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Holiday Traditions from Friends

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I grew up in a family of traditions, especially around the holidays. This is partly because I grew up in the church with both grandfathers and my own father serving as pastors, so annual church traditions such as candlelight services and Christmas pageants became our own family’s traditions as well. Sometimes that meant added stress as we frantically ran out the door, dragging coats and hats, complaining about another choir practice, crying that we couldn’t find our other shoe, begging our parents to let us stay home. But mostly, the memory of these traditions represents connection, family and stability when–looking back–many of those things were just beginning to fall apart for us.

While the meaning behind many of these traditions were obvious and shared with many other families, there are some traditions whose origins are a bit unclear, like the chocolate covered cherries. For as long as I can remember, every Christmas gathering with my dad’s side of the family, we would huddle in a big circle–one that once fit in my grandparents’ living room but eventually grew to the conference room of a Holiday Inn where we all stayed overnight. We sang carols, listened to little cousins perform piano recital pieces and passed babies from lap to lap. Eventually, the evening would come to the part where my grandpa handed out envelopes of money to every family member (which my dad would always open and yell to his brothers, “Did you get cruise tickets too? Oh my gosh! Thanks, Dad!”) and begin calling the names of the daughter-in-laws and granddaughters, one by one. When your name was called, you walked up and took your wrapped box. The contents of the box were always the same–chocolate covered cherries. I don’t know that anybody ever even ate them or liked them, but the gift had nothing to do with that. It was about belonging to a family. My grandparents never had a daughter, but by the time they passed away, they had a family of women who loved them–women who married their sons and the daughters their sons raised. This silly tradition was simply my grandpa’s way of telling us that we belonged and we were loved. As grandsons grew, dated, became engaged and eventually brought their fiancees to the family Christmas, hearing the name of the new Cryderman woman called for the first time to come receive her box of chocolate cherries from Grandpa became a celebrated welcome to the family, followed by hoots and hollers of aunts and uncles. It’s been over ten years since my grandpa passed away, and while the large family gatherings don’t happen as much anymore, the cherries find their way in to our traditions now and then to remind us that we are connected and loved. In fact, I packed a wrapped box in my suitcase for Chicago last weekend and pulled it out to give to my cousin when we met up.

“I almost forgot, I have something for you.”

She smiled as soon as she saw the box. “I bet I know what’s in here.”

The cherries, most likely, got tossed–that sugary slimy goo that holds them together always the deterrent. But our love for our grandpa, the family he created, and our support of each other is remembered. We are loved, and we belong.

We have continued with several other holiday traditions we grew up with–Christmas pajamas, following a string to Santa’s “big gift,” cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning–and have started many new traditions for our own family like setting up a reindeer runway in the driveway and a big family swim party Christmas day.

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The only rule we have about traditions is that they can’t cause stress–no worries if we skip it, no pressure if it fizzles out. And we don’t force ourselves to continue a tradition just to continue a tradition. If it doesn’t mean something, if we aren’t having fun with it, let it go (can’t tell you how many years we’ve skipped getting a picture with Santa because we were over it). We use traditions and rituals to inspire us, to bring us together and to deepen the grooves of a message we hope our kids know well–that no matter what they do, where they go or what happens in their lives, there are comforting constants as sure as the sun above, amid all the things that change–and that is that they are loved and they belong.

I am inspired by the different ways my friends celebrate holidays–some bold and colorful; others quiet and calm. All of it is good, and I feel so lucky for the ways the online world has allowed us to connect, celebrate together and learn from each other. I’ve asked some of my fellow bloggers, writers and friends to share a favorite tradition or moment from the holidays, and I’m so happy to have their words and photos in this space today. I was looking at this little collection of women this morning and feeling so grateful for each of their spaces online and the way they’ve inspired me. If you don’t follow them…give yourself a little Christmas present and add their hearts and words to your input list.

Ashley Ann 

Blog: Under the Sycamore,  Instagram: @underthesycamore

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Every year when we pack up our stockings, we each write out our hopes and goals for the coming year on little slips of paper and slide them into our stockings. The little papers are to be pulled out again when the stockings are unpacked the following November. Tiny papers filled with hopes for pregnancies, adoptions, job changes, traveling, etc…and then the dreams the kids add like dancing everyday, learning to read, camping with friends, running a 5K, and so many more. As kids grow, the hopes and dreams evolve and we’ve spent many November nights laughing, crying, and celebrating as we pull out those little strips of paper.

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Erin Loechner

Blog: Design for Mankind, Instagram: @erinloechner

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We have a fairly minimal approach to traditions in our house — less is definitely more! Instead, it’s the everyday stuff of the season we seek after – the lingering puzzle, the Bing Crosby album, making candied pecans for neighbors – and we do our best to integrate those small treats all season long. I find that what my family appreciates most about the holidays is a stronger sense of togetherness, so we’re often rejiggering something special for whatever life stage we’re all in. Our current “tradition”? Making a massive cardboard fort (city?!) from the influx of Amazon boxes this time of year!

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Kari Jensen

Blog: Living Life’s Moments, Instagram: @livinglifesmoments

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This time of year, we tend to live out various traditions that invites magic into our home. But I have to say my favorite is making lefse with my grandmother, my mom, and my three daughters. The past couple years especially, it’s grown to be even more special and savoring. My grandma is 88 years old and is teaching us her trade so that we can continue to enjoy this tasteful, meaningful, tradition for many years to come.

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Jessica Honegger

Instagram: @jessicahoneggger

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It’s been really helpful for me to be asked the question of what holiday traditions and rituals I cherish, because to be honest I struggle with finding rituals that make sense for my family during this busy season. Although I admire ritual and tradition, I’m not much of a ritualistic person—I love to change things up. Add that to our nomadic holiday ways (visiting family in the Midwest, other parts of Texas, Florida, etc) and it makes it difficult to establish traditions that stick. But there are some things we love to do that have added meaning to the holiday season for us. Last year for first time, we created an “advent calendar of kindness” as a family. Each day of advent, we brainstormed a way we could do good for others. We baked and took cookies to the local fire station (which we had never visited before), paid for the person behind us in the drive-thru, donated financially to an adoptive family and called them up to encourage them. It was so fun for us to do as a family, and kept us focused on the “reason for the season.” We also have started a semi-tradition (if you’re crazy inconsistent with it does it count as a tradition? I sure hope so!) of having a big holiday party at our house and passing the hat for International Justice Mission, to aid them in their mission of freeing people from slavery around the world. We do it up big, with paper invites and everything! Working in the retail industry can make the holiday season (also known as “Q4”) a crazy time for us, but as a family, we are feeling our way along and finding the rituals and traditions that make the holiday season feel special and meaningful.”

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Shauna Niequist

Website, Instagram: @shaunaniequist

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I’m pretty terrible at traditions—I get an idea, and then I do it twice and then forget about it and then at some point, my kids are like, “Wait, what about that thing? That elf? That calendar? That ornament tradition?” OOPS. Routines and traditions are not my best things, but there are a couple that I work hard on, and one is the Advent Book. Each day you get to open a new door, and every page has one short part of the Christmas story. We keep the book under the tree, and every night in December, we sit by the tree before bed and take turns opening the doors and reading the pages. We each pick our favorite doors, and anyone who comes over gets to join us in the reading—grandparents, friends, houseguests. If you come to our house in December, get ready to snuggle up and read the Advent book.

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I love reading together at the end of the day—that’s something we do all year round. And I love hearing the words of the Christmas story, a little more every night. In a season that can get overrun with stuff and stress and expectations so easily, I love that the reading of the Advent book is a grounding point every day: simplicity, physical touch, the light from the tree, the heart of the story.

Casey Leigh Wiegand

The Wiegands@caseyleighwiegand

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Holidays and events are such a sweet way to bond with your little ones, make them feel special and create lasting memories. It’s such an opportunity right there at your fingertips to make them feel extra special, to pull out the magic. I can still remember the way I felt as a child each year, each holiday with my family all around. My mom always went above and beyond- it has been something that I have desperately wanted to pass on to my own littles.

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While our babies grow and things change…..the family holiday traditions that matter stay the same. The moments in the kitchen making the sugar cookies, the way it makes them feel…..the memories and the music while we decorate their rooms and the little ways that we can make things special all throughout the month.

Nici Holt Cline

Blog: Dig This Chick, Instagram: @digthischick

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Every year, on the eve of the Winter Solstice, I sew nightgowns for my daughters. They wake in the dark, cold morning and have a little hunt to find their new pjs. I love sewing for my kids and my approach has changed over the years…at 8 and 10, it is no longer a given that they will love my creations.

This last Summer Solstice, I again made nightgowns (because Tradition!) even though my eldest doesn’t like nightgowns. She wore it but it didn’t bring her joy because it wasn’t her style. I had dug in to my tradition, ignoring the reason I have the tradition…time to shake up.

So this Winter Solstice, I included my kids in the fabric and pattern selection. And, you know what? It was better than ever. They still woke to new pjs, still felt surprise and now, they also feel a sense of creative ownership.

My kids are my favorite teachers and this year I am learning that our rituals need to evolve if we are to remain present and appreciative, if we are to truly understand the importance and purpose of tradition in the first place.

Tiffany Gray

Instagram: @thegraygang

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My favorite family tradition goes down in the wee hours of Christmas morning – usually before the sunrise. My kids awake to find their stuffed stockings hanging by the doorknob of the door belonging to their bedroom. This is something that my mother passed down to me. Then they all gather, armed with their stockings & hot coco, into our bed. My husband reads The Christmas Carol; as a child, we would watch the film every Boxing Day. It was always my dad cry – so in a way, this is a small tribute to him. Then they open their stockings and get all the predictable things: chocolate coins, fuzzy socks, glow sticks, playing cards, model clay —  but in each one of their stockings is a teeny-tiny piece of wrapping paper – and its that wrapping paper who tells them which gifts belong to them under the tree as I don’t label them. Its the best of times and my heart is 2.2 seconds away from exploding…these are the moments I will miss the most when I am old & grey & gone.

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Claire Bidwell Smith

Website, Instagram: @clairebidwellsmith

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My mother died when I was a teenager, so the holidays are always especially poignant for me. Getting to share the same traditions now with my two young daughters that my mother started is particularly meaningful to me, and evokes her presence in our home and hearts. While there are so many traditions we carry on, my favorite one involves taking a moment at the end of each night to turn off all the lights of the house and stand in the quiet glow of the Christmas tree, for just a moment, before going to bed. My children do this with reverence, and I almost always feel like my mother is with us when we do.


Favorite Tradition from the holiday? This is my jam. DO TELL.

Permission to Cheat on Holiday Cookies and Other Allowances and a $200 Giveaway

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 This post is sponsored by RetailMeNot. All of the holiday allowances in this post help save time and cushion my sanity to preserve this season so that I’m enjoying it rather than scrambling to perform in it. They also happen to include savings from Retail Me Not so that my wallet gets cushioned too.

“I’m all ready for the holidays and there’s nothing for me to do except sit back and listen to Bing Crosby on repeat until December 25″…said no one ever. December can be an ironic month for many–the intention to gather, slow down and enjoy our bounty can often just create pressure that makes us feel stretched, stressed and anything but bountiful.

I, of course, don’t hide the fact that I love this time of year. We create bucket lists, plan holiday adventures and get dizzy with excitement over parties and decorating and watching loved ones to open gifts that we put our hearts into. But I wouldn’t enjoy it if my expectations didn’t come with the cushion of allowances I give myself–to simplify where I can and use as many resources available so that celebrating the season doesn’t mean stretching ourselves thin or feeling guilty for what we did or didn’t do.

Whether it’s scratching the homemade meal you planned and ordering pizza instead for Polar-Express-and-living-room-fort night or laughing at the fact that you never found the time to finish the homemade gift you planned for your sister so you ordered her those red shoes she’s had her eye on instead (20% off though, so yay!), RetailMeNot basically serves as the hubbub of savings for you this season with thousands of coupons, deals, cash back offers (that can be combined with codes!) and discount e-gift cards. Instead of rummaging through old mail for that pizza coupon you may have saved or scrolling through e-mails for holiday deal offers, RetailMeNot puts all the best deals and savings out there in one easy-to-find spot. We used deals we found on RetailMeNot for all of these holiday allowances this year:

1. Permission to knock off both “Decorate a Gingerbread House” and “Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza” with a pack of store bought gingersnaps and some candy. 

Pssttt: here’s a little tip. World Market has these dangerously delicious gingersnaps that serve as the perfect blank canvases for frosting and sprinkles. They also have the best pack of Christmas cookie candies I’ve found, all packaged in one easy-to-store container.

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While we love baking cookies, not everyone does–not to mention the mess. So if you’re looking for a cookie cheat, this is the perfect solution. RetailMeNot has several current offers for World Market right now from food (so many great specialty holiday food items there!) to gifts.

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2. Permission to order out as many nights as you please in December.

Hear ye, hear ye: If you have fed your family from January to November and they’re all still standing, your job is done. You put in your time, you did your deed, here’s your gold star. They just enjoyed the most extravagant spread of food for the year on Thanksgiving, they’ll be fine with whatever from here on out. This month, you have the freedom to order pizza, subs, sushi and count them all as “special holiday meals.” In fact, let the kids eat on T.V. trays while watching Home Alone–they’ll love it.

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We never remember to keep the coupons in our mail-outs for local restaurants, so we use RetailMeNot to find great food deals…like 25% off for Papa Johns the other night.

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3. Permission to be a sentimental heap at the holidays. Oh, this one’s hard for me–I always feel like I have to rein in the feels because mine are wild stallions. Whoa, horsey! But, you know what? It’s the holidays, and if I want to roll into a fetal position and cry it out at the ending of Family Stone or go all mushy gushy over the Hallmark ornaments that remind me of my kids’ first Christmases, then so be it.

(little Goodnight Moon…Nella’s pick at the Hallmark store with a $5-off-$10-purchase code we found on RetailMeNot)

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I have a heart, and I intend to let it bleed all the emotions this holiday.

4. Permission to celebrate however you like.

Don’t like telling your kids the whole Santa story? Very well then. Take Santa to the moon? Very well then too. Elf on the Shelf stresses you out? Honey, you’re in good company. Two hours of Elf on a Shelf preparation for the lego tower in the shape of the Empire State building you made him build last night? High five, you go girl. There are so many ways to celebrate the season and opportunities for both wonder and imagination as well as simplicity and gratitude. You find what works best for your family, what draws you together, what makes you come alive, what aligns with your values and your beliefs. This season is about love, and whether or not you sprinkle magic glitter all over it really doesn’t matter. Each of our traditions are unique and tell a different story, and that’s what makes the holidays so colorful. No matter what my neighbor believes or how many holiday ideas I read about online, I give myself permission to create our own family memories in the language of love we speak.

Ours happens to come with a side of glitter.

(The kids fell in love with this teeny tiny bottle of magic reindeer dust, another Hallmark deal on RetailMeNot).
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5. Permission to not get the most thoughtful/unique/homemade/perfect gift. 

Listen, I love to find unique “Wow!” gifts just as much as the next person, but that puts a lot of pressure on the giver, and sometimes receivers aren’t into handmade pottery mugs like I am. There’s nothing wrong with an easy click-to-buy gift card. I buy gift cards for my nieces because I was a teen girl once and know that shopping for makeup in Sephora at that age with money that isn’t earmarked for books/gas/paying your mom back is the golden ticket. And we buy gift cards for teachers because I was a teacher once and know that a go-buy-something-fun-that’s-not-related-to-your-classroom nudge is a huge hug from parents. RetailMeNot has a large collection of discounted e-gift cards that you can send to loved ones far away without facing the post office, or you can print off and creatively package for someone near.

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And now that you’ve given yourself permission to enjoy these holidays in whatever fashion works for you, here’s a little bonus gift from our friends at RetailMeNot: They’re offering $200 to one lucky winner. To enter the giveaway, click here to sign up for RetailMeNot, browse their website and comment back on this post with the deal you’re excited to use for holiday shopping this year!

You can download the RetailMeNot app to save on everything, and when you snag a great deal, share your savings on social media with #DealBrag.

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Now I’m going to give myself permission to lie on my couch for twenty minutes and finish this book I’ve reading.

New Christmas (and Thanksgiving!) Kids’ Books and Puzzles for Holiday Break Fun

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With our first holiday break coming up next week, we are beginning to plan some of our fun traditions that make our holidays and time at home so memorable. Pulling out our collection of children’s Christmas books is definitely one of them, but we also love little holiday activities we’ve done over the years that have now become traditions such as tackling a Christmas puzzle as a family, playing games together and bringing along some Christmas-themed coloring and activity books on holiday travel adventures. This year, we’re repeating one of our favorite trips we took last year, returning to Chicago for a weekend of Christmas wonder; and I’m giddy just thinking about it. One of the things that the kids LOVED and helped make our trip go a little more smoothly last year was planning ahead and packing little Christmas activities and games to pull out in restaurants, before bed, etc. It made the trip so special, and I can’t wait to surprise them again with our holiday-themed activity bag for this year’s trip. And heck yeah we’re playing Christmas Bingo while we wait for our pizza at Giordano’s.  L

If you missed our holiday book list last year, I shared 24 of our favorite children’s Christmas books that we read before bed every night in December. Our new favorite Christmas books and activities for this year:

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1. Thanksgiving in the Woods. This book has given me new life goals–host a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 people in the woods…at night…with twinkle lights. I mean, come on.  And here’s the best part–this book is based on a true story of a real couple in upstate New York who have been doing this on their farm for twenty years. The photos are simply beautiful–warm, cozy, inspiring. Published just last month, this story will give you all the holiday feels.

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2. Red and LuluI just read this to my kids, and they loved it. Accompanied by beautiful, wintery photos, this story follows the journey of the tree that was chosen to be Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and the two birds that lived in it before it was cut down. The photos change from beautiful country scenes to festive Christmas-in-the-City illustrations.

3. The Little Reindeer. The understated black-and-white illustrations in this book are magical, enhanced with red foil and interactive die cuts. The sweet story follows a friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer–perfect for pre-bed snuggles in Christmas pajamas.

4. The 12 Sleighs of Christmas. I love everything Chronicle publishes. This brand new release will delight kids with its imaginative details and humor. The elves discover Santa’s sleigh is broken, so they dream up designs for a new one and their creations–inspired by tractors, motorcycles, space ships and more–are hilarious.

6. Pick a Pine Tree. I LOVE the drawings in this book–so colorful and festive with a little retro vibe. And little kids will love the rhyming.

7. The Everything Kids’ Christmas Puzzle & Activity Book. Whether you’re traveling for the holidays, sitting at a restaurant waiting for food or want to have some fun entertainment at the holiday kids’ table, this book is chocked full of holiday-themed mazes, puzzles, brain teasers, hidden pictures, word searches and fun tidbits of information about everything Christmas.

8. A Little Christmas Tree The illustrations in this book are beautiful, but the story is what makes it special. Told from the perspective of a tree who wanted so badly to be picked by a family for their Christmas tree, this story follows the little tree as he has to accept that his dream may not come true, due to a broken branch that changed his fate. His mother always told him that someday he would bring a family the true meaning of Christmas, but all hope is lost as he watches his branches get thrown in the fire. The last bits of his wood are saved though…and carved into a baby in a manger to be given to a little girl by her grandpa. (and free shipping on this book right now until November 22).                                                        

9. Christmas Stories. All the great winter wonder from Laura Ingalls Wilder in one book, each chapter holds a wonderful read-aloud story perfect before bed. This is a reillustrated paperback edition that includes bonus material with games and activities. Nobody does winter stories like Laura Ingalls Wilder…swoon.

10. The Night Before Christmas Coloring Book. I’m super picky about coloring books, especially Christmas ones, but this one passes the test. All the beautiful illustrations that made Charles Santore’s picture book version of this a New York Times bestseller are in here, and they’re dreamy.

11. Christmas Morning Christmas Puzzle. I love puzzles, but I have a few rules about how they work with us. 500-piece are my favorite, and I like beautiful illustrations or photographs that have a variety of patterns and colors to keep us from getting frustrated. There’s a Christmas puzzle out there that’s a photograph of about 5 billion candy canes tangled together, and I want to punch the person who made it in the face. Nothing more frustrating that not being able to distinguish one puzzle piece from another. This one has enough variation to keep you from losing your mind and creates the sweetest Christmas scene when finished.

12. Sweet Christmas Mini Puzzle. One of my favorite memories from our Christmas in Chicago trip last year was sitting in the cafe at the top of the John Hancock Building, drinking hot chocolate, looking out at the snowy city and completing a mini puzzle together. When Lainey heard we were going again this year, she asked if we could do that again, so I found this perfect little Christmas puzzle to tuck in my purse that day.

13. Christmas Party 60-piece Puzzle. This darling Christmas party scene is cut down to only 60 pieces, so it’s easier for the little ones to help.


Tomorrow’s Friday…followed by a short week before all the festivities begin, so the mood is rising over here. Happy Thursday!