Do you have any special Christmas Eve family traditions? Traditions have a lovely way of bringing a family together. They help create and maintain those bonds, build feelings of warmth and contentment, and provide a link between the generations.
When I was a kid, we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve. Being descended from German settlers, this was in line with their traditions and it was one we maintained for many years. We would have our dinner and then head to church. We’d take the long way home from church for two reasons.
One, we’d look at all the pretty Christmas lights around town. Two, it gave Santa extra time to leave the gifts at our house. After opening our gifts, we’d have a big feast – okay, really it was just a bunch of our favorite snacks and most of them are foods I refuse to eat now, but we loved it at the time.
It’s Okay to Change and Adapt Your Traditions
Traditions have changed and adapted over the years and are a bit different with my daughter. When she was little, she wanted to experience waking up in the morning to find that Santa had been there. So, we alternated. One year, we were in the prized position of being Santa’s first delivery on Christmas Eve. The next year, we’d be in the equally special position of being his very last delivery in the wee hours of Christmas morning.
Now that Sam is married, she and her husband do Christmas with me on Christmas Eve and then their own Christmas in the morning after Santa visits. Best of both worlds!
Our special Christmas Eve family traditions include:
Having a traditional French Canadian dish for dinner. We eat Tourtiere (meat pies) and then have a Yule log cake, decorated with birthday candles for dessert. We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and save one of the pieces of cake for Santa.
After singing to Jesus, we put the Baby Jesus figurine into the Nativity set. Our Wise Men are still making their way around the room and won’t be added until Epiphany (another fun and special day for us).
We go to Christmas Eve Mass and still take the long way home, looking at the Christmas lights. Our church is right across from the park downtown where they have a beautiful light display for the season so we usually start there with a walk through the park.
If we’re unable to make it to church (it has happened twice due to weather), we have our own special Christmas Eve candle lighting ceremony at home.
More Fun Christmas Eve Family Traditions
Of course, there’s the gift opening part of the evening. On the years when my daughter was little and Santa was visiting while she slept, we still had a special gift for her to open. It was usually new Christmas pajamas, a new book to read in bed that night, and often a new cuddle toy to help her get to sleep. I think a board game for the whole family to play would be fun too!
Being a musician and music teacher, my daughter always puts together a lovely holiday playlist for the evening. We play this while opening gifts. I feel like this year should be interesting, though. Walter is VERY into music and I think when he hears his favorites, it might just turn into a holiday dance party!
Our family ALWAYS watches The Muppet Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve. I’m pretty sure it’s my daughter’s all-time favorite movie. And, of course, there’s the song “It’s Only One More Sleep Until Christmas” in it so it seems fitting.
While we watch the movie, this is when we have our snacks and appetizers. They’re a bit different from the ones I grew up with – although the 1970s chips with onion dip still makes an appearance – but everyone gets their favorites. Oh and there must be eggnog on hand!
The Tradition of the Nativity Tray
A newer tradition has been for us to prepare a Nativity tray. I first read about this in A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. According to an English Medieval custom, if you venture out on the night of the Nativity, leaving gifts you will then be given “gifts of astonishment” in return. These gifts traditionally included things such as a succulent bone for a lost and lamenting hound, a dish of crumbs for all huddled birds who thought their song was dead, and a warm cloak for a stranded wayfarer.
We have taken a little license with our Nativity tray. We’ve modernized and adapted it to our area, so to speak. I’m sure God would approve. We live in a nice neighborhood but on a very busy street. So, we often have passersby in need of some help. Our tray, therefore, has things like warm mittens, hats, scarves, and socks on it. There are granola bars, bags of pretzels, juice boxes, and bottles of water. One year, I included a pile of warm blankets too. I try to think of things that are useful and that won’t be ruined if the weather overnight is below freezing.
That Nativity tray goes out right in front of my house where anyone who is passing by might see it and help themselves. But we add some more items to the backyard. We have lots of animals living back there and we make sure to care for them too! So, we set out some dishes of birdseed, hay, leafy greens, and nuts for the birds, squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks who live alongside us.
Finally, right before bed, we read T’was the Night Before Christmas. It’s the perfect way to cap off a lovely family evening. We head off to our beds feeling warm and cozy and ready for those sweet Christmas Eve dreams.
What are your Christmas Eve family traditions?