My family has a Christmas tradition. Each year I buy the kids Christmas pajamas that they open on Christmas Eve. I started doing that when my daughter was born. The purpose was for her to have something cute and Christmasy for the photos on Christmas morning. When my son was born almost five years later, I made a point to buy them matching pjs, because FOR THE PICTURES!
As they got older, it became increasingly difficult to buy matching pjs for two genders and age categories, so I had to get a little more creative. I went from matchy-matchy to similar themes-like each had reindeers or snowmen or penguins on them. They didn’t match, but they were still similar.
When they reached the teen years, the Christmas theme morphed into buying them something they’d really like. One year it was all blue. One year had a skull & crossbones theme. Last year, it was plaid pants with their favorite things t-shirts. (Harry Potter and Beatles).
They love it and both have told me not to stop even though they’re a little old to have matching sleepwear. That’s kind of the point of traditions. We do them because it gives us the feeling of nostalgia. It connects us to each other and our shared experiences.
Even if you don’t have any Holiday traditions, I bet you can come up with something from your past that brings you to a place of nostalgia.
I started thinking about this in relation to my characters. Each of them has a past. The details of their lives leading to the starting point of my story may not be mentioned in my book, but they all must have a past who made them who they are.
So I asked my characters about their holiday traditions, but I told them to keep it brief-around 100 words. I found out a lot of things about my characters by doing this. Even if I don’t specifically put any of these details into my story going forward, these thoughts/feelings will help me define who these characters are as I write.
On Christmas Eve, my mom cooks a pot of venison stew for us to eat for dinner while we pack up the tent – the old-fashioned kind, not hiber-domes laced with heating elements. At dusk we put on our warmest clothes and follow our Dad who has already scouted the “perfect” tree. We start a fire to warm the stew then decorate the tree with whatever seeds or corn we can spare for the birds and squirrels. Mom says it’s important to preserve their environment. Then, even though we’ve almost outgrown the tent now, we huddle together inside until Christmas morning.
We don’t really do Christmas in my family. Pop said that Christmas was meant to celebrate Jesus being born and since Jesus didn’t do anything when the virus came around, he didn’t want anything to do with him. But my Grandma had a different idea. She thought we should be thankful for the lives who were spared, so she always celebrated. I’d spend Christmas day with her every year. We’d make cookies and she’d read the Christmas story from the Bible. She told me that we should be like the wise men and seek Jesus. Sometimes I do.
My family’s Christmas tradition is a little…weird. A hundred years ago, it was pretty common, but nobody does it now. On Christmas Eve, my parents, sister and I go Christmas caroling. My parents started before I was born. They wanted to spread joy and let people know that someone cared about them, so they’d find the houses of people who had no family left and sing to them. When my sister and I were born, they took us with them. We’ve met some of the most interesting people and all of them appreciate what we do, so I don’t think we’ll stop.
Once, my younger brother wouldn’t sleep unless my older brother and I went to check for Santa, so we climbed up on the roof. Dad had those hideous Santa and reindeer figures up there and I somehow tripped and got tangled in them. I had to grasp at the figures to keep from falling. My weight pulled the display down and sent Rudolph flying over the house and out into the yard-just as my little brother peeked out of the covers. He was convinced that he saw Rudolph and went right to sleep. Now every year we go up on the roof and toss Rudolph over the house.