This year is the first year that my daughter, Emelyn, is engaged with Christmas, and it's made me realize something:
We don't have our own Christmas traditions.
I've never noticed before because we do so many special things in December with our families. Brett and I are lucky to have lots and lots of family (There are seven places we need to be on Christmas Day alone!). As a side effect, we haven't focused on our own home's traditions. We don't get a chance to open our presents together on Christmas morning and we spend the day going from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner after dinner.
Don't get me wrong. This is a good thing. The day is fun and we make incredible memories with family. But, parenthood strikes again and it sent me into a soul-searching spiral. What's special to me at Christmas time? What traditions do I want for our little family? How do I avoid making myself and my child super exhausted and overwhelmed by the holidays?
Of course, these thoughts began to run through my head while laying in bed in the middle of the night.
"Brett, we don't have traditions."
Not the thing you want to hear from your wife at midnight when you're falling asleep and know you're getting up at 5AM to walk 20 minutes in -30 degrees celsius to work, but that's how I started the conversation. What can I say? I was stressed and it felt like we had to talk about it immediately. You know how it goes, right? Anyways, Brett very sweetly wound the conversation down as quickly as he could by breaking out in "Where are you, Christmas?", Faith Hill-style.
The next day (at a reasonable hour) we started the conversation about what we want Emelyn's memories of Christmas to be and what we want to look forward to together when we flip the calendar to December each year.
Naturally, this led me to research. Cause, I'm a nerd and I'll make anything into a homework assignment. I'm really curious about my Celtic background, so that's where I looked first. I then branched out to asking my friends and family what they do to celebrate. After much deliberation, we found some ways we're going to make this season special for us (with 9 days left, phew!).
Here's a list of my favourite ones that we'll be adding to our routine this year!
SIX FAMILY RITUALS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
PLACE A Candle in the window
In Ireland, they place a lit candle in the window on Christmas Eve. It acts as a sign of welcoming that honours Mary and Joseph and their search for shelter for Mary to deliver her baby. The romantic in me thinks this is beautiful for a lot of reasons. Mostly because it seems like a special way to slow down and set the tone before a flurry of gatherings and presents. It's quiet. Mindful.
Burn a Yule log
Yule (the Winter Solstice) is on December 21st. It's celebrated in a lot of different ways in a lot of different places. My Celtic ancestors really made a big deal out of it. It was a celebration of the dark half of the year relinquishing to the light half. As an agricultural community who also had a lot of spiritual ties with nature, the Winter Solstice held a lot of meaning. Before the time of heated homes and iCal notifications that the solstice was on its way, winter was a really stressful time and it was hard to survive in those conditions. The day when there was light for a little longer than there had been the day before brought tremendous hope.
Though our hardships have evolved and are incredibly different now than they were then, I can appreciate the stress that comes with this time of year. Getting my kid into a snowsuit multiple times a day, dealing with car troubles, and living in darkness is not something I look forward to. Celebrating more sunshine and less seasonal depression is something I can get behind. More importantly, the symbolism of light and hope really resonates with me. Especially since I have a daughter with the middle name "Day" for very similar reasons.
Spiced cider, holly, bonfires, pine, cedar, decorating a tree, and cinnamon are all part of old traditions attributed to this celebration. Lighting a Yule log decorated with pine and holly to ring in a new season of light is what I'd love to do with my own family. Unfortunately, our fireplace is sealed. So we may have to substitute with putting a log in our fireplace, decorating it, and, on the solstice, burning it outside in our firepit. Either way, celebrating light and hope on the Solstice sounds like a really special thing for us.
A friend of mine told me about how she and her husband exchange gifts. Something you want, something you need, something you wear, and something you read. Brett and I tend to get each other one large gift, but I LOVE the idea of four intentional gifts for Emelyn. The idea of Emelyn getting a mountain of gifts at Christmas time stresses me out for a lot of reasons. The idea of her getting four gifts plus a stocking helps me keep things (like the space in my house, her ego, and my bank account) balanced, while maintaining a really special tradition.
A keepsake book
Someone else told me about her tradition of getting a book for each of her girls every Christmas. She chooses one book for each of her daughters - one that reminds her of each daughter - and writes a little message in it. One day, they'll have a box of books from each year growing up at home. As a sentimental bookworm, I'm all over this idea. I love the idea of Emelyn having a collection of books with messages from us that really sum up how all the years we've had together went.
Sleeping under the tree
I've always wanted to do this. A family slumber party on Christmas Eve! There's no way I'm going to get Emelyn to do this yet. She sleeps so well in her crib and we really need her to be fully rested for the series of gatherings on Christmas Day. But, when she's older, the three (or four, or whatever size our family ends up being) of us can all camp out in the living room. I'm also imagining a blanket fort becoming a really important part of all this. It'll be magic.
Hot chocolate + a trip to the greenhouse
Nature really grounds me. I feel a deep sense of rest and tend to do my best thinking when I get out of the house to go for a walk or, better yet, get away to the cottage. There is so much greenery with beautiful symbolism and meaning associated with the holidays. For these reasons, I wanted to find a way to be outside, but, let's get real: it's cold here. Like, really cold. So, Brett and I decided we would drive to Shelmerdine's on our day off together. We would break into Bronuts (our shop) the morning of, and make ourselves hot chocolates for our drive out there.
It's a beautiful time of year, but it can be equally hard and overwhelming. It can be easy to get caught up in fulfilling the expectations of others, at work or at home. It feels really good to find some things that are your own. Make space for yourself during this busy time. What are some of your family rituals for the holidays? Tell me in the comments below.
Meghan Zahari is a donut shop owner by day and a writer by night. In between, she does photography and social media accounts for other businesses. Motherhood and emotions are a 24/7 gig. She lives with her husband, Brett, daughter, Emelyn, and cousin, Laura. (Plus, a pug and a puggle.) It’s a full life with a full house, so her introverted soul seeks refuge by hiding away with a book or watching Buffy or Grey’s.