Holiday Traditions Can Make the Season Bright

By Leah Lancione

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving probably shares the most similarities in American homes, with a family meal involving turkey and all the trimmings. What families do before and after the repast is where divergent traditions come into play.

Some folks start the morning off watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, while others huddle together for some football, either on the tube or in the backyard.

In addition to a prayer before the meal, a tradition that many families follow is the act of having each dinner guest express what they’re most thankful for in the past year or in their lives. Families with young children will get a kick out of the detailed, and often bizarre declarations that come out of youngsters’ mouths. Don’t be surprised to hear a kid convey just how thankful they are for their pet hamster or Nintendo!

Here’s an idea for a tradition you can start with your grandchild that will begin on Thanksgiving and end on Christmas Day. Purchase a little drawstring pouch or gift bag that would hold only a small gift. Each year alternate who gets the pouch to fill or to receive the memento. The pouch should be brought out on Thanksgiving and given to the person whose turn it is to begin shopping for something unique, but tiny and inexpensive. Year after year, the exchange will become a special event shared between grandma and her granddaughter or grandson. (Gift hints: a necklace charm or pendant, a keychain, personalized magnets, or small snow globes or collectible figurines.)  Check out 

                                    Light up the season 

One of the most popular Christmas traditions in the U.S. is decorating the exterior of homes and storefronts with white or multicolored lights. The Indian corn swags for Thanksgiving are taken down and replaced with a wreath and more extravagant Christmas decorations. This tradition is assuredly fulfilled across the globe, with each country providing its own flair. Some towns even hold contests for the most elaborate and dazzling displays.

One family, in Urbana, Maryland, has presented their community with “The Yaglenski Family Dancing Holiday Light Spectacular” every December since 2002. The family’s synchronized light shows run every 20 minutes from 6 to 11 p.m., seven days a week for everyone to enjoy. Now that’s called spreading the holiday spirit!

Whether your neighbor exhibits the tackiest displays or the most elegant spectacle, kids, parents, grandparents, and, yes, even teenagers, can have a splendid time huddling together in the car, singing carols and rating all the lighting decor with suitable “oohs and aahs.” Pack a thermos of hot cocoa, a bag of mini marshmallows and a set of Dixie cups to make the occasion even more cozy and festive!

If your community review of lights gives you a hankering for even more impressive feats of illuminated artistry,  the Eastport Yacht Club Parade of Lights puts a spin on the tradition in mid-December when nearly 100 lighted power and sailboats show off their decorations in the Annapolis Harbor. Just a few miles away at Sandy Point State Park, the annual “Lights on the Bay” attracts families from Annapolis and beyond to drive through a scenic exhibition of themed displays. There is a fee, but the proceeds do go to the Anne Arundel Medical Center, which sponsors the event. This year the display runs from November 21 through January 3. For more information, call 443-481-3161.

For those who celebrate Hanukkah, there are just as many sacred and special holiday traditions. A few include: lighting a menorah, saying blessings as a family, singing songs and playing games with a Dreidel, munching on Gelt (gold covered chocolate coins) and making and eating Sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes). With all the lights and ornate decorations of Christmas all around in December, many Jewish families have adopted the tradition of decorating shrubs with blue and white/silver lights. For Hanukkah gift or decorating ideas, visit 

                             Cookies, cookies and more cookies

Another favorite holiday tradition is baking and decorating Christmas cookies (See page XX) Some families combine this activity with trimming the Christmas tree, while others start earlier—even the last weekend in November so they can fill large canisters to give to friends and family to nibble on throughout the holiday season. For great holiday cookie recipes to jazz up your trays and canisters, visit You’ll find a host of delightful cookie creations with names like: Angelettis, Linzer Sandwiches, Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps or Cranberry Noels.

Whether the task of baking and decorating cookies is done as a treat for others or just for your family to enjoy, it should involve Christmas tunes. Either flip on a radio station (WGTS 91.9 and 101.9 Lite FM play classic and contemporary carols throughout the holidays) or pop in a classic Christmas compilation like: Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,”  Nat King Cole’s “Merry Christmas,” The Carpenter’s “Christmas Collection” or “Christmas with the Rat Pack.” If you want something more contemporary or upbeat, try Mariah Carey’s “Merry Christmas” or “Christmas with the Beach Boys.”

Your children or grandchildren may want to substitute something from their collection like Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” or even Christmas from The Heartby American Idol’s David Archuleta. Just sing along no matter the artist, and pretty soon you see how much quicker the sugar cookie dough is stirred and rolled out! Once the preparation is over, it’s easier to get youngsters to take part in cutting out and decorating the cookies. Let them get creative with their color choices… even if it means having a purple Christmas tree cookie or one of Santa Claus with a blue sprinkled suit! The idea is getting everyone together in the kitchen to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year.”

If you want to add a spiritual element to the holiday hustle and bustle, in addition to attending Christmas services at church, try getting the family together to act out or read the Nativity story. Young children will fancy playing the inn keeper, the angel, or one of the Wise Men! If role playing or reading aloud is not your thing, rent the recently released movie “The Nativity Story” starring Keisha Castle-Hughes.

No matter the holiday tradition, the idea is the same—spending time with family and friends and making memories that will last a lifetime. Remember the famous song lyric: “Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.”

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