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Baking Cookies and Making Paper Chains: It’s Just Family Christmas Traditions

by Michelle Staley (12/11/12).

Felt elves like this trio have been part of Christmas decorations for decades. Only recently have they become branded as the “Elf on the Shelf.”

I started thinking about Christmas traditions when my sister-in-law recently purchased an “Elf on the Shelf” for her children. My mom used to have these little felt elves all over the house but I never knew there was an entire story behind them. Believe me, if there was a tool that my mama could use to get my brother and I to behave, she would have used it. I still don’t know if the “Elf on the Shelf” is an old tradition or a contemporary one, but it has certainly taken off.

By definition a tradition is;

1. The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication.

a. A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation; a custom or usage.
b. A set of such customs and usages viewed as a coherent body of precedents influencing the present: followed family tradition in dress and manners.

2. A body of unwritten religious precepts.
3. A time-honored practice or set of such practices.
4. Law Transfer of property to another.

You have to wonder where some of these traditions come from. Who was the very first person to say, “We need to insert action every Christmas”? When I was little I remember on Christmas Eve my Aunt Ida rolling up little balls of white bread, handing them to me and telling me I need to take my sleeping pills. All of the adults sat around and laughed about this. At the time I gave it no thought, I just ate my “sleeping pills” and trotted off to bed. Did I sleep any better? Of course not, it was Christmas Eve. Yet year after year, this was the routine, the tradition. Even after my Aunt passed away my Granny continued the tradition.

My family has always put up the Christmas tree and decorated the house inside and out within a day or two after Thanksgiving. Yet a childhood friend of mine comes from a family who puts their tree up on Christmas Eve. They even put their Christmas lights on the outside up at the same time. When I was young, this really confused me because Santa comes on Christmas Eve and the entire flow of things would be disrupted if the household was bustling around decorating. I mean, here I was, having just eaten my sleeping pills and was doing my very best to go to sleep and they were at her house putting the tree up. To this day her family does their decorating Christmas Eve and my family does theirs right after Thanksgiving. Tradition.

As far back as I can remember, we have had beef stew for supper on Christmas Eve. When I was little, all of the family would go to my Granny’s house for Christmas and the majority would arrive Christmas Eve. Her house was tiny but everyone managed to find a place to sleep. It was the same thing when my mom was young, when a lot of people spent Christmas at the house. I am pretty sure that this was the origin of stew for supper, as you can always add more vegetables and potatoes to the stew if you need to feed more, and more cornbread is a snap to make. Tradition.

We always got to open one present on Christmas Eve, we were even allowed to pick the present, and year after year, it was pajamas and either house shoes or a robe. I am still not sure how mom mentally directed us to pick the same gift each year. This tradition has been passed on to my children and my grandchild. I still get my 24-year-old daughter her Christmas Eve jammies and my husband buys mine. As the kids got older it, was always a joke, “Hey guess what my Christmas Eve present was!”

NOTE: While Michelle never received pink bunny pajamas, like Ralphie (above), she did always manage to pick the one present on Christmas Eve that contained PJs.

 

The gifts that Santa brings are never wrapped; they are set-up and ready to play with. As an adult, I see this more as a practical matter but it is still a family tradition. I know that there are families whose Santa brings wrapped gifts, too.

I love Christmas lights and exterior decorations. We have always driven around a few nights before Christmas to look at lights and now that we live just a few miles from the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. We include the Plaza lights in our tour of all things bright and beautiful. Going to the Plaza is a tradition that was started after we moved to the area in 1986. Not only do we go view the lights, but we take a carriage ride while we are down there, and it is especially magical if it is snowing. I think we have only missed one Christmas in all these years.

We used to go caroling through my parent’s neighborhood every year on the night before Christmas Eve. I am not really sure why we stopped doing this but I am sure that the neighbors are most grateful that we did stop.

Every year I bake Christmas cookies with my grandkids.

Every year the kids make construction paper chains of 25 links.

Other Christmas traditions that my family keeps;

• Watch for Santa in the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving;
• Watch “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” on regular broadcast television:
• All of the girls get dressed up and go see “The Nutcracker” performed by the Kansas City ballet:
• Mail Christmas cards;
• Watch “A Christmas Story”;
• Hang stockings;
• Bake Christmas cookies with the little ones;
• Adopt a family to bring Christmas to;
• Make a colorful construction paper chain
• Have a jigsaw puzzle going from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve;
• Read Luke Chapter 2 on Christmas Eve before everyone parts ways only to come back together the next day;
• Leave milk, cookies, carrots and a letter out for Santa and his Reindeer;
• Cook turkey with cornbread dressing and all the fixings.

I would love to hear about your holiday traditions whether they have spanned several generations or are just beginning.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and an amazing New Year to you all!


“Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”

— President. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)


Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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2 Responses to “Baking Cookies and Making Paper Chains: It’s Just Family Christmas Traditions”

  1. Lisa Mull says:

    Michelle,
    Thanks for the entertaining article! It seems you are really in the spirit of Christmas. That gives me motivation to decorate the tree, which has been sitting naked, except for 2 paper ornaments my granddaughter made for it this year, since the Saturday after Thanksgiving. (And I thought was getting a jump on things!)

    Out of town packages got mailed yesterday and the local shopping is all but done. I’m still wading through items to list on eBay (Christmas items, no less!), with the fervent hope that all is done by the time we go to Universal Studios right after Christmas, returning in time to close on our new house.

    Traditions? Probably that nothing gets done on time! I am a procrastinator of the first degree. And even though I have to take the tree down right after Christmas, it is imperative that the kids and grandkids have a tree to sit around to open presents. At least I have a female dog now, and not the male who peed on the tree when I was a kid.

    There must be stockings, and they must be the first things opened on Christmas Day. My mother-in-law had never had a stocking, nor had my son-in-law, so they each received a needlepointed one from me. This year I’m sewing pjs for my granddaughter’s American Girl doll, with a patch to be sewn on. The patch has the doll’s name on it, and a matching patch with my granddaughter’s name on it will be sewn onto store-bought pjs for her. There’s something else that seems to be tradition with me–sewing something at the last minute.

    Now I shall not procrastinate further (this minute). I will sign off, and (maybe) accomplish something today. Merry Christmas to you!

  2. No Christmas would be complete for me without watching “White Christmas” at least twice! Along with wonderful memories of the dozens of Christmases spent on my grandparents farm in Tennessee, the one tradition that has remained is spending a cozy night with Bing, Rosemary, Vera-Ellen and Danny. The nostalgia that “White Christmas” evokes stays with me long after Christmas is over.

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