In my childhood, we all had stockings, made from patterns from my grandmother that my Mom made. My Dad even had his own stocking, made by his grandmother that he would hang alongside ours. We didn't have much money growing up, so we'd spend Christmas Eve usually as a family, some times going over to someone else's Christmas party and others just enjoying time with each other. We'd always, as Christians, read Luke Chapter 2 and eventually our traditions wound up with us opening up one gift from a sibling that night. I'd then have a sleepless night pretending to sleep when I really couldn't, wishing the night could go faster.
As I got older and even though I knew, in my heart, that Santa Claus wasn't real, the Spirit of Santa Claus was still there, and I still secretly wanted him to be real. I'd imagine all night long, what if my parents themselves had just stopped believing in Santa but he really did come? Yet I still wasn't quite sure how all the presents got there in the morning. I also enjoyed adding to the mystique and happiness, the story of Santa Claus brought onto my younger brothers and sisters faces and enjoyed keeping the story alive for them. Even today I enjoy playing Santa and keeping the story alive in my children's lives, with "visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads." I think the Ballet, "The Nutcracker" sums up that fantasy well - it's the essence of what being a child is all about, and again goes back to traditions, and remembering our childhoods as we grow old and how innocent we were.
As a child, on Christmas day we would wake up, usually way too early waiting for the designated time our parents set to wake them up and open up presents. By that time I usually had scoped out approximately what Santa had laid out for us at night and was eager to open the new presents. Our Mom would always make us eat a full breakfast so all the candy from Santa didn't spoil our meals, and we'd get at least something healthy that morning (even if it was sugar cereal, as we usually enjoyed). For Christmas dinner, we would usually have a ham, some times turkey. After spending time with our new toys and presents, we'd often go see a movie or go do something special together as a family. For us, Christmas really was about family.
Now that I'm older, I find similar traditions permeating my own family into the lives of my wife and kids. Every year we visit my in-laws (my parents live all the way in Boston so we don't see them as often as we would like). We open presents from the in-laws, have dinner, and spend time with my wife's parents and siblings.
We then spend Christmas Eve as a family. Just as a child, we read Luke Chapter 2, and this year we even watched an amazing presentation of Luke Chapter 2 set in ancient Israel produced on the iPad (very few words - really amazing!) by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think this itself will become a new tradition for our family.
We then finish the night with a piano recital by each of my kids (they are taught piano by my wife, who plays beautifully), a trumpet solo by me, and a beautiful piano solo from my wife. We end the performance with a couple songs we sing with each other and top it off with "Silent Night." We have a family prayer and everyone rushes to bed, trying to beat NORAD's Santa tracker on Google to when Santa is supposed to arrive.
Then begins the present wrapping and visit by Santa. As we're wrapping presents, my wife and I enjoy watching traditional Christmas shows. Some times we watch "A Christmas Story", with its own portrayal of tradition and youth from the view of a child. Other times we watch midnight mass, enjoying the ancient Catholic tradition that goes back to early days of Christianity and the spirit that is felt there.
Lately I find myself watching a production of my Grandpa's, "Mr. Krueger's Christmas". This new tradition shows the view from an old, lonely man (played by Jimmy Stewart), and his own desire to get the most out of Christmas, despite his lonely circumstances. I like it because it makes me think about others that could be like him in the world, and those that may not have family with them to celebrate these traditions each year.
Even as I write this, I'm starting a new tradition. In the background I'm playing back-to-back episodes of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "Music and the Spoken Word" Christmas specials. This has become near and dear to my heart lately as I've had a few opportunities to help out the choir in their social media efforts.
I think Mr. Krueger said it best when he said the purpose of Christmas was to love one another. As a Christian, our tradition is that Christ himself suggested the same. In fact, as I reflect on Christmas traditions and going back to my own childhood, I can't help but remember Christ's own direction, "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Even Christ himself, who in our tradition is the Savior of mankind, came to the world as a child, and asked us all to reflect on that.
May you all remember your own childhood traditions as you go about this Christmas. My hope is that, believer or not, we can all take the Spirit of Christmas to heart, becoming as little children just as Jesus Christ did in Luke Chapter 2, as my own family reads every year. I believe there is much to be learned from each others' traditions, and hope me sharing mine can help instill a little tradition into each of your own lives this Christmas.
May you all have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year this season, and may you all experience wonderful traditions in your lives. Hopefully the videos shared in this post give you more to think about this season of giving, and reflecting back on our own childhoods and traditions.