Flying Santa ornament

Sandra D.
Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays—what's not to love about the twinkling lights, the smell of fresh trees, baking cookies and being able to spend time with people you care about? It is also a holiday I hold close to my heart because it is when my husband and I got engaged.

In my stocking that year was a small wooden box. In it was a note that read "Look for the shiniest ornament on the tree and that will be the best gift of all." After what seemed like an eternal hunt on the tree, I finally figured out exactly what he meant. On the paper-mâché flying Santa ornament that my sister had given me years ago, he had slipped on a beautiful engagement ring. It was a touching and romantic way to start our new life together and has since become one of our new holiday traditions!

Now when we decorate our Christmas tree, we always leave two ornaments until the end, the Chicago Bears candy cane ornaments that my husband likes to put up after everything else is on the tree and the cherished flying Santa. The Santa ornament is always placed on the tree last, and we always put it up together. It gives us a chance to reflect on the joy of starting our lives together and the many new memories we've been blessed to share ever since.

What romantic holiday tradition do you have with the one you love?

Little girl with painted face

Brenda M.
"Countdown to Christmas" takes over our world in December. It is a calendar that goes from the December 1 until the 25th, celebrating all things holiday. During the month of November, I "work" on figuring out what the family is going to do every day together until Christmas Day! Some days are very simple projects at home, and other days find us venturing out into the big, busy world! Some events we have done over and over and other activities are brand new. (The calendar is flexible, of course, due to weather and sickness.) I love making it, and my kids are frantic in the mornings to read what the event for the day will be.

Here is a peek at some of our fun times coming up this year (this is all top secret of course!):

December 1: New Christmas books
December 2: New matching pajamas
December 10: Go to Macy's; write a letter to Santa
December 11: Make a gingerbread tree
December 13: Santa Lucia Celebration at church
December 17: Drive around to see the lights
December 18: Make Christmas cookies
December 19: Visit Longwood Gardens
December 20: Go to see The Nutcracker
December 21: Take gifts to neighbors

I am so thankful that my co-workers shared such a wonderful idea with me before my children were born. I love family traditions and think they are the cornerstones of many happy family moments. I will always remember these times with my children and husband. I hope someday they will do something similar with their loved ones.

What holiday tradition do you enjoy with your children?

Family indoor picnic

Jackie P.
Every December, usually on the day we put up the Christmas tree, we have a crab picnic by the fire. We light the fireplace, turn on the Christmas music and spread the picnic cloth on the living room floor. Then, we bring in huge bowls of cracked crab, French bread and Caesar salad.

Does your family do anything special when putting up your holiday decorations?

Clarissa and her father with unopened present

Clarissa S.
Twenty-seven years ago on Christmas Day, my father decided to not open one particular present from his mother. His plan was to save the gift and open it the next day when no one else had a present. However, he forgot to open it the next day and ended up keeping it, unwrapped until the following Christmas. He surprised everyone, especially his mother, by sneaking it under the tree. No one could believe he had kept it unopened for an entire year. Everyone had so much fun with it that the unopened gift became a Christmas tradition at our home. Every year of my life I have seen this mystery gift under the tree. It is always the last gift given out. I always wonder what could be in it and marvel at my father's willpower to have kept the gift for so many years. The gift's wrapping paper is now faded and frayed, the tape is brittle and yellow, but it still shows up under the tree each year.

During the last 10 years or so of my father's teaching career, he started taking the gift to school for the students to examine. Hundreds of children have gently shaken it and asked, "When are you going to open it?" Last year just before Christmas, the local CBS affiliate in Cape Girardeau, Missouri (KFVS12) received a letter from a student's mother telling of the influence the present had on her child. The station sent a reporter to do a story on the present, which ended up airing on CBS and CNN. A teacher in Florida was so touched by the story that she contacted my father and together they have authored a book called The Unopened Gift: A Christmas Story. My grandmother passed away four years ago, but her present to my father keeps her alive in our hearts. I think it is an inspiring story of love, patience and hope; the kind of story people need during these trying times.

Do you have an extraordinary tradition? Tell us!
Assortment of pies

Caroline E.
Our Thanksgiving tradition involves food, food and more food. I come from a large family that loves to eat. Everyone has their favorite dish, and heads roll if each and every one doesn't show up on the Thanksgiving dinner table. There are two kinds of turkey (grilled or deep-fried), potatoes (mashed or sweet), cranberries (fresh or canned) and stuffing (sausage or vegetarian).

But the food item that has become a not-to-be-missed family tradition is the pie. We average 15 different kinds of pie every year. Aunt Yvette spends days preparing the pies and homemade crusts to make sure that everyone gets their favorite. There are pies for the picky (cherry, but only with canned cherries and boxed pie crust), pies for the traditional (mincemeat...look it up!) and pies for those with a major sweet tooth (cheesecake pie, pecan oatmeal pie or my personal favorite, buttermilk pecan pie). Friends know to stop by our house on Thanksgiving night for the best and widest selection of pie in town. It just wouldn't be the holidays without it!

Do you bake something special during the holiday season?

Family eating dinner together

Terri H.
We have a great holiday tradition with my husband's family. My husband's uncle lives up in Alaska, and each year, because he can't make it down for the holidays (too expensive to travel), he sends us a huge box of King Crab legs for our Christmas Eve dinner!

We all gather round the table, heat up the legs and typically have a salad and bread (although we all call those "fillers" since all we really want to eat is the crab!). It's tastes so wonderful and is such a departure from the traditional holiday meals that people have, so it definitely makes us feel special. And if ever he stopped sending the crab (God forbid!), we all agreed we'd pitch in to keep the tradition going. It makes us feel close to his uncle at the holidays and feel like he's celebrating with us. Word has gotten out around my family and our friends, and everyone is always jealous of our Christmas Eve feast. I can't wait for December 24!

Do you have a relative that makes your holiday unique? Share your story!

Children posing together

Cate R.
When our two boys, Evan and Colin, were young, we started the holiday tradition of a Roth Family Christmas Pageant, in which the boys and their cousins (and adults too!) could showcase their various talents, learn to perform in front of others and have a great time with their family that wasn't centered only on material things like gift opening. This was a big hit from the start, and for 12 years now, we have been holding this much-anticipated event before Christmas dinner with the whole family. The kids plan the program, and we have had singing, dancing, instrument playing, comedy/theater, family game shows, singing, book reading, the reenactment of the Christmas story, "nose playing"—you name it! It's made for lots and lots of laughs and great memories.

At the same time, we have watched our children grow with confidence into young, very talented adults. Our oldest son is now in college at Harvard, and he still participates when he comes home for the holidays! I have been working on a "highlights video" to show at our Christmas this year, and I'm trying to edit hours of videotape down to 30 minutes of the best moments. It's been an amazing trip down memory lane and one that we can always cherish. I know we will never stop holding the pageants as long as we can still get up and wow each other with our many talents!

What holiday does your family celebrate and how do you make it special? Share with us!


Robin T.
Retired Bath County School teacher and coach Tim Bailey braves the elements each year on a 52-mile trek to raise funds to help struggling families have an enjoyable holiday. This year, Bailey is joined by fellow runner Shawn Tolle, Bath County High School senior Dalton Caudill and newcomer Joona Hulkkonen in the 21st Annual Tim's Toy Trot for Tots.

The run stretches from the Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky, to the Bath County Courthouse. The event has raised more than $40,000 in its 20-year history. Along the way, other runners join Bailey and embark on the trek. Having runners join in tends to bring a breath of fresh air and helps to complete the task.

Do you traditionally participate in any philanthropic events during the holiday season?

Family making tamales

Ariel R.
Every winter, our family has made tamales. The entire time it takes to make tamales is about three days, depending on how many people are helping. It is a tradition that has been in our family for an extremely long time, and it is very important to us. Cooking in our family helps bring everyone together to enjoy each other and the great food we prepare. My mother has taken over the task and authority of making tamales for our family and friends. With the help of my brothers, sister, neighbor and myself, my mom makes 40 pounds of tamales or more!

What special meal does your family prepare for the holidays?

People in matching pajamas

Kristin W.
Every Christmas Eve, my siblings and I each get to open one gift before going to bed, and it's always the same thing—pajamas! Matching, holiday-themed pajamas. Then we change into our new pj's and pose for a picture. The tradition now includes boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, etc.

What holiday tradition does your family enjoy?

Family playing football

Callie B.
A tradition on my dad's side of the family has been to play a big family football game the day after Christmas. We call it the "Bearman Bowl," and in the past have gone as far as making T-shirts for this annual event. I've been told this tradition goes as far back as when my dad was in college in the '70s. It's so much fun to watch the older generations have a great time playing the game as if they were all in their 20s again.

What holiday does your family celebrate and how? Tell us!

Hugging by the tree

Mercedes C.
Every year, getting everyone to sit down at the same table for our traditional Thanksgiving dinner nearly sends me into a teenage funk until the tryptophan from the turkey kicks in. But Christmas, ah Christmas, now that's my holiday.

I was born on my dad's birthday, December 27, so Christmastime has always meant sharing a weeklong celebration with family and friends...and two cakes. It's hard growing up as a Christmas baby not to feel slighted when only a handful of friends are in town, let alone can trudge through the snow to your party, but I quickly learned there's a difference between quantity and quality and to be thankful for those who were able to celebrate with me. As family has grown up and out, juggling the festivities has become more of a carefully orchestrated dance between departure time and bar time (this year, my challenge is to make it from my nephew's christening in Toledo to my party in Chicago in under five hours), but the Capricorn in me wouldn't miss the food and family bonding for the world.

On Christmas Eve, my family does a crazy late-night buffet of everyone's favorite finger foods. The smorgasbord including shrimp cocktail, herring (for the brave of heart like my Grandma Stella), spicy pizza squares (Velveeta and spicy Italian sausage baked on cocktail rye bread), cheese fondue (my specialty that I perfected in college), Russian tea balls rolled in powdered sugar, wreathe cookies (the ones with cornflakes, marshmallows and Red Hots) and apricot-filled Horns (a family tradition my little sister and I have spent years in the kitchen learning from Grandma Edith and Mom, yet I still can only make under supervision). There are veggies and dip, too, for the health conscious. Then, once the plates are cleared away, we each get to open one present—a bribe my parents made when we were little to get us to go to bed so they could wrap the gifts from "Santa" that we've never let go.

On Christmas morning, we all pile into the living room, and if you're lucky enough to be chosen as an "elf," you get to wear a special hat while you pass out everyone's gifts. The tricky part is making sure the littlest elves leave a few presents under the tree for me to open with my birthday cake.

What holiday tradition will you celebrate this year?

Food for the New Year's Celebration

Dave M.
Growing up in Chicago, I always get excited when November arrives even though the warm weather has gone. For me, the holidays have always meant spending time with family and eating good food. Thanksgiving, Christmas and my favorite: New Year's Day.

In Japan, New Year's Day is one of the most important days of the year because it's when you wish for good health and good fortune in the coming year. In my family, we celebrate with a family gathering that lasts a few days, if you include the preparations of the meal.

The day starts with a vegetable soup that has a rice cake in it (ozoni), which is in hopes of having good health and prosperity in the coming year. The other traditional foods that are served are dried fish for good health, herring roe for fertility, black beans for health/success, kelp roll for joy, lima beans for wealth, a fish cake for patriotism/honesty, herring to honor your parents and sake for good luck.

We also include a lot of other foods that are nontraditional, as you can see in the photo. Ultimately, the best part of the holidays is being able to spend time with my family.

What's your favorite holiday memory?

Sisters making fruitcakes

Nancy B.
My sisters and I—and now our daughters—gather each year two or three weeks before Christmas for what we call fruitcake night! This is not the dreaded fruitcake! It is wonderful. People who laugh at our love for it taste it and want it! My mother made it each year to give out, and we especially remember the bus driver who drove all five kids growing up and always looked forward to it. We still give him a fruitcake each year! This is really as exciting as Christmas Day to us.

We gather first to cut all the fruit, which takes quite a long time. Then, we mix it up, line the pans and carefully/artfully to make the design on top of each—it is quite a process. And we always pick a different Christmas song each year. Each person has to submit her favorite version of that song, and we all vote after the fruitcakes are done (which is sometimes 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning because we've had so much fun during the process. And, no, there is no liquor in our fruitcakes!) Our mother's favorite saying was "nutty as a fruitcake"—now we know why! It is the best! We laugh and eat and sometimes even sing karaoke while the fruitcakes are in the oven! We usually exchange gifts at some point during the evening too because we can't all be together on Christmas Day. This is by far our most anticipated tradition. Who would think fruitcake could bring such joy, but it does.

Do you bake anything special for the holidays? Let us know!

Girls' night out

Stephanie M.
For my family, the holidays are all about being together and enjoying each other's company. Christmas is extra special because all of my siblings—including my sister, Lauren, who lives in New York—come home for a week to be with my parents and me.

When Lauren got engaged in 2006, she decided to plan a special Girls' Night Out dinner for some of the women in our family and her friends that were in her wedding party. We got dressed up and had cocktails and a lavish dinner in a private room at a restaurant in downtown Chicago just days before Christmas.

Although my sister's wedding has come and gone, my gram decided to keep the tradition alive by hosting a Girls' Night In every year during Christmastime at her condo. Although it's a little tight to fit my gram, her three daughters, seven granddaughters and two great-grandchildren (this year will be three!), we enjoy an evening of Polish food (my gram and mom are second- and third-generation Polish), games and photo-taking.

Who would have thought an evening out would stem such a wonderful tradition?

Share your holiday tradition with us!

Advent table

Melissa L.
When my firstborn was just beginning to understand what Christmas was all about, I wanted to find a beautiful, nature-inspired way to celebrate the Advent season. I found the inspiration I was looking for in the book All Year Round by Ann Druitt. I began an advent table based on the idea of Mary on the Star Path. I made wooden dolls to represent Mary and Joseph. They "walk" the stars, one per day, to count down to Christmas evening. A few years into this tradition, I came across the book The Light in the Lantern by George Dreissig, which gave us a story-a-day to complete the tradition. Each week has a theme the stories revolve around, and the table is built, day by day, on the themes. Week 1: minerals; week 2: plants; week 3: animals; and week 4: humans. I could give up everything else Christmas has come to be about, as long as the advent table remains.

What traditions do you enjoy during the holiday season?

Make it a movie day.

Marlene K.
For my family, Christmas is a day we spend all together, usually in our pajamas, socks, hats and many layers of blankets because my mom likes to keep the house on the cooler side. My brother and I live in Chicago, so we travel back to Cleveland to stay at her house for the holidays where we meet up with the rest of the family—my sister, brother and his beautiful daughter. After we've unwrapped all the gifts, peeled the potatoes, cleaned up the gift wrap, argued over my poor performance playing drums on Wii Rock Band and finished off the apple pie, we like to watch the hometown classic movie A Christmas Story at least one time through the 24-hour viewing cycle. My mom's favorite is A Muppets' Christmas Carol, which never fails to get everyone in the holiday spirit...even if it's only because our mom will follow us around the house spookily repeating Marley's best lines from the movie. (Did I mention we love movies?) From changing the lyrics of pop songs to holiday-inspired silly ditties or getting mom to laugh so hard she sprays ginger ale on a window, we like to joke around and laugh often, which is a great way to unwind, relax and get a much-needed perspective on the stuff that really matters.
Cuzco, Peru

Rosa C.
I'm a Peruvian living in the United States for almost four years. I miss a lot my holiday traditions, especially being with relatives during the new year. The best New Year's parties are probably in Cuzco, Peru. The first day of every year, if you want to have a great new year, you have to wear yellow underwear. If you are looking for love, then you should wear red underwear. If you want to travel this year, you have to get a suitcase and run around the block on January 1 at midnight. If you want to get married, after midnight you have to throw some rice under your main door. I don't want to forget the food for new year—we usually will have lechon (pork in the oven) and Peruvian tamales for dinner. Yummy!

What food traditions does your culture have? Share with us!

Friends' night out

Kristen S.
Every year instead of giving each other gifts my Chicago friends all get together for a nice dinner before the holidays. The first year there were 12 of us, but since then we've grown to over 25. We're having the sixth annual at our friend's wedding in December. It's a great way to celebrate the holidays and our friendship.

What holiday traditions do your friends enjoy?

Doreen's family

Doreen L.
Thanksgiving and Christmas usually consist of at least 25 people. I think 35 people is the most we've had to far. The family includes my hubby and me, three sisters-in-law, my mother-in-law, my mother and a host of nieces and nephews home from college or work and several cousins too. Then there's the adopt-a-family tradition. It seems every year we have a few families over that don't have a place to go, or a small family that thought they just wanted to stay home. It's just not a holiday without a crowd of laughing, hungry people. All the ladies cook, and the guests bring a dish, so it's not a burden on any one person, other than making sure the house is clean and the pets are put away. We spend the weeks before preparing, going shopping (me and the in-laws) and figuring out the menu and who's bringing what.

The morning of, all the cooks usually blast music and the fun begins. We live about a mile from each other, so some of the kids in the family (ages 19 to 26) get to transport tables, food and chairs or whatever is needed. Then the time arrives and we all drive to the designated house and the food setup begins. We usually set up buffet style with about 15 to 20 different foods. We pray over the food and then the grub is on. For Thanksgiving, the kids usually go to the movies after and the adults clean up and read the Black Friday sale sheets and talk, laugh and reminisce. For Christmas, we do Secret Santa for all the adults, and all the adults get the kids presents. We hand out the gifts, and the girls all get socks and they take pictures in their socks. One of my nieces has a birthday the next day, so we usually clean up and get ready for her birthday party too.

Our tradition is being with family. We try to make sure the cousins grow up with each other so they can start their own traditions when they have their own families. I love my in-laws, and we have so much fun together. I wish I could invite the whole world to experience it the way I do. I love the holidays.

What does your family do that's unique for the holidays?

Family opening gifts

Ann Marie P.
I come from a large family: five sisters and two brothers. Six of us are married with kids, so Christmas posed a big problem with trying to see each other and also see in-laws. We decided to do an informal Christmas brunch, which is usually held the Sunday after Christmas (it can change—this year it will be on New Year's Day). We get together at someone's home, everyone in jeans and sweatshirts. Everyone brings food (we take turns preparing, making coffee, etc.), and we dig in and eat and talk and catch up. Then it's time to open presents. Everyone with kids does a grab bag with a $50 limit for kids. Some years we do an adult grab bag as well. We watch each other open presents, take pictures and have fun. After that, we spread throughout the house, clean up, talk, (some napping is done). It's usually an open house after opening presents. You can invite a friend or two over to join the fun. At about 4 or 5 p.m. we serve baked ziti and cold ham with some salads—informal is the key to the day. We love this tradition in our family and have extended the idea of Christmas beyond the confines of December 25.

What holiday tradition does your family enjoy?

Teresa and her granddaughter

Teresa G.
A tradition for Christmas we've had for the past 10 years is attending the Old Globe Theater's production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I started attending with friends that had young children around 1998, and we've been doing it ever since.

Last year, I was finally able to take my granddaughter Cassidy when she turned 3 years old. It's silly and fun and something that always puts me in the right mood for Christmas. I also enjoy sharing my love of live theater with my friends and family. We've had as many as 20 people attend. I think traditions are important in families, even small events. So this is one thing my grandchildren will be expected to attend and celebrate with their grandmother!

Share your favorite traditions here!

Children celebrating the holidays

Lenore B.
Our holiday tradition begins at the cemetery right after Thanksgiving. We travel north to what I call "the country." We arrive at a very quaint, old and most angelic cemetery. It has mismatched, broken and scattered headstones some of which date into the 1700s. It is filled with old trees, fallen leaves and one deep well pump for getting water. It is here we greet our oldest daughter, Stephanie, with a pink/purple grave blanket. We laid her body to rest here when she was just 11 years old.

We greet her with love, hope and joy for another holiday season without her earthly presence. We tell her how much we miss her and love her. We sit for a moment on the bench her father picked out for her plot so her grandfather could have a place to sit while he was there. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever encountered. While we are there, we breathe in the fresh, crisp air and feel the peace only God can give. We take a moment to celebrate not only life, but death, too, for it is only in death that we can fully experience life.

We take this moment and silence ourselves before our God and thank him for Stephanie and all the others who have gone before us. We thank him for the birth of his son and for the peace and the hope he continues to give us to live this life as joyfully as we can. It is then we are ready to begin the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, which we fully enjoy. We decorate the house, bake cookies, shop, attend parties, give to others, go to church and celebrate with family and friends. We enjoy our two other children, Jacob and Kelsey, spoiling them and loving them, knowing too well that these moments are fleeting. We create memories full of love and hope for them that they will be able to pass down to their children. We love them, as we are taught, with unconditional love. We give them the hope we have been given so that they too may experience the joy of celebrating life even in the midst of sorrow and death.

How do you remember those you've lost during the holiday season?

Kelly playing hand bells

Kelly J.
When I was 16 years old, I decided to give my grandfather a special gift for Christmas. His favorite song is "Greensleeves." So, I taught myself to play the song on a five-octave set of hand bells all by myself. Playing so many bells by myself got the attention of different musicians. Since then, I have won international music competitions and have performed Christmas concerts all over the world. I have had the pleasure of playing with members of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in Japan as well as creating a Christmas CD. Grandpa and I have kept this gift alive. Every year, we use the proceeds from CD sales and concerts to go to different charities.

Without grandpa's inspiration—a former marine, one of the first on Guadalcanal—I would never have been able to undertake this project and perfect this art for almost 20 years. His continual gift of believing in me and helping me to achieve my goals is what has enable me to continue to give this gift of music every year. He is proud of me, and I am even more proud of him and his investment in my life—that is the true Christmas gift, investing in another's life.

What holiday traditions does your family enjoy?


Stephanie G.
Every year, for about 10 years now, my husband and his two older brothers get together and carol. They carol house to house, mall to mall and church to church. They've become seasonal celebrities around town. They have several CDs out with their soulful a cappella twist to many of the favorite Christmas carols. My favorite is "White Christmas." They've made it a brotherly tradition to get together and do this for the love of the season, the love of the music, the love of each other and of course the love of the Lord!

I have only been married to my husband, Christian, for four years and have had the experience of seeing the beauty within their performances. I have seen everyone from little old ladies to teenagers, frolicking toddlers to bodybuilding men, brought to tears at the sound of their voices. They have fans that will come back dozens of times throughout the season when they are at the mall, just to sit there for hours to hear them sing. They truly have a blessing!

How do you celebrate your favorite holiday traditions?

More Ways to Celebrate the Holidays