In this second post in a two-part series, Oak Meadow faculty and staff share their favorite family traditions for making the most of the holiday season. As we head into Solstice weekend, and Christmas just beyond, it is fun to consider all the different ways there are to celebrate the offerings of the season, wherever you may be.
Many Oak Meadow faculty, staff, and families celebrate the return of light on the Winter’s Solstice in all sorts of different ways, from stoking a roaring bonfire and enjoying special treats, to lighting candles to warm up the dark. Jacquelyn and Chris both bake a Yule Log with their families, while Seal makes miniature gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and assorted treats, and “tries to use as little artificial light as possible.” Another teacher’s family celebrates with a Tamale Party. “Our extended family gets together on the evening of the Solstice at my Aunt’s house. She is a gourmet cook and makes an incredible spread of Mexican food. The house is full of light and color and good cheer.”
We’ve always loved making Solstice stars (wrap wire around a star cookie cutter to get the initial star shape, then festoon with a few colorful beads, and continue wrapping around and across star shape) for gifts. As well, we try to get out to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, to cross-country ski, sled, go tracking in our woods, create a Solstice Tree for the birds, or simply take in and soak up the amazingly beautiful light that sets the snow to sparkle, and the shadows to stretch and shimmer.
“It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” ~ Caroline Kennedy
From Christmas caroling to feasting on lobsters, Christmas Eve traditions can be some of the most interesting and fun. “When I was a child, my brothers and I slept in sleeping bags by the fire the night before Christmas Eve– this is something I’d like to institute with my kids when they’re a bit older!” Lesley’s family puts on the play of The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, and everybody enjoys taking part. “Costumes are simple and the actions are too, but it is hilarious fun! Originally an adult-read the poem, but now the kids have taken over. At the end whoever is playing the part of Santa, gives everyone a present to open.”
Michelle M. makes sure the animals are not forgotten on Christmas Eve, and “hangs treats for the animals on a wild apple tree next to the hemlock “Fairy Church” at the edge of our field. We hang apple rings, pine cones bird seed holders, pieces of bread or other delights. Some berries, etc. are scattered on the ground. We usually do this after reading one of our favorite Christmas books The Night Tree by Eve Bunting.”
When Sarah’s mother lived in Maine, “Christmas Eve dinner was lobsters and blueberry muffins with Maine blues picked and frozen the previous August. Very fun! And when we had a working fire place, everyone brought their favorite special appetizer on Christmas Day; we spread out a blanket, had a picnic in front of the fire, and played games for hours.”
I still like to wrap up a new book for my sons to open and read on Christmas Eve. And in the spirit of a A Book on Every Bed, an initiative that aims to create this experience for one million children across America, we donate books to local organizations so that other children can enjoy waking up on Christmas morning to a gift-wrapped book on their bed, too. There are so many wonderful books to choose from; our We Love Books! Pinterest board includes some favorites, as well as best of booklists from a trusty batch of providers.
Traditions from Around the World
Place-based and regional traditions are an important part of where our family traditions come from. Sara, who teaches Spanish for Oak Meadow High School, experienced the new traditions of caga-tio while visiting Barcelona with her family this December. “Here they have what’s called the “caga-tio”- pooping uncle. Too funny – click here for the wikipedia description, and click here for a little video! I love the different traditions around the world!”
Oak Meadow’s Director Michelle created these beautiful ‘grace’ books with her daughter, to give as gifts to teachers and neighbors. Featuring meal blessings from different wisdom traditions, these sweet little books are just one example of bringing together folklore from all over the world to create a new custom that beautifully reflects our global village.
Keeping it Simple: gifts from the heart
For K-8 teacher Michelle M., bringing the magic of the giving season to life without having to spend a lot on gifts and all the trappings is one of the bright spots for her and her family:
“My favorite book idea is for my husband who is hard to shop for. Our house is tiny and full and our budget is extremely tight. So every year, I go to the library and get out a tall stack of books on a subject I know he is interested in. I spent years getting books on all the various nationalities in his heritage, then stone walls, then covered bridges, etc. I get nonfiction, children’s books, coffee table books, a novel or two related to the subject, biographies, etc. I put them all in a large pillow case I made from scraps of my wedding dress material and tie them up with a big fat ribbon. Christmas afternoon is often spent pouring through these books. I love it – they are free, they take up no permanent space in my house, can be renewed for almost 2 months, and make a big impression. Perfect! I think this could work for children as well…I might do this for my daughter this year.”
Whatever your holiday traditions, we hope you’ll enjoy a season full of light, love, and laughter with loved ones!
Your turn: What are your favorite holiday traditions? Have they changed over the years? Which ones do you hope to pass down to the next generation?