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Confession: I am a Holiday Tradition Addict

Hello, my name is Sunny and I’m a holiday tradition addict. It all started innocently enough; I was just a mom trying to make the holidays special, magical and memorable. What started as just a shot of holiday merriment has turned into a full-on holiday bender. It’s not even the traditions that we partake in on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (which are numerous), the travel or all the shopping that makes me feel overwhelmed, it’s all the other stuff we do leading up to the “big day.” And now that my daughter is six, these traditions we’ve established have firmly taken root. We can’t just chop them off our to-do list.  Disappointing your kid during the holidays is like stabbing a peppermint stick in your heart; you just don’t want to do it.

I’ve talked to other families about how many traditions they engage in on a yearly basis; a recent Facebook poll of my friends and acquaintances came in at an average of about four. And being the overachiever that I am, our family clocks in at about 13, yes 13 pre-holiday rituals and seasonal experiences (and the list keeps growing).

But is it a bad thing? Family traditions go on record as being important to the development of our children. Psychology Today notes that: “Family traditions, including holiday traditions, are more than simply times to eat a lot (and maybe give out presents). Psychologically, traditions (and their smaller counterpart, daily rituals) play a vital role in child development, and strengthen the attachments that children have. These attachments include their parents, to be sure, but they also go beyond parents to include grandparents, uncles, and aunts and cousins — indeed, the entire extended family. Why is this important? Very simply because those attachments play a central role in our children’s emerging identities: that sense of who they are and where their place is in the world. They form an anchor point from which to venture forth and explore the world.”

If I take that as fact, then my kid will grow up with a very sturdy and strong anchor. During the month of December we seem to run on auto-pilot, with eggnog and Christmas cookies fueling our holiday frenzy, but even though it’s crazy, it does seem worth it. I’m just glad it’s just one month of the year.

As an exercise in taking stock, I opted to sit down and look at our holiday traditions, why they are important to us and why we continue to do them. Which ones, does your family celebrate?


  • The Nutcracker 1 of 13
    The Nutcracker
    When I was a girl, I would get all dressed up for our yearly school field trip to see the San Francisco Ballet's production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. It was a BIG deal, especially for us public school kids. But I always wanted to be one of the little girls holding hands with her parents (not her classmates) running up the steps of the Opera House, I decided I would make that happen for my little girl and to have it be one of our traditions. Apparently I was anxious to get the Nutcracker party started; we first took her when she was just two years old. That didn't go so well, with us having to leave midway through, but that didn't stop us from going every year since. And we're very fortunate, the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker is nationally recognized to be one of the best around, with it being featured on PBS's "Great Performances." Yes, it's that good.
    Photo Source: San Francisco Ballet
  • Nutcracker Tea 2 of 13
    Nutcracker Tea
    The whole Nutcracker thing really had an impact on my daughter, it became one of her most favorite things, like, ever. At a very early age she would beg to listen to "Shy-cause-key," over and over and over and over again. For three straight years we have held a "Nutcracker Tea" at our home. Her pals come over in their holiday dresses, we listen to "Shy-cause-key's" masterpiece, we do Nutcracker related crafts and drink hot cocoa and nibble on cookies. I am a bit suspicious that this one is really all about the cookies.
  • Our Tree 3 of 13
    Our Tree
    I've been going to the same Christmas tree lot, in an industrial part of San Francisco, since as far back as I can remember. There is no pomp. There is no circumstance. Just gorgeous trees at reasonable prices. While there are far more chic and "fun" places to buy a tree in San Francisco, it is our family tradition to go our low-fi old-school lot. The other part of the family tradition is for me to wonder around the lot waiting for a tree to "speak" to me. I did mention that I get a "wee bit crazy" this time of year didn't I?
  • Letter to Santa 4 of 13
    Letter to Santa
    Each year we have our daughter write a letter to Santa. This year her letter was short, but sweet. She simply said, "Dear Santa, I hope you come." Direct and to the point. Can't complain about that.
  • Advent Calendar 5 of 13
    Advent Calendar
    Another thing to remember each and every day is our advent calendar. Our daughter certainly doesn't forget about it, so we have to make sure we don't. The other challenge involved is to fill it with non-sugary treats and/or items that are small enough to fit in the advent calendar's tiny boxes.
  • The Great Dickens Christmas Fair 6 of 13
    The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
    The Great Dickens Christmas Fair has been running for decades. It is a holiday festival paying homage to the Charles Dickens London with characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and Oliver Twist mingling amongst the modern day visitors while they feast on meat pies, bangers and mash and pints of ale. There are old-fashioned games, performances and lots of shopping (where else can you buy a handmade box clock, a custom corset or a bonnet in one place?). This is our third year going to the Dickens Fair and when I asked my daughter if she wanted to go again next year, her answer was a very enthusiastic yes, but added that, next year "we'll be in costume." Uh, oh.
  • That Damn Elf 7 of 13
    That Damn Elf
    The Elf on the Shelf has got to be one of the most debated Christmas traditions out there. Kids love the elf but parents everywhere seem to be struck with a deep seeded hatred of the little imp. The big issue at hand is that we parents have to move and remember to move the elf each night. And while this sounds like an easy task, it isn't. It is a commitment. I tried to get out of it this year, but my daughter started to yearn for her elf, named Timberlake, weeks before his arrival date. It appears the Elf is here to stay. Oh, and this year I completely forgot where I had hidden our elf after last Christmas came and went. I had to scour stores for a new "Timberlake". I finally nabbed the second to last one at our local Nordstroms. The salesperson said I had been the third mom to rush in for a replacement elf. So note to all you elf movers out there, remember where you hide him after the holidays!
    Photo Source: Elf on the Shelf
  • Cookie Making 8 of 13
    Cookie Making
    The kitchen becomes a disaster area and we "test" so many of our products that we get hardcore sugar rush jitters, but the cookie making is still a mainstay in our "traditions" collection. Everyone loves cookies, and it's a great excuse to cook up a dozen or two (or in our case - about fourteen).
  • Meeting Santa 9 of 13
    Meeting Santa
    Every year we dress our daughter up in a red dress, brush her hair and insist she sit on a stranger's lap and tell him what she wants and yearns for. It totally sounds creepy out of context, but meeting men dressed up and pretending to be Santa Claus is a nationwide phenomenon that has been going strong for decades. We always go to see Santa at our big downtown Macy's, and no, it's not on 34th Street.
  • Buying One Special Ornament 10 of 13
    Buying One Special Ornament
    After meeting Santa, we go to the huge Macy's Christmas ornament department. Each one of us is then given the task to find a ornament that "speaks" to them (yes, both trees and ornaments talk to me…color me cray cray). We've spent up to an hour looking for the "perfect" ornament. This year my husband opted for a red pepper, my daughter got a little pink pig bell and I went with the leaning tower of Pisa. Our tree is an eclectic mishmash, kind of like our city.
  • The Windows 11 of 13
    The Windows
    While we are downtown, we take a long casual stroll around downtown and check out all the Christmas windows. The big winner is always the special SPCA windows at Macy's where you can adopt kittens and puppies right from the display. And although my daughter begs for a kitten, it is also a tradition for us to say no.
  • Gumps 12 of 13
    Gumps
    Gump's is a San Francisco institution that has been in business since 1861, it was established on the heels (and from the pockets) of the California gold rush. They sell traditional items from candles scented of peppermint to Murano glass bead necklaces to a wacky array of Limoges boxes. Each year, before Christmas, we go to Gumps and ogle the gorgeous ornaments on display. But $30 for a piece of glass shaped as a wine bottle, Santa or a dragon is a bit much, so we just window shop. Part two of the tradition is that we come back on the day after Christmas when all the ornaments are half off.
    Photo Source: Gumps
  • Hotel Del Cornado 13 of 13
    Hotel Del Cornado
    All of the above are our traditions that we partake in while at home in San Francisco. But for Christmas itself we fly down to San Diego to spend time with my husband's family. One of our traditions when there is to venture out to the gorgeous Hotel Del Cornado . They do a beautiful job of decorating the hotel, offers seaside ice skating and local sand castle artisans create masterpieces like this palace above.
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Photo Source: Sunny Chanel and istockphotos unless otherwise noted.

 

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