The scene is set at the turn of the 20th century, in Russia. Tevye, a Jewish father is trying to hold on to what he had been taught his entire life and has been part of the faith and belief system that has been handed down to him from generations who came before him. He finds himself having his beloved beliefs and traditions being challenged. The musical’s opening number rings in my head, “Tradition! Tradition!” Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite shows ever.
The word tradition rings louder no other time of the year than during the Christmas season. I know in our family, Christmas drips with tradition. You need to be careful, because if you do something more than 2 years in a row, it’s highly probable that it will stick forever. Then if you forget or try to skip it one year, you will be met with overwhelming opposition proclaiming, “We have to do that… it’s a family tradition!”
The Hunter holiday season starts with Thanksgiving and ends sometime in January, when the tree is disassembled. So, in reality, it lasts somewhere around 2 months. I thought it would be fun and entertaining to share some of our fun traditions that still carry on, as well as some that have died a hard death, and even one or two that are revived yearly, but should probably stay dead.
One year, Chrissy wanted to take the kids to the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Chicago. You know the one that’s on TV every year. After some diligent research, Chrissy found out that we needed to arrive early and bundle up because most years it’s colder than a brass toilet seat in the Yukon. You need to be there EARLY to secure a good spot. So, we put a plan together. The first year was fun. The second year, now that was the year that was more than entertaining and after that, it was decided that it would probably be in the best interest of the Hunter family not to go again. The issue is that this is one of those traditions that keeps trying to come back.
So, you may be wondering why we needed put this to rest? Well… it has to do with Chrissy getting into an argument with one of Chicago’s finest policemen. Long story short is that we were told to move from our “spot,” the one we had been at for over an hour with all the kids. It was a great place to see the entire parade, but we were told to move back. So, we did, only to have other people move in and sit right where we had been, blocking the kids’ vision. This did not go down well with the Hunter momma. So, she got the attention of the officer and asked why these people were allowed to stay where we were not? The cop was pretty irritated and said, Ma’am, you need to relax and enjoy the parade from where you are sitting. Totally not cool. Well, the momma bear was getting ready to roar about the injustice that her family was dealt. I could see the tension rising, and so I had to step in and calm her down. We ended up moving to a better location, nowhere near as good as the original, but we still had fun and everyone could see the parade. We all agreed on the train ride home, that if I hadn’t stepped in, we would have been watching the parade from the police station waiting room.
Another tradition we have is writing on a special table cloth what we are thankful for. This one was a keeper, but has since been put on hold until we find a new tablecloth. We started a new one a few years ago, but we had a few guests who didn’t understand our special tradition and well, sharpies are permanent. Though it was nothing horrible, our guests’ inscriptions weren’t supportive of our values and the Hunter Code, so we retired that tablecloth. The problem is that we can’t find a tablecloth big enough to fit the table I built for 13 people.
One last simple, and from what I hear popular tradition, is a thanksgiving puzzle that everyone works on throughout the day while visiting and enjoying each other. We choose a new puzzle every year. Some years the puzzle will last until Christmas, then other years it only lasts the day.
Thanksgiving also starts the Christmas movies too. Our list has the traditional stop motion tv specials like Rudolph and Frosty. We also have a few others that we love , like, the Polar Express, Arthur’s Christmas, The Santa Clause Movies, Christmas Vacation, and The Grinch. Our favorite traditional movies are White Christmas, Christmas Story, and Braveheart. Yes, Braveheart. Being of a Scottish heritage, we start the New Year off with this one, I honestly think this got on our list because it was the only movie on tv one New Year’s Day, and it was being played over and over again. So the next year, someone remembered that we had watched Braveheart, and decided it was a “new” tradition for us.
A few of our other traditions are cutting down a fresh tree as a family, and decorating it as a family too. Even our married kids come home to help decorate the tree. This can be tricky with everyone’s schedule, but it’s a tradition, so we make it happen. This is also the start of a huge rivalry in the clan. The issue is who puts the angel on the top of the tree. When the kids were little, I would lift them up, and they would place the angel on the top of the tree. The problem arose one year when we forgot who put the angel on the previous year. Everyone started arguing over whose turn it was. So now, Chrissy and I have to take pictures of who does the tree topper for evidence the next year when everyone starts arguing about whose turn it is. We were doing oldest to youngest, but that got messed up somewhere along the line. Even now, as adults, the kids bicker back and forth about who will get to put the angel on the tree until we go look at the old pictures.
One way we get everyone together during the Christmas season is the reading of the family Advent book. This is a sacred book that can only be opened and read and looked at during the Advent season. Now that the kids are older, instead of reading from the book every night, we just get together each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas. We have dinner and read the Advent book. December 26th, the book is tied shut with a gold ribbon until the next year’s Advent. The book is unique in many ways, but the biggest thing is that each page has a different door on it and each door opens to reveal a part of the birth of Jesus Christ. The author and illustrator are a husband and wife, and the book truly is amazingly beautiful.
This is another thing where the kids still try to outwit each other because they all want to be the one who opens the Christmas Day door. They count who will read which door and as we each take a turn reading the doors; they try to get themselves in the order they think will increase their chances to open the Christmas door, the last door of the book. Now that we have added to the clan with daughters and grands, it’s even more fun to watch as they try to get to be the one to open the last door.
On Christmas Day, before any gifts are unwrapped or anything else, we take a little time to read the Advent Book all the way through, and I read Luke’s take on the birth of Christ from the Bible. Then we take time to pray. Then, and only then, can we start to open the gifts. We have been asked how we do gifts. With a family our size, gifts can be an expensive challenge. So, Chrissy and I came up with giving 3 smaller gifts, 1 large gift, and a stocking to each one. We decided on 4 gifts because of the 3 gifts brought by the Three Wise Men and given to Mary and Joseph in honor of the Christ child. The one larger gift is to remind us of the great gift of grace God gave us through His Son. The stockings are full of a variety of small gifts, just like the variety of gifts the Holy Spirit brings us when we accept Jesus as our Savior.
Another tradition that we think is fun is our Christmas Eve dinner tradition. I’m not sure when this started; I believe it was when we moved from Pennsylvania to go to school for ministry. With our families being so far away, we started some of these traditions to fill the void we felt and to give us something to look forward to. Holidays are hard when separated from extended family. For this tradition in particular, it came from one of the traditional movies we watch, “The Christmas Story.” It’s from the part after the family has their turkey stolen by the neighbor’s hounds. They end up in the only restaurant open on Christmas, a Chinese restaurant. So, each Christmas Eve, after Christmas Eve services at church, we eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We have had so much fun with this tradition. Over the years, we have enjoyed being able to invite others along with us to take part in this fun tradition. We have shared in some great conversations and in building some amazing relationships. I believe the most we have had was around 26 people at one time taking part in this tradition.
After we are done with our Chinese feast, we head back to our home for the reading of the Advent book, as well as another fun tradition that the kids came up with. As they got older they wanted to buy each other gifts, but we really didn’t have the money to let each of them shop for each other, so they came up with what they call Secret Santa. We draw names on Thanksgiving Day, and on Christmas Eve, we give our gifts to whose names we drew. The kids would use money they earned, as well as Chrissy and I helping a little, so they could get their special gift.
These are just a few of our favorite traditions we have that are close to our family’s hearts and help make us who we are. Each year, Chrissy and I think through what we do and decide which traditions we will make more of a priority. We also try to see if there are any new things we want to add to the list.
This year we added two fun games to the list that seemed to go well and were fun. But we will have to wait and see if they will stand the test of time in the Hunter clan.
I would love to hear some of the fun traditions that your families have; we may want to borrow them!