Why We Didn’t Do Traditions This Year

posted by Andrea | 12/18/2014

wooden nativity

Over and over again, I’ve been asked what family traditions we take part in over the holiday season.

Over and over again, I’ve felt slightly ashamed when I explain that we really didn’t do any traditions this year (or last year, or the year before that).

I think the only two things Dave and I have done every year since we were married are to send out some sort of holiday card or letter and to put up a Christmas tree at some point during the season.

Other than that, we’ve changed and altered and skipped and added traditions and activities as we felt worked for us and our current stage of life.

To be very clear… I LOVE LOVE LOVE the holiday season. I love holiday decorations, I love holiday parties, I love sending (and receiving) holiday cards, I love holiday baking, and I love holiday traditions.

However, I refuse to let a “but we’ve always done it that way” get in the way of me and my family enjoying this time of year and celebrating the real reason for the season.

Does it REALLY matter if we’ve always set up the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving — but this year we’re not planning to do it until tomorrow when Dave starts Christmas break and can be around all day to help deter Simon from pulling down our tree and breaking every single ornament?

Does it REALLY matter if we’ve always celebrated Christmas with one side of the family ON Christmas Day, but have recently changed it to a different date that works better for everyone involved?

Does it REALLY matter if we decorated Christmas cookies last year but aren’t going to do it this year (unless you count these)? Or if we got invited to an ugly sweater party this year and didn’t go to one last year? Or that we never do Elf on The Shelf or much with Santa Claus?

Does it REALLY matter if our church has always done certain things the same way, but now this year, with a new pastor, we might try something new?

Does it REALLY matter that we hardly got Nora any Christmas gifts the past 2 years (because she really didn’t understand) but that this year, we’re giving her more — and have hardly any for Simon?

Does it REALLY matter that we don’t do stockings, or go Christmas caroling, or that we didn’t go to the Christmas parade that was literally at the end of our street because it was so stinkin’ cold and raining/snowing/sleeting?

I think you know where I’m going with all of this…

And that my answer to all of the above is a resounding “NO!”

I think traditions CAN BE fabulous and fun. They can add extra joy and excitement to various times of the year, and they can actually help to simplify the season because we all know what to plan on and what to expect.

However, traditions can also become a total drag and create unneeded stress when we try to force or hang onto something that’s no longer there, just because “we’ve always done it that way”.

Changing or stopping a long-standing tradition can be difficult and emotional — especially for more sentimental folks. However, in my experience, when it’s obvious that a certain tradition is just not working, a change is SO refreshing.

I do realize that sometimes, we participate in traditions that we don’t particularly love — because we do it for people we love (like our crazy aunt who insists on Christmas caroling every year, or our kids who NEED to decorate the Christmas tree on a certain day every year). That’s fine, and definitely a nice gesture on our part.

I just feel that it’s important to continually evaluate our traditions (during the holiday season and all year long) to assure we’re actually enjoying the tradition. Otherwise, it just becomes another to-do to check off our list — and I don’t think any of us need or want more unnecessary busyness.

So this year, as you look back on everything you’ve already done, and contemplate what you’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks, take a few moments to consider if you’d like to change something next time around. Maybe drop one thing that’s no longer working and add something else — or maybe just a few small tweaks to mix it up a bit.

There is no “perfect” way for you or your family to celebrate the holiday season (or any occasion throughout the year). Life will go on if you change, drop, or add a tradition… I promise!

What are your thoughts on traditions?

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39 comments

  1. Theresa

    11/02/2016

    My father passed away in September 2007. I was BIG and pregnant with my younger son and obviously wasn’t feeling the holiday spirit. All we did for Christmas that year was put up a prelit tree and with ONE ornament on it: a remembrance of Daddy. I learned a LOT that year.
    The following year, my oldest son insisted we do Christmas BIG because as he said, “Ethan will be little only a short time. It isn’t fair that he misses out because Paw Paw went home to Jesus.”

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Awww, that’s so sweet of your son to be worried about his little brother! And good for you for taking a year off during a stressful time in your life.

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  2. Megan

    01/04/2015

    I have a 16 year old daughter and she shared with me a few weeks ago how sad she is that we don’t decorate “like we used to” . I’ve been really sick this year and don’t have it in me to go all out. I feel incredibly guilty because I never realized how much the decorating meant to her. But I can only do so much and to be honest, I’ve never liked the holidays. It’s easier and harder when kids are younger..you can kinda just go with the flow!!

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  3. Ellen

    12/31/2014

    We have lots of traditions – every year we make meatballs together, my partner makes christmas porridge, I bake a lot of christmas cakes and cookies. We celebrate with my parents, my partner’s father and his fiancé, my partner’s mother and her family…
    But we never stick to some kind of schedule. That’s not traditions for me.
    This year we both worked christmas eve, when we usually celebrate, and therefore kept it simple – porridge and presents and a movie in the evening.
    Every year we celebrate on several occasions (because of all the diffferent families) but how that works isn’t set in stone. We might go to a restaurant, eat a traditional julbord (christmas smörgåsbord) or have pizza.
    Traditions for me are the things we always do – but how we do them doesn’t matter!

    So, for me, what you do is definitively a traditional christmas. 🙂

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  4. Bind My Wandering Heart

    12/19/2014

    I really liked this post. I personally really enjoy traditions, but I don’t like traditions just for traditions sake. I think you should enjoy all your family traditions and I admire your freedom to do things in the way that suits your seaseon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    12/18/2014

    Again, and as always, well said, Andrea! Our traditions continue to change, especially up to this point with our baby. I look forward to establishing traditions with him – in our own way and time. Christmas will be simple – and joyful – this year. As always!

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  6. lydia @ Five4FiveMeals

    12/18/2014

    Good for you. This is a season of worship. Not a season of stress and what is more stressful than trying to fit in a bunch of activities because you feel guilty about NOT doing them. Nope. Not this year. Amen, sister friend.

    [Reply]

  7. Amanda

    12/18/2014

    We have several traditions, but at the same time we’ve also learned to be flexible about them. I just had a baby 3wks ago, so things that we normally would do have def had to be adjusted this year (skipping baking, skipping driving around to see light displays). None of our traditions are “stressful” to me, and if they need to change in the future, that’s ok. I want our kids to look forward to things about this time of year. My family’s traditions are some of my favorite childhood memories. There were years things had to get skipped, but overall, there were certain things that were/are just part of this season (to me).

    Every year since we’ve been married, the tree has gone up on Black Friday. And next year, I’m sure that will happen again, but I was 4 days post c-section this year, and my husband, while he helps set it up, doesn’t care about the ornaments – that’s always been my thing. So, the tree went up about a week ago, once I’d healed and was able to help.

    Because of family commitments, we celebrate on Christmas Eve. My husband and I (and now our boys) go to Christmas Eve service, I have dinner prepped before we leave. When we get home, I pop it in the oven and we open presents while it cooks, and hang out for the evening as a family. Everyone gets new jammies (adults just PJ pants). Then on Christmas morning, we have brunch with my parents and lunch/dinner with my husbands – since our parents both live in the next town over, this isn’t really a huge deal, and it allows us to spend time w/ our family. However, this year, we’re actually hosting my family’s brunch. It’s just easier, and since it’s just us, my parents, and my younger brother, it’s no big deal to switch venues (we all live within a few miles of each other)

    Friends Christmas – every year since we graduated from HS, me and my close group of friends have gotten together when everyone is in town (many moved away for school, some have come back. All of our parents still live here, so most years, most of the ones that haven’t moved back at least come in to see their parents). It is generally the week of Christmas, but we don’t have a set date. Again, people have moved back and moved, and had kids… so we’ve changed who hosts, and it now includes a bunch of kids, and we end a lot earlier. But I love that we all get together at least once a year and just catch up 🙂

    [Reply]

  8. Mary

    12/18/2014

    Andrea, the only tradition we have kept for the last 44 years is to put up a nativity set and read the Christmas story (age appropriate as the children grew). After all this is the reason for Christmas. All the other traditions come and go.

    [Reply]

  9. Andrea

    12/18/2014

    I love these posts; they are very reassuring, especially at this time of year. I love reading your viewpoints. Thank you. Please keep posting 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Starla

    12/18/2014

    I couldn’t agree more – you’ve hit the nail square on the proverbial head!

    That said – we have one tradition that the boys look forward to every year. It started when they were young and I was so busy with my little boys and being involved with our church’s youth group. We wanted to have a special Christmas celebration with just our family since we usually spend Christmas day with one of our extended families. So on Christmas Eve. we got carry-out pizza, and ate it by candlelight. They LOVE this and are always making sure we have it planned again. Since flexibility is important, it doesn’t always happen on Christmas Eve, depending on our travel plans.

    Do what your family loves and is special to them – not just what everyone else thinks is part of Christmas celebration! When we get all stressed out and frazzled, we miss so much of the true Christmas spirit of JOY and PEACE.

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  11. Jen T

    12/18/2014

    We have always done the exact same thing (for the last 15 Christmases). This year, for a variety of reasons, we are up and going to FL…no presents on Christmas day, no decorations at the condo we are staying at (unless the owner put some up), Christmas day at an amusement park or possibly just hanging out by the pool at the resort…and while I had a hard time with it at first, I’m really looking forward to it now (or will be, when I finish up all my work, as I’m not even bringing my laptop). It can all wait. Family is what is most important! Merry Christmas to the Dekkers!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well have fun in Florida! I’m sure it will be nice change of pace this year!

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  12. Keli

    12/18/2014

    I have often felt guilty about not really having special “traditions” with my daughter due to splitting time with her Dad at Christmas. But last year for school my daughter did a story about our Christmas tradition(s) and it was about putting up the Christmas tree together. To her that was what was important and special. And other then getting her a new ornament (or two) each year that is the only consistent thing we do each Christmas. It made me see we do not need to do more. If we do it is a bonus, if not, she really does not care.

    [Reply]

  13. Lea Stormhammer

    12/18/2014

    Great post Andrea!

    I had to laugh though because other than maybe putting up the tree the day after thanksgiving, I really didn’t think of any of your examples as what I would consider “traditions”. It really helped me realize that everyone has their own definitions of “traditions!”

    I guess in my mind if you miss it if you don’t do it, it’s a tradition. If you don’t miss it, it’s just something you once did or could do!

    Lea

    [Reply]

  14. Krista

    12/18/2014

    I’ve been feeling kinda guilty lately that I never started the whole elf on a shelf thing because I don’t want the extra stress of it. A lot of my friends do it and I hear a lot of “ugh, I gotta go move that stupid elf again!” I know what I can handle as far as stress/busyness and it’s not much so I’m giving myself grace this year. Thank you for this post it was very timely for me. 🙂

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  15. Verity @ homemakerspectrum

    12/18/2014

    I completely agree! Traditions for the sake of “this is how we’ve done it” can become meaningless and cause stress.

    Last year I had just birthed my fourth child in under five years. I felt guilty that we were not doing all our ‘important’ traditions as I sat there nursing in a sparsely decorated house. Then I realized my attitude was more important for the sanity of my house then getting those traditions done.

    This year we have had more time for traditions. (I even wrote a series about Christ-focused traditions on my blog). It has been a joy to share my faith with my children through the many possible traditions Christmas can bring.

    Next year we may not get to those. I think it takes maturity as a mom to recognize when you need to lay traditions aside for the health and sanity of your family. Good job mom!

    [Reply]

  16. Jenn S.

    12/18/2014

    My husband and I don’t have kids, but I *love* the holidays, so there are a few things I like to do. They’re more important to me than to him, but he puts up with it, haha.

    I always do a tree. We live in a small apartment and no longer have room for a full-sized tree, so I have a 2.5-3ft prelit whiite tree that perches atop my fridge. I decorate it – ornaments, ribbon, a topper. I love to have something hanging on the door but didn’t want to fuss with a wreath this year.

    I also really enjoy holiday cards. It makes me sad that so many people don’t bother anymore, but it doesn’t take a long time to do and is a really sweet gesture. I treasure the ones we receive, even though, like you, I don’t keep them season to season (I might if it is a REALLY AWESOME card, but otherwise no).

    Aside from that, we throw a party for our friends before Christmas and serve Christmas dinner there – a glazed ham that my husband masterfully prepares, scalloped potatoes, peas, crescent rolls, glazed carrots, and a ton of other stuff.

    I’d love to start a food tradition day-of, like cinnamon rolls…I LOVE cinnamon rolls. I keep seeing the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and am like, “Yep, need this in my life!”

    As soon as you feel like something MUST be done, it becomes a chore. If it isn’t bringing you joy, it isn’t worth doing 😀

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    ah… we used to throw parties for our friends too — with a big ham dinner! Now, it’s usually more of an appetizer/dessert/munchie party — but still fun.

    Also, while I can attest to the fact that the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls are delicious, I’d highly recommend using canned cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning — unless you want to spend all morning in the kitchen (and all afternoon cleaning up) just for cinnamon rolls 🙂

    [Reply]

    Jenn S. Reply:

    Oh, definitely canned cinnamon rolls in the morning unless I had done the prep the night before (unlikely, as we tend to do other family stuff and running around on xmas eve).

    [Reply]

  17. Kristin @ The Gold Project

    12/18/2014

    Thank you for this post. It makes me feel better about things at my house. I see bloggers writing about their traditions and I want to write about mine, but my family really doesn’t have any at the moment. We just go with the flow. We didn’t even put ornaments on our tree this year because we have a new cat and a son that thinks anything round is a ball. Plus, we are about to move.

    I think traditions shouldn’t be forced. They naturally occur and stress shouldn’t be involved in them. So, thank you for reassuring me that my family is doing just find without traditions right now. 🙂

    [Reply]

  18. julie

    12/18/2014

    So happy to read this — i was starting to think we’re the only parents out there who don’t do Elf on the Shelf or Santa. Other parents usually react as though we just told them we’re aliens or something!

    We have a lot of fun choosing our tree and decorating it each year, but we try to keep things laid back. Not too many gifts and a big focus on having fun as a family, even if it’s just taking an evening walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the lights.

    As my girls get older, i think more and more about how i’d like to be a good role model for them. I don’t ever want them to think that things have to be a certain way to be “right.”

    [Reply]

    Kathi Reply:

    Julie – You hit the nail on the head for me. “I don’t ever want them to think that things have to be a certain way to be ‘right.'”
    It’s refreshing to see that people change their traditions as their family changes. I hope to do the same with mine – when things aren’t fun or don’t make sense, we will stop doing them. And when new things come our way, we’re going to try them.

    [Reply]

  19. Jen

    12/18/2014

    We definitely have “traditions” but they have changed/morphed as our kids have grown and I imagine as kids get married and grandchildren come into the picture that they will continue to do so.

    Some of our favorites when our kids were younger were driving around to see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve and then having milkshakes at home afterward. Also, I always put stacks of Christmas books in each bathroom for “leisurely” reading (it also helped to keep those not-quite-potty-trained kiddos on the potty for a while!). My kids loved that every year and still talk about even though they are all WELL past potty trained! 🙂 We make christmas cookies each year that we ONLY make a Christmas so they are special.

    When my husband was pastoring, we started the tradition of going out to eat on Christmas Eve because he was so busy with church responsibilities. In recent years, we have eaten at home (depending on finances and other plans) but this year, we are planning to go out again. We always do TGI Fridays and the kids love it! And, we also do canned Pillsbury orange rolls (among other things) on Christmas morning. This year, we will add yummy mimosas for children who are now of drinking age!

    As with anything (homeschooling, baby sleep schedules, cooking from scratch), it’s important to remember to do what works for YOU! And just because it works for YOU doesn’t make what works for someone else WRONG! Sigh…

    Merry Christmas to your sweet family, Andrea!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jen — and yes, there is no one “right” way. Thanks for the reminder!

    [Reply]

  20. Deb

    12/18/2014

    Our traditions aren’t really stressful. We have prime rib Christmas eve, we read the Christmas story BEFORE we open presents, we have little dogs (biscuit wrapped cocktail smokies) on Christmas morning, and have appetizers, snacky food all day on Christmas.

    We put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving and take it down the day after Christmas, I actually race my mother in law who lives in another state!

    We ENJOY these things but they are SUPER simple! 😉

    [Reply]

  21. Trudy

    12/18/2014

    I like “cafeteria” traditions. Adjust them to suit what your family is experiencing that Christmas. The important thing is to enjoy your time together.

    The one tradition that was started when my kids were small was that we celebrate Christmas with my family the Sunday before, my husband’s Christmas Day. When my kids were little, they were the only grands on my side for 8 years. Rather than continuing to drag them early to one, then the other family, I asked my mom if she would mind us getting together the Sunday before. My mom, being the wonderful mom she was, knew how hard it was for us to go to both and sacrificed Christmas Day. When my brothers started their families, this was already set. I can’t tell you how many times my sister in laws have thanked me……and the point is spending a day with family….we have casual food and just hang out.

    The one tradition we do is that my sister in laws and I exchange gifts….but they must be hand made….we are much more talented than we thought….it’s been fun.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Trudy, Dave’s parents do Christmas on New Year’s day and it’s SOOO nice. Plus, it’s something to look forward to after Christmas (and gives me an extra week to finish shopping!)

    [Reply]

  22. Janet

    12/18/2014

    This year we have started what we hope never becomes a tradition – passing a sore throat and clogged ear back and forth between my husband, son and myself for the past 3 weeks. Not much has been done for Christmas and at this rate, we may have our shopping finished by the end of January! No one says you can only give gifts at Christmas!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    OH NO! hope you and your family feel better soon!

    [Reply]

  23. Susan

    12/18/2014

    I’m with you Andrea, our family never really does family traditions because they change every year. Now that the kids are married with children of their own we still get together Christmas Eve for my husbands ham and bean soup and homemade cornbread. The only tradition that we still do is because I’m full blooded German-Russian is the adult kids still do the pickle on the tree. The 3 girls are all in there 30’s now and they still look for that every year. This year my husband and I are starting something new, instead of buying individual gifts for everyone, we are starting a family gift basket with homemade breads, and etc. No cluttering gifts, things that the family can enjoy together.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I love the family gift basket idea Susan! Also, what is a “pickle on the tree”??? I’ve never heard of that — although I’m not German/Russian either 🙂

    [Reply]

    Susan Reply:

    The pickle on the tree is just that, a dill pickle, although I have found a pickle ornament that we use. We hide the pickle in the tree and the kid that finds it gets a special present.

    [Reply]

  24. Anna

    12/18/2014

    I agree, sometimes people makes life way too
    difficult on themselves and others. We don’t have
    many traditions, and I’m seriously rethinking some
    of the ones we do have. I’ve always sent out Christmas
    cards, but I think next year I will cut a lot of those out.
    I’ve also always done a lot of decorating, but with two
    boys, 2 and 3 months, I don’t have the time or energy to
    do much, especially when I spend most of the day telling
    the two year old to leave things alone! I think there will be
    plenty of time later to decorate, so I’m going through all of
    my holiday decor this year and purging. I don’t believe in making
    life harder just for the sake of a tradition.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Amen — I love decorating for Christmas, but the thought of keeping both kids away from my decorations sounds awful. Plus, I’ve definitely enjoyed the clutter-free look of no decorations this year.

    [Reply]

  25. Carrie

    12/18/2014

    I think traditions can cause a lot of stress to people. I only send out a few Christmas cards now. I don’t do the holiday picture…this was my biggest stressor. I can get a picture done another time of the year.

    Some traditions we keep…the cinnamon rolls (canned) and hot chocolate for Christmas morning. And a new one we started is going to the Pizza Hut Christmas Eve buffet after church. I can’t tell you how nice it is to no longer try to feed kids before church, which is way too early or worry about dinner after we get home and not eating until very late. We go out to eat and there is no mess to clean up and all the kids enjoy it.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Dave and I were JUST saying that we were craving the Pizza Hut buffet (it’s been years since I’ve actually dined in instead of picking up) — maybe we’ll need to do that on Christmas Eve as we currently have no other plans!

    [Reply]

  26. Tammy @ SkipperClan

    12/18/2014

    Having a husband who was in the military for 20 years, we rarely did the same thing every year…but because of all the change, as the kids became teenagers they actually craved starting some traditions. They are SIMPLE like: we usually marathon the Harry Potter movies throughout the month of December, send Christmas cards, and ALWAYS have canned cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning (I made them from scratch ONE year and even though they were delicious, my son about had a fit! lol) That said, this year, I sent 4 cards to people without social media accounts, we are having canned cinnamon rolls, we haven’t watched a single Harry Potter movie and we are visiting churches since recently moving. Anytime something becomes a ‘we have to do it,’ it’s no longer fun. ps-where is your nativity from? love that simple design!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Tammy — we have canned cinnamon rolls every Sunday morning! Also, Dave’s grandma MADE that nativity for us several years ago. It’s my favorite favorite favorite!

    [Reply]