“Making a Tradition,” New Era, Dec. 1984, 12
Where’s Dad’s red shirt? It just isn’t Christmas if Dad doesn’t wear his red shirt.”
I don’t remember when this tradition started in our family, but Dad always had to wear his red flannel shirt on Christmas Day. Most likely he just happened to put it on one Christmas, and we thought it was just the right thing to wear. After that we had great fun with Dad hiding the shirt and the rest of us trying to find it before the big day. That red flannel shirt became a tradition. It was a simple thing that still brings back wonderful memories of brothers and sisters, of mother and father, caring about each other and showing it during Christmas.
The fun of the holiday season is often tied to family traditions, certain ways of doing things that often start by accident but become cherished memories of Christmas. Sometimes traditions are as simple as having Dad wear a red shirt on Christmas Day or as heartwarming as adopting someone who needs a family during the holidays. The taste of gingerbread cookies or the smell of a freshly cut tree can bring a flood of memories—memories of special times with the ones you love the best, your family. Help your younger brothers and sisters get involved with you in some fun Christmas ideas, and you just may have the beginnings of some Christmas traditions.
Christmas traditions can also teach valuable lessons about what the holiday season is really about, the rejoicing of heaven and earth in the birth of Jesus Christ.
Anticipation is often half the fun of a holiday. I liked building the excitement for my brothers and sisters by making a visual reminder of the number of days left until Christmas with an Advent calendar.
An Advent calendar is simply a way of marking the days until Christmas, usually starting on December 1. Here’s one that acts as a decorative wall hanging as well.
On a large rectangle of red felt, glue or applique a green felt outline of a Christmas tree. Along the bottom of this wall hanging, attach 24 small ornaments or ribbons to decorate the tree. Starting on December 1, place one ornament on the tree, and each day add another ornament. It can be a special honor to take a turn being the one to place that day’s ornament on the tree. Add a small scroll of paper containing a scripture about the birth of the Savior to each ornament. The scripture can be read aloud, perhaps at mealtime or just before bedtime, when the ornament is moved to the tree.
Or try making your own Advent candle. Take a plain dripless candle and, using a ruler, mark off 24 spaces, allowing extra candle at the bottom to fit into a candle holder. Marks can be painted directly onto the candle with acrylic paint. Each day the candle can be lit and burned down to the next mark.
Sometimes an Advent calendar can be as simple as a colorful paper chain with one link for each day until Christmas. Each evening, one link could be torn from the chain. Help each child make a chain which they can put in a special place. With a chain, you are not limited to just the month of December. You can make it as far in advance as you want. I remember once as a child making a Christmas chain with 90 links (three months in advance!) which I diligently used to count the days until Christmas. Talk about anticipation!
Perhaps someone in your family is musical and you like to write poetry. Try writing your own Christmas carol. Or find a nice Christmas poem and write a melody on the piano or guitar to fit the words. Teach your new song to your family. Tape-record your efforts or use musical notation to keep a record of your song. Some of these Christmas songs may become family favorites.
When I looked at my brother’s Christmas tree, there, hanging as a decoration, was a tiny molded figure of a swimmer with a snorkel and diving mask. “What’s this on your tree?” I asked. “We’ve started a new tradition,” he said. “Each year we are going to make decorations that represent something that happened to us that year. This year I learned to snorkel. Here’s one of the Washington Monument because we moved from Washington, D.C., and here’s one of the sun because we had a fun summer.”
Every year when my brother unpacks the Christmas decorations, his family will remember some of the special things that have happened to them during past years.
Using bread clay, you can mold and form figures, allow them to dry, and paint them. Then they’ll be ready to hang on the tree. For example, if your brother learned to ride a bicycle that year, he may want to form a miniature bike out of bread clay. If you received good grades in school, make an open book. If you moved to a new town, create an ornament of something that represents your new home.
Bread clay is made by combining crustless slices of white bread with white liquid glue. The basic recipe is six slices of white, day-old bread (crusts removed) with six tablespoons white glue. Tear the bread into small pieces and pour the glue over the bread. Mix it with your fingers until smooth. At first, it will be very sticky, but after kneading for about five minutes, the clay will become smooth and flexible.
The clay will dry out quickly, so keep it wrapped tightly in plastic until ready to use. The clay can be colored by adding poster or acrylic paint. However, you can make your ornament and paint it after it dries.
You can use small cookie cutters, buttons, a garlic press, or other household items to make impressions in the clay and help you form your ornaments. After you have finished shaping your ornament, put it in a warm, dry place to air dry. To help keep your ornament from cracking as it dries, brush it several times with a half-and-half mixture of water and white glue. After the ornament has been painted, you can paint or spray it with varnish or shellac to help protect it.
To hang the ornament on the tree, punch a hole in the top of the ornament or insert a loop of wire into the top before it dries. Making the ornaments is a fun family activity and is a chance to remember the important events of the past year.
One family created a learning experience while displaying their Nativity figures. The figures of Mary and Joseph were placed near the stable. The figures of the shepherds and sheep were placed nearby. But the figures of the wise men and camels were situated across the room. As Christmas Eve approached, they moved the figures of the wise men closer and closer to the stable scene. On Christmas Eve, the figure of the baby Jesus was placed in the manger and the shepherds were moved close around the stable. The wise men were moved close by.
A decorative wreath is often made for the front door to create an artistic arrangement of boughs and bows. However, it might be fun to make another, more tasty wreath for the back door for family and friends to nibble on. Form a coat hanger into a circle. With strong thread or thin wire tie colorful, paper-wrapped hard candies to the coat hanger. Tie the candies close together so they are bunched around the wire. Tie a pair of scissors from a ribbon in the middle of the wreath. When someone comes to the door, they can help themselves by snipping a candy from the wreath.
Another type of candy wreath can be made by placing a small handful of little candies in individual plastic sandwich bags. Tie the bags closed with red ribbons. With toothpicks or straight pins, attach the little bags to a Styrofoam wreath form. The little bags of candy can be pulled free from the wreath one at a time.
Although some family traditions just seem to start spontaneously, planning a time to get together to bake treats for neighbors or go caroling or decorate the house can help your family create some special memories of Christmastime.