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Create Warm Memories with Holiday Traditions

I remember just a handful of the Christmas presents I received as a child: My first Barbie doll with her skinny black sequined gown. My soft, pink Pat-a-Burp doll. The microscope I got in second grade.

But I have many, many memories of our holiday traditions. The lovely aromas of holiday ethnic food. Riding the South Shore train into Chicago to visit the "real" Santa. Using a paintbrush to decorate sugar cookies with colored frosting. Setting up our manger scene.

Traditions add so much joy to the holidays. Traditions give a child a sense of belonging and identity. They strengthen bonds across generations and live long in memory.

A family rich in traditions has a powerful antidote to commercialism. The more focused you are on pleasures that cost little or nothing, the more all the gifts tend to stay in their appropriate place.

Best of all, many traditions are perfectly suited to today's busy families. Here are a few favorites:


Light candles at dinnertime. If December mornings are dark where you live, light candles at breakfast, too.

Take an evening stroll or car ride to look at Christmas lights.

Serve warm chocolate with candy canes for stirring.


Let your kids in on the excitement of finding and wrapping gifts for those they love. Compliment them for being big enough to keep the surprise a secret.

As a family, decide on a charity and make a donation. Our favorite is Heifer International (

Take a plate of cookies or other holiday treats to a homeless shelter or to a police or fire station.


Give family members strips of paper in holiday colors. Let everyone write or draw something they're thankful for on each strip. Link the strips into a chain and hang as a decoration.

Write thank-you cards to each other. Decide together when to open them.


Interview grandparents, aunts, and uncles about holiday traditions they remember from their childhood. Adopt any traditions that fit your family.

Ask relatives for holiday recipes that have been handed down in your family. Or, search the Internet for holiday recipes related to your ethnic origins.


If your kids are little, it works fine to celebrate the new year at 9 PM instead of midnight!

Pull out photos and videos from the past year and share your memories.

Keep a box of inexpensive noisemakers and party hats that you can re-use each year. The kids will enjoy pulling out their old favorites.


Decorate a box in which you'll put photos, ticket stubs and other souveniers of the coming year. Talk about your hopes and wishes.

Let each family member put New Year's resolutions into their own envelope. Author Mimi Doe ("Busy But Balanced") has a tradition of sealing the envelopes with wax -- a nice, magical touch.

(c) 2004 Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC

Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC, specializes in helping working mothers create balance. She offers workshops, teleclasses and individual and group coaching. Her free e-mail newsletter, "The Balance Point," is published bi-weekly. Visit

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