Traditions — When Everything Old Is New Again by Jeanie Croope


I love that word. It brings to mind memories of times past and occasions and activities that were so special, unique, or fun that they became incorporated into our souls and repeated over and over again.

No season seems to echo the thought of tradition more to me than the winter holidays.

For me, it’s Christmas and all that goes with it. A visit to the greens market with my friend Jan. Cookie decorating on Christmas Eve with the kids. A holiday gift exchange with good friends where we choose our gifts based on the theme of a favorite holiday song.

For my friend Jane it is baking biscotti at Hanukkah. For my interfaith cousins with a large extended family, it is a way to make gift giving for Hanukkah and Christmas both fun and economical.

My holiday decorating begins on Thanksgiving weekend. And with that seasonal launch comes the revisiting of treasured ornaments, favorite recipes and memories of all the past seasons.

When I pull out the giant Gingerman my dad made for my mom, it reminds me of a tradition we used to share with our family, long before marriages and illnesses changed those holidays, making it difficult for us to get together. We would have an original gift-wrapping contest with various categories (“Best disguise of an obvious object,” “Best wrapping paper,” “Most unique”). Both adults and kids — we were all teens or in college — participated, spending hours dripping candle wax over a small, square box to create a faux candle or turning a rolled-up poster into a trumpet.

One year, after Mom had been making tiny stuffed gingerbread-man ornaments, Dad stitched up a giant one, leaving a small hole in its side where he hid a pair of earrings. It’s now the topper on one of my trees.

Other ornaments and decorations remind me of special times and people. An Eiffel Tower or dangling piece from Japan recall trips Rick and I have enjoyed together. The creche my parents bought in Mexico has a spot, along with the Santa my friend Mary Jane made for me several years before she passed. They’re all part of my Christmas and they will all be on the tree or in my home, no matter where I might one day live.

When Rick and I joined forces, his boys were quite young. That’s when we started the Christmas Eve cookie decorating tradition. I made the cut-outs ahead of time and after our dinner was tidied up, we’d get out the frosting and go to town. Some of the creations were artistic and elegant. Some were just obnoxious sugar bombs. The cookies would end up as dessert the next day, with some headed off to their mom, others shared with friends or neighbors.

Those boys are grown now and one even has two boys of his own. And we still do cookies. It may not be on “official” Christmas Eve. But we’ll gather at the table, cups filled with colorful frosting and enjoy our time together.

That’s the other thing. Traditions evolve over time. Families expand and we learn to “share” those we love with others. But we hold tight to the feelings, the essence of the holiday.

My Cleveland cousins started a new shopping tradition several years ago when getting presents for the extended family of 17 or more became a financial nightmare. With all the children as adults now, this became a fun, easy way to cut down expenses. Each person would get a one, five, ten, and twenty dollar gift that could go to a male or female. These would be exchanged by drawing numbers. They would draw a name for a special present in the thirty dollar zone for one person.

The exchange brought loads of laughs, the financial cost was significantly reduced (they used to all exchange!), and it was a fun challenge to find the right thing. (Dollar Tree certainly benefited from this!)

About fifteen years ago we started a tradition with another couple of choosing a holiday song as our theme for gift giving. We set a twenty-five dollar limit and pick a song. Sometimes we interpret literally (when we did “The Christmas Song” we both found “chestnuts” to roast on an open fire!). We’ve done “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Let it Snow!,” “White Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas Island,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and many others. The changing theme helps the concept never get old!

I will always make my cousin Bonnie’s “Jingle Balls,” (which you may know as Italian wedding cookies or snowballs), along with several other cookies that are holiday “musts.” We’ll have the roast beef Christmas Eve dinner that Rick’s grandfather used to make for them and the strata

breakfast casserole that goes in the oven while we open presents on Christmas morning. We will watch “A Christmas Story” and “Love Actually” and I will be sure to watch “White Christmas” (by myself, probably, since everyone else burned out on that one.)

And that’s OK. Because for me, traditions are both those shared with others and those we hold close to ourselves. That moment of quiet to remember those no longer with us, a review of photos from Christmases past. When I decorate the little tree in my bedroom that has fishing ornaments and other things that remind me of my dad, he’s there with me, just as mom appears when I set the table with her Spode Christmas tree china and silver. To others, it might just be a tree or a pretty table setting. But I know.

As time evolves, new traditions emerge and those that no longer work are gently set aside as sweet memories.

What are your treasured holiday traditions? Hold them close and share them, too. Pass them down to the next generation. They’ll change in time to be sure. So will we. But they will remain in our hearts as we recall family, friendships, holidays and most of all, love.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

20 Replies to “Traditions — When Everything Old Is New Again by Jeanie Croope”

  1. This was a wonderful post!
    Sadly Christmas was never much fun in my family as my parents had their own shop and Christmas was the stressiest days of the year – people really do buy presents en masse onespecuially that very last day (here)!
    What I loved was the goose my Mom used to make. In later years it turned into a fondue-nightmare, though… an open flame under a pot of fat freaked me out.
    Hubby´s family isn´t into Christmas, either, so the only tradition that´s left is watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

    1. Thanks for coming over, Iris. I love hearing about the goose. Yes, I can see where you are with the fondue thing! We always enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the holidays, too!

  2. As always, I loved reading a post by you regarding tradition. I see where your creativity comes from. I loved the story about your father and the gingerbread man he made to hid the earrings. What a wonderful man he must have been. I bet your mom just loved that surprise, and I can only imagine the warm memory you have as you put that gingerbread man on your tree top.

    Here’s to a festive Christmas season to you and yours. X

    1. Thank you, Sally. Yes, I treasure the Giant Gingerman! I always had thought before of my mom as being the creative but when we started that tradition my dad truly surprised us all — and continued to — with his creativity! So, it was all just a wonderful memory.

      Merriest to you and yours as well.

  3. Great post Jeanie and I loved your family traditions.
    When we lived close to my parents (in Portugal), my sister and I would get together with Mom and cook Christmas eve dinner for the family. The next day we would prepare the Christmas lunch together. It was fun and we used to chat a lot while we cooked.
    That’s one time of the year when we miss having more family around, but I try to gather other friends that I met in Australia who also don’t have family and we enjoy a Christmas eve dinner and then lunch at my house and everyone brings something to eat.

    1. Thanks, Sami. I love that you cooked Christmas Eve dinner and lunch with your mom and sister. What a good way to catch up and share. I think the gathering of friends for a Christmas Eve dinner and lunch is a wonderful tradition. It’s the family you have chosen for yourself in Australia. I hope your holidays this year are truly beautiful.

  4. Great post Jeanie! Traditions are so neat. I esp love taking put each ornament that have meaning and special memories behind them. Last I did blogs on my special ones but I am doing all I can to not do that again this yr. haha….u

    1. Thank you, Pam! Oh, yes — putting those special ones on the tree is really meaningful, isn’t it? I love knowing the stories behind things. Merry and Happy to you!

  5. Jeanie what a wonderful post. I love the traditions that have survived many years, grown kids with kids of their own and the loss of loved one’s. I have items I treasure and each year when they come out of the bins I smile. Memories are so special and I continue to make new one’s with my children and grandchildren. May it never end!

    1. Thank you, Linda. Yes, some change through necessity and others seem to go for generations and I love that. I have a few of those treasures from the holiday bin, too. Aren’t they the best? Here’s to making more memories!

  6. I love this post! We don’t realize all that we do each year for Christmas, that have become traditions, until we stop and think about it… is normal to us. I loved reading about yours!

    1. Thanks for coming over, AnnMarie! Yes, you nailed it — they happen incrementally and suddenly we have a tradition! I hope (and suspect) that you have more than a few yourself! Merriest!

  7. Such wonderful memories. Your family sounds like a lot of fun. I love the story of the gingerbread man and the hidden earrings. How nice that you still have it.

    1. Thanks so much, Ellen. Yes, I was lucky to have a fun family. My dad surprised me — we always thought my mom was the creative until that project and then we realized he had hidden talents! Merriest to you.

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