Every year before Christmas, I spend hours stringing popcorn and cranberries with the goal of producing three long strands to drape around our Christmas tree. I do it every single year without fail -- by myself -- since my kids no longer relish the idea of pricked fingers or too-crumbly popcorn. Why do I do it? Because my mother always did it -- and her mother as well. It's a tradition I refuse to give up no matter how crazed the weeks before the holiday become. (One trick I've learned: it's easier if you let the popcorn sit out for a few hours and use dental floss.)
Before moving to the states, we lived in London for seven years. There, the tradition is to make a Christmas pudding, one that is moist and packed full of rich fruits and brandy. After all the ingredients are combined, family members are supposed to take turns stirring the mixture in a clockwise direction, while making a wish.
We no longer make Christmas pudding but I still always send out Christmas cards -- complete with a typed letter and handwritten salutation -- and we always attend a church service on Christmas Eve. We also always place Christmas crackers -- or those brightly colored tubes that usually contain a paper crown, joke and gift -- by our plates at Christmas dinner. We always decorate a gingerbread house. And we always watch "It's A Wonderful Life" as a family -- no matter how much the kids balk.
Most people love the holidays but not every family celebrates with the same yuletide customs. I've never really questioned why these traditions are so important to me but, without them, Christmas just wouldn't seem like Christmas. Indeed, it's the only time of year when this mostly free spirit is as rigid as a strip of metal. But my hope is that these annual occurrences bring some semblance of stability to the lives of my three children in a world that moves too fast and is constantly changing.
So what are your holiday traditions? We asked our Facebook fans what they absolutely have to do every December -- and here's what a few of them had to say. Have your own ideas? Let us know in comments.
1) "Putting up the tree on Thanksgiving. It's what my mom always did," said Lisa Ernest Bondeson.
3) "Decorated sugar cookies, using cookie cutters I used as a child," said Kathy McFarland Sciannella.
4) "I still have the popcorn strand from my first Christmas with my ex-husband in a glass jar; we were too poor for cranberries. I sometimes think I should let it go, but I don't want to," said Lori A. Doyle.
5) "Every year for Christmas Eve, I make a Tortiere, a peasant meat pie. It is a French-Canadian tradition. It is served with plain boiled potatoes and pickled beetroot! I will do this for the rest of time and will of course pass this on to my boys!" said Alexandra Willis.
8) "We keep a Christmas journal. Every Christmas morning, we write down all of the gifts we've received from each other and Santa. It's really fun to go back to when the kids were little and be reminded of all the kiddie toys and silly things," said Amy Chiarello Barnett.
9) "Chinese food and movie. Jewish Christmas!," said Jennifer Prost.