Friday, December 3, 2021

Traditions -- When Everything Old Is New Again

 Tradition.

I love that word. It brings to mind memories of times past and occasions and activities that were so special, unique, or fun that they became incorporated into our souls and repeated over and over again. (Cue the music!)


No season seems to echo the thought of tradition more to me than the winter holidays.

For me, it’s Christmas and all that goes with it. A visit to the greens market with my friend Jan. Cookie decorating on Christmas Eve with the kids. (That one is less likely to happen now -- at least on Christmas Eve -- but those cookies always get done!) A holiday gift exchange with good friends where we choose our gifts based on the theme of a favorite holiday song.

For my friend Jane, it is baking biscotti at Hanukkah. For my interfaith cousins with a large extended family, it is a way to make gift giving for Hanukkah and Christmas both fun and economical.

A cake stand, bottlebrush trees and some festive mini-cones to fill in the space and you have an five-minute centerpiece!

My holiday decorating begins on Thanksgiving weekend. (I'm a little slower this year -- but I've still started!)  And with that seasonal launch comes the revisiting of treasured ornaments, favorite recipes and memories of all the past seasons.

The tree is 2011, before I rearranged the furniture

When I pull out the giant Gingerman my dad made for my mom, it reminds me of a tradition we used to share with our family, long before marriages and illnesses changed those holidays, making it difficult for us to get together. We would have an original gift-wrapping contest with various categories (“Best disguise of an obvious object,” “Best wrapping paper,” “Most unique”). Both adults and kids — we were all teens or in college — participated, spending hours dripping candle wax over a small, square box to create a faux candle or turning a rolled-up poster into a trumpet.


One year, after Mom had been making tiny stuffed gingerbread-man ornaments, Dad stitched up a giant one, leaving a small hole in its side where he hid a pair of earrings. It’s now the topper on one of my trees.

The family room, 2020

Other ornaments and decorations remind me of special times and people. An Eiffel Tower or dangling piece from Japan recall trips Rick and I have enjoyed together. A beaded ornament that was my grandmother's is the oldest and most precious ornament on the tree. The creche my parents bought in Mexico has a spot, along with the Santa my friend Mary Jane made for me several years before she passed. They’re all part of my Christmas and they will all be on the tree or in my home, no matter where I might one day live.

Grandma's Ornament, c. 1920

 When Rick and I joined forces, his boys were quite young. That’s when we started the Christmas Eve cookie decorating tradition. I made the cut-outs ahead of time and after our dinner was tidied up, we’d get out the frosting and go to town. Some of the creations were artistic and elegant. Some were just obnoxious sugar bombs. The cookies would end up as dessert the next day, with some headed off to their mom, others shared with friends or neighbors.


Those boys are grown now and Christmas gatherings are merry with the Toddler Twosome. Two years ago, before Covid halted family Christmas plans in 2020, we did the cookies again -- not after dinner, but with the boys. Hopefully, we'll do it this year, once again. It may not be on “official” Christmas Eve. But we’ll gather at the table, cups filled with colorful frosting and enjoy our time together.

Christmas 2019 -- Those boys are bigger now!

That’s the other thing. Traditions evolve over time. Families expand and we learn to “share” those we love with others. But we hold tight to the feelings, the essence of the holiday.

My Cleveland cousins started a new shopping tradition several years ago when getting presents for the extended family of 17 or more became a financial nightmare. With all the children as adults now, this became a fun, easy way to cut down expenses. Each person would get a one, five, ten, and twenty dollar gift that could go to a male or female. These would be exchanged by drawing numbers. They would draw a name for a special present in the thirty dollar zone for one person. That, too, changed, as gatherings in 2020 were cut back. But who knows? The vaccines make things possible again.

Their exchange brought loads of laughs, the financial cost was significantly reduced (they used to all exchange!), and it was a fun challenge to find the right thing. (Dollar Tree certainly benefited from this!)

About eighteen years ago we started a tradition with another couple of choosing a holiday song as our theme for gift giving. We set a twenty-five dollar limit and pick a song. Sometimes we interpret literally (when we did “The Christmas Song” we both found “chestnuts” to roast on an open fire!). We’ve done “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Let it Snow!,” “White Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas Island,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and many others. The changing theme helps the concept never get old!

I'll bet you can guess the song theme this year!

I will always make my cousin Bonnie’s “Jingle Balls,” (which you may know as Italian wedding cookies or snowballs), along with several other cookies that are holiday “musts.” (Here are Five Christmas Cookie Recipes I Love!) We’ll have probably the roast beef Christmas Eve dinner that Rick’s grandfather used to make (whether we serve it on Christmas Eve or otherwise!) and the strata breakfast casserole that goes in the oven while we open presents on Christmas morning (whenever we decide that will be.) We will watch “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” and I will be sure to watch “White Christmas” (by myself, probably, since everyone else burned out on that one -- not to mention the fact that I sing along.)

And that’s OK. Because for me, traditions are both those shared with others and those we hold close to ourselves. That moment of quiet to remember those no longer with us, a review of photos from Christmases past. 

1977 or 1978 -- our first Christmas together after the Moms died.

When I decorate the little tree in my bedroom that has fishing ornaments and other things that remind me of my dad, he’s there with me, just as mom appears when I set the table with her Spode Christmas tree china and silver. To others, it might just be a tree or a pretty table setting. But I know.

2020's Table for Two
As time evolves, new traditions emerge and those that no longer work are gently set aside as sweet memories.

What are your treasured holiday traditions? Hold them close and share them, too. Pass them down to the next generation. They’ll change in time to be sure. So will we. But they will remain in our hearts as we recall family, friendships, holidays and most of all, love.


(This post first appeared in "Modern Creative Life." It has been updated for 2021.) 

Sharing with:    Pink Saturday   /   Love Your Creativity   /   Tuesday Turn About   /   Share Your Style  /   All About Home  

60 comments:

Sandi said...

Your gift wrapping skills are off the chart!

Red Rose Alley said...

I just made the longest comment, and it got eaten up, oh my. Jeanie, I was just going to do a post about "what's old is new." In fact, one of my favorite Hallmark shows, Christmas Town, has an antique shop where Lauren stays called "what's old is new." But it's true, isn't it? What is olden and treasured has become new again? It was wonderful to see all your holiday cheer. I especially liked the bottle brush trees in the green cake stand. That's a creative idea. Your Christmas tree is so pretty, and the ornaments in the first photo look so vintage. The giant Gingerman your dad made is delightful. The cookies looks so Yummy, and colorfully decorated. Traditions are so special, and may we always keep the traditions close to our heart each and every year.

~Sheri

William Kendall said...

Personally speaking, I dread Christmas. It weighs heavily on me and triggers a depression, each and every year.

Mae Travels said...

Beautiful memories and continuing activities -- have a wonderful time!

best...mae at maefood.blogspot.com

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I have no traditions, and I am quite happy with no traditions. On Miriam's side there has been a family reunion each year on New Year's Day, but each year the attendance is smaller than the year before and not only because of deaths. I am not a big fan of mass gatherings anyway, regardless of circumstance. It is far more enjoyable for me to have one to three couples I hold dear share my dinner table. We do not decorate. We do not exchange gifts. I am sure this might all seem curmudgeonly to some, but it's really not. We are perfectly happy, well adjusted and enjoy a full, rich life. Perhaps our tradition is not having tradition!

Bindu said...

Wonderful memories! Nice traditions! Lovely decorations. love your post!

Prims By The Water said...

What fun table display with the cake plate and trees! I love traditions! Still working on finishing up my decor. Janice

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

That was simply lovely, Jeanie. It made me happy and sad and everything in-between. I love "traditions are both those shared with others and those we hold close to ourselves." How very true.

Linda Sue said...

The Ginger bread man is the best idea EVER! That is a fun christmas thing for sure, I may have to employ that- not this year because Covid is keeping folks at home again. LOVE your decorations, You are a pro! Santa's favorite!!

Linda Sue said...

The Ginger bread man is the best idea EVER! That is a fun christmas thing for sure, I may have to employ that- not this year because Covid is keeping folks at home again. LOVE your decorations, You are a pro! Santa's favorite!!

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

Your holiday posts are always so much fun to see. I don't think I know anyone who is both over-the-top AND elegant in your decorating, and it's clear you really enjoy it. Your artistic talent shows even with your cookies.

My name is Erika. said...

I love Christmas traditions, and how they can change and evolve into new traditions as times change. The ornaments always have lots of wonderful stories and memories too. Its fun to pull them out. I wasn't going to decorate so much this year, but then, when I started, I had so much fun I just threw my reservations aside and pulled most everything out. In this covid world it is nice in the house for some glitter, light and even overkill. I always love seeing your holiday decor. You have some fun and wonderful ideas Jeanie. I hope we get to see your decorated home soon. Happy weekend. Hugs-Erika

Debra@CommonGround said...

This is such a precious post, I'm going to go read it again. This last 2 years have been so hard, because I've not been able to see my family much. Half of them are not vaccinated and they aren't careful. I love seeing your photo from the late 70's. Brings back lots of memories.

ashok said...

Love this post Jean...Christmas season brings out the best excitement for me

Joyful said...

I enjoyed reading about your Christmas plans and traditions and seeing Christmas trees of by gone years. Enjoy the season. xx

Karen @ Beatrice Euphemie said...

Love this post, Jeannie - the family memories always pull on our heartstrings this time of year and it is so nice to pass down the traditions. It seems that food and cookies are a big one to pass down, and of course all the wonderful decorations and ornaments. I love your bowl of vintage beauties and your cake stand forest. One of your trees has a candy garland just like mine. I used it when the kids were little, then put it away for years, and now it is used once more for a little tree I decorate for my grandchildren. Your decorated cookies really made me smile. They are little works of art :) The gift exchanging ideas you have are wonderful. Love the music-themed one. My favorite movie is 'It's a Wonderful Life'. It starts off the season for me. Yes, traditions do change over the years, but the ones that stand the test of time are always the best. xx K

Betty said...

how lovely that you have treasured memories and that your ornaments and tree decorations are all so special. Vintage baubles are going for a bomb on EBay now, I have found a few over the years in charity shops and treasure them but making your own memories has to be the most important thing. We have santa sacks I made my sons when they were born that are now 23/27 years old respectively, they come out every year as chair backs now, we buy a beautiful bauble every year so have nice memories from these. I love that your dad made a gingerbread man and put your mums earrings inside. My parents ddin't 'do christmas' so much but I keep my mothers tradition of decorating the house from 20th December with foliage and berries from the woods :)

Victoria Zigler said...

I love this post. And thank you for sharing some of your traditions with us.

DUTA said...

My traditions are not linked to decorations and presents, but rather to food (matzot on Passover, donuts on Hanukah, Haman's ear cookies on Purim), candle lightening, Fast on the Atonement Day (Yom Kippur), selective prayers.

Iris Flavia said...

Wonderful, reading your beautiful post whilst listening to the music!
Ingo came in asking if this was Fred (Freddie Mercury)!
Now he sits by my side munching cornflakes enjoying the song - thank you :-)

What a very sweet tradition with the contest!

And aww, you Dad sure was a creative romantic!
An ornament from the Golden 20´s - oh, compared to these 20´s... when wants one want to be?
Wow, that´s some cookie-galore.
Fun with the song-tradition (I have no idea, though...).

Beautiful pic of you all back then!

Thank you for this wonderful post!

Have a jolly time xx

Valerie-Jael said...

I am not really a fan of traditions, and don't celebrate anything in the meantime. But 'm glad you enjoy yours. Hugs, Valerie

eileeninmd said...

Hello Jeanie,
Your Christmas traditions are fun. I used to enjoy making cookies and decorating them, fun times with the grandkids. Now, I just buy cookies in the store. I found a place that has sugar cookies that taste homemade. Your decorations looks beautiful and festive and the cookies look yummy. Take care, enjoy your weekend!

shoreacres said...

Your mention of "disguised" gift wrapping reminded me of the year I opened a large cardboard box and found nothing inside except a tiny little hand no more than a half-inch across, cut from paper. It was attached to the sort of spring that might have come out of a ball point pen. Can you guess the gift?

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

You have some wonderful and fun traditions! Whenever we travel on vacation we try to find a Christmas shop and purchase an ornament. So when we decorate our tree every ornament brings back memories of our travels.

Ricki Treleaven said...

Jeanie, I love this post! You have some fun holiday traditions that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about. My favorite one, though, is the gift exchange with a Christmas song theme. That's brilliant! I also noticed that y'all enjoy Christmas crackers. We like them, too!
Thanks for the link to the cookie recipes. I asked for help with cookie recipes on my blog today, so perfect timing! Have a wonderful weekend!

La Table De Nana said...

That dad of yours!Yes started here I smiled because I too made biscotti this week and gosh I love it!lovely memories and many more to make!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

All I have to do is to get down the boxes of holiday decorations to be swept up in happy nostalgia. So many sweet memories! And I love hearing about yours.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Sorry this is a generic message, but it's all I could pull together. Late Thursday as I headed to the basement, I caught my sleeve on the railing and lost my balance. I fell down 13 of the 14 steps to the basement floor. I laid there for what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably little more than 20-30 minutes. When I was able to get up, I realized I had hurt my back enough that all I could do was lie on it. I have trouble sitting or standing. I hope you understand. If I normally visit you every day, I hope/plan to feel better by Monday. Thanks for your support and understanding. PLEASE, NO SYMPATHY. It was my own stupidity.

I have no one to pass down memories to, but I use my grandmother's dishes every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You have lovely memories, Jeanie.

Arti said...

Always impressed by your Christmas festivities and decorations. Talking about traditions, well there where the musicals on screen that I was so excited about when I was young , beginning all the way back to My Fair Lady, then Sound of music , Mary Poppins, and yes, Oliver. And now, a remake, West Side Story. Will u be heading out to the theatre for this one? Won’t be streamed online. Spielberg’s ‘principle’.

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Good morning, Jeanie. I love this post - but then I love Christmas. Our tree is almost finished (I am slower this year too.) Your traditions are wonderful, but then, memories really do make Christmas. Thanks for the recipies. Enjoy these days.

Haddock said...

Ha ha.... what a perfect place to hide the earrings.

Debbie-Dabble Blog and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

Jeanie,
Loved the story about the gingerbread man the the earrings!! What a great story!! I too decorate with things that invoke so many great memories that i hold dear to my heart...I think that is why I love Christmas so much!! I am feeling much better since i was put on the antibiotics....I hate sinus problems..You feel like your head is going to explode!! Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your traditions and memories with us all!! Stay safe, healthy and happy!!
Hugs,
Deb

Joanne Huffman said...

A lovely Christmas post.

The Joy of Home with Martha Ellen said...

Jeanie, your Christmas memories are beautiful. I love how you hold them dear to your heart. Tears welled as I read your accounting of times past and times to come. Thank you for sharing your heart.

The French Hutch said...

Like you I hold treasured traditions. Baking and preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Setting the table brings empty places where mom and day would be. Memories of them in the kitchen together and now it's Jim and me getting ready for the family. We still wait until Christmas morning to open gifts while enjoying our morning coffee. I think your dad's gingerbread man is so very special and I love he adorns one of your trees. Such a sweet post Jeanie.........

Sami said...

You have beautiful cherished Christmas ornaments and wonderful traditions too Jeanie. When we left Portugal we left our Christmas ornaments in the house we rented out. When we sold the house a few years later, my daughter kept the old ornaments, some "home-made" by me and she loves hanging them in her tree now.

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, this is such a sweet read as I drink my coffee and look at the twinkling lights on the tree. Traditions and memories are what Christmas is made of for me. I cling to those past ones and start new ones with my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing beautiful memories of Christmases past. Happy Sunday!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I just love this post. It's filled with life's wonderful memories and the traditions that help shape us and reflect who we are. Love your photos and I pray you have many more in the coming years. God bless!

Jenn Jilks said...

Lovely traditions and memories.
I appreciate the way you point out some things change.
We are frequently on our own, the kids travel, or when MILs visit! I have had to let go of a lot.

Divers and Sundry said...

What a beautiful reflection! Some traditions have gone by the wayside and live on only in sweet memory, while we've been able to maintain a few other traditions and add some new ones.

Carole @ From My Carolina Home said...

Beautifully written post, traditions are indeed special and sometimes evolving. We watch White Christmas on Christmas Eve every year. I do love a good frosted sugar cookie too!

Sketchbook Wandering said...

Your post about traditions is lovely. I wish I had more. Mine is to make seasons cards...The gingerbread man is a. true treasure.

anno said...

I love hearing all the happy memories wrapped up in your Christmas traditions -- and reading your annual series of holiday posts is one of mine! Everything sparkles! Hope you get to enjoy some quality cookie decorating time this season...

Hena Tayeb said...

Loved looking at those lovely pictures.. so many wonderful memories made.
Wishing you a very happy holidays hopefully with some friends and family.

Bohemian said...

That Gingerbread Man your Dad made for your Mom to tuck a Special Gift in is precious, I'm glad you kept it and it's Story alive. Loved that 2020 Tree, so Nostalgic to look back at Christmases Past, isn't it? The Traditions and Rituals we adopt are what I enjoy most about the Holiday Season. It's interesting to me which Traditions and Rituals become the most Cherished with each person.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Thanks, JeAnie, for sharing so many memories and family traditions in this post. All were wonderful to read about and it is obvious how much joy you take in remembering and continuing them every holiday season. It is the memories that certainly keep the family members no longer with us close by in our hearts. My mother passed away 7 years ago, 3 days before Christmas, but she is with me in spirit. I have a few holiday items that belonged to her and they always bring back memories as yours do.

Miss Val's Creations said...

You have so many wonderful traditions Jeanie! I love seeing all the photos over the years. Since my husband and I are 1000 miles from family now, we are working on building our own traditions. We attended a couple of holiday events this year that we loved like the holiday lights on the river and our town's tree lighting ceremony. These will now be annual for us. We love watching the stop animation specials each year like Rudolph and Frosty.

gigi-hawaii said...

There will be 12 family members gathered together in my home on Christmas day. Lots of food to eat and lots of conversation, too.

Lynda said...

Love this post Jeanie because it is so true! We all have our family traditions and memories. That is what make the holidays so special. Merry Christmas!

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Jeanie, I love to hear about traditions and you, my friend, have a lot of them. I love the Christmas song one and of course the cookies with the littles. We didn't have a lot of specific traditions. I remember bubble lights on trees, and glass ornaments every color under the sun and those very large colored light bulbs. There was always candy and cookies and all good food to eat and a lot of laughter. That is what I remember all those years ago. We did drive to the farms to get our tree every year when we lived with our parents and then later on when our kids were growing up. Of course, when we got home, a promise of hot chocolate after decorating the tree, kept us going for awhile, but soon my mom, and later me, were the only ones decorating! The good old days full of anticipation..Happy Days to you my friend..xxoJudy

DeniseinVA said...

I always enjoy your posts Jeanie and this is such a special one. I loved it! Thank you for sharing your photos and all those amazing collections. Your Christmas Tree certainly carries a lot of amazing memories. Thank you!

Linda Stoll said...

Oh I love this walk down memory lane! The ornaments, the cookies, the family gathered. Precious indeed ...

Merry Christmas, Jeanie.

Marilyn Miller said...

Your Christmas decorations and traditions are so special. I especially love your cookie decorating tradition. I bet even Rick's ex-wife might have liked that the boys brought cookies home they decorated. Now carrying on with your little guys is precious!

Amy at Ms. Toody Goo Shoes said...

This post really touched me, Jeanie. It's the essence of what the holidays should be about. I love the story about the gingerbread man with the earrings inside, and the Christmas song gift theme. When we were kids, my parents would hide a gift for us each night of Hanukkah. Half the fun was searching for it. I started that tradition with my son when he was very young. He groaned through it during high school, but last year, when I didn't hide the gifts (he was a college senior), he was truly disappointed. "But mom, it's a tradition!" This year we are waiting to celebrate Hanukkah when he comes home at the end of the semester. The gifts will be hidden, and he'll find them all in the usual hiding places. Tradition is comforting. Tradition is home. Tradition is family.

Jenny Woolf said...

what a lovely lot of traditions and that certainly is creative cookie icing, I can see a lot of work went into that from little and not so little fingers! We have traditions too, although not as many and certainly not as imaginative as yours, I think... the one I rather regret is making the Christmas pudding recipe from a very very old cookbook, and everyone had a stir and made a wish. It's a lighter pudding than most, but these days after a Christmas meal, the old folks don't feel like eating anything more and the younger folks seem to have more savoury taste or else don't like all the dried fruit which is an important part of Christmas pudding. But, like you said, I remember the tradition fondly and t's nice too to see that my kids have developed their own traditions too.

Lowcarb team member said...

I did enjoy reading this post and seeing the photographs you've shared.

It is so nice to pass down traditions and memories, but also nice to see the children and their families make some of their own too.

Special times.

All the best Jan

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I love that your cookie decorating tradition has stood the test of time and now includes 2 little boys! My Christmas traditions have really changed since getting married. We haven’t spent a Christmas with my family since we became parents. We were supposed to in 2018 but Paul and I got the stomach flu. It is hard to spend Christmas with my family because it’s a long drive and that means leaving my MIL alone on Christmas. My parents have handled it well, though. And I like our quieter Christmases at home. Growing up, Christmas Eve was the big celebration and then we would spend Christmas Day with my dad’s side. Now it’s the opposite. We got to Phil’s cousins on Christmas Eve, which we look forward to since its so fun, and then Christmas Day is spent at home with my MIL. That’s when we will open presents although last year we spread it out over 5-6 days since Paul had so much to open!!

Sandra Cox said...

Tradition and family. Where would we be without them?

thepaintedapron.com said...

Lovely post Jeanie, you had me thinking of many memories! This year I have passed the torch to my daughter, she is hosting our family Christmas Eve lunch that I have hosted for many years, ever since my MIL pasted the torch to me...part of me is a little sad, but another part of me is really glad, it will be so much easier for me!! Enjoy your traditions!
Jenna

Barb said...

I like the story of your Dad's giant gingerbread. I've started to write notes and put them with some of my favorite ornaments when I store them. I hope someday when I'm no longer here, the family will take the ornaments and realize what they meant to me.

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