses from scratch, and they were always fantastic. She would also make marzipan, which is a traditional Dutch treat.”

Three generations of the Jeff and Elizabeth Decker family carol together every Christmas season, a tradition that began in Elizabeth’s family when she was a child. Photo credit/permission: Karen Fife

Three generations of the Jeff and Elizabeth Decker family carol together every Christmas season, a tradition that began in Elizabeth’s family when she was a child.
Photo credit/permission: Karen Fife

Tiffani Baker shares how her family’s English heritage influenced the way they celebrate: “They were poor, so Christmas was for gathering as a family. Today we still gather on Christmas Eve and eat turkey dinner. We set the table, as our ancestors did, with the fanciest tableware we have, and a fun item called a Christmas cracker—a cardboard tube wrapped in brightly colored paper and twisted at both ends. It makes a bang when pulled apart, rewarding the recipient with a paper crown, small toy, and a silly joke. Dinner always begin with the pulling of the cracker.”

Christmas in America is a mix of traditions brought from other cultures. Trees, presents, decorations, and even Santa Claus came with those who immigrated. The holidays are the perfect time to examine your own family heritage, and to incorporate it into the celebrating of the season, or to create new traditions that your children will pass down to their children.

Amber and Lincoln Turley share in a family tradition begun by Amber’s grandmother and continued by her mother, Linda Buchanan. Photo credit/permission: Curtis Buchanan

Amber and Lincoln Turley share in a family tradition begun by Amber’s grandmother and continued by her mother, Linda Buchanan.
Photo credit/permission: Curtis Buchanan

Vicki Standing and her husband and daughter pick a few families to surprise with Twelve Days of Christmas giving. “We refer to ourselves as elves, and usually do something with an elf theme. Last year, [for one of the twelve days] we made a cut-out of an elf with a sign that said, ‘Take an Elfie.’”

They have never revealed their identities except to one recipient—a man who had been in jail.

“He was being ostracized by ward members,” she remembers. “It changed his life.”

So, bake great-grandma’s sugar cookie recipe. Reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Have everyone wear crazy socks on Christmas morning. Whatever the tradition may be, share the stories of family. These are the links that connect the generations.

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