New Christmas Traditions
After having spent the month of December in Europe last year, it was fun to be back home with my family in Wichita this Christmas. My sister and brother in law were in town from Chicago, my pup was looking very merry for the occasion, and we were all looking forward to celebrating one of our favorite holidays together.
But this year, our family actually decided to do things a little differently and take a few new Christmas traditions for a little “test run”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved many of the traditions that our family has had for years — from spending time with friends and family, candlelight Christmas Eve services, lots and lots of great food, and more. But in years past, many of those traditions also revolved around presents. Lots and lots of presents. And thus, lots and lots of money spent. Like anyone, I love receiving presents, but none of us really need more stuff. And if anything, we’d would rather give to those who could really use the extra help around the holidays. So for the first time this year, our entire family decided to scale back big time on gift giving and spending.
Granted, we didn’t cut out all gifts. My mom, especially, is a very thoughtful gift giver and enjoys picking out little things for everyone throughout the year, so we agreed to at least continue our tradition of small stocking gifts on Christmas morning. And we all decided to go in as a family and invest in 23 and Me genetic testing (I know, we’re nerds!) around the holidays. But beyond that, we decided to simplify this Christmas and focus on the gift of spending time with one another.
So to take the place of the time we might usually spend unwrapping presents, we spent the weeks leading up to Christmas brainstorming and talking as a family about what new traditions we might like to try out instead. I think we were all an equal mix of anxious/curious how it would turn out, but I’m happy to report that this Christmas ended up being a very merry success!
Here’s the story…
Well first, I should probably start by mentioning that some traditions didn’t change. First up — making time amongst family activities to see new and old friends.
After being out of town last year, I was so happy to spend a morning catching up over a long breakfast with my longtime friend, Meg, as has been our tradition for years.
And then I also got to meet up for coffee with my new blogging friend, Erin, who also happens to be from the ‘Ta and was home visiting her family.
We also continued our favorite foodie traditions. Whenever I go home to Wichita, it’s a guaranteed “must” that we hit up our favorite local Vietnamese restaurant (Saigon) as well as a few Mexican restaurants (El Paisa and La Fiesta), because there’s no such thing as too much Mexican food in our family.
We also enjoyed an outstanding feast with extended family at my aunt and uncle’s on Christmas Eve, as is our tradition. I forgot to snap a picture of the food (and my aunt even made my Cranberry Pistachio Baked Brie as an appetizer), but I did catch their adorable little poodle licking the dishes clean, as is his tradition. Smart guy.
I also woke up early (well, 8am) and made cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.
And then we had our traditional shrimp peel with the family for Christmas lunch. So much good food!
We also continued our tradition of attending the candlelight Christmas Eve service at the church where I grew up. We sang lots of carols, we lit candles (and tried not to yelp, as always, when that hot wax drips onto our hands during Silent Night!), we saw old friends, and together we all got to pause and let the truth of Emmanuel encourage us once again.
And then there were the new traditions…
New Christmas Tradition #1: Family Craft Time
About 5 years ago, my parents (for the first and only time after having lived in their house for 20 years) had mice get into the basement. And the one thing those pesky creatures decided to munch on was the box of Christmas ornaments that we’ve had since childhood. I know, big bummer. I made some darn cute homemade Christmas ornaments at age 5.
So for a new activity on Christmas day, my sister and I surprised our parents with a box of clay to make a new batch of homemade Christmas ornaments. The girls in the family are definitely crafty, so I knew that we would enjoy craft time. But I was a little curious what my dad, brother-in-law, and grandma would think of the idea.
As it turns out, whether you’re young or old, I’m pretty positive everyone still loves to play with clay. :)
We had so much fun making these new ornaments!
Everyone — even my grandma in her eighties — got really into it and spent time carefully crafting their clay masterpieces. It was all really easy too. We just used a rolling pin, cookie cutters, straws (to make holes for string), toothpicks and paring knives to make our little creations. Then we popped them in the oven to bake, and tied them with string.
So cute, so fun, and so easy. Win-win-win.
Henry tried to stay awake for all of the crafting fun, but ended up taking a long winter’s nap under the table instead.
New Christmas Tradition #2: Volunteering Together
This next tradition was one I’ve wanted to start for years — volunteering together during Christmas.
I should start by mentioning that my parents are already incredible volunteers. You know, the type who don’t even think twice about giving hours upon hours of their time each week to spend with non-profs or working on projects with their church. It’s just how they roll, which is amazing.
So instead of hitting the stores on the day after Christmas to spend gift cards, we decided to spend the morning volunteering at a local homeless resource center that our church helps support. We organized canned goods, helped with filing projects, and got to spend the morning meeting some great new people in the process.
We’ve done this as a family countless times before, but I think we all really enjoyed getting to serve together specifically around Christmas. I look forward to doing this again.
(Fun fact: one of the staff members told us that Wichita had recently been ranked the city with the highest rate of volunteerism per capita in the United States. Amazing, but completely unsurprising. Everyone I knew growing up was always volunteering with a handful of different organizations, so it was interesting to hear that confirmed. Go, Wichitawesome!)
New Christmas Tradition #3: Caramel Popcorn
Well, I’m inserting one here. My mom made this phenomenal microwave brown bag popcorn that evening. And I now humbly but firmly request that happen again every Christmas. SO GOOD!
New Christmas Tradition #4: Ebright Talks
Our final new tradition was probably everyone’s favorite. We officially launched our first annual #EbrightTalks!
A few of my friends have the tradition of inviting friends and family members to give “presentations” during their birthdays or holidays for years. And since my dad was one of the earliest fans of TED Talks, launching a weekly TED night at a Wichita coffee shop way back when and still sending us links whenever he hears a good one, I thought this might be right up our family’s alley.
So each member of the family agreed to plan a presentation on the educational topic of their choosing. The topic was to be a surprise. And visual aids were encouraged, thought not required. Beyond that, there were no rules or requirements.
My mom, the matriarch of the family, volunteered to go first with a presentation on the history of sampler-making. She’s a cross-stitch designer herself and used to sew lots and lots of samplers when we were kids. But none of us really knew the story behind them. It was definitely a fascinating look into the history of education, and art, and women’s roles, and more. Go Mom!
My sister, the art teacher, gave us an art history lesson on church architecture and relics. Fascinating!
My brother-in-law, Jeff, did a presentation on effective brainstorming and earned double points for incorporating Clark Griswold and Cousin Eddie into his powerpoint slides.
My dad gave an inspiring talk on what it means to leave a legacy.
And our honorary sister (longtime family friend), Dr. Erin, brought in a med school mannequin and gave us a 10-minute lesson on how to deliver a baby. Hilarious, and um, the TMI-sort of educational.
Finally, I did a presentation on Piano Chording 101. Every member of my family had taken piano lessons at some point in their lives and knew at least the basics of reading sheet music. But none of them had ever learned the basics of chording/improvisation. So I did a quick lesson on the Nashville Number System, and then gave a “practical exam” where they each got to try playing the song “Happy Birthday” by chords. They all passed with flying colors and seemed to enjoy it — success!
All in all, it ended up being a great Christmas, and made me all the more grateful for my awesome and talented family. So big thanks to them for going out on a limb and trying something new this year. I guess we’re not too old to learn a few new tricks. :)
(Oh, and Henry wanted to model the new leather coat he received in his stocking. Look out, ladies!)