Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Untraditional Traditions

By Lisa Karon Richardson

I grew up in a preacher’s home. One might think this made for Norman Rockwell type scenes of family dinners and evenings before the fireplace. That one would be wrong. Christmas and Easter are the two busiest seasons for a minister and it seems the holidays were always chock full of activities, from Christmas pagents to candlelight cantatas, to the annual ladies’ breakfast to coordinating caroling for shut-ins. There’s plenty of work to go around. And of course all the planning and practice that goes into making those events a success.

As a kid I was less than enamored by the long hours spent waiting for people to learn their parts.

That isn’t to say that we didn’t have lots of fun and still take time to celebrate Christmas with our family. In order to get time to actually enjoy it our Christmas tree was always up on Thanksgiving day. Sometimes before then. The earliest I remember erecting the good ol’ fake fir is the day after Halloween. And Christmas music was an option year round.
When I was little my parents used to borrow a projector from the local library (apparently they could be checked out.) Then they and my grandparents would watch Oliver! on a white sheet hung up in our living room. Fagan totally creeped me out at 4,5,6. I remember that they had to change out the reels half way through the movie. And I have a really clear memory of the last scene where Bill Sykes has Oliver on the roof. That faded over time, but starting in our teens it became a tradition to watch Christmas Vacation on Christmas day every year. And I do mean every year.

Another holiday tradition is playing a wicked game of Monopoly. For some reason we only ever play this game on Christmas, probably because it takes us that long to recover each year. It is vicious. Beware anyone trying to help you out by trading you a property. Harold Hill has nothing on my dad when it comes to selling stuff. And the high stakes wheeling and dealing can go on for hours.

We always got new pajamas for Christmas and that was the one present we could open on Christmas Eve. When the big morning arrived we were ready for photo opportunities. My parents were smart too, we had to wait to open presents until everyone was awake, but they let us dig into our stockings as soon as we got up. This ensured them a few more minutes of precious sleep.

There were a few years that were pretty tough financially. One year my mom and dad made us stick ponies. (As you can see if you can read her tag, mine was named Suzie Q. And had a green calico face with a yellow mane. And white reins made of yarn.)

Another year, my dad used scrap wood to make my sister and I closets for our Barbies. While mom sewed them up new outfits. Another year we received homemade dolls. Those toys were all just as loved and played with as any of our store bought things.

Looking back I find our Christmases were a blend of traditions and innovation. But they were all ours. I still love celebrating Christmas with my family. And this year I’m determined to win the Monopoly game.

Does your family have any untraditional traditions? Did you ever get any homemade gifts as a kid.

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her first novella, Impressed by Love, part of the Colonial Courtships collection, is coming in October, 2012.


  1. I loved all your photos and learning about your traditions. I think watching Oliver affected your love of historicals but I don't think I have the guts to engage in Monopoly against you!

    No matter how cute you are in those photos ...

  2. I think you're right Deb. I definitely came by my love of historicals naturally. I even like that musical now. You're also correct in that Monopoly at our house is not for the faint of heart.

  3. Was thinking we'll have to get an online game of Monopoly going against the Inkies. Will have to look and see if that is possible.

    How cute you were. And although times were tough, I can feel the love in a homemade stick horse or a closet full of homemade Barbie clothes.

    Great memories!

  4. It's funny Barb, but as a little kid I was shielded enough that I didn't really know times were tough. I was perfectly content and I loved those toys that were made by hand. Now I love that my parents worked so hard to make those things for us.

  5. It's a wonderful post, Lisa. And your cuteness hasn't changed a whit.

    Some of your traditions were the same as ours:
    - one present of jammies on Christmas Eve that the parents just happened to pull out from under the tree
    - stockings were free choice, but don't touch the presents until everyone was assembled.

    Monopoly - well, our parents didn't play games and I never liked Monopoly. But then I could have a biased view because I never won. Actually, I don't think we played by the rules, either.

    Thank you for taking the time to dig out the photos, Lisa. You were/are adorable.


  6. Oh, what adorable pictures!

    We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve . . . mostly because NOBODY wanted to get up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning.

    And we play Scrabble and do jigsaw puzzles at Christmas. :D

  7. Great post, Lisa! I had a stick horse like yours, but she had a head made out of a big pink sock. I wonder what happened to her? Ah, I love the memories we're all sharing with these posts.

    Since I'm married to a pastor, I can relate to a lot of what you said. We're so worn out by Christmas day that it's very low key. Naps are mandatory (for the adults, at least.) We serve a nice dinner, but we're wearing sweats while eat. Stockings are fair game (so Daddy can get a few more winks) but everyone has to be up for presents. In the evening, we're playing games and/or watching a movie.

    We'll be doing jigsaws this year, too, DeAnna!

  8. Anita, we have house rules for Monopoly too. Like all the tax money, fines, etc goes in the center and whoever lands on free parking collects whatever is in that pot. Now that makes the games go long. Just when you've worn someone down and they're about to mortgage a property they get a sudden infusion of cash.

    I'm glad we share some traditions!

  9. DeAnna, I think Scrabble is my favorite board game. But for some reason very few people will play me. If any of you have either Words with Friends or Scrabble as a phone app, let me know and we'll play!

    We opened our presents on Christmas Eve one year. I think we kids must have been especially persistent that year. But it ended up that none of us really liked it, because Christmas morning kind of felt like a let down. Ever since, we've stuck to opening presents in the morning.

  10. Susie, our Christmases sound a lot alike. Very casual and relaxed. Usually there's a big meal, but we don't go anywhere. Except when Christmas is on a Sunday like this year. Then we have church.

  11. You're right about one thing, it just doesn't seem right to let the season go by without catching at least part of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. That movie is a great lesson on spending money you don't have. LOL

    We didn't have a holiday movie growing up, but a dozen or so years ago, we discovered the movie, A Holiday Romance with Naomi Judd and Gerald McRaney. We're a musical family (well, except for me) and even watch the movie in July just because it's halfway to Christmas.

    When our niece pops over to visit, the first thing she asks is, "Has Uncle Nelson watched his Christmas movie yet?" She beams when we reply that we waited for her and then we settle down to watch it. No matter how many times we see it, we still pass the kleenex box around at the end.

    When our VHS copy began to wear out I tried to buy A Holiday Romance. Because it had been a made-for-tv movie, it wasn't available. And after a 4-6 yr run, it wasn't on tv any more, either.

    Then, surprise! They re-released it with a new name - A Song for the Season and included deleted scenes from the original. yay! We bought the DVD which included a CD of the soundtrack at Walmart for $6. We're happy campers now.

  12. Lisa, how cute you were! I adore the one of you leaning on the drums. I can just imagine the thoughts going through your mind :+}

  13. Ahhh... stopping by the Inkwell during the Christmas season is like stepping out for coffee with your sisters during shopping... have so enjoyed all these memories!

    Lisa, having raised up my kids in church ministries, it's wonderful to hear that you weren't "burnt like a cookie" with all the obligations, and came away with some fun and delicious memories because of it. And I'm with Jennifer... that drum picture is priceless!

    Loved this post!

  14. Anita, I'm so happy that you were able to find your movie. My s-i-l is still looking for her favorite show from childhood, and I have to admit I'd love to find it too. Rags to Riches.

  15. Jen, yeah... the expression is pretty transparent isn't it.

  16. Thanks for taking the time to stop and comment, Lily! My parents did an exceptional job of keeping us involved in church work but not overwhelming us. It was just the way life was. But I don't think we resented it. My sister and I are both married to ministers now!

  17. New jammies, handmade Barbie clothes, board games and parents who were able to keep us from knowing finances were tight - it's amazing how much we all have in common. :-)

    I love watching sappy Christmas movies. Lisa, you were too cute!

  18. Oh, it's so true.

    I remember my grandmother crocheting tons of gorgeous doll clothes for me. I, of course, played them into oblivion, not realizing the amount of work that must have gone into them.

    And somehow my parents managed to have a room full of Christmas presents for us every year. I have no idea how they did it.

    Going without things themselves, I'm sure.

    It's amazing.

  19. I was also oblivious to the amount of work that went into those Barbie clothes, too. I wish I still had them, but I think my mom gave them to my cousins' kids. My favorite was a crocheted blue mohair mini-dress.

  20. We do have a lot in common, Suzie! You ladies will not be at all surprised I'm sure given my fictional proclivities. But my favorite homemade Barbie clothing was a sweeping bright blue cape complete with hood.

  21. DeAnna, I know what you mean. We just played with those things. I wish I still had some of those toys. If I did I'd let my kids play with them and somewhere along the line it would get broken. But maybe that's the point. They were made to be played with, not left on the shelf. Even though we could be rough on stuff, I bet they were happier seeing us do something with the things they worked so hard on rather than neglecting them.


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