12 Unique Christmas Traditions

My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. Our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect us and our music. Recent insights: 

Like many modern age people, our families do not live close by. With parents and siblings in Pittsburgh, Madison, D.C. and Knoxville, we've struggled with how to do the holidays. After years of trying to alternate destinations each year, we've finally begun to make peace with just mailing gifts and calling/Skyping our families on Christmas... and investing in our local tribe and our own traditions.

Though this is a newer paradigm for us, I realize that throughout all our nomadic, inconsistent holiday approaches, we have established some long-standing traditions of our own. Here are 12 weird, wonderful rituals that color our Christmas:

1:
We get the oddest tree on the lot: Even during the Christmas travelling days, we always got a "Charlie Brown" tree. They are the funny ones. They're cheaper, too. We'd never discussed this preference with our son. But he gets it. This year he walked right up to the smallest tree. It's perfect.

2:
The very first Christmas music we listen to is always Tuck Andress' "Hymns, Carols and Songs About Snow." After 8 bars of Tuck's tasteful instro stylings of Winter Wonderland, the season has begun for us.

3:
Matt strings up blue lights outside our blue house. With them, all is calm, all is a little less bright and our Jewish brothers and sisters also like them.

4:
To prepare for our annual "Fine Winter's Night" concerts, of course we sing the songs at home to prepare. We've incorporated them into evening lullaby singing with our son, and he sings them with us now. Hearing a five year old sing my original song "Julius the Christmas Cat" cures what ails.

5:
We make and send a Christmas card. OK, this is actually a brand new tradition and one which I fought for years. "No, Matt Heaton, I do NOT want to have to make and then address/write on a bunch of cards. I have enough to do." Well, earlier this year we decided with our friends and Christmas card mentors (they send a legendary card each year), to go for it and have fun with it. I looked forward to it. I loved writing in all the cards. And my heart has grown two sizes bigger from accepting this tradition.

6:
My Pig ornament! I've had it since childhood. I love finding it in the ornament bin and finding a spot for it on the tree. My pig!

7:
I have a small wooden nativity set from my childhood in Nigeria. I store it in a ziploc bag, with each charactere wrapped in ancient toilet paper. I love unwrapping it! I love the old toilet paper, and I love the sweet little set. And now I unwrap it with my son, who also loves it and comments on the sheep with only one horn.


8:
During our brief stint in Boulder, our friends Jim and Vivian got us this set of four silver and gold ornaments. We've hung them above our kitchen sink every Christmas since.

9:
Midnight mass... at like, 5pm. With a church organist father, my husband grew up with the actual midnight tradition. Our beloved local church does an earlier service, so he doesn't get the childhood experience. But it's sweet nonetheless.

10:
We always get together with Thai friends near Christmas time for a big feast of curries. It's always delicious and hilarious. For the last couple of years, we've done this onChristmas eve (after "midnight" mass). Ringing in the Christmas with our Buddhist and Jewish pals--and lots of chili peppers--feels just right.

11:
Our formal festive routine doesn't officially start until "Christmas Monday." This small gathering started with our friends and former neighbors and will always be called Christmas Monday, even when we get together on a Wednesday.

12:
We host or attend at least one Irish house session. All of us Irish musicians living in Medford/Melrose do get together through the year (though not often, with all the kids/life demands). With an ease in work schedules, and with emphasis on family and gathering, it's especially sweet to play tunes around the holidays.

We didn't set out to make these traditions. They sneaked up on us. They are real, meaningful, weird and wonderful. This year our son had potato pancakes at school and loved them. So we will try a Christmas brunch with latkes. New tradition? Only time will tell.

Merry Christmas, gang. And thanks to so many of you who have reached out about the blog and asked me to start posting again! A sweet gift to me.

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