Favorite Holiday Traditions

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!)

Upside-Down Tree
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

Teaching Tradition
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

Family Forest
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

Bingo Night
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

Milestone Cake
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

Family Video
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

Say Cheese!
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

Ornamental Exchange
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

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Comments (7)

  • grandmeredix 28 Aug, 2011

    As my children approached their teens to orchestrate some positiive comments I began a 35 year old custom of writing Thanksgiving prayers ( all of which I have saved ). Since Thanksgiving is the one holiday we all celebrate together the prayers have multiplied to include the 10 grandchildren and original four's marital partners.
    bobbi schimmel ( madge miller's cousin )

  • rosegardencolor 27 Dec, 2008

    I arrange all of the kids' Christmas books on our coffee table. Although my kids (11 and 13) consider the holidays a break from school reading, they never can resist the temptation to leaf through the books; we wind up reading a book each night by the glow of the Christmas tree. Bonus: The kids remember the people who gave them the books. Subsequent phone conversations: "We just read "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus." The gift-givers are thrilled that their gifts are still being enjoyed.

  • rosegardencolor 27 Dec, 2008

    I arrange all of the kids' Christmas books on our coffee table. Although my kids (11

  • rosegardencolor 27 Dec, 2008

    I arrange all of the kids' Christmas books on our coffee table. Although my kids (11

  • gretaoh 22 Dec, 2008

    Since marrying in 2000, my husband and I have purchased a new ornament for the tree that represents something special about the past year. Another tradition I started this year is an Advent calendar for my daughter, but instead of a treat each day, she picks an activity for the day (some are simply, like coloring Christmas pictures, and some are more ellaborate, like going to our local Holiday Parade).

  • NatureBaby 12 Nov, 2007

    We have 6 children and we love the holidays but mostly we all love the traditions that I started many years ago.

    1. We start in Nov. with "Christmas Cookie Night" once a week we bake 1 kind of cookie recipe...I let the kids take turns to choose which one they want that night. We do this till the week before Christmas. The night we bake we get to enjoy some and than freeze the rest for the holidays when guests and family drop in. This way I'm not burned out baking alone and cleaning alone and we h

  • celtbeast 9 Nov, 2007

    Our family celebrates different holidays at this time of year so we end up haveing two seperate occations which I find actually expands the holiday time and makes for a more festive season. There are feasts, presents and trees for both but different stories and types of celebrations and types of presents or offereings, but all in all it has been a nice practice for my two girls and I for the last 15 years.

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