Christmas: A Time of Traditions

A celebration of togetherness and the spirit of giving.

By: Emily Groleau, Root & Seed Editor

Diwali daya, or oil lantern, held in hands

Is there a moment every year where you feel that the Christmas season has truly arrived? Maybe it’s felt through that Mariah Carey throwback playing on the radio, a string of festive lights brightening up your street, or the first sighting of a soft snowflake slowly drifting down from the sky.


The significance of Christmas

Christmas has many names across cultures, but its emphasis on being together with loved ones (a special shout-out to “Friendsmas”), honouring traditions, and gift-giving are hallmarks of this holiday that span the globe. Rooted in pagan origins, Christmas was first associated with a celebration of the winter solstice, a time of plenty and goodwill in the midst of often bleak winters. During its early adoption into Christian customs, some of the most iconic symbols of Christmas we still recognize today began to make an appearance… albeit sometimes with a different spin. For many Christians around the world today, this holiday —mostly associated with December 25th, or January 7th for the Orthodox Church— holds an added spiritual significance.


The Christmas (or Nativity) story goes that Jesus Christ was miraculously born to a virgin named Mary long ago. An angel told the young Jewish woman that she shouldn’t be afraid, as her child would be the son of God. Having faith, a pregnant Mary and her betrothed traveled to the town of Bethlehem to take part in a census. There was no room at the inn, so the pair slept in the stables with the animals, where Jesus was born. A bright star appeared in the sky above his birthplace, and shepherds and three wise men saw it from afar. They traveled to meet the newborn Christ, and the wisemen presented gifts to him as he lay in a humble manger.


Traditions in our communities

Many traditions observed by Christians show a reverence towards this story of the birth of Christ. As our community member Cathy reflects, “having a Nacimientos or Nativity Scenes is an important symbol to keep in a Hispanic home.”


We also see themes of the Nativity Story running through other Christmas traditions. It’s common, for instance, to have an heirloom tree-topper that is either a star or angel. Even the more secular figure of Santa Claus, beloved by children for his team of magical reindeer and oh-so-relatable appetite for sweets, finds his origins in a generous gift-giving saint.


This spirit of giving, as well as cherishing memories with those we call family, is evident in the reflections of our community members. Some of the simplest traditions hold meaning, and we come to look forward (or back) on them year after year:


“One of my favourite childhood Christmas memories was our family tradition of Secret Santa,” shares Jessica. “A hat would be passed around the dinner table and we’d each take turns drawing a name to see who we’d be giving a gift to that year. I don’t know how he did it, but every year, without fail, my grandfather—with a glint in his eye—would draw his own name and not tell anyone. Once or twice over the years we caught him quietly chuckling to himself… on Christmas day when everyone was opening their Secret Santa gifts, my grandfather would sneak over and pull out a sack of gifts from under the Christmas tree and tell everyone, ‘It looks like Santa has brought you one more present to open.’ He brought the magic of Christmas alive for all of us.”

Many also associate this time of year with the smells and tastes of their family’s kitchen. There are sweet memories of eggnog, mulled cider, pineapples, and tree-shaped sugar cookies. There are more savoury recollections too, of roast pig, salt cod, tamales, and red soup with pierogies. Christmas brings back particularly fond memories of childhood foods for Beverly. “Christmas in the 1950s makes me think of big oranges every year in our stockings, the wafting aroma of my mother's rum pudding, and plates of fancy cookies and thick date squares to make your mouth drool!”

Sometimes treasured heirlooms are Christmas items with beautiful stories behind them. "Our family sits in a circle and sings carols from paper books my oldest sister had bound. It's special to come together, slow down, and savour the time together,” reflects Olivia. Another tradition she shares is the creation or collection of one new ornament every year that represents an over-arching family theme. “In 2016 we used pretty kleenex boxes to make a tiny home ornament when we bought our first house, and our kids each have ornaments for the years they were born.”

Embracing imperfect traditions

Traditions are something we return to again and again, often more special for their apparent faults. There are annual ugly Christmas sweater parties; a cracked reindeer figurine proudly displayed; off-key Christmas carols; a crooked popsicle stick snowflake your brother made when he was three; the poor wrapping job no one comments on (suspected to be a last-minute disaster project, but it’s the thought that counts).

The routine of where you go from Christmas Eve, to Christmas morning, to Christmas dinner, is different for everyone. Inevitably, these also change over generations. Despite these shifts over time, what remains cherished is the house, the tastes and smells, and the people we associate with our most special moments. Christmas holds too many traditions to count, but the love and stories behind each are what matters most.


We encourage you to check out Root & Seed’s Conversation Tool, where we now offer Christmas-themed conversation starters to share with your loved ones over the holidays.

 

What Christmas traditions, heirlooms, or memories do you and your loved ones associate with this time of year? Comment below to share them with our community!