I just love having family traditions-for any holiday. I love the continuity and sense of belonging that they can bring to a family.
Family traditions are a funny thing-sometimes they are done because they are a family tradition from the previous generation (Type A) or because someone has consciously decided to start a tradition (Type B). But sometimes you get a totally unplanned tradition, just because someone did something a certain way a couple of times in a row (Type C). A lady in my MOPs group has a tradition like that-one year her mom made grilled cheese and tomato soup for Christmas Eve dinner because things were so hectic. The next year she did the same for the same reason. By the third year the kids were ready to pitch a fit if she served anything else. Now the daughter is serving the same thing to her own kids for Christmas Eve dinner. It’s become a tradition!
Now, traditions don’t have to be big, or expensive. Most of us who celebrate Christmas have some of the same traditions for our kids-writing a Christmas list and sending it to Santa; going to sit on Santa’s lap and asking for specific presents; leaving out milk and cookies for Santa (and frequently carrots for the reindeer!). None of these things cost much-unless you pay for those overpriced photos with Santa. . .
Here are a few additional FrugalUpstate family traditions, along with what type they are.
First off, to be fair and truthful, I need to tell you about two very unfrugal Christmas traditions that we have.
#1-I decided (and my wonderful DH agreed) when we first got married that it would be fun to buy a Dept 56 Snow Village house every year to create a whole “village” (B). Of course we had to start the first year with the Harley shop and that looked lonely so we got the firehouse to go with it. These puppies run between $40 and $100 each, so this is a rather EXPENSIVE holiday tradition. We like it though, and as long as we can afford it, we will continue it.
#2-Each year since we’ve been together, I’ve asked DH what he’d like for Christmas dinner. We had a varied menu for the first few years, until one year when he said “Surf and Turf”. I made very good steaks (chosen totally by price) wrapped in bacon and topped with blue cheese, and we got Lobsters and steamed them at home. 4 years later we are still doing this (C). This feast doesn’t always fall on Christmas, for logistical reasons the day can vary somewhat. But sometime between the 24th and the 31st we have steak and lobster. As you can imagine, this is not a cheap meal. To be honest though, it is much cheaper than if we went OUT and ate the same thing. . .
Now, on to the actual Frugal portion of our show:
Decorating the Tree
In my family growing up, decorating the tree was a whole family affair (A). Ok, Dr. Ted and I, once we got old enough, usually got stuck with stringing the lights up, but after that was done the tree didn’t get decorated till everyone was available. Once my oldest sister went to college this morphed into stringing up the lights then waiting til Christmas Eve when she was home to decorate the tree. So in the FrugalUpstate household we maintain the tradition of decorating the tree as a family. Frequently we invite whatever extended family we can get hold of to participate as well. (in various locations this has included Bick & , Dr. Ted, and Cici) Now since we live so close to Nana, she is included in the Festivities. As you can imagine, once you own the decorations, trimming the tree doesn’t actually cost anything.
A more recent addition to the tree trimming scheme was my idea to give a nod to the wonderful years that DH and I spent in Germany while in the Army. Over there at the Christkindlesmarkt (outdoor Christmas fairs) there were always booths serving hot potato pancakes and gluhwien (a mulled red wine). So on Christmas Tree Decorating Day I make potato pancakes and gluhwien (ok, so I’ve actually bought the gluhwien) (B). Potatoes are downright cheap most of the time, and the gluehwien can be made with a very mediocre red-after all you are adding sugar and stuff to it (I love that this recipe tells you to “use cheap wine”).
To make the whole event even more festive, we play Christmas music (of course) and DH wears a Santa hat while I wear a headband with reindeer antlers. Lots of fun is usually had by all.
Another tree trimming related tradition is that each person in the family gets an ornament on Christmas Eve to put on the tree. (A) My parents did that with all of us, and when I moved out on my own I got a collection of 20 odd ornaments to start out my tree with. DH and I started giving each other ornaments when we were married, and have continued with the children. Now, this is one of those traditions that could be very expensive, or fairly cheap depending on how you attack it.
I will admit that for the actual ornaments we frequently wind up buying the Hallmark versions, which can run into some money (although there are some that aren’t so bad). We also buy ornaments in other places as well. Christmas tree ornaments are so popular now that you can find them in many different places, and frequently for just a few dollars each. Or, if you are a crafty type you could take a hand at making a few.
We tend to try to pick an ornament that matches the person’s interests or events in their life that year. Sometimes we will get an ornament while on a trip to remind the family of that time. With this tradition trimming the tree becomes a trip down memory lane as we look at each ornament and remember when we got them and why that particular ornament was chosen for us. (Like explaining to the kiddos that the reason I have a small golden flute is because I used to play it in Jr. High and High school. Or to tell Princess that the reason one of hers is a paper mache tiger is because when she was 2 she talked about tigers all the time).
The Advent Calendar.
Growing up we always had a couple of the paper Advent Calendars with the little windows that you open up tacked to the fridge for the holidays. Come to think of it, my mom probably bought us each one so that there wouldn’t be world war III over who got to open the little doors. Princess received a wooden chest of drawers style Advent Calendar from Grandpa Bones a few years ago (sort of like this one). My first impulse was to put some candy or stickers in each drawer, but then DH and I decided that was putting too much emphasis on GETTING.
So instead we bought a small tabletop tree and 24 mini ornaments. Each drawer gets an ornament, and each day the kids get to open up a drawer and add an ornament to their tree (B). It sounds silly but you should see how excited they get. Since the set of drawers was a gift, the tree and ornaments are a one time cost-after the first year it is a non cost tradition. Now that Buddy is old enough to take part, we also buy a paper one, and we take turns each day-one child gets to open a drawer, the other gets to open the flap on the paper one.
Of course, the initial outlay for the wooden cabinet is expensive, but there are many cloth pocket style Advent Calendars these days, I’ve even seen some at the dollar store made out of felt. You could either put a small treat in the pocket, or do the tree and ornament thing. Or you could make your own using one of these free Advent Calendar patterns. There are even free online Advent calendars. I’ll post some of those on the 1st!
Coming Wednesday (tomorrow is the Festival Roundup)-a continuation with the Advent Wreath, Jesus’s Birthday, Gingerbread Houses, The Night Before Christmas, the Christmas Pageant, mini trees and the Light Drive.