Non-Tradition Tradition

December 1, 2019 | by jamie beeson

If I asked you what colors you’d associate with Christmas, would you say red and green? What decorations do you think of when talking about Christmas: the tree, wreath, lights, Santa, and garland? What traditional Christmas foods come to mind; turkey, ham, cookies, and fruitcake? Christmas is associated with so many traditions like gift-giving, stockings, and Hallmark movies.

I love traditions; the things repeated and looked forward to that contribute to making lasting memories. I grew up with a few traditions, but one of the things I remember most about Christmas in my house was the non-tradition traditions. 

We never ate turkey on Christmas Day. We had appetizers with friends at midnight; fondue and one year, a shrimp soup that gave us all food poisoning (I wouldn’t recommend that one as a tradition!). Our dinner was never traditional, but it was always fun and unique.

My grandmother would make the same Christmas cookies each year. I loved knowing what she would unwrap in the kitchen upon her arrival. My family still loves her peanut butter balls, scotcheroos, and orange balls. But, my mom liked to shake it up. There was no predicting what she’d make…or not make. Sometimes it was homemade, sometimes bought from a bakery, and sometimes a unique, random something with our neighbors for us to try.

When it came time to decorate the tree, we didn’t pull out the box of ornaments collected from years gone by. Nope, we’d come up with a theme. Was it going to be fancy Victorian this year or Santa’s toy workshop? Maybe it would be outdoorsy with animals and pinecones. Our tree was NEVER the same. My mom and I would decorate it with handmade things, and often, we’d purchase a few things we just couldn’t pass up to create a new work of art every year.

We had the stockings and presents under the tree, but who knew when we’d open them? Sometimes, at midnight, after a few glasses of wine, my mom would decide to open them (thanks to the coercion of my brother). Other years, we’d wake to the sound of the record player playing "Here Comes Santa Claus."

I’m equal parts consistent, classic, and traditional in so many ways, but there’s another side of me that loves changing it up, creating something new, and surprising everyone with the fun. The hunt for the next non-tradition item has become a tradition.

We've had scavenger hunt gift-giving, camping out on the floor watching Christmas movies on Christmas Eve, indoor snowball fights with crumpled up printer paper, snowman pizza on Christmas Day, and writing letters to Jesus. We've done Advent with candles on our table, a Christmas countdown with Legos, and the 12 days of Christmas experiences. Christmas Eve dinners with family, with friends, and dinners with someone we barely know without family in town…all have been beautiful.

Doing things the same way every year can be very special. I’ll be honest though; I’ve watched a lot of friends stress out under the pressure to make traditions happen. It makes me wonder about the things I have accepted as normal, needed, and non-negotiable and whether that’s really necessary for the purpose. If the traditions we hold are for making special memories, I’m not sure a strung out and stressed mom with perfectly wrapped presents, all-night baking, and a daily, newly positioned, mischievous elf is the kind of memory we hope to make. I certainly don’t want my kids to remember pretty packages and bags…bags under their mom’s eyes because of her lack of sleep the entire month of December. I don’t want them to sing peaceful songs of Christmas while feeling the opposite from all of the hustle and bustle. The non-tradition tradition can suit the purpose of memory-making and sanity-saving. It allows for seasons when money is tight, or when you have no family in town. It accommodates for the year you are sick for 2 weeks, or the time when you are so busy with a new job that you decide to surprise everyone with a getaway instead of gift giveaway.

Maybe my non-tradition tradition can help you in whatever season you find yourself in this year. Here are a few ideas for you to try something new and different, maybe replace something very expensive or time-consuming, while still creating memories and space to breathe, love, and soak it all in.

Non-Tradition Traditions

1. Go International

  • Exchange books and read them with hot chocolate on Christmas Eve like the Icelandic tradition.
  • Put a spider in your tree like the Polish so he can spin a blanket for baby Jesus.

2. Draw names in your family and make handmade gifts.

3. Skip the gifts and take a vacation.

4. Give Christmas traditions to someone in need.

  • Buy a tree, stockings, and a few gifts for a family who may not be able to afford it this year.

5. Give the gift of time and experiences.

  • Buy 2 tickets to something and make a date of it with your gift recipient.

6. Light off fireworks on Christmas Eve.

7. Hold a Christmas light scavenger hunt.

  • Find things like Mickey Mouse, reindeer, and penguins as you stroll through the neighborhood.

8. Give games as gifts and host a game party on New Year’s Eve.

9. Play a fun outdoor game like snowball capture the flag or a snow tower competition.

10. Invite a single person over for dinner or someone who just moved to town.

11. Put white paper and crayons on your table for Christmas dinner. Have everyone draw their favorite Christmas memories or write about them.

Originally printed in the December 2019 issue of Simply Family Magazine

Never miss an issue, check out SFM's digital editions here! 

related articles: