Until high school, I don’t remember set holiday traditions in our family. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have them, but they just weren’t on my radar like the routines we adopted in my teens. I was probably too distracted by Santa, snow, and visiting our family at both sets of grandparents to be too wrapped up in the actual details that went into making those holidays magical.
As I matured, though, two particular Christmas Eve traditions took hold in our world and in my heart: soups and opening one present of our own choosing from under the tree. The latter probably sticks in my brain because of the year my brother got an egg pan (that he asked for!) and all he could do was look at it in disbelief, saying, “I got a pan.” I don’t remember any of my CE gifts in particular because none were quite that funny; the soups, however, are still one of my favorite parts of the holiday, in part because we weren’t afraid to take it over the top with soup production.
Growing up I mostly remember two soups in rotation at our house – potato and chili. As a kid I didn’t care for chili (too spicy for me then) but loved potato soup so much (cheesy, creamy, and so delicious!). When we started the Christmas Eve Soups, it was probably just those two. But then, with time and advancing taste buds, we expanded our soup world and started making not just two soups for our family of four but FOUR soups on one night, because, why not? Ham & Bean, Chicken and Wild Rice, and the Christmas Soup (our name for it based on the colors of tomatoes, spinach, and cannellini beans) all got brought into the mix. I mean, why not, right? Leftovers are great and then each one of us got to pick our favorite. To this day we still make soup on Christmas Eve and it’s the perfect dish to warm you up before our other holiday routines of attending a candlelight church service, opening one gift, or setting out a plate of cookies for Santa.
Seeing as we still soup it up each Christmas, that tradition is one my own kids will know and hopefully remember for years to come (we make just plain tomato for most of them still). The other holiday tradition that we’ve started in our own house that I know will stand out for them is our Christmas Book Countdown. Also over the top, this is another idea I found on Pinterest in 2013 (thank goodness for the blog to tell me that). That year, for advanced Christmas gifts from relatives, we asked for a collection of Christmas-themed books that totaled 25 in number so the kids could take turns (minus Lincoln who was still an itty bitty baby that winter) unwrapping a book from under the tree on each day of December with the final one being opened Christmas Day. It was an instant hit and we’ve continued it ever since. The kids will tell you that the strangest thing that ever happened was the two years in a row that they opened Merry Christmas, Curious George! as the final book. Even funnier is when they engineered it being opened for a third year in a row by guessing and trying not to pick it until the very end to keep the streak going!
Now that we have five kids and our Christmas book collection has expanded over the years to a few beyond 25, we have each one of them select five titles, taking turns in doing so. Then I wrap them so they can again take turns each day picking and opening from youngest to oldest. The math on that works out great and keeps things nice and even, and the kids do a good job of remembering whose day it is. 2022 was the first time any of them asked to help with the wrapping, so while they were at school, I did the initial covering (so they couldn’t see what book it was) and then the kids helped fold and tape the edges which was great wrapping practice for them.
Even though these are simple traditions, they’ve meant a lot to us over the years and we hope to continue them for years and years to come.