As the winter holidays rolled in this time last year, my precious friend and mentor, Penny Hodges, shared with me her family’s unique Christmas traditions, which I fell in love with and determined to implement in my own home this year! And since many of you are likely thinking about establishing your own traditions, I wanted to have her share them here.
So picture yourself pulling up a chair to her cozy kitchen table and listen in as this seasoned lover of Jesus and family shares her time-tested ideas.
Me: Penny, your three kids are grown and you have nine grandkids now. You’ve spent many years developing your family’s traditions. Tell us why this has been important to you.
Penny: A tradition is really anything that you repeat that’s fun or meaningful. I love traditions because they bind us together. We can anticipate it together and talk about it long after it’s past. Our family is a reflection of Christ to the world. As the world sees us having fun together and loving one another, they long for that source of love.
Me: Love that. So, let’s get right into it. I know y’all had so many, but tell us all about your very favorite holiday traditions.
DECORATING THE TREE
This was always a big celebration! Loud Christmas music, yummy Christmas cookies—all very festive. Each year we’d giggle at the homemade ornaments from the early years of marriage and enjoy reminiscing about the sentimental ones from special times in the past. Always be sure to take pictures of the finished product with everyone gathered around!
Every once in a while, about ten or so minutes after all the kiddos were in bed, we would announce, “PAJAMA RIDE!” We’d gather everybody in warm coats, hop in the car, and take off for a surprise trip. One year we drove around and looked at Christmas lights, ending up at the nativity scene at the capitol. One year we went to visit friends. You could go to Sonic or whatever. Oh, and if anyone asks if it’s pajama ride night, it’s off. It had to be a surprise.
Me: Oh fun! If I can convince myself to get the kids back up after finally getting them in bed, I will definitely be trying that one! Ok, tell us more…
Penny: Well, I loved trying to involve all the senses…from decorations all around the house, to Christmas movies, to cinnamon candles, to hot chocolate and cider, to stringing popcorn/cranberry garland, the list goes on and on. But since Christmas is foremost about Jesus, here are some things we did to honor Him from year to year.
When I think of all the traditions we have ever celebrated, the most important was celebrating the Advent of Christ. In our culture, we have to be intentional if our children are to understand the real reason behind Christmas, right? Our family had our own candlelight Advent services the four Sunday nights leading up to Christmas, plus Christmas Eve. It looked a little different every year. Thankfully there are boocoodles of suggested Advent readings and ideas out there, so find the best fit for your family. As the kids got older, we were able to have genuine conversations about what God had done in our lives the past year and what we could pray about for each other. It became the highlight of my whole year!
TABLE-TOP PRAISE TREE
We set a small Christmas tree or plant on the table and had a tray of crayons or pens and cards with holes punched in them next to it with yarn to hang our praises on the tree throughout December.
LETTERS TO JESUS
Most years, everyone would write our own notes to Jesus detailing some way that we would honor Him this Christmas. It could be to do something for someone else, to read, to pray, to forgive…whatever you think would bring glory to Him. Be specific! Then we put the letters under the tree as our gift to Him.
When the kids were old enough, we’d all gather in the kitchen and I’d hand out every recipe for Christmas morning and Christmas dinner. Everyone had at least two. For the next hour or so it was total chaos, but when it was all said and done, all food was prepared for the next day! Yea!
Again, anything you do over and over becomes a tradition that is meaningful to your kids—even if it’s as silly as stacking up cardboard bricks at the top of the stairs so your kids can’t come down until time! It becomes part of their story when “they grow up.” Wanting the day to revolve around Jesus, Tim and I would meet the kids at the top of the stairs when they woke up and stop and pray, thanking God for His gift to us and the opportunity to give to others. Whether it was gathering around the piano and singing hymns or eating “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake, we were careful to repeatedly bring Him into the picture.
Me: No doubt, even adults need to be reminded of what the Christmas season is really all about. Thank you for sharing ways that you guys keep Him in the forefront, all the while having fun with the family! Such good ideas!
Penny: Of course! And there is absolutely no pressure when it comes to holiday traditions. We were never perfectly consistent. Sometimes they were great and sometimes they weren’t. And some didn’t work at all. You’ll develop traditions along the way that you didn’t even know were traditions until one of your kiddos says, “Let’s do ___________, like we did last year!”
You are at that wonderful stage of life where you can start new traditions in your own homes. YOU ARE THE MEMORY MAKERS!
[Penny and her husband Tim met Jesus on their honeymoon and have delighted in Him ever since. They live happily in Little Rock, Arkansas and enjoy brownies and ice cream together most every night. Penny is an avid studier of scripture and loves to encourage younger moms to find joy in their marriages and ultimately in the Lord.]
*What Christmas traditions have you developed with your family? Are there any new traditions you are beginning this year? Please leave your comments below!