It’s Christmas time and therefore time to enjoy special holiday traditions that go with it. Traditions vary according to your family’s heritage and unique ways of celebrating. Whether you’re decorating a Christmas tree, baking gingerbread cookies, using an Advent calendar, or sipping eggnog, you likely are enjoying traditions that originated in other parts of the world that made their way to North America with the arrival of immigrants. Passed down from one generation to the next, Christmas traditions not only bring great joy and cheer, but they also help create a bond between our older and younger members of the family.
Remembering Holiday Traditions
Our elderly loved ones love to reminisce about holidays and how they were celebrated when they were young. While encouraging them to share their holiday memories, you may discover that they had a holiday tradition that is no longer being observed. This could be a special ritual, a holiday treat they used to make, or songs they liked to sing. Some traditions may have evolved or changed over the decades, but it’s still possible to approximate if not preserve them.
It’s a good idea to get as much information as you can from your loved one. This can be done by going through holiday keepsakes, talking about old family photos, and doing research on your family heritage and traditions. You may even have a family with a mixed heritage, which makes it all the more interesting since this creates the possibility of learning about more than one culture.
Here a few Christmas traditions that may have been observed by your parent, depending on their heritage, background, and family preference:
- Yule Log – As part of their Winter solstice celebrations, pagans in Europe gathered around a large bonfire and celebrated with food, drink, dancing, and much merriment. The oversized firewood was called a “Yule Log”. This has morphed into a Christmas tradition, and the custom of burning a Yule log for one or more nights starting on Christmas Eve is still observed in many parts of Europe, as well as North and South America. Now there are even virtual Yule Log videos available to watch – for those who don’t have a fireplace – but if you have the possibility of burning a real log in a real fireplace – or even gathering by a bonfire by the beach or a lake, why not rekindle this very special, heartwarming tradition?
- Milk and Cookies for Santa – While leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer dates back to ancient Norse mythology, Americans began observing this tradition on Christmas Eve as early as the 1930s. The cookies often are either sugar or gingerbread cookies, and your loved one may have preserved a recipe for that as well!
- Cookie Swaps – Speaking of cookies, a tradition your generation may have forgotten is the Christmas cookie swap! Going back over 100 years, Americans have been exchanging homemade cookies at festive parties. Historically, a cookie-exchange party was a ladies-only event. Nowadays, they can be a neighborhood or even a workplace event.
- Homemade Eggnog – Nothing makes the holiday season cozier than enjoying a goblet of spiked eggnog. Although this yuletide cocktail originates from “posset,”, a drink made with hot curdled milk and ale or wine from medieval England, American colonists made it popular by adding rum to a creamy base. Even George Washington had his own special recipe! Your parent may just have a forgotten recipe as well.
- Festival of Lights – Several cultures throughout the world have candle-lighting rituals as the dark days of winter set in. These are known as a Festival or Celebration of Light and include festivals such as Diwali and Hanukkah. These rituals have become an important part of Christmas as well. Examples of Christmas candles include Luminarias – lanterns made out of brown paper bags filled with sand that are set in rows outside homes, Advent candles – a wreath or candle holder that holds 4 candles that are lit on the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas, and a Candle in the Window – a tradition of placing a lit candle in a window that dates back to colonial times. Find out if there is a family tradition that includes lighting candles. This is a wonderful way to light up your holiday!
- Christmas carols – A Christmas carol is a song or hymn on the theme of Christmas, traditionally sung at Christmas itself or during the surrounding Christmas holiday season. They are played on the radio throughout the holidays, so many of us know these tunes by heart. Your family may have a special carol that is sung in connection with lighting your Christmas tree for the first time, at church, or before enjoying Christmas dinner. Or you may even have a family or church tradition of singing carols outside for your community. The added benefit of exploring this tradition is that music – especially songs with words – is a great way to help revive old memories in the elderly. In fact, choirs are invited to sing carols at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities during the holidays as part of their memory care program, since music has a special way of triggering memories.
These are just a few suggestions on how to revive old traditions or maybe even create new ones! Make sure to preserve any family celebrations that make this time of year so special. Future generations will thank you!