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November 19, 2010

help Karin with Khristmas

just got this note ::

Dear Ze,

In my offline life, I am recently married and this is the first Christmas we will be spending together and also without any other family here. My parents didn't want to come and I don't think his family will be able to afford it. I was really bummed and have since realized we don't have any Christmas traditions together like in our separate families.

I want to start some new traditions and am looking for some inspiration. Since you know a lot of people, I was wondering if you could have people show or talk about their unique winter holiday traditions that they love (or hate).


any ideas?

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Comments (36)

Iceland has some great stuff, including 13 terrible trolls who leave surprises in schools. I think it is fun for adults too.

Posted by: koleen at November 19, 2010 3:38 PM

Watch some non-traditional Christmas movies. "Die Hard" is a great example...it does take place at a Christmas party.

Posted by: Walter at November 19, 2010 3:44 PM

I actually have a whole blog for "unique" family traditions! My favorite is the annual "Adult Letter to Santa." http://www.eggnography.com/12/
The best part of traditions is making them up!

Posted by: Halcyon at November 19, 2010 3:46 PM

When I was lonely with no family in Seattle my first few holidays here, I volunteered for a homeless shelter - my volunteering allowed staff to spend time with their families. I have never felt such true and loving spirit than the love that is expressed to one another by those living in a homeless shelter during the holidays. It humbled me. Those experiences - now over 20 years ago - still hold as being some of the most significant in my life.

Posted by: Joanne Conger at November 19, 2010 3:48 PM

We always have something nice and new to wear that day which we open before we go to our church meeting, then open the rest of the presents back at home.

Other British traditions include watching the Queen's speech and having Christmas pudding :)

Enjoy your first Christmas together!

Posted by: Paul at November 19, 2010 3:54 PM

We've pretty much thrown out "traditions". There isn't a reason to do things over and over unless you really like them, and you will get to thinking, "You know what, I really do want to do X this year, but it's a tradition." Have tacos for Christmas dinner. Open your presents a day early. Sleep in.

We love our family. Sometimes we love more the fact that they're 2000 miles away. On Christmas we get to stay home the entire day while my wife, kids, and I play with our toys and have fun. We eat whatever we want. And the best part is we don't have to go anywhere.

Here's hoping your Christmas is quiet, with a fire, carols on the radio, and a gentle snowfall you can watch while snuggled up.

Posted by: Oddity at November 19, 2010 3:55 PM

Build the toy train set.

Turning off the house lights and the tree lights on and sharing glasses of wine while listening to christmas carols.

Listening to the Doctor Demento christmas album.

Webcamming with family or friends during dinner.

Baking obscene cookies.

Watch A Christmas Story.

Find a giant Christmas tree display at your local mini mall and crawl inside at night when no one is looking.


Christmas scavenger hunt (like really bizarre things).

Eat red and green candies and poop Christmas poop!

Put candles in all the windows, turn off all your inside lights, go outside and look at your house.

Posted by: Tavia M. at November 19, 2010 3:56 PM

I love to try different cultures traditions. Ones that I didn't grow up with. Try new holiday foods. Have a christmas dinner with all new recipes, nothing you have made before. Christmas day we like to go to the movies. Or reinact a christmas story and go out for chinese food. No family means no one expecting anything specific so you can do anything under the sun :)

Posted by: Lisa at November 19, 2010 3:56 PM

This is the first year in a LONG time that my family won't be spending Christmas in a tropical location.

No beach, no palm trees, no swimming. Bummer.

So, we're starting a new Christmas tradition. We're getting together in snowy Michigan for 'Ugly Christmas Week.'

Huge tree, tons of garish tinsel, gaudy ornaments....and a healthy dose of sugary holiday food and festive libations. A resurrection of the Christmas memories we had in the '80's.

I suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Karin take their own favorite childhood memories of Christmas and make a Holiday mash-up of decorations, music, foods, etc.

Posted by: Adam Porter at November 19, 2010 3:57 PM

Hi Karin,
My wife and I started our first Christmas getting each other a really nice ornament for the tree. After 15 years, we have some really cool handmade and unique ornaments.
On the DO NOT list: No Christmas sweaters! Ugh.
Have a great first Christmas together!

Posted by: Paul at November 19, 2010 3:58 PM

Up until we had our first child, my husband and I didn't have much in the way of 'Christmas Tradition'. Working retail didn't help that, either. Maybe spent 2 out of 6 of those holiday seasons pre-daughter with family. For the most part, we're alone out here, too.

My hubby was always good at making Christmas feel like Christmas, even if it was in a small way. My favorite was one year, coming home late on Christmas Eve (grr, retail), and all was dark save for the glow of my computer in the corner of our living room. My screensaver was replaced with with a picture of a twinkling Christmas tree and right underneath was a little, gift-wrapped box. That made my night and my holiday.

My biggest piece of advice to you, Karin, is this: Don't think too much on following 'traditional' traditions. You and your new family will have plenty of time to make traditions of your own (like our "Slice and a Snapple" at midnight New Year's Eve, every year since our honeymoon (we were married on December 27)).

Happy Holidays to you both, and never forget the biggest tradition this time of year: "Be Merry!" Everything else will fall into place! ~Maria

Posted by: Maria at November 19, 2010 4:01 PM

One Christmas when I didn't have any wrapped presents to put under my tree (and I was feeling very depressed), I decided to put every item I could find that I had ever received as a gift under the tree instead. I ended up with a gorgeous little pile of items under the tree and every time I looked at it, I remembered all of the people who had given these gifts to me. It made me feel really rich.

Posted by: Morgan at November 19, 2010 4:07 PM

Oh, and the going inside the Christmas Tree one has the option of sharing a kiss with a loved one :)

Posted by: Tavia M. at November 19, 2010 4:16 PM

Wait 'til Christmas eve to buy your tree. Then buy and decorate it together while drinking egg nog, (or another seasonal drink if you don't like egg nog), and listening to Christmas music (or other music if you're already tired of the Christmas variety). After the tree is decorated, and the presents arrayed underneath, exchange one special present with each other. Then go to bed happy. In the morning, do something nice for someone else (not each other). Later, cook a meal together made up of all your favorite holiday foods.

Posted by: Eric at November 19, 2010 4:21 PM

Baking - I bake the same things for Christmas now I baked when I was 12. :) Food is a big part of the holiday, make something from your family & something from his, & the both of you choose something new. Because you know what? You're a family now. The two of you, all on your own, a family. Have a great Christmas!

Posted by: Lydia at November 19, 2010 4:21 PM

(1) Decorate the tree while listening to Pet Shop Boys music. It doesn't even have to be their Christmas CD. There is something magical and grand about the intersection of PSB and the holidays.

(2) Action movies on Christmas day. As Walter suggested above, Die Hard is a great choice. But really, anything involving explosions that is set around the holidays, or at the very least in a cold city at night, will do.

(3) Write letters to each other on beautiful paper, to be opened on Christmas morning in bed. Hot cocoa in bed FTW!

Posted by: MANvsGEORGE at November 19, 2010 4:41 PM

I remember 15 years ago being in the same position. I asked my husband what were the things he wanted to do, as our individual experiences of 'family xmas' were very different. It turns out the only 'tradition' that mattered to him was putting up lights on his own house. For me, I did not want to spend the whole day in the kitchen cooking a turkey. It turns out neither of us really were attached to the idea of turkey, and as we live on the west coast, we decided to spring for fresh seafood.

15 years later he still enjoys putting the lights up on his house, and I enjoy the dinner that is ready in 45 minutes, start to finish, so I can be a part of the other happenings. Of course, over time a lot of other 'traditions' have crept in, like we stay home all day (unusual for us and our 2 kids), and the kids decorate the tree xmas morning (they like that they evolved this tradition all by themselves), and we all watch TV together (rare for our non-cable family).

The secret is to find out what works for you. What what you try one year might not be done again the following year, or might become the most important 'tradition' in years to come. Remember that all 'traditions' start somewhere.

Have a great holiday season, and have fun with this opportunity to start something unique!

Posted by: J Hancock at November 19, 2010 4:41 PM

Throw an Ugly Christmas Sweater party for friends. I allowed ugly sweaters given as presents for Christmas or kitchy Christmas themed sweaters. Invite friends, laugh at each other, and give prizes for the worst sweater!

Posted by: Maria at November 19, 2010 4:56 PM

Make each other's Christmas stockings. From scratch if you're so inclined, or buy a standard one and decorate it. You could each separately gather what you'd like to decorate the stocking with and then get together christmas eve, get smashed, and make some of the craziest stockings ever. :)

Posted by: Mary at November 19, 2010 5:20 PM

My family does "themed" presents, where everyone will get one person something small in the same theme. We don't normally do "big" presents, just small fun stuff. Some of the past ones:

Chocolate! (sauce, bars, scented markers, cook book)
Bacon! (pig plushy, candied bacon on a stick, chocolate covered bacon, bacon bandaid, bacon gum)
Pigs (pig plushy - same one as the previous years bacon pig - pig post card, piggy pencil toppers, pig hat)
Blue (blue oil painting, blue blanket, blue gum, blueberry cobbler)
Apples (apple sauce, apples, apple scented body wash, apple candy) all a run up to my brother's big present, a mac book for college)


Posted by: Mousewrites at November 19, 2010 5:25 PM

My bf and I did a sort of Advent calendar scavenger hunt. Starting Dec 1, we would trade off days and leave a note in the calendar (or a box, or a little stocking) with directions or hints about where to find the small gift. The gift would be something like chocolates, or a goofy poem, or a pair of Christmas socks - something fun and silly or a treat for the day. Sometimes it was romantic, sometimes it was simple, sometimes a bit more elaborate, and hiding/finding them was half the fun!

Posted by: Kat at November 19, 2010 5:35 PM

We had the same problem and our tradition started when we got our first apartment. We got our first tree and went shopping for our first Christmas ornaments. That was around 7 years ago.
The first Christmas was great, small tree, big bottles of wine. Since then the tree has gotten larger the wine bottles smaller. Our family has slowly gotten larger since the first one. We first got a frenchie, the a cat, the our first son and this year will be our second sons first Christmas.
Whatever the tradition, start one in your home between each other that you can build on.

Posted by: John-Michael at November 19, 2010 5:58 PM

My family has two that I can't get my wife, or her family to embrace.

One is playing the Star Wars Christmas album in its entirety. You can download it at http://yousoundlikearobot.com/98/mp3-christmas-in-the-stars-star-wars-christmas-album.

The other is eating scotch eggs (deep fried sausage covered hard boiled eggs -- excellent pub food), though it doesn't have to happen on Christmas proper.

Posted by: Gordon at November 19, 2010 7:00 PM

I like the "turn off the lights except the tree and drink wine and listen to music" idea. We stumbled upon this notion the year we got a fiberoptic tree (as an accent tree, not the main one) and thought it would look neater in the otherwise dark (it did) then someone got the idea for music, and there we all sat, staring and listening. Now it just kind of happens at some point each year.

So a tradition born out of a spontaneous moment of relaxed childlike curiosity is bound to be a pleasure.

That, and have someone over for dinner who is in a similar situation to yours. Also, play scrabble!

Posted by: jeano at November 19, 2010 8:20 PM

My husband and I like to go on a trip. We did it last year and we are doing it this year again. Basically, we have family but they are far away and no one can really afford to go very far, so we decided to make it just for ourselves. We don't have children, so there is no harm in taking off.

Last year, we stayed in a hotel for several days over Christmas in the valley of Oregon. There was even a balcony hot tub. It was fabulous!

This year, we're talking of going to Canada via train and staying at a hotel, there.

Posted by: April at November 19, 2010 8:31 PM

So in middle school, I did well enough on the academic tests for mortals that they invited me to the Midwest Talent Search ( http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/ ), whereupon they let me take the SAT and compared my results to the rest of my cohort. I don't recall my exact score from that time, but it must have been good, because they invited me to Chicago for an awards ceremony.

We figured that since we were in Chicago--it was the first time for all three of us kids--we should try this famous Chicago-style pizza. So we found this pizza place in Evanston called Lou Malnati's, and we went there for some pizza.

It took an age to come out. We walked around the place, alternately looking at the huge clusters of A-listers' photos on the walls and saying to each other that we'd never come back to somewhere that took so long to get you your food. Then the pizza arrived.

We didn't talk much after that, because we were so busy eating this amazingly delicious pizza.

On our way out, one of us saw a brochure, which advertised the fact that if you called 1-800-LOU-TO-GO, you could get a Lou Malnati's pizza FedExed to you anywhere in the Union, at a reasonable rate:
http://www.tastesofchicago.com/category/Lou_Malnatis_Pizza . Huh. How about that.

Fast forward a few months to Christmas. My mom asks what we'd like to have for dinner, and one of us says "Hey, remember that pizza from Chicago?"

And that's been my family's Christmas dinner ever since.

Posted by: Adam at November 20, 2010 4:42 AM

You could always celebrate early on Dec. 5th with Six to Eight Back Men (that's what we do).

But here let David Sedaris explain:


Posted by: DS Bakker at November 20, 2010 9:14 AM

Purchase one or two expensive, Christmassy-looking candles and candle holders. These are to be lit only on Christmas Eve. Over the years what seemed a little silly in the first year becomes dramatic as the candles burn down, and look pleasantly used.
Also purchase one or two ornaments only, and do this every year.
If you buy candles with a big circumference they will last for decades.

Posted by: tomm at November 20, 2010 1:29 PM

Volunteering is great. We didn't have much of a Thanksgiving tradition - somehow, eating a giant meal to express thanks didn't seem satisfying. Instead, we volunteer at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. That seemed like a more, well, thankful activity than overeating.

I gotta think a giving tradition - like volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter - would be the most Christmassy thing to do.

And candles. Many faith traditions celebrate with light at this time of year. We use advent candles, but you should incorporate whatever makes sense for you, and enjoy the warmth and light.

Blessings to you and your new traditions!

Posted by: Dianne A at November 20, 2010 1:56 PM

Dear Karin,
There is no law that makes you have traditions, they will just grow on you through time!
Every year it's a real sport not to get depressed because others tell me it's sad & depressing not to be around parents and family with Christmas. But I'm never depressed about that 'cause life is what you make of it and that counts for Christmastime too! So here are few of the things I've done to have myself a good time for Christmas:
- Put your gardenset in the middle of your living, parosol up and try to make it look as Hawaïn as can be. Heater on 10, get into your swimsuit, flippers, goggles, hawaïn music, drinks, food, the works! Have yourself a tropical holiday and make sure to get some pictures (to sent to family with your New Years greetings).
- Organise a Xmas Culinair DayTrip along friends houses: f.e. have brunch at couple 1's place, make a long walk together then have soup a/o a drink & bite at couple 2's, go to the movies together, back to home couple 3 for dinner (composed by all the participans so no one has to stand behind the stove for hours because dishes are made in advance!) and play (traditional childhood) games like Shuffle-board, Goose or Twister aftererwards. Did this with 4 couples once, had a lot of fun!
- Invite some friends for a Storytelling Event: listen to eachothers favorite pieces of literature/poems. And when everybody brings in some food or drinks it doesn't have to cost you a lot of efford to have a nice day.
-Stay in bed for 2 days! Get your favorite choclats, massage oil, (comic)books or videos or whatever you would like to do in bed but never seem to have time for!
Have a nice time for Christmas and don't be afraid you're not "traditionalchristmasy" enough, within a few years you will sigh "Do we realy have to..(your own homemade-Xmas-traditions)..this year?"!

Greetings, Beppie (tradionally nontradional!)

Posted by: Bep van Boven at November 20, 2010 2:55 PM

When I was a kid, on Christmas Eve, my mother's Uncle (my Great Uncle) would pretend to be Santa while we kids were banished up to the bathroom on the second floor. He would be "passing by" and drop off one present for each person there. After a few years, we figured out it was him, but the adults held to their story (when he passed away, a friend of the family would pretend to be Santa). When we were allowed down the stairs, the tree would be all lit up with presents under it, all the other lights out and my mother would play a German sung version of "O Christmas Tree" ('O Tannenbaum') on the stereo and we would have to stand on the stairwell looking at it all until the ENTIRE SONG FINISHED! To children, this was torture! But when I look back on it now, I LOVE the tradition and I hope to be able to do something similar with my kids when I have some.

Another thing we still do every year is that on Christmas Eve we have really good cold cuts (including what has come to be known in our family as "tubes o'meat" - Liverwurst, Teawurst and Braunschweiger, preferably from a Jewish deli in New York City!), smoked fish (Sable, Whitefish, Chubs), fresh breads (Rye, Pumpernickel, others) and a few other tasty foods. My parents like fresh creamed onions although I am not a fan. Anyway, that was our big Christmas meal - on Christmas EVE, not Christmas Day. My mother still makes an amazing Chocolate Mousse/Chocolate Cream Pie that is to die for which we have for dessert! YUM! It sounds like just food, but I have been doing it for my entire life and I am 40 years old now. So NOT to have that Christmas Eve meal makes Christmas Eve strange now. It happened once a year or two back and it didn't quite feel like Christmas for me. I will have dinner on Christmas Day with my sister-in-law's family (used to be with my husband's family, when I was married) but the Christmas Eve dinner is really what makes it Christmas for me.

Good luck and I hope you have a lovely, wonderful time picking out which traditions you will make your own! :-)

Posted by: Linda N at November 20, 2010 9:22 PM

In Provence, not many people do it in big cities any more, but they used to have a place at the table kept to invite someone poor or alone, most of the time a neighbour or an old relative. Christmas is for sharing, so if you don't, why not just have the most romantic evening ever? Everything is at hand, light, candles, decorations, presents... Deck you hall cross culture as the whole world celebrates something important to them at thhis time of the year whatever their beliefs, and that is a first step to sharing more than just presents

Posted by: Elisabeth at November 21, 2010 8:29 AM

I love these! Karin, how do you like them?

Posted by: jeano at November 24, 2010 1:13 AM

Hi Karin,
Like a lot of people already said: Invent new traditions, make up your own and do whatever you feel like doing. But for inspirational purposes some of the things my family and I do:

1 - My brother, my granddad and I always pick out a Christmas tree together. We drive to one of the smaller villages, take out the saw and discuss way too long the quality of the different trees. When we get home my granny complains that we chose the most crooked one and that this is the ugliest Christmas Tree we ever had.
2 - Advent tea time Sundays. I think it's a German thing, but starting 4 weeks before Christmas Eve we have a festive tea time every Sunday. My mom always makes an ornament with 4 candles and every Sunday we lit a new one. Lots of cake and cookies are involved. It just gets you in the Christmas mood and makes you forget the 1000 times you had to listen to "Last Christmas" on the radio.
3 - Movies. Die Hard is probably a pretty cool Christmas movie, but I like to watch some old movies from when I was a child. The 2 must-sees for me are Mary Poppins and Dumbo.
4 - Decorating the tree. My mom gets all the decoration stuff from the attic and my brother and me start unwrapping and putting things on the tree. After we finish my Mome and Dad have to come and say how beautiful it looks. I just love the smell and it's good fun to argue whether we need to put more straw stars or not.
5 - Puddle cracking. I don't know where you live, so you might not be able to do it, but I love cracking the ice on all the puddles I come across. Probably more of a winter thing, than a Christmas thing though.
6 - Wrapping presents. Doesn't sound very special, but I like closing myself into my room, spreading all the presents on the floor and making a big mess while spending ages wrapping things. It's essential to listen to crappy old comedians on tape (I "borrowed" some cassettes from my granddad a few years ago) while doing so.
7 - Sending Non-Christmas Cards. Pick a "Congratulations - it's a boy!" card for your granny and write something more than just "Merry Christmas" inside.

I hope you have a great Christmas :)

Posted by: Mia at November 24, 2010 9:07 AM

It might be too soon to help you this year, but my wife and I started buying ornaments from cool places we'd visit throughout each year (normally 1 or 2 per year) and then we'll mark the date on the back of each one with a sharpie.

It's amazing in only 3 years of being married (plus 6 dating lol) how much fun hanging ornaments is each year when we get to remember where we got each one.


Posted by: Michael at November 25, 2010 12:48 AM

My husband's parents host a dinner party on xmas eve with plenty of wine and more food than it would seem possible. After dinner we move all the furniture and we all dance all night long with reckless abandon.

Posted by: Stacey at November 30, 2010 12:54 AM

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