Every family has their own traditions for every holiday. For some it is special vacations for New Years. For others it is celebrating with family on Thanksgiving. For us, Christmas holds special meaning.
Sharing our traditions is one of the reasons why we wanted to host an exchange student (you can read about our story hosting Liv from Switzerland in a previous article here). I was an exchange student my junior year of high school. I learned many things while I was in France. Christmas traditions were not as strong as in my American family—but New Years was. I vividly remember our New Years celebration and the dinner that led to midnight. I didn’t think I could eat any more by the end of the night. This year, I wonder if we will even make it to midnight before falling asleep. LOL
We live just a short drive from Bronners Christmas Wonderland: “The Largest Christmas Store in the World”. This store is open year-round and l tell people it looks like Christmas “threw up” all over. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, room to room Christmas. We get our family ornament from there every year. We decided to go there before the holiday season because it would be wall to wall people after Thanksgiving and we could walk through and stop and enjoy the displays and truly see the vast expanse of the store before then. Liv couldn’t believe the number of ornaments but didn’t understand the importance of them to us. There are ornaments for EVERYTHING from sports to professions to animals to countries. We picked out our ornament, had it personalized and headed home.
We learned that in her family, they don’t get a big tree and don’t have ornaments. Her grandparents have a tree and they have some ornaments but not specialty or personalized ones. She had said that Christmas wouldn’t be tough for her, New Year’s would. That is the holiday for her that means the most.
So of course, we needed to show her our family Christmas traditions.
We listed all of the Christmas movies she needed to see and started watching them to check them off of the list. Polar Express, Home Alone, Elf, Christmas Vacation, we got them all.
We sang Christmas songs on our way to school and our way home every day.
We hiked through a Christmas tree farm to find our tree and cut it down. Of course, we followed that up with hot chocolate in the barn before we left. We spent a whole afternoon decorating the tree (and yelling “OUCH” because we apparently chose the most prickly tree in the whole farm). It was at this time that she realized the importance of ornaments in our family. She found ornaments from when I was a child. She helped hang ornaments from when Hannah was in elementary school. She pulled out the glass crab ornament and we all laughed and told her about the snorkeling trip in the Florida Keys a few years ago. Hannah found her glass dolphin ornament and told Liv all about her trip to the Atlanta Aquarium where she met a dolphin named Luna. I fondly remembered students from the ornaments they have given me from over the years. Opening our ornament box each year is like a trip down memory lane.
Not long after we were done decorating the tree, Liv said we needed to return to Bronners because she needed to get an ornament for her coach. She spent a long time finding “just the right ornament” and thinking of what to have written on it. She gave him her gift at her hockey Christmas party and he loved it. I may have seen a little “sweat” in his eyes.
We did the traditional Christmas Eve service with handbells, candles and Christmas songs. We left church to come home and open the first present—our Christmas pajamas. The next morning came more presents and food. Liv was more than overwhelmed at the outpouring of love from our families. She received so many gifts. We celebrated Christmas four different times with four different parts of our family. Some families are a little louder than others, but each one a little different and always full of food and laughter. We ended our Christmas Day sacked out on the couch, still in our Christmas pajamas.
When we asked Liv about what Christmas tradition she plans on taking back to Switzerland? Her response: “Staying in my pajamas all day.”
Yep, that’s one of my favorite things too.