Every family has Christmas customs.  Certain foods that are served every year. The order in which presents are opened (feeding frenzy vs one at a time). Going to church for the children's service or the candlelight service. Wearing ugly Christmas sweaters.  Passing on that singing fish to some unsuspecting recipient. They may be new customs that your family started or old ones going back generations.


When I was growing up, we would go to my grandmother's for Christmas Eve dinner.  We would go to the church that her parents helped to start - St John's Danish Lutheran Church (the Danish part has been dropped) - and then gather around a beautifully set table for crab soufflé and tomato aspic. We would be dressed up in our very best clothes which gave the evening such a sense of occasion.  While the adults were enjoying their coffee, the kids would each get to suck on a sugar cube which added to our sugar-driven excitement.  Then the presents!


We would also get together every year with our extended family at my great-grandparents' big house in Madison Park. (The photo shows the family's Christmas party in 1948.) There were four generations of us who would gather (and still do every third summer) for ham, purple cabbage, and the famous Danish rice pudding. The adults' pudding had one almond in it.  Whoever got the almond, got a prize.  All of us kids were given a gift from the great big, red velvet Santa bag. We sang Christmas carols, the women gathered in the kitchen, some of the men lit up cigars, and the kids roamed around the house (up the backstairs, into the attic - all the places we were told not to go) or we played "Button, button, who's got the button?" 


I kept up some of those traditions with my family: Christmas Eve dinner (always with rice pudding) and Christmas Eve service at church. We have new traditions, too, as families blend together. Now we go to my daughter-in-law's parents' house on Christmas morning where my son and daughter-in-law fill everyone's stockings with wonderful treats. With our move to Anacortes this year, my husband and I will have had to come up with a new Christmas Eve tradition - coercing one of our kids to host dinner. I promised to make purple cabbage and rice pudding.

When my children were growing up, a book I used over and over to inspire me was Take Joy! by Tasha Tudor.  It includes Christmas stories, carols, customs, legends, and a section on how the Tudor family celebrated Christmas - I love the dolls' Christmas. Plymouth Library has two copies so I hope at least two people will discover it this year.  Of course, I would read aloud to my children.  This book wasn't around then, but I do recommend it to you: Angels & Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories by one of my favorite authors, Katherine Paterson. Also try A Wreath of Christmas Legends by Phyllis McGinley, and start some new customs with the ideas in Before and After: Activities and Ideas - Advent and Epiphany.