Traditions are very important to families. Traditions bring us together. They give us events around which we can form relationship bonds. Being a part of family traditions gives us a sense of belonging. Traditions can be big events- traditional family dinners with all of the extended family gathered. But they can also be small and simple- opening a pair of pajamas every Christmas Eve. As we approach the Christmas season and you begin to plan on things to do with your family, I’d like to share with you some of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions.
The Advent Wreath
Our church lights an Advent wreath each Sunday during the season of Advent. (Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas which is typically the Sunday after Thanksgiving.) Each week there is a candle to be lit, and each candle has a symbolic meaning. We use the wreath as a centerpiece for our table during the season, and each Sunday night we light the candle for the week and talk about what it means. Our church often provides a guide with Scripture readings, so we read those and talk about the symbol for that week. This is a great tradition that helps us to focus on Christ and worship during the Christmas season. The candles work out perfectly for us- four outer candles for four children. They are able to take turns lighting and blowing out “their” candle that week. The center candle is the Christ candle, and either Daddy or I light that one.
The Jesse Tree
Another tradition that draws us to the real meaning of Christmas is the Jesse Tree. I hadn’t heard of the Jesse Tree until a few years ago. The idea is based on the verses from Isaiah 11:1-2
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him.”
This prophecy which points to Jesus Christ is the foundation for the Jesse Tree. We use either a very small real Christmas tree or a paper tree pasted up in our schoolroom. For each day in December there is an ornament with a symbol on it. The symbols follow God’s story of creation and redemption. The ornaments begin with a symbol for creation and continue on through the fall; God’ chosen people, the Israelites; the line of Christ; and Christ’s birth. There are various sets of symbols that can be used for the tree, but the meaning is the same. This site has a listing of the daily readings and the ornaments that go with each one.
The Cookie Day tradition in our house began far back when I was still in high school. My sister was older and married and had young children. We began to all get together at our house each year to make Christmas goodies. As the years passed, I had children, and we all continued to get together, the older cousins with the little ones, making cookies and goodies each year. As my niece and nephews grew older and were in high school and then college, they didn’t come to Cookie Day. Several years ago we started getting together with friends instead. Now we gather with friends and cut out and decorate sugar cookies. The kids love getting really messy and using lots of icing and sprinkles as we make cookies. The kids and I usually have a separate day where we make other goodies- fudge, dipped pretzels, truffles, snack mix- that we can box up for gifts.
We don’t spend great amounts of money on Christmas gifts. We live on one income and try to shop frugally. Also, our kids don’t need huge amounts of toys and gadgets. Sometimes we do a family gift. Sometimes we get each child something smaller. But there are three traditional gifts that the kids know to expect. Every child gets a pair pf pajamas, a DVD or video game, and a Daddy present. The pajamas and DVD/game came about as a way of buying more practical things and still having the joy of a gift. I only buy pajamas at Christmas time. And we rarely buy DVDs or games at any other time of the year, so giving them for Christmas builds our DVD/game library. The Daddy gift came about because I’m usually the prime present buyer, but Daddy likes a chance to pick out something specific for each child. Although some of my gifts are more practical in nature, Daddy gifts are purely fun and are usually something the recipient would never think of.
We have enough ornaments to decorate about twenty trees I think. When we married, my husband came with a box of ornaments. Receiving an ornament for Christmas had been a tradition in their home, and upon marriage, my husband and his brothers each received their ornaments to keep. Now, the grandparents continue to buy each child a special ornament each year. We also have ornaments that we received as wedding gifts. (We were married on December 10, very near Christmas.) And I was a teacher before I stayed home with my children, so I had quite a few ornaments that came as teacher gifts. Now it’s a favorite activity of the kids to get out each ornament and talk about its story as we decorate the tree.
As we head into the Christmas season, think about the traditions that your family has. What things are meaningful to you and your spouse and your children? Consider your traditions and perhaps add a new tradition as well. As you enjoy your traditions, you can have a very merry holiday.
Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. She was a school teacher in her former life and now loves homeschooling her children. Recently she began the adventure of homeschooling a high schooler. She loves reading and reviewing and blogging about life and homeschooling. You can visit her at As We Walk Along the Road.