The Best Holiday Traditions with Kids

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My first Christmas as parent, I was so tired from the memory making that I fell asleep trying to put a coat on my oldest as we attempted our local tree lighting.  

In subsequent years (when we actually made it out the front door) they complained about being too cold, too hungry, the line to see Santa was too long.  Not because our kids aren't amazing, but because THEY'RE KIDS. They're tiny humans with their own feelings, agendas and memories, and they don't care that 

I'M TRYING TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES FOR THEM, DAMMIT!

The best holiday memories aren't the ones you plan.  They're spontaneous.  They're often a bit ridiculous. They're about the people you are with, not really what you are doing.  Running amok during our Christmas Eve open house each year. Playing with the player piano at the tree farm where we bought our Christmas tree while my parent shopped for ornaments upstairs.  The way the flour felt on my hands as I kneaded the pecan roll dough with Grandma.  Squinting across the room to see if the lights on the tree had been disbursed evenly, and laughing about how it made my dad look like my grandpa when he did it. These are the things I remember most vividly about the holidays. 

You know what doesn't determine my nostalgia for Christmas Time?  Details. 

We had just as much fun, life was just as special whether we used fine china or paper plates, and no matter if it was just us or the whole extended family.  What we had for dinner on Christmas Eve didn't matter as much as if there were cookies to be eaten all Christmas day.  What color the wrapping paper was or which kind of cookie we made were the details I'm sure seemed important then but don't make up the memories or traditions now.

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As I head into my 7th Christmas as a parent, I aim to remember that I don't get to determine what my kids remember or the traditions they hold as important.  We won't be able to do all of the things, and they surely won't be done perfectly, according to my own childhood memories, which have conveniently erased any of the hard work and chaos that often leads up to the Magical Moments.

New strategy: I try to soak in the quick memories for myself.  How our oldest’s is learning the Christmas songs of my childhood, but on his own.  How our middle child loves to take time wrapping presents for others. And how our youngest will take off every ornament he get his hands on, and put them UNDER the tree, like little gifts for us to find later.  These are the things will turn into their traditions, without my guidance.

So whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwaanza or Festivus, as you head into the holiday season I urge you to *watch* as traditions are established, rather than expect to continue or even establish them.  

The beautiful memories happen without us trying, anyway.

Do the things that only bring and spread joy, let the obligation and demand of past traditions go, and you too will create memories of your own, as your babies (of all ages!) discover the beauty of this season and their own important traditions.

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.