Ten Christmas Traditions For The American Family

While young and multi-cultural, America does have some Christmas traditions of its own. Many of these were blended from customs and traditions of foreign lands.

People all around the world have been practicing holiday traditions, due to their ethnic or specific family backgrounds, for centuries. While most countries are steeped in traditions which have been passed down for thousands of years, the same cannot be said of America. Due to its youth and multi-cultural diversity, America hasn't developed many of its own holiday traditions, but tends to tap into those of a number of other cultures to form an interesting blend of yearly Christmas practices.

If you're interested in implementing some new traditions in your family's holiday celebrations, you can either use your imagination and create your own new practices or take a suggestion or two from the following list of traditions that a number of Americans are already enjoying.

BIRTHDAY CAKE

For those who choose to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas - that of the birth of Jesus - a birthday cake is baked and decorated, to be enjoyed as the dessert for Christmas dinner. While the cake is being eaten, those around the table share conversation, reflective of their gratitude for the things that they have and - most especially - for the birth of the Savior. This is a particularly good practice for children, since it not only serves as an instructional tool, but also offers them a structure of values and priorities that are not always expressed to the children of today. An addition - or alternative - to the discussion would be to read significant Bible passages (the infancy narratives, for example) or biblical stories from children's books.

Since the idea behind the practice of traditions is one of family involvement, those who have children who are beyond the toddler stage should consider allowing them to assist with the process of baking and decorating. This will not only be of benefit to the adults who are facing the task during an already busy time of year, but it will give the children the sense that they've offered something to the Christmas tradition itself.

PROGRESSIVE CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

This type of Christmas tradition works especially well for those who have numerous family members in the area, or a wide social circle which includes a number of friends who live in close proximity to each other. "The more, the merrier," is a phrase that applies to this type of tradition.

As part of a pre-arranged plan, a number of families merge their holiday celebrations to include spending a bit of time at the home of each, beginning on Christmas Eve. For instance, in the case of five families who have combined their efforts to spend the holidays together, one would host a Christmas Eve gathering at their home, while others would - in turn - provide Christmas breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening dessert in their homes. In this way, each of the five families enjoys a variety of celebrations without the fuss and bother of hosting all of them.

This particular practice can be very exciting for children, who may have the opportunity to play with others of their age while their parents enjoy the company of their peers. The progressive style is especially appealing, since part of the plan usually involves providing little treats or gifts for the children at each stop along this progressive style of Christmas celebration.

CHRISTMAS TIMES TWO

This particular tradition is typically practiced in homes that have children, although many adults in childless homes enjoy it, as well. There are variations on the theme of this tradition, as well as a variety of philosophies behind them.

Plan to spend Christmas Eve at home with family and, while gathered around the lighted tree, choose one present to open (young children can be told that one of Santa's Elves dropped off a few gifts early, because Santa's sleigh was going to be too full to carry all of the gifts this year). Each member of the family should do this, and all take turns opening them, rather than opening the gifts simultaneously. As each is opened, share it with the others by passing it around so that everyone can have a chance to appreciate the gift. When completed, spend the rest of the evening putting the gifts to use. For instance, if one person gets a board game, set aside some time to play the game by the light of the Christmas tree. If another person should get a CD, put it into the player so that all can enjoy the music while doing a group activity.

Some folks prefer to open the gifts that are in the stockings, but this doesn't generally work for younger children who still believe in Santa Claus, since they expect him to fill their stockings after they go to sleep.

CHRISTMAS CAROLING

For many years, folks in America have been gathering together to sing Christmas carols at holiday time. Some communities, however, still go from door to door sharing the songs of the season. If you haven't participated in one of these events, make plans to join an existing group, or start your own band of carolers and treat the neighborhood to some holiday crooning on Christmas Eve. When the caroling is finished, have friends and relatives (or whoever has joined the carolers) to your house in order to have holiday treats and beverages (hot spiced cider is a great favorite at this time of year).

There are some church groups who gather together during the Christmas season to go caroling, and there are also private groups or organizations that extend the invitation to those who are interested in participating in this holiday activity. Regardless of who initiates it, this is a wonderful way to spend quality time with your family. Adults and children alike enjoy this type of Christmas activity, and most people are pleased to have a visit from such seasonal songsters.

FAMILY READING

Many families gather the children around on Christmas Eve to share a good book. Quite often, the same book is read each year on that night, such as The Night Before Christmas. For others, passages from the Bible are read aloud so that the entire family can enjoy and discuss the readings. These are usually the infancy narratives, which are particularly appropriate for the season.

Afterward, the reading is discussed among the family members, while holiday treats are passed around, including any home baked Christmas goodies that members of the family have made for the holidays. Many families enjoy hot spiced cider - also known as hot mulled cider - with homemade Christmas cookies. Others may choose to cut and serve a special cake that was made in honor of the birth of Jesus.

During the refreshment portion of the evening, some folks also choose to have everyone in the family open one of their Christmas gifts to enjoy for the evening, or choose one gift that's meant for the entire family.

THE LIVING NATIVITY

Church communities - or community theaters - often stage a re-creation of the birth of Jesus, called a Living Nativity. Families belonging to the particular church set aside time on Christmas Eve to attend the play - indeed, the children may have a role in the re-enactment. In the case of the Living Nativity being held at a community theater, neighborhood families comes together to enjoy the production, some of whom may have a part in the play, if they belong to the cast. The invitation to play the part of the Baby Jesus is a great honor for the family whose baby is chosen to fill the role.

After the presentation is complete, folks will often join together to enjoy holiday refreshments - either in the church hall, or in private homes. In many cases, each family will bring a home baked treat to share with the others, providing a buffet style dessert table, full of Christmas goodies.

TREE DECORATING PARTY

Not everyone decorates their Christmas tree shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday. Some folks delay this seasonal activity until Christmas Eve, at which time a party is held that's designed specifically for this reason.

Well in advance of the holiday, invitations are sent to family and friends with a request to join the family with the decorating of the Christmas tree. At that time, it's determined whether the host family will provide all food and beverages, or the guests may be asked to bring an item, so that a wide variety of treats are available without the host family having to do an inordinate amount of preparation. Guests may also be requested to handcraft an ornament that will be placed on the tree as a remembrance of the get-together.

On the evening of the party (Christmas Eve), the host family and their guests will come together to decorate the holiday tree. After the task is complete, all are ushered to the food table and invited to enjoy some refreshment.

MIDNIGHT MASS

Churchgoing families enjoy attending Midnight Mass together as one of their Christmas highlights each year. For two or three hours, members of the church community come together to celebrate the coming of Christmas at a special Mass that's held during the latter part of Christmas Eve. Typically, these will take place from 10:00 p.m. until midnight, or from 9:00 p.m. until midnight - depending upon the parish. Some have changed the time to fit the needs of the elderly and the very young by offering the Mass just past the dinner hour.

While it may seem like a very long time to sit on a hard wooden pew, the Midnight Mass is spectacular and many families see this as the pinnacle of the holiday. Those families with very young children usually need to make childcare arrangements, since toddlers don't generally do well in a crowded church for that amount of time, but all are welcome and some folks bring all of the children, regardless of their ages.

FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Since most people like to celebrate with a mixture of family and friends, but the mechanics of that plan don't always work well, some set aside certain times to spend with each group. Often, Christmas Eve is designated as the time to spend with friends, and folks come together for gift exchanges and holiday refreshments on that special night. In this way, Christmas day - traditionally set aside for family by many people - can be spent with family members on one or both sides of the family.

In addition to gift giving, dessert tables are generally set up during the Christmas Eve visit with friends, while family tends to stay through dinner on Christmas day. Later, Christmas caroling often comes into the picture, followed by more refreshments and games or some other form of entertainment.

One of the added perks of this type of gathering is the ability to share stories of previous Christmas celebrations or other subjects that can be geared toward the entire group - including the children.

CHRISTMAS COOKING PARTY

In preparation of the holiday, most families have an abundance of decorating, baking and cooking to do for upcoming get-togethers. This can, sometimes, be overwhelming - particularly in the case where there are numerous gatherings or a large number of participants at one celebration.

Many people establish a cooking party tradition, which involves a number of friends or family members getting together immediately before the holiday to join in the responsibilities of cooking and baking. Everyone brings a portion of the ingredients to be used during the party (or all of the ingredients for one particular recipe) and then prepares it with the help of the others. When all of the baking and/or cooking has been done, everyone can bring a portion of each dish home with them, or the food can be used for a holiday party that they'll all be attending.

In some cases, even children are included in the preparations for the gathering. This provides hours of fun and lots of memories for the youngsters.

New traditions are being forged all the time, and families often bring their own traditions from their childhood into the family. If you haven't yet begun to practice any of them during the holidays, give it a try this year. The kids will love it.

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