Small Christmas rituals

My commitment to simplifying this holiday is significant.  And it has paid off: the Christmas cards are mailed, the gifts are all bought, though not all wrapped, the tree is up.  Still, I adore Christmas and its traditions, and have some small annual rituals.

There are a few things we do every year.  Whit has a LEGO advent calendar.  Grace has an advent calendar that has 24 pockets on it, each of which holds a small card with an instruction for her.  So one day it’s “read a Christmas book to your brother” and another it’s “write a letter to your grandparents” and a third is “bake cookies for our neighbor.”  A couple people have been surprised that she is satisfied with this, in lieu of a morning chocolate or a LEGO minifig.  But … at least for now, she is.

I’m very moved by Advent, probably because of its themes of darkness and the promise of light.  I have several books about it, and this year I’m dipping into Watch For the Light.  More evenings than not I open the window of my small third-floor office and stick my head out into the cold, watching the sun go down across the streets, the glow of the sunset filtered through the black branches of the tree I know practically as well as my own hand.

We have a big green boxwood wreath on the front door, around which I tie the same wide length of celadon green satin ribbon every year.  Our tree is decked with ornaments we’ve been collecting since we were married, and dotted with a few from my own childhood that Mum gave me.  Each year for the past several I’ve had personalized ornaments made for Grace and Whit, too: a silhouette one year, doll-like, cloth faces another, their names on porcelain circles a third.  When the tree was decorated, the angel sitting proudly on its crown (every year), Grace leaned back and looked at it carefully.

“Why is it that some peoples’ trees are more fancy, Mummy?” she asked me.

“What do you mean, fancy?’

“I mean … you know, all gold, or all silver, or the ornaments match.”

“Well, Grace, our ornaments don’t match but they all have a story to them.”

She thought this over for a minute, gazing at the tree, before saying, “Oh.  So I guess our tree isn’t fancy, but it is full of love.”


I adore this 24 days of books tradition that the Gutsy Mom posted – check it out.  She gathers 24 Christmas or seasonal books, wraps each in twine or ribbon, and labels them with a day.  Each day they read that day’s book.  I think this is marvelous and I hope to try it next year.

And even though I listen to Christmas carols year-round, they are still important to me in this season.  We are listening to two CDs on repeat: the Lower Lights’ Come Let Us Adore Him and a homemade one of all of my old favorites.  I come by my obsession with Christmas carols honestly: my father played his CDs of Kings College Choir singing old-fashioned hymns from Halloween to Valentine’s Day.  I’ve also grown fond of some more modern interpretations, in particular Annie Lennox’s (among them, Universal Child), Shawn Colvin’s (Love Came Down at Christmas), and a couple by the Barenaked Ladies.  Oh, and Sugarland’s Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel, which I’m especially obsessed with lately.

My friends and I have an annual Secret Santa tea, complete with champagne, at a marvelous place in town that’s lit with sparkling pink lights.  Grace and Whit and I will bake several batches of cookies and decorate them.  We will exchange gifts and celebrate with our extended family, the stool, and hopefully take our annual photograph of the whole clan (C’s reindeer headgear included).  While I generally dislike scented candles, there is one called Forest, with a faint smell of pine and winter, that I adore, and it’s burning this whole season.  Sadly, we will miss a couple of my favorite holiday traditions, my parents’ annual Solstice ball and carol-signing on Christmas Eve with my oldest friend, though it’s for a very good reason.

How do you celebrate this season, whatever it means to you?

14 thoughts on “Small Christmas rituals”

  1. We, too, fill our tree with handmade or special ornaments. I had to initially get over not having a “Macy’s tree” (as my husband refers to it) but it’s easy to get over when my children squeal and laugh over old pasta noodle doves and pictures of them, fat as cherubs, on Santa’s lap.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful traditions!

  2. Oh, yes, the noodles … we also have the ones made of dough that are so heavy they bend a branch to the floor. Sigh. Those are memories, I tell myself!

  3. Not sure if you caught my post yesterday, but it was very much along the same lines! You and I share some surprisingly similar rituals. When we put a tree up, it’s with all the bluebird ornaments I’ve been collecting since I was a little girl. I love baking cookies. I’m going to a swanky teahouse with friends on Saturday. I love sending cards, and those are all in the mail, as are the modest cache of gifts. Today I need to get my Navajo nativity set out!

  4. I dip into Watch for the Light every year – I love it – and listen to Christmas music from Thanksgiving to well after the New Year. We always go to a Christmas Eve service, wherever we happen to be – this year it will be at the church I grew up in, for the first time in a while. And our tree, too, is full of mismatched ornaments. I LOVE them.

  5. It will come as no surprise that our approach to the holidays is very the same. Our house is decorated with ornaments that all have a story to tell. We do a family advent tradition whereby, much like Grace’s we open an envelope each day and do an activity as a family. My gifts are bought (though as yet unwrapped!), and they sit waiting for a cozy night when I’ll sip egg nog and wrap them by a hot fire. We try, at all costs, to avoid shopping in the month of December because I prefer to keep the time free for family and friends.

    You’ve inspired me, I think I’ll write a similar post for later this week.

  6. Oh, my dad still plays his record of the King’s College carols every Christmas morning. Those songs, as much as anything, bring christmas day to me.
    Our tree is also filled with meaning, though it’s not yet up. But the scent of pine is essential. As are cookies aplenty, cards, caroling, cocoa and hot cider.
    But we’re still growing our traditions. Our early years together were filled with holiday travel and fitting into the traditions of our extended families.

  7. I think your tree is just beautiful. It’s lovely that each ornament is meaningful. Your advent calendar is a great idea. My family didn’t do that when I was growing up.
    These days it seems to take an effort to ensure that the holidays are personal and simple. Bravo to you for making that effort.

  8. My son is just two, so this is the first year that I’ve really been thinking about traditions, and how I want to shape them. I’m still straddling the line between the past and the future. The one thing I did this year was the advent calendar of books. I bought a bunch of Christmas books and wrapped them. Every night he picks one and we read it. I love your idea of the advent calendar with holiday activities.

  9. I thought I was the only one who liked Sugarland:) We have a lego advent calendar too, although I am not so sure about it as tonight I had to put a jail together. (Seriously?? It’s Christmas, right?)

    Tell Grace I think your tree looks very beautiful and fancy. I can definitely see the love!!

  10. Lindsey – Thanks so much for the introduction to Kings College Choir. I know I have likely heard this choir before, but never put the name to the music, and now I realize how this music embodies the season and the Christmas feeling for me. I loved Christmas so much as a child and young adult. As much as I love spending it with my husband and children and extended families, I find the whole season to be very commercial and stressful. I try to rise above it all, the way you seem to have successfully been able to do, but I am not there yet. HOWEVER – the minute I put on this Kings College Choir music, I swear, my body and mind start to relax, and I feel more at peace in every way. Once again, thank you Lindsey!! I love your daily posts, they bring me such comfort and joy!
    P.S. Love the Secret Santa Tea you have with your friends, I may have to suggest a new tradition to start with mine… : )

Comments are closed.