For Christmas Day, our readers share their favorite holiday traditions and memories.
My family has always used holiday decorations that have been handed down on our Christmas tree. Each year, I gave my children a new decoration and I continued the tradition after they were grown and had their own trees. Now I give my grandchildren decorations that are hung from their family's tree. When they too are grown and have their own family trees, I hope they will remember their grandmom as they hang their decorations.
Jane and Roy Roberts
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We had moved about the country a bit before settling down in Wyndmoor about 35 years ago. Having no family nearby to share the joys of the season, we decided to have an open house the Sunday before Christmas. We tell everyone to come and bring nothing but themselves. We only missed one year, when my husband had a serious accident before the holidays.
We almost skipped the party one other time. It was when our sons were about 9 and 13. I was recovering from a miserable cold and said we might have to cancel. Much to our surprise, our sons were devastated. We had always thought it was our party, but they had come to see it as their holiday tradition too.
Now we are fortunate to have one son, his wife and our darling granddaughter living close by. We are especially pleased that many of our son's friends now attend with their children.
John F. Bielicki
The most meaningful holiday tradition to our family is returning to the church that I attended as a child for Mass late on Christmas Eve.
Along with my brothers and sisters and their families, we return to St. Stanislaus Church in South Philadelphia to celebrate the holy day. The quiet reverence and joyful carols seem to pull the plug on all the pre-Christmas rushing about. We have time to reflect and enjoy the true message of the birth of the Christ child.
Being in the church brings back memories of my childhood and school days in the parish. It also allows me to recall the days we celebrated here while our parents were still with us. They came with their children, as we now attend with ours. One of the few places that I genuinely feel the Christmas spirit is right there in that church, and it is important because it shows that family can sustain tradition in a most blessed way.
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When our boys were little, I used to help them think of gifts they could make for family members, and we would work together on their presents. As teenagers they became less interested in making things, so we developed a tradition that has served us well for many years.
We all go together to a thrift store, with a goal of finding gifts for the four other members of our family for a total of $10 or less, and have a good time giving hints and trying to keep secrets. While my husband and I often give a few other things as well, our gift-giving since then has been graced by some strokes of genius, many moments of humor, and a strong sense of family. If a gift bombs, it is a very small bomb and, depending on the thrift store, usually goes for a good cause.
Through this tradition we have been constantly reminded that it is our love for each other, not what we buy for each other, that is the true gift.
My husband and I collect or make Christmas ornaments from our frequent travels, no matter the season or location. Every year, we take great pleasure in discussing the memories invoked by each ornament, be it the place we're reminded of, a friend or family member who gave it to us, or even the ones that we made in honor of loved ones no longer with us.
Likewise, we have more than 60 mechanical Santas that we've collected over the years. They're very diverse, and perform many functions from the lofty (singing beautiful carols) to the more playful (which I'll leave to your imagination).
One of our favorite traditions was influenced by our great times spent in France. As a young couple in Provence, we purchased a crèche made by the artisans there. To the original nativity scene figures, we yearly add one or two new clay figures or an element that would exist in a typical provençal village. As we reminisce over each piece, we feel that we're welcoming our yearly Christmas guests into our home.
As a child, I couldn't wait to celebrate New Year's Eve as the grownups did. It seemed like they were having so much fun staying out late and welcoming the new year.
The teenage years began the next phase: Will I have a date on New Year's Eve? Then later, in a serious relationship: Will he ask me out for New Year's Eve?
As the years passed, it was important just being with people. Now, I'm relieved to be able to stay home, and I'm so glad not to have to go out and celebrate the way the grown-ups do.
When I proposed to my wife more than 27 years ago, one tradition that I had to uphold was to ask her father for her hand in marriage. At our sit-down, he made one request. He said, "Christmas Eve is my wife's favorite holiday. I know you have a family that loves you and you love them. However, I hope that as long as you and my daughter are together, you, my daughter and your children will spend Christmas Eve with our family. Not for me; for my wife."
Even though it has been hard at times to pack up the kids, the diaper bags and the gifts, we have always managed to have the Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner with my in-laws on Christmas Eve and then sleep over for Christmas Day.
One of my best holiday memories is that my Mom always made doll clothes for my favorite doll. The clothes were gift wrapped and put under the tree with "To Baby, From Santa Claus" tags.
The doll is long gone - it was rubber and she just melted away. However, I was browsing eBay one day last month and there was a doll exactly like her. The seller said he found her at an estate sale. She was in excellent shape so I sat at the computer for the last 10 minutes of the sale to make sure I was not outbid. I won. A week or so later, she arrived at my doorstep.
Having her has brought back many happy memories of Christmas 50 years ago. If Mom were still alive, I know she would be sewing baby doll clothes this very day.
Anthony J. Frascino
As young parents, we always derived great joy from the gift of giving to our children, our nieces and nephews, as well as charitable organizations. The memories of our childhoods and the great euphoria we enjoyed receiving gifts from Santa Claus, to whom our generous parents attributed all the credit, was wondrous and magical. And traveling to our relatives' houses to be further rewarded with love was just more icing on the cake. It's the beautiful tradition of one generation deriving joy from giving to another generation ebullient with receiving.
Now, as older parents, we see this wonderful tradition continue as our children, a.k.a. Santa Claus, watch their children gleefully open their presents and witness that the joy of giving far surpasses the reward of receiving.
Early in our marriage, my wife and I lived on one salary. I didn't earn much, but enough to keep the roof over our heads, provide good educations, and make sure our three girls were respectably dressed. Santa never once skipped our house, and we always had a gift, however small, for everyone we cared for, often leaving nothing to give each other.
On our fourth Christmas, though, money was very scarce. At my wits end, I started a letter apologizing for being so poor a provider. While hitting rock bottom, I rediscovered something that had been dormant in me for years. Instead of that letter, I wrote a poem, a poem about how special she was, magically crafting Christmas from virtually nothing.
My wife cherishes it to this day. I try to write a new one every year. Some years I dig deep for the perfect words, but fail. But each attempt is an annual declaration of one family's love.
For Ukrainian Americans, the Christmas Eve supper is much more than just a family gathering. It is a mystical experience, a spiritual tie that binds the generations and extends across the world. As children of war refugees who went into exile during World War II rather than submit to Soviet tyranny, my generation grew up with the image of a faraway country, enslaved by godless communism, whose Christmas customs were to be preserved and passed on to the next generation.
My family cherishes the treasury of Christmas traditions that we inherited and strives to pass on this religious-cultural heritage to our children. The midnight Divine Liturgy on Christmas Eve is the high point of the celebrations. It reminds us of the reason for the season, giving us hope for the future because of God's love of all mankind. The church rituals, with incense, Christmas trees and ancient carols, all blend into a beautiful mosaic.
We also recall those generations that have passed before us, departed family members, and those who perished in the struggle for their nation's freedom. Our family will also pray for our daughter, a U.S. Army captain who is serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.