Upside-down Christmas trees, New Year's Eve eyebrow waxing, Thanksgiving bingo. Since it's the holidays, we asked you to tell us about the traditions, rituals, and practices you and your loved ones hold dear. Some are funny, others sweet -- and each a unique celebration of the time Body+Soul readers share with the people they call family. (We even added a few of our own to the mix!)
For 12 years, we've hung our Christmas tree upside down. There's no symbolism or reason for it. My mother got inspired one year by the chandeliers in her favorite Chinese restaurant and thought the tree would look pretty that way. My dad drilled holes in the wall in our high-ceilinged living room in New Hampshire, and we strung it up by a wire. We love it so much; we just wouldn't have it any other way.
-- Corinn Dembkoski, Charlestown, Massachusetts
The Cider Press
Every fall, we'd gather at my grandparents' farmhouse in Millbrook, New York, to make apple cider. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends would come bundled in woolly scarves and warm boots. After picking bushels of apples from the field, we'd take turns cranking the wheel of the cider press, watching as the apples slowly churned into sweet, golden cider. When my grandparents sold their house, my parents continued the special weekend at their place. To this day, it's one of the traditions I most treasure.
-- Alanna Fincke, Belmont, Massachusetts
I wanted to show my daughter what it felt like to give without expecting anything in return. For the past 20 years, we've shopped for people whose names we receive from the Salvation Army. Now my daughter has a family of her own, and she still carries on the tradition. My granddaughter gets to pick what she thinks other children need -- pencils, crayons, toys. She loves giving things away so much that now it's hard to make her stop!
-- Jerry Kaiwi, Kula, Hawaii
My grandparents owned some land outside of Cleveland with lots of open space and log cabins for camping. They registered as American Tree Farmers, and every year throughout my father's childhood, he planted pine trees. They'd invite other groups like the Boy Scouts to come join them. I remember as a child running through the forest we had all helped to create.
-- Amy Frankel Nau, Wayland, Massachusetts
On every major holiday and birthday for more than 25 years, we have played bingo. And every Thanksgiving, we use our winnings to donate gifts to a charity that we decide on together.
-Cheryl Padaken, Kihei, Hawaii
Grandma Ariella's Birthday
My mother died when I was pregnant with my son Ari. I've often worried that he'll associate his grandma with sadness, since I often get emotional when I talk about her. So on her birthday last December, I invited over a few friends and made a cake. After singing "Happy Birthday" to Grandma Ariella, we all blew out the candles. Then we danced around the apartment. From now on, we'll celebrate his grandma's birthday with cake and music: Grandma Ariella loved sweets, and man, oh man, could she dance.
-- Katherine Rosman, New York City
Everyone in my family gets a birthday cake specifically tailored to whatever is going on in his or her life at the time. When my sister Rosie turned 20, she got 20 cupcakes with 20 questions pinned to the bottoms. The answer to each question -- "What is bigger than a bread box and smarter than a nail?"; "Who loves the dining hall's broccoli cheese soup?" -- was "Rosie." One year, my brother, who was into baseball at the time, got a cake of Shea Stadium. My dad got an AARP-card cake when he turned 65. You're not allowed to eat your cake until you figure out what the theme is -- which can be a bit of a challenge, seeing as they're not professionally done.
-- Lizzie Ryan, Chatham, New Jersey
Holiday Beauty Ritual
Every Christmas Eve, I wax my aunts' eyebrows. I'm not a cosmetologist, but I do think it's necessary that Aunt Patty, Aunt Ro, and Aunt Janet start the new year looking their best (and with two eyebrows -- not just one). The first year I had to chase them around the house with hot wax, but now they look forward to it. Afterward, I give my grandmother a manicure. I paint her nails bright red so she can see them from far away.
-- Rachel Angoff, Charlestown, Massachusetts
Coffee With Nic
We lost our 20-year-old son, Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Sovie, in February 2006, in a helicopter crash during Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then, every Sunday after mass, my husband, Steve, my 17-year-old son, Jesse, and I pick up coffee and head out to the cemetery where Nic is buried. We call it "coffee with Nic." If the weather's really bad in the winter, we do a quick drive-by instead -- but we always visit. It's become a very healing and peaceful tradition that we all look forward to.
-- Mary Sovie, Ogdensburg, New York
When someone in our family celebrates an event (wedding, anniversary, 80th birthday), we create a video for that person. Not just any old video, mind you -- a Martin Scorsese-like production (if Scorsese were insane). Each comes complete with song-and-dance numbers, skits, and my dad, who usually ends up in drag. They're really funny -- to us.
-- Rachael Combe, New York City
Every year on our birthdays, my mom would sneak into our room and take our picture just as we were waking up ("Happy Birthday! It's your birthday!"). We'd be half-asleep, eyes squinty, hair all crazy. Granted, they weren't our most attractive moments, but we do have these hysterical pictures of us growing up. And yes, I intend to keep this tradition going when I have kids. Absolutely.
-- Hillary Geronemus, Natick, Massachusetts
Every Christmas, my husband and I buy each other a decoration for the tree. The only criterion? It must be more exotic than the last. Our basic objective is to outdo each other for less than $20. Every year it gets harder. We now have 30 decorations on our tree from all over the world, each with its story of how it came to be.
-- Darren and Wendy Tomlin, Bundanoon, Australia
Tuesdays with the Barletts
About seven years ago, my sister and I walked into a local pizza place called Ron's on a Tuesday and ran into my parents and brother having dinner. From then on, Tuesday became family night at Ron's. It's expanded to include everyone, from spouses to nieces and nephews to grandkids to friends. In June 2005, my dad passed away after a long fight with cancer. He made us promise that we'd continue family night, and we have. I imagine we always will.
--Sue Barlett, Miamisburg, Ohio