Growing up I knew what to expect during the holidays.
Each special day was spent at my grandmother’s farm house in the country. Thanksgiving had homemade stuffing, raisin rye bread, turkey and enough mashed potatoes we could all eat potato pancakes for at least a week after. The adults sat and visited on the olive green sofas and orange easy chairs (the ones we always got yelled at for spinning around in), while the kids played Pit at the kitchen table. We each drew a name out of a basket for our Christmas gift exchange.
Christmas Eve, there were stockings from Santa with an orange and a silver dollar in the toe. We exchanged the gifts we had purchased or made, so each person received one special item. Grandma always gave the grandchildren warm flannel pajamas and nightgowns she had sewn herself.
New Year Eve was a Swedish smorgasbord, with pickled herring, smoked oysters, sliced cheese and crackers, with the last course being lutefisk and potatoes. Grandma made a toast at midnight, champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids and we watched the ball drop on the the console television.
And so it was each year, until my grandmother passed away when I was 24. That following Christmas was completely different without Grandma holding up the traditions. Grandma had been careful about the days, the menu and the order of events. Those things had always made me feel safe and special. I knew I wanted to give my own children that sense of security and belonging that I had had.
So now, each year we go up to the mountains, to hike in the snow and pick out a sparse tree with balanced branches, that will hopefully hit in the van. We sit around and visit while we cut paper snowflakes to decorate the tree. We plan out a gingerbread house, from creating a pattern out of paper to building it with gingerbread and decorating it. We donate chickens and a goat to a village to help them combat poverty. We sing Christmas carols at a nursing home, then drive around in the neighborhoods that decorate as “Whoville” and “Misfit Lane” where the kids point out their favorite misfit toy from Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.
Christmas morning we eat homemade cinnamon rolls, open stockings and gifts and play The Settlers of Catan. Over the Christmas break we watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Grinch. We try to do most of our traditions before Christmas Day because my older boys go to Washington every other year to be with their biological dad and family there.
As minimalists, our holidays are not focused on gifts, we do give gifts, (see clutter free gift guide here) but they are not the focal point.
Instead, we wish to keep the focus on people.
It’s not possessions that give us a sense of belonging. It’s people. It’s actions. It’s traditions.
Christmas is a time to reflect on how we are living. It’s a time to give thanks to our Savior for becoming a human and showing us how He wants us to live. Noticing needs of those around us. Giving compassion, serving others, loving others.
It’s a time to understand that everything is not about us as individuals, but a time to embrace one another. Ask your elderly neighbor to join you for a cup of cocoa while the kids are sledding. Go to the nursing home give out homemade Christmas cards. Have a cookie decorating party for the kids on your street. Carry an extra pair of gloves and give them to homeless people you pass by. Watch for opportunities in which you can show love.
Traditions give us something to look forward to during the holidays, a shared sense of belonging.
If you do not have any traditions, I encourage you to start one this year. Talk about traditions with your children, decide on one together.
Start a tradition this year.
Here are a few of our traditions:
Decorating a Minimalist Christmas Tree
Candlelight Service & Admiring Christmas Lights
Traditions: Better-Than-Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas Morning
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