This holiday season has me thinking a lot about tradition and how I want to celebrate the holidays with my own family. My childhood was filled with celebrating holidays untraditionally. From where we celebrated, how and even what we ate. I’m also married to a man whose parents immigrated to the United States when he was pre-adolescent, so he too has a flimsy foundation for holiday tradition. (Specifically, Thanksgiving since his parents are from New Zealand.)

Traditions are important because it builds strong family relationships between generations. It’s the recipes that are baked, the stories told and the things we do together that make tradition. I want all these things for my own family. The most important tradition I want to have with my family is the un-tradition. The un-traditions are traditions that are authentic to me and my family and are also a nod to my own untraditional holiday upbringing. So this season I’m tasking myself with how to have untraditional holidays that are authentic and filled with meaning.

mom and son playing with balloons and smiling at camera

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

Sand In The Thanksgiving Meal

Growing up, every Thanksgiving my family would pack-up our motorhome and load the trailer with motorcycles and drive down to Pismo Beach for a week of riding ATVs on the sand dunes. We’d meet-up with a handful of other families and set-up camp in a huge circle on the beach. On Thanksgiving Day we’d potluck and without fail a sand storm would erupt resulting in a sandy Thanksgiving meal. My brothers to this day still make the reference, “If there’s not sand in it, then it’s not Thanksgiving Day.”

I certainly don’t want to sprinkle sand in our food but it got me thinking about holiday meals.

Gobble Gobble Gross Carcass

I’m a vegetarian. I was raised a vegetarian. So having a perfectly 24 hour roasted carcass on the table isn’t appealing to me. About 10 years ago, pre-kid, my husband and I hosted Christmas at our tiny apartment in San Francisco. Because I’m a vegetarian and my grandma is part Italian I decided to bake veggie lasagna (well, technically my mother-in-law did the baking). I’ll never forget because our place was so small we had to move all the furniture out of the living room so we could extend a long table to fit everyone.

This simple act of replacing the traditional ham or turkey with an untraditional veggie lasagna made the holiday feel more authentic. Last Christmas I also baked veggie lasagna so I think this holiday tradition is taking root.

4 year old playing with big colorful balloons

HOME IS ANYWHERE WITH FAMILY

Where You Celebrate

Remember when I mentioned growing up my family spent Thanksgiving at Pismo Beach riding ATVs? Well, we also spent Christmas on the sand dunes. Typically in Oregon sometimes in Nevada but always riding ATVs on the sand. No Christmas gifts were given at the dunes but it always felt like our special Christmas holiday. When we would return home my mom and step-dad had somehow magically put all our gifts under the tree. Let me tell you, there are no words to describe that feeling of opening the front door after camping on the sand dunes for weeks and seeing all the beautifully wrapped presents and twinkling lights. By the way, I asked my mom about this and she said my grandma would come to the house before we returned and put all the presents out – kind of amazing.

These days, because of my husband’s career, traveling during the holidays isn’t an option. He works in basketball, which is full swing during the holidays. Typically he either has a game on a holiday or sandwiched around a holiday. Some people think this is odd, and maybe even untraditional, but I love spending Thanksgiving or Christmas at a game. Yes, it’s always a struggle to get childcare but when my son is old enough (maybe starting this year!) he’ll be going to games that land on the holidays too. I’m a basketball-executive wife and I love it!

dad hugging 4 year old son

HOW

Cracker A$$ Cracker

A few family traditions have emerged over the years from my husband’s side. For example, a New Zealand tradition on Christmas is crackers, a wrapped tube twisted at the end stuffed with a paper crown, riddle and toy, placed on each dinner plate. Each person crosses their arms holding one end of their cracker and their neighbors and then we all pull at the same time to crack open the gift. It’s a great fun a tradition that my mother-in-law introduced to me. It’s now becoming more popular here in the United States to do too. This is one of my favorite un-traditions to do at Christmas dinner. 

mom kissing son

A NOTE ON STAYING AUTHENTIC

Father Time

I feel this urge to figure out all our traditions and get them set in stone. But the truth is, we have a young family and we’re still figuring out the traditions we want to keep or toss. I just need to continue to remind myself that when we invite other people into our home for the holidays that I need to feel ok about us doing it differently. Trying to recreate a holiday based on someone else’s perception or requests always results in a major letdown. The one lesson I have learned over the years is I need to do “us” (my family) and stay authentic to what brings us joy. Because when that happens, it brings joy to others as well.

Do you have special family traditions or are you creating your own? I’d love to hear in the comments.