Winter Holiday Pastimes and Traditions

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas with every Christmas card I write; may your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white.”

Winter Holiday Traditions 

There are so many festivities and traditions associated with Christmastime, some old and still in practice, while some have sort of gone out of fashion. As a big lover of Christmas and all the winter holidays, I enjoy all the merriments and celebrations. Why don’t you and your family try something new this season? 

Trimming the tree: most people—even non-Christians—put up some sort of tree for Christmas. It used to be tradition not to decorate the tree until Christmas Eve; this may seem a bit late for many of us, but it’s really a lovely idea to have a tree trimming party just before the official day of Noel, don’t you think? If you want to have an old-fashioned Christmas, try making your own ornaments using paper and fashion garlands out of popcorn and cranberries on string. Don’t forget to add dried fruit (especially orange slices) to your tree, and remember that it’s always charming and fun to cut down your own tree if you can. Before electric lights, people would actually place real candles on their Christmas tree branches. This is, of course, a fire hazard!

  • In the UK: Christmas crackers are a fun little offering that actually make a cracking sound when you open them! Good for stocking stuffers or holiday party favors, they make for the perfect little gift. Of course, in the UK, children refer to Santa Claus as “Father Christmas.”
  • In Iceland, children leave their shoes by the window in preparation for Christmas, hoping for candy and treats. If they’ve been naughty, they receive rotten potatoes! This is quite similar to the old adage that a badly behaved child will only get a lump of coal as a present.  

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” 

– Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

  • Cozy touches: Watching a yule log burn and crackle on the fire, being kissed beneath the mistletoe, and caroling are all festive and merry ways to participate in the holiday season. 
  • Hanukkah is the Jewish winter holiday where the lighting of the menorah takes place and is celebrated for eight nights. 
  • Religious observance is, of course, very important. No matter what your religion, there are Christmas Eve services to attend, beautiful hymns to be sung, and, of course, it’s ideal to put charity into action.  Volunteering and donating to your favorite charities, local church, and food and clothing drives are really the best, most appropriate ways to celebrate the holidays. It’s a time, more than ever, for hospitality, compassion, love, and generosity.
  • Writing holiday cards is such a lovely gesture. This quaint act of kindness may mean more to someone than you know, and it’s much more charming than sending an email. 
  • Traditional foods and goodies are probably everyone’s favorite part of any holiday! Some of our beloved staples include a  plump Christmas goose, fig or plum pudding, homemade fudge, sugar cookies (in festive shapes) and milk for Santa Claus, marzipan fruit, ribbon candy, fruitcake, egg nog, minced meat pies, a Christmas Stollen, chestnuts, ham with pineapple, wassail, sugarplums, gingerbread men and, of course, a gingerbread house.
  • Stockings (always with an orange, apple, or candy cane inside): fresh fruit used to be a luxury for many people (and still is for some), and they could only get it at Christmas. An abundance of fruit at Christmas is just one of many sweet indulgences. 
  • A festival of lights: some neighborhoods go completely wild when decorating their homes; it’s always fun to go for a drive and check out the lights!
  • Secret Santa seems to pop up every year, whether it’s at work or among family and friends. This way, you only have to buy one gift. 
  • Keep an advent calendar counting down the days to Christmas!
  • A couple of surprises: did you know that it used to be, in some cultures, commonplace to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve? It’s also tradition to appoint someone as the “Lord of Misrule” on Christmas Day! 

“Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings!”

  • Classic movies, books, and songs will always define our culture. Try watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens this year. Sing “Jingle Bells,” “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot like Christmas,” “White Christmas,” and “Silent Night.” If you and loved ones can gather ‘round while someone plays the piano, all toasty and warm by a roaring fire with cocktails and glistening snow outside your window, then you’ve just achieved the ideal mise-en-scène. 

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