Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Family History-Holiday Traditions

By Lisa Karon Richardson

The whole idea of tracing my family history fascinates me. I’ve made a few false starts and found some interesting tidbits, but in all honesty I like the idea more than I like the necessary research.

Luckily I have more diligent relatives.

My grandfather managed to trace his side of the family back to a man named Paine Thompson who served as a captain in the Revolutionary War. Before that our family came from Nottingham, England. That’s right, the Nottingham of Robin Hood and Maid Marian!

Those distant relatives still affect my day-to-day existence. Paine Thompson received a land grant in the Ohio Valley in lieu of actual pay from the continental army. Much of the land that downtown Cincinnati is built on was once owned by my family. Sadly other relatives were much poorer decision makers and the land was all sold away long before it was worth anything. I’m not the heiress I should be. But that’s how we wound up in Ohio.

Other influences are subtler. Like the way we celebrate the holidays.

For example, my mama-in-law’s family celebrated Christmas with a huge breakfast that everyone pitched in to make. Then they opened presents and played games the rest of the day while snacking on sandwiches and chips and holiday goodies. But she married into a family that did an enormous Christmas dinner. (Definitely a carryover from Victorian ancestors.)


It didn’t feel like Christmas to her to be stuck in the kitchen all day, and it didn’t feel like Christmas to him without that special dinner.

There is no right or wrong. Just different versions of normal.

So what family traditions do you hold dear? Which ones could you live without?


  1. I agree, we keep some, lose some and make new traditions all along the way. Thanks for sharing yours, Lisa. Nottingham, huh?

    The ones we currently keep: Everyone gets a Christmas stocking they open before the official start time (Gifts are not opened until everyone is settle into place) I make personalized stockings that get used year after year. It's time to make a new one for grandson Grant!

    Then, we have a big breakfast after gifts.

    I decided a long time ago to be flexible with the holiday. Adult children and their 'in-law' families mean you take what you can get for family time.

    Newer tradition -drawing names among the adults. Will you all be shocked to know that my family decided to do no gifts this year and just enjoy the family time together? There'll be gifts for children of course. Super stress-free holiday!

  2. Sometimes we actually go out for a big buffet on Christmas. My mom, sister, and I all agree that no one wants to cook all day on Christmas. My Mom did it when we were kids and always ended up stressed. If we do cook, it's something simple like a big roast with a few sides. I like to do a nice breakfast, which I mostly prepare the night before.

    We do presents in the morning, and the kids get three gifts to represent Jesus's three gifts, plus a stocking. Of course we can fudge a little in the packaging. We also try to have a time during the day for singing happy birthday to Jesus and having a cake.

    When my kids were little, we tried to avoid most of the Santa stuff, but child number 2 decided to believe in Santa on his own and kept begging for a dancing Santa. The rest is history. Santa still does his rhythmic hip wiggling for us every Christmas.

    I'll be sharing one of my church's Christmas traditions on December 26th.

  3. I always loved the big Christmas dinner--until I grew up and had to be the one to help cook it! Now I prefer breakfast and snacking.

    I like opening presents on Christmas mornings--stockings first, like Deb. My husband's family usually did it all on Christmas Eve. But Christmas Eve at my growing up house was my dad's birthday, and we reserved it to celebrate him. Over the years hubby has converted to my way, but now we do church on most Christmas Eve's and celebrate Daddy's birthday another day.

  4. Deb, on my side of the family we do no gifts for the adults, but on my husband's side, stockings are a BIG deal so each person in each family has to buy everyone else a stocking. That equals 4 presents from us for every person. It requires... creativity!

  5. Dina, we like to get a honeybaked ham that's already cooked and we just basically warm it up, and make a few side dishes (and lots of desserts!)

  6. Anne, my family always did the "tear into your stockings first thing" thing. Now we do that at our house, but with Joel's family we go around and wait for each person to open a gift from their stocking. Move on to the next person, etc. It can take awhile!

  7. You know, Lisa, that picture of Maid Marian kinda looks like you! : )

    We always did stockings, presents, and the big dinner on Christmas Day. But DH's family did presents on Christmas Eve and a very non-traditional dinner (Spaghetti for Christmas?), with stockings in the morning so they could spend the day skiing.

    We've sort of mashed things together, but now with grandbaby on the way and more sets of in-laws to fit in the mix, I figure it will change.

    My Christmas dream right now includes a Santa hat and chaise lounge on a warm, white, sandy beach, with an umbrella-embellished fruity drink in hand.

  8. Blending traditions seems to always be a hot topic in our family, although the end result is always the same: my husband's a pastor so we can't leave town! Family has to come to us for Christmas, and church dictates our schedule.

    We've fallen into a few food traditions without intending to. Christmas Eve, we end up eating heavy appetizers between services: shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, a holiday chicken wreath, yummy. We love to be with friends and family, but sometimes we're alone. It just depends. On Christmas morning after stockings, we *have* to eat candied bacon and fresh pineapple, along with my husband's traditional stollen! We eat a nice dinner -- never the same thing twice -- but we're so tired, we usually wear sweatpants when we eat. It's not the formal family Christmas dinners I always had and I do miss being with more family, but it's what works in our family during this busy time.

    Niki, take me with you to your tropical Christmas paradise!

    Thanks, Lisa!

  9. My mother-in-law makes a traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner, complete with a rice pudding with one hazelnut hidden amongst the raisins. ... You have to guess who has the nut... The year I got it I could not hide it in my cheeks and really didn't fool anyone. Anyway, whoever gets it is supposed to have good luck in the coming year.

  10. So you hail from Nottingham... that explains a lot!

    When I was growing up, we had the big dinner tradition, with my uncle and his family coming over. That fizzled out some time in my early teens. Something my mom always did was hang up my stocking on St. Nicholas eve (which I think was December 5th) so I never had a stocking on Christmas day. We did that for Billy's first Christmas, but since he was always looking for a stocking on Christmas morning, the tradition didn't stick. Actually, the only thing we're pretty consistent with is opening presents on Christmas eve. Otherwise, we're about the least traditional family I know!

  11. Delighted to meet you today. I hope you don't mind if I splash around a bit to get to know you. This looks like a refreshing place to dip my toes.


  12. Niki, I think that's the nicest thing you've said to me! I guess with all the changes in your family you'll have the chance to make some fun new traditions.

  13. Eating in your pj's doesn't sound bad to me, Susie!

  14. Oh, Cheryl, I've heard of a similar tradition where they put a small trinket or coin in a cake and whoever gets that slice gets the good luck. In fact, one of those cakes plays a significant role in one of Sherlock Holmes's stories.

  15. Ah, Jen, another Christmas eve family. We tried it one year. But the next morning just seemed so anticlimactic. I guess it's gotta be one of those things you start at the beginning or not at all. (Although we did open up our traditional set of new christmas pj's on christmas eve, so that we could wear them.)

    St Nicholas eve, huh? I've never heard that.

  16. Sarah, so glad to see you here today! Feel free to splash around all you want :o)

  17. Cheryl,
    The coin in the cake is like King's cake, a Mardi Gras tradition. We'll have to get an expert in on that subject. Like Patti Lacy?

    Hey look, a fresh face! Welcome Sarah!

    A tradition at my house that sort of went away is Plum Pudding. I love it but I'm alone. My kids never got into it and it's not something I'd make just for myself.
    A nice English tradition.
    Of course there are no plums in it and it's a steamed, heavy, moist cake full of dried fruits. Great with warm nutmeg sauce. Yum O!

  18. Lisa, St. Nicholas eve is a Dutch holiday. You're actually supposed to put out your shoes on the evening of December 5th, and if you're deemed a good child, they are filled with nuts and fruit. My family changed it to a stocking filled with See's candy and little toys. It's a nice memory :+}

  19. Ethan just told me last night that they made shoes (out of paper) for St Nicholas day and he was hoping there would be candy in his when he got into school. Talk about coincidence!

  20. Oh, these traditions are delightful.

    Last year was the first time I didn't use the personalized red felt stocking my mom made when I was little. I stopped using it because it was over 50 yrs old and I figured it deserved a rest while it was still in good shape. When I married Nelson, I made him a stocking using mine as a pattern. Following my family's tradition, I made his using green felt (for the boys) with his name across it in the same way my mom did mine. I added little felt trees with a different colour than mine, too. When the girls came along, I made theirs in red similar to mine, and green for the boys when they followed. Unfortunately, Crystal took hers when she moved away and lost it somewhere in her travels. And mice got into our decorations one year and nibbled on the heel of Nelson's stocking. I think that's when I started thinking about the vulnerability of mine. Now it hangs above the rest - nice to look at, but don't touch. Maybe it'll last another 50 years. We'll see.

    Lisa - Nottingham - really? Nelson says we're practically neighbours as his ancestors came from Kent. He even has a 'Sir' (a knight) in his past. Actually, he has a US governor, and puritans in his heritage too but he relates more to his British roots. :D

    Great post!

    Anita Mae.

  21. Wow, Anita! Your Nelson comes from distinguished folk. Pretty much the most exciting thing about mine was where they came from!

    I love that you still had you stocking from childhood and kept that tradition alive for your kids. I really think that's awesome!


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