The Christmas traditions in my family are likely older than the traditions in most other families. There are two specifically that have been practiced every year for over a hundred years.
There are other, younger, traditions that sprang up to serve their purpose for the time period and then melted away. I used to have a “baking bonanza” every year with my cousin to provide a tableful of cookies and sweets for the family.
My mom will deny it, but she gobbled up those mint thumbprints.
Still others, like going to the 11 PM Christmas Eve service at church, became less exciting the older we became. Now, as an adult, I’ll gladly take the sleep option.
But throughout all these smaller, shorter-lived traditions, the two at the foundation remained the same, and remained alive.
The First is Called the Christmas Pie.
It has nothing to do with the kind of pie you eat.
My family is pretty big. My mom has six siblings, and even though only two or three of them live nearby and come to the holidays, when you add in spouses and children and family friends, the house fills up fast.
It also means that everyone brings presents over, and puts them all into a big, mixed-up pile in the middle of my parents’ living room.
When I was much younger, the pile was much bigger, but that might have to do with how small I was.
In any case, once all the presents are piled up, we drape a sheet over it and it looks a bit like a pie!
Everyone sits in a circle around this big pie of presents, and we begin with the youngest among us reaching underneath to grab a present without looking.
This auspicious job falls to my niece now, and boy is she delighted to do it! The present is passed to the recipient, and we all watch as they open it and thank the giver.
And so it goes around the circle until the present pile is diminished, and all that’s left is the sheet.
Why I Love It
This tradition has been in my family for over a hundred years. It started with my grandmother’s mother, and at one point when my grandma suggested we stop doing it she was met with horror and fervent disagreement.
I love this tradition because it takes the chaos and eagerness to get through all your presents as fast as possible out of the equation.
We snack, chat, and drink the afternoon away while basking in the company of family and friends as we all unwrap our gifts.
It extends our time together and richens it.
In my early years, when the pie seemed to reach the ceiling, my mom and aunts tell me it dragged on and on and on because my cousins and I are all similar ages — so the pie was mostly stuffed with presents for us kids.
The Christmas Pie is something I will hold on to for my life.
The Second Tradition is Table Gifts
The other 100+ years old tradition in my family are table gifts. It started, again, with my great grandparents, who would always have an extra gift under the tree for guests who had nowhere else to go during the Christmas season.
My great grandfather was a minister and so his house was often the only one open for strangers at that time of year.
To include those guests in the festivities, that extra gift was given to them.
This has served my family well in later years. Names are drawn at Thanksgiving to do table gifts for everyone who will be present at Christmas, as well as a few extras in case we have guests (like my in-laws the first year they came over).
Why I Love It
Some years the table gifts have been more playful, prank-like gifts. A few years ago my aunt’s table gift to my grandma was a pair of black high heels, which my grandma insisted on putting on for everyone’s amusement.
She needed assistance to walk anywhere in them, being in her late eighties at the time, but the spectacle filled the house with laughter and good spirits.
(And then my aunt gave her the real table gift instead of the prank one.)
Could You Try These Traditions?
While the Christmas Pie is a tradition that works very well for large family gatherings, it might not be adopted quite so well for everyone if you’re looking for a new tradition to try out.
In any case, it’s still a lot of fun even for smaller families!
However, table gifts are something that every family can practice, especially if your guest list changes from year-to-year and you’re not always sure who might show up. Having a few extra table gifts on hand is a good way to be prepared for an extra person.
What Are Your Favorite Family Christmas Traditions?
Whenever someone asks me what we do for Christmas, I always mention these two traditions — but I want to hear about yours! Do you have something as long-lived as a 100+ years-old tradition? Or maybe a fun practice you started only a few years ago?
Feel free to share. 🙂