Christmas Traditions in a Growing Family

I had the best Christmases as a child, with all the great traditions you can imagine. Cutting down the tree in the woods (once, before my dad almost buried an ax in his own shin), shortbread, Bing Crosby’s Christmas album on the record player; we did it ALL.

I wanted it all for my kids too, even if it was in another country with very different traditions and very different weather.

I think my husband and I did a decent job, even without snow, since Christmas is a favorite time of year for both of my kids. Some of our favorite traditions:

  • Watching the processions of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the first twelve days of December
  • Visiting the beach on Christmas Day
  • Decorating the tree on December 1rst, which is also Gilberto’s birthday

But something I’ve learned about raising kids is that they grow and change. While that sounds obvious, I forgot to apply that knowledge to holidays. Kids grow and change, which means some of our family traditions also need to grow and change.

Sometimes that wasn’t okay with me. And that’s because, to me, some things are sacred. Unfortunately, not everyone in the family felt the same way all the time.

I’ll never forget the year that one of my children (who will remain nameless) turned 14. This child embraced fourteen the way a tiger takes to fangs… fiercely and unapologetically. That child loved listening to music with headphones on, alone and behind a closed bedroom door.

Even on December 1st. Actually, ESPECIALLY on December 1st, during tree decorating time. For that child, there was only budging with a lot of huffing and puffing, followed by extreme reluctance and a quick departure during the traditional First Christmas Cookies of the Season Post-Decorating Snack (I know, I do love pomp and circumstance).

I was devastated. I was certain this spelled the end of family tradition. But, luckily for me, my children have a lovely, patient dad who was also fourteen once upon a time.

He explained to me that this too would pass and that our wonderful child simply needed to dislike us intensely right now.

Guess what? He was right (he is sometimes).

That child was wearing the floppiest, cheesiest Santa hat and choosing the Christmas karaoke playlist exactly 365 days later. That very child posted ten pictures of the whole event on Instagram while eating half a dozen sugar cookie blossoms.

As our family grows and changes, so should the traditions. The important part of Christmas should not be the traditions but the connections.

The activities themselves are the least of your worries. So, if you have some reluctant teens in your holiday circle, try something new, such as:

  • Competitions: Give everyone a space to decorate. Control NOTHING (except the budget).
  • Divvying up the activities: Let everyone plan one family activity each, and you all have to participate.
  • Making a schedule: Put a calendar on the fridge so everyone can anticipate what’s coming. NO SURPRISES, not even happy ones. With teens around, you never know.

If you sense a theme here, you’re right – involving all your family members in making memories means connections take center stage in your family traditions.

Belonging takes center stage. Love takes center stage. And that’s what Christmas is all about anyway.


  • Leza Warkentin

    I have been living and teaching in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, since the turn of the century. I am a Canadian with a musician-Mexican husband and two Mexican-Canadian patas saladas who are growing up way too fast.

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