My family’s holiday traditions are my favorite. They are different from any other family. That’s what I love about them. My husband and I began our family and, especially, after we left the military, we started new traditions. It wasn’t that we deliberately set out to do things differently than our parents had, but our circumstances–location, resources, interests, and so on–were different than theirs, so adapting the way we celebrated holidays was only natural.
We decided to take turns opening gifts on Christmas morning. Even the stocking stuffers, each person would open one gift at a given time. This way everyone could see every gift as it was opened. Although we don’t open a lot of presents, it doesn’t take us long to get through them all. We make sure to take breaks from our morning routine to have coffee, eat cookies and take photos. We don’t wait until the evening to eat our Christmas dinner, so we don’t have to stop gift-giving in the morning to make room for dinner.
My family loves that Christmas morning gifts are almost always accidental. It all began twenty years ago. I found things I liked at yard sales and thrift stores throughout the summer and autumn of 1995. Although the items I found were unique enough to make Christmas gifts, I realized that I had to separate them from other gifts. I didn’t want anyone to believe I was trying to pass them off to them as new. So I wrapped them in Sunday paper funnies.
Although I can’t recall what the first gifts were, I do recall that my husband and I loved them so much (both the gift and the concept) that we have made second-hand gifts a regular part of our Christmas celebrations.
Details of this tradition for the first few years
We agreed that the gift could not only be thrift store finds but also something the giver might already own or something the receiver would like. Alexis’ Balmoral Rain perfume was one of her favorites. It was a compliment that I made so often that she gave me a half-full of it when Christmas arrived. Now it is the only perfume I wear. It could also be something you find–like Alison’s elegant, burnt-out velvet scarf she found on the street in Center City. She hand-washed it and wrapped it with funnies.
The internet has brought a new dimension to second-hand gift traditions. It makes it possible for special items from the past to be replaced. Alexis once asked me if I would like an old children’s book called Sugarplum. I loved it as a child and took it out of school libraries over and over again. I never wanted to part with it. Although it has been out of print for some time, Alexis, who loves looking for obscure things, found me a copy from another elementary school library. When I saw the inside of the comic strip paper, I burst into tears. Christmas mornings are just too good for me.
My family added an amendment to the tradition as time passed. . .
One year ago, I was looking through clearance racks in a department store. This clearance section is my favorite part of any store. A beautiful wool sweater in my husband’s size (extra-large, tall) was found in the clearance section. It was just the right color to compliment his blue eyes. The original price was $80 but it had been reduced so many times, that it was now only $5.00. It wasn’t damaged like clearance sweaters are. I believe someone bought it and kept it in the bag for quite some time before returning it. My score gave me such joy that I asked my family to add “Extreme Bargain” to our second-hand gift tradition. Although it is an extreme departure from the norm, they accepted it in the spirit of Christmas.
This tradition is dear to me for many reasons
One, I feel like I’m always on a treasure hunt. I don’t know when the right thing will come up. I think of my family whether I’m at a thrift shop, church bazaar or looking into trash cans in fancy neighborhoods . . . Looking for something to make them smile. . . They’re also looking for things for me, and I know that.
It’s great that we can still find creative and fun ways to gift each other gifts, even if the budget is tight for one or all of us.
It is possible that I don’t know the traditions of your family. But I’m sure you have many.
I think having traditions–especially unusual ones–gives a family a sense of identity; and I believe having a sense of identity makes a family stronger.
In these hectic weeks of preparation for Christmas, I hope you will take some time to reflect on the traditions you are keeping.
Is there a way to make your family more valuable?
Do you have others you are holding on to because you felt you needed them?
It can be stressful to continue traditions you don’t enjoy. Maybe it’s time for you to let go of those things and concentrate on the ones that matter.