I grew up without much in the way of holiday traditions. My parents emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary, so we were a small nuclear family. It was always just the three of us at holidays. No cousins or grandparents to crowd around the table or create raucous celebrations. Also, we moved often, from one apartment to another, so keeping a lot of “stuff” was not an option.
So when I married my husband, who incredibly — to me — was the third-generation in his family to be born and still live in the same town, I inherited a whole bunch of traditions, most of which I gladly embraced. And along the way, in raising our two children, we created a few of our own, too.
Following the Italian tradition that I married into, Christmas Eve dinner is always fish (crab cakes and grilled salmon, among others) and Christmas Day is always pasta, usually lasagne. The rigidity of the menu seemed a bit odd to me at first but I soon came to cherish it.
Decorating the house and tree gave rise to several traditions. We would always play holiday music while decking the halls and I added a new wooden nutcracker figure to my collection every year until I had a whole army of colorful nutcrackers marching down the stairs.
We also embraced the Christmas pickle tradition, which I learned only recently may not have been an old German tradition, as is claimed, but was actually invented by a clever salesman to sell more glass ornaments. Whatever its origins, the tradition goes something like this: while decorating the tree, a parent hides a glass ornament in the form of a pickle on the tree Christmas Day and the child who finds it gets an extra present.
Ever cautious to be called out by the “fairness police” (i.e, my kids), I changed the tradition to whichever child finds the pickle is the first to open up a present. Now that the children are older, they each have a hand-painted glass pickle on the tree. I also bought one special ornament for each of my kids every year while they were young, writing their name and the year on the back/bottom of each, figuring they would have some special ornaments to take with them when moving out to start their collections.
One tradition that began in my childhood was my dad and I would always go see a movie on the holidays I spent with him (after my parents divorced) since it was just the two of us. My kids and I enjoyed continuing that tradition after the family celebrations were over and relatives had gone home.
One of our favorite holiday traditions is that on New Year’s Eve, dinner is all appetizers (stuffed clams, baked brie, cocktail hotdogs, bruschetta, etc.). Granted, it’s not spiritual but we enjoy it because it’s something we’ve done for a long time and then one day, it had become a tradition. And after all, that’s how traditions are created. I hope you enjoy your traditions and the memories they bring up as much as I do. Happy holidays!