Family traditions, part 1.
I'll start with Independence Day, since it's right around the corner. We celebrate the day a few ways, including a reading of the Declaration of Independence. We also have a "red, white, and blue" shortcake for dessert with our dinner - which is strawberry shortcake with blueberries added. I only make this once a year, on the 4th, so my kids see it as an extra special treat. (Familiarity breeding contempt and all that.) In the evening, we take a blanket and a bottle of lemonade and go sit out by a nearby lake where there's a fireworks display. It's all very simple, but it's something the children know as a family tradition and something they can look forward to.
On the first day of October every year, I start the morning with pumpkin pancakes and homemade apple syrup, plus slices of Canadian bacon. Again, this is something that only happens once a year, so my kids really love it. Were I to make pumpkin pancakes more frequently, they'd lose their "specialness." Weather permitting, we follow our breakfast with a nature walk where we gather up some fallen leaves - not a lot here in Florida, sadly, and usually they're all brown - and we bring them home and do leaf rubbings using crayons that are orange, red, and yellow - so that we can make our own fall foliage. (On the one year that it was just pouring down rain that morning, we ended up drawing our leaves instead.) These leaves are set aside until November, for a special Thanksgiving project.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, we make our "Thanksgiving Tree." This is a bare tree cut out from construction paper and taped to the wall. We carefully cut out our leaf rubbings and write things we are thankful for on them, then tape them to the tree. This will include the names of friends and families and other blessings from the year. On Thanksgiving day, we get out a shoebox where we keep the leaves from Thanksgivings past and read out the things we'd written in previous years, and after Thanksgiving is over, we add the current year's leaves to the box. (Actually, the box has gotten quite full. We might be needing to start a new one this year!)
In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner we always serve - plus a chocolate pie my husband loves, also something I only make this one time of the year - every Thanksgiving we also read from a book about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.
And this leads into the Christmas season for us. We do not do any formal schooling from the Sunday before Thanksgiving until the new year. (Hence the reason we're actually doing school right now.) First of all, it gives us the chance to focus on the holiday season and second, here in Florida the weather is so hot right now, we might as well stay inside and get our book work done, and then, in the late fall, when things are much nicer, we spend a lot of time outside.
After Thanksgiving is over, we do two things. We get out our Christmas decorations and we construct our advent calendar. We make a new calendar each year out of construction paper. We decorate our home (with mostly handmade things) and set up our Advent wreath. (Special note - I've seen Advent wreaths in catalogs in recent years, costing quite a lot of money. You can assemble one yourself using discount store purchases for around $5.) At the beginning of December, the kids will make a bunch of ornaments. Some are given as gifts to family members, and some are hung on our own tree. We also make a special trip to the grocery store where we buy things to be delivered to the local food bank. In mid-December, we have our annual "Yummy Baking Day" where we will make cookies and spiced/sugared nuts and candy, to be used as gifts for various people, like the kids' Sunday School teachers. And of course, the kids get to eat a lot of the results themselves. We don't often have dessert throughout the year, except on special occasions - but we sure make up for it at Christmas time!
Christmas Eve we have a special dinner with any family members in town, followed by a Bible reading about the birth of Jesus, and then we go to a midnight service at church. On Christmas morning - pretty late in the morning; everyone sleeps in! - the kids get up and get their stockings, then we have a brunch which is always Monkey Bread, fresh fruit, and Quiche Lorraine. (Which - yep, you guessed it - the bread and quiche are only served this one time of the year.) Because the kids choose their gifts themselves, they aren't surprised by anything, but they are allowed to bring their new things out to play with in the afternoon, then in the evening, after a nice dinner, we watch a movie together.
I will talk about other holiday traditions we have in another post, but I wanted to bring the topic up because I think maintaining traditions - whatever may suit your family - is the best way to keep any holiday focused on the meaning behind it, rather than on the "buy-buy-buy" mentality advertisers try to sell us. Don't you just *love* those commercials every year where we're being sold the idea that it would be really awesome of us to give cars as gifts? Oi!
Special times are not made special because of the amount of money we spent on them. They are made special by togetherness, fun, and the time spent on them. I did not grow up in a family that had many traditions, and neither did my husband, so we've had to create them ourselves as we go along, but we've found them to be something our children adore and anticipate with a great deal of excitement. This past Easter I had suggested to my children that perhaps we didn't need our traditional "baby chick" cookies* I always make, because I thought maybe my kids would think they were too old for them now, but both children were utterly horrified at the suggestion and so I made them again. Lesson learned! I suppose I'll still be making those cookies even when my kids are grown.
So feel free to jump in here with any traditions your family enjoys! We can swap ideas and perhaps find new traditions to begin. :)
*Baby Chick Cookies - these are made using a BASIC COOKIE MIX - and following the COCONUT COOKIES RECIPE, in which I tint the coconut with yellow food coloring. I make the cookies by making one batch of larger cookies and one batch of slightly smaller ones. (The larger cookies go into the oven first because they need to cook longer.) When the cookies come out of the oven I put them on the cooling rack and gently press one smaller cookie next to one larger one - to become a head and body. I press a chocolate chip in for a beak, and use snips of green-tinted coconut for eyes.