How to Create Holiday Traditions When You Have a Non-Traditional Schedule

Tradition! I can still see Tevye dancing across the stage as I watched my first Broadway musical. That particular song resonated with me deeply because I am a girl who values tradition. I grew up with a plethora of Christmas traditions each year. Due to family work schedules, the date we celebrated any given holiday was pretty flexible, but with our favorite holidays came practices we held tightly.

As an adult, my husband’s job required moving a state away from our hometown. With the move came a necessity to forgo some of our favorite traditions. I no longer was able to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my parents and sister on Christmas Eve because that day was reserved for my husband’s family celebration. We made our adjustments and found a new rhythm, even picking up a few new practices along the way.

Then we had a baby. I remember a friend telling me we had to lay down the ground rules for our son’s first Christmas and tell everyone if they wanted to see us on December 25th, they would have to come to us. My husband has a large family, so the thought of hosting 30+ people was a nightmare. We knew that policy was going to be unattainable for our family.

We quickly realized it was time for some new traditions—some that did not revolve around a specific date on the calendar. So we started making our own rules. We are still changing things as our family grows, but there are several practices that we want to keep forever. Here are some ideas to help you celebrate Christmas as a family, even if it is not December 25th!

  1. Make setting up your tree an extra special time.

While the date always changes, the day we set up our Christmas tree is always steeped in tradition. It begins early that day when I start making Christmas Chili. It is really just our favorite recipe for white chicken chili, but I use red and green peppers, which remind us all that December has begun! In the afternoon we start watching “Home Alone” and the decorating begins. We find that movie’s score makes the perfect soundtrack for our decorating. When the tree has been trimmed, we all enjoy our Christmas Chili and finish our movie. If it were not for the presents on Christmas morning, this would be my favorite holiday custom!

If tree decorating is not a favorite part of Christmas for you, substitute another beloved December project for decorating the tree. You can make anything fun if you get the family involved and throw in some of your most cherished parts of Christmas.

  1. Create a floating “Christmas morning” effect.

My sister-in-law crafted this genius scheme. Since we never wake up in our own home on December 25th, we work to create the same impact on another day. This year that day will be December 21th because it is my husband’s day off and it falls before our winter travels. The night before our pseudo-Christmas-morning we enjoy all of our beloved Christmas Eve traditions: watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” reading Luke 2, and dressing our son in red plaid pajamas. The next morning we start the day opening presents and enjoying pancakes. We then have the whole day for everyone to enjoy his or her new gifts. This was an especially important practice the year we spent December 24th and 25th in the hospital with a sick newborn. Once he was healthy and we went home, we enjoyed our Christmas on the 26th without a second thought about the date! As an added bonus, if you forgot something for the day, you can still run to the grocery store!

  1. Create your own unique traditions.

While we love that we bring in parts of both of our families’ traditions, we also work to create our unique rituals. Last December we moved into our home on December 20th. Celebrating Christmas was quite a hurried event with boxes to unpack, church services to attend, and our annual road trip awaiting us. We did not get to set up our tree last December, but we took time to enjoy listening to Christmas music and opening our presents together. So many of our traditions were missing last year, but we took the time to separate from the hustle and bustle and enjoy something that was special to us while we opened our presents (and the millions of boxes that filled our new home!).

  1. Celebrate for more than a day.

This year we decided that, since my husband and I love Christmas movies, we would make them a special part of our celebration. Because our son is two and his attention span is lacking, we are spending every evening in December snuggled up on the couch for half hour installment of our favorite Christmas movies. Our son loved shouting “Pig!” and “Frog!” while we watched “The Muppets Christmas Carol.” We got a thrill out of watching him enjoy the movie and those family memories will always be precious to us.

  1. Embrace multiple Christmas celebrations.

I personally love the fact that my son gets to enjoy five separate Christmas celebrations. He gets to enjoy the holiday with our immediate family, two sets of grandparents, and two great-grandparents. What kid does not love an excuse to get five rounds of presents?

Whatever day you choose to celebrate Christmas, remember that you can make your own family traditions a special part of that day. Create traditions that are special to you and enjoy the time that you get to share together.