Tag Archives: traditions



When you’re far away from home and celebrating Christmas in a new country, traditions become more important than ever. 

Our tree here is trimmed (somewhat more safely than the above picture would suggest!).  We’ve decorated and purchased gifts and baked cookies.  We’re thick in the swing of Christmas, although it’s a different feeling than ever before.

There are some that we simply can’t do: we can’t make cookies with our old friends on Christmas Eve and deliver them to our local fire station.  We can’t spend Christmas Day at Matt’s parents with his cousins and their kids.  Although I think the kids are sad about those things, we’re working really hard to focus on all the FUN parts of Christmas in a new country.

Being in a new place makes the traditions we CAN still uphold even more precious; the familiar makes the holidays feel like home, no matter where we are.

Christmas Calendar

Our Christmas Calendar is the tradition that starts our holiday.  On December 1st, we begin “decorating” our little tree — each night, one of the children takes a tiny ornament from it’s little pocket and pins it on the tree.  The calendar was a gift from our dear friend’s mom, who made it by hand.  We love that calendar, and as the tree gets more and more full of ornaments, the kids get more and more excited.

We’ll also celebrate with Sibling Gifts on Christmas Eve.  There is an undercurrent of excitement in every hushed conversation between children and parents, as the kids plan just exactly the perfect thing to get for each brother and sister.  We’re almost ready for that, although we still need to make one last trip out to get the final few items.   I love the effort going into each decision and I really love the grand ideas; we did have to talk Quinn down from wanting to get Owen a horse.  Although he would certainly be excited, I don’t think we’re quite at that level of gift giving.  The thought was sweet though: there are few things on this Earth that would make Owen more excited.

And we’ll be sure to keep our more simple traditions: Italian food for dinner on Christmas Eve and my Mom’s Irish bread for breakfast on Christmas morning. 

Although they normally come visit us the day AFTER Christmas for a few days, this year my parents will be here for Christmas, so we have a new and exciting event to anticipate!  And we’re also trying out some new English Christmas traditions, a few of which I already think we’ll take home with us when we eventually return to the States.

abel and cole mince pies

The traditional English Christmas dessert is Mince Pies, and they are EVERYWHERE this time of year.  None of us had ever had them before, so a few weeks ago I ordered some so we could try them out in advance.  They are delicious!  Five out of six of us are BIG fans, but Gabe declined to try them.  I think the name throws him off; although we assured him there is no actual MEAT in the pies, he’s not completely confident that we’re correct about that. 

christmas crackers

Another big Christmas Day tradition here is Christmas Crackers.  The crackers are basically decorated paper tubes that have a joke, a party hat, and a prize inside.  They go at each place setting at the table when we sit down for Christmas dinner, then you and the person next to you each pull an end and the person who comes away with the larger half wins the prize inside.  We’re all about adding a competitive aspect to Christmas dinner here, so we’re definitely going to have these! 

It’s an interesting balance we’re trying to strike: upholding our old and much-loved traditions while embracing the new ones we’re learning about. 

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Christmas Eve Traditions


Every Christmas Eve for the last few years, we’ve gotten together with our good friends, Travis and Aymee, who we’ve known since our Army days back before we had kids.  They have four kids of their own now too.  The ten of us have a big Italian feast and after dinner, all the kids decorate sugar cookies (that Aymee and I made in advance). 

IMG_6747 IMG_6750

Then we drive the decorated cookies over to the local firehouse and give them to the firefighters who are on duty that night to say thank you.  We have loved doing this, and I’m sad we’re missing it this year.

After delivering our cookies, our families go our separate ways to get the many munchkins in bed.

Our own tradition after delivering the cookies has been to let the kids then exchange their sibling gifts before they go to sleep on Christmas Eve.  It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and one I’m glad we can keep no matter where we are.


Letting the kids give each other their gifts that night, away from the chaos and excitement that is Christmas morning, really changes the way they exchange their gifts.  Instead of being excited about getting something, they’re really most excited to give the gifts they’ve worked so hard on to their siblings and see their reactions.  The focus becomes giving, not getting, and it’s so much more fun that way.


Although crafting the gifts adds another whole layer of thought to the process, this year we just don’t have the time or, to be honest, the same amount of crafting tools or supplies because we left so much of that in storage.  So we’re going with store-bought gifts, but they’ll be thoughtful and loved just the same.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? We’re learning about so many new ones here in England and I can’t wait to try some of them and see if we find any we want to take home when we come back.

Birthday Traditions

IMG_4259When Q turned 5 in April, he started off a near-monthly birthday celebration for our family that lasts through summer.  Our birthdays are all in a row — basically one a month from now through September.

I had my birthday last Friday.  O will turn 7 in July (the gap between mine and his is our longest span between birthdays).  B turns 11 in August.  G turns 9 in September.

And Matt turns the big 4-0 in September as well. (That may require an extra special celebration!)

For the next few months, then, I’m constantly either planning a party or deciding what gifts to buy or figuring out what kind of cake to make. 

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Breaking Tradition

Christmas Morning 2014

It didn’t stop Christmas from coming—it came.  Somehow or other, it came just the same.

—How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Every year on Christmas Eve we get together with our good friends and their four children, and we make and decorate sugar cookies.  We have a big pasta dinner, then we deliver cookies to the firehouse down the road from us, to thank the firefighters there for all they do.

But this year, we didn’t do that.

Because on the 23rd, we found out that Matt has shingles.

Every year on Christmas Day, after we open gifts here at home and have a big breakfast, we get dressed and head to Matt’s parents’ house and celebrate with his whole family—his cousins and all their kids are there.  We have dinner, the kids play, and more gifts are given and opened.

But this year, we didn’t do that.

There are so many little ones at the Christmas Day party who haven’t had their chicken pox vaccine, including Matt’s cousin’s newest daughter, who is only 2 months old, that we couldn’t go and risk getting any of those little munchkins sick.

And poor Matt.  Shingles isn’t any fun.

It’s a strange decision to abandon your annual traditions.  It feels like disappointment before the missed occasion even arrives.

But we made the best of it.  Without the traditions we loved, it was a different Christmas.  But it was still Christmas.

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