Holiday Traditions from Our Readers

Merriam Webster defines tradition as “An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior.” And if you ask any of your friends what their holiday traditions are, you’ll might find some you share, and some that are completely different.

Via Facebook, we asked the Lifestyle community “What are your family’s favorite holiday traditions?” and were overwhelmed by the number of responses. Thank you to the many who replied. We hope that by sharing these special customs here, you’ll be inspired to keep your own traditions alive and maybe even create some new ones!

Pajama Game

Who doesn’t love homemade holiday PJ’s? The Lex kids make them for each other every year! Photo courtesy Stephanie Lex.

“Our kids make PJ’s for each other as their Christmas gift. We buy fun pants and decorate t-shirts with fun paint and alternate the receiver each year.”
— Stephanie Lex, Gainesville

Heritage-inspired Traditions
“In our home, our traditions are centered around family and food. My parents typically drive in from Ohio, my sister and her family come over, and we all enjoy a big traditional dinner. We enjoy challah bread, which we make from scratch, brisket, and matzah ball soup among many other delicious items. During Rosh Hashanah, we enjoy eating apples dipped in honey, which is a symbol of a wish for a sweet new year. Hanukkah is not one of our high holidays, but the Festival of Lights and the tradition of giving gifts for each of the holiday’s eight nights and lighting the menorah, is important to us.”
— Melissa Schmelzer, Bristow

A Tradition Today for Tomorrow
“Each year we go to Merrifield Garden Center to pick out our tree. While we’re there, each family member chooses an ornament so that when our son, Jack, who’s 12 and our daughter, Ainsley, who’s 10, are old enough, they’ll have their own special ornament collection to bring to their own home.”
— Anne Albright, Centreville

Blended Families = Creative Traditions
“We move the entire Christmas celebration, Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Santa Claus, Christmas dinner, the whole thing, a few days forward or back around the boys’ mom’s family’s celebrations on the 24th and the 25th. That way the boys don’t miss all the celebrations and traditions with their cousins on that side, and we get the full experience also. We leave cookies for Santa, read The Night Before Christmas, all of it. We’ve been very fortunate that Santa cooperated and made a special trip for them! Now that our kids are grown, they always ask ‘What day Christmas is this year?’ I bet that’s not a question that’s logical in any other families!”
— Leah Smith, Orlean

Flour Fight

At the Packwood house, the annual flour fight is a favorite holiday tradition. Photo courtesy Sandra Packwood.

“In our house, it’s all about the annual flour fight. It’s our favorite family tradition. We start out really, truly making cookies but before you know it, one child tosses flour at the other and the games have begun! As the mom, you might think I’d stay out of it. But oh no, I’m right in the mix.”
— Sandra Packwood, Warrenton

Dig for the Pig
“We have a Danish tradition of finding the almond in the rice pudding at Christmas Eve dinner. Whoever finds it, gets the marzipan pig which is supposed to bring good luck for the New Year.”
— Jessica Buhl, Gainesville

Santa Mouse
“On Christmas morning, our kids find a small gift in the branches of the tree left by ‘Santa Mouse’ — the little-known tiny mouse who travels with Santa and is known through the book Santa Mouse by Michael Brown. The gift is an ornament that reflects something the kids have done that year that they can keep for when they have their own families. And every Christmas Eve, we leave a piece of cheese next to the cookies and milk for Santa for Santa Mouse.
— Ella Schuyler, Marshall

Drink and Decorate
“My husband and I make a big pot of Gluhwein, a warm mulled wine served in German Christmas markets, on the last night of November. We put the kids to bed, finally switch over to Christmas music, and spend the evening decorating the entire house for Christmas. We have fun pulling out decorations and ornaments and remembering past holiday stories together. And the good thing about the Gluhwein is that it has an extra kick of rum and it makes the whole house smell like fall/winter spices as it simmers on the stove.”
— Kristen Fisher, Gainesville

Good Things Come in Small Boxes

Imagine awakening Christmas Eve morning to a box filled with special surprises? Madison Renuart can! Photo courtesy Carrie Renuart.

“On Christmas Eve morning, our daughter wakes up to her ‘Christmas Eve’ box filled with little surprises and hints of things we’re going to do that evening. Things like a special movie, hot chocolate, and her special Christmas mug.”
— Carrie Reunart, Warrenton

24-hours of Food, Family and Fun
“Our Christmas starts on Christmas Eve when our family gathers for heavy appetizers, the Dutch Banquet letter – which is a giant almond cookie – and attends the church service. We have our gift exchange. Youngest to oldest and one by one so all can see… it takes forever these days! In the morning, the kids check out their stockings to see what Santa left for them, and then we go through the gifts. All of this is followed up by more food, Christmas movies, and family time.”
— Melonie Dearborn, Gainesville

Sweets for Your Sweets
“One of our favorite holiday traditions is to make our ‘special hot chocolate’ which has whipped cream and a candy cane stir stick. Then we all put on our PJs, hop in the car, and go around looking at Christmas lights.”
— Nicole Pelty, Woodbridge

Paying it Forward
“Baking holiday cookies, especially my dad’s favorites, and peppermint bark with my girls. It’s a tradition we had with my mom growing up.”
— Nicole Berger, Gainesville

Coffee Talk
“My mom, sister, brother and I all make a coffee cake Christmas morning. My mom got the recipe from a friend who brought it over after my brother was born 43 years ago – she froze it and served it on Christmas Day. I can’t imagine a Christmas morning without it. Even when we travel for the holiday, I make one there.”
— Kristina Rall, Gainesville

Light it Up
“Our family loves to look at Christmas lights in various neighborhoods. We add a little flavor and compete for who can find the most mangers by yelling ‘Manger alert!’’
— Jill Moser, Haymarket

Traditions from the Old World
“My husband is from Holland, so in our house we celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 5. For four days, the kids leave their shoes by the fireplace before bed, and in the morning find a very small gift accompanied by a little poem from St. Nicholas in their shoe. On the fifth day, Dec. 5, the present is a little larger. The gifts are very small, maybe a magnet set or a bottle of bubbles, but it’s important to us to keep this tradition alive.”
— Alice Haslam, Bealeton

Love is in the Cards
“Our family makes homemade cards to go with our gifts, which have a $25 limit. We usually end up crying at someone’s card because they’re so sweet. It’s really a way for each of us to remind the other how special they are. We have 10 years’ worth of cards now!”
— Lori George, Haymarket

The Sounds of Music
“We go to the National Choral Arts Society holiday sing along at the Kennedy Center, eat at Old Ebbitt Grill and see the National Tree. The singalong is really for young kids but it’s a tradition we’ve kept!”
— Molly Hayes, Haymarket

Spreading the Joy
“Every year, my family and I sponsor a family through Angel Tree and the Gainesville-Haymarket Rotary Club. We also sponsor a child in Foster Care. Christmas is about kids, and it’s important to do something nice for those that might not otherwise get to celebrate.”
— Terri Aufmuth, Gainesville

Over and Over
As a dancer from a young age, my daughter performed in The Nutcracker every year and I was a backstage mom. So the sights and sounds of the performance became part of the season for us from early November through Christmas. Even though the dancers got so tired of the music that they heard year after year that they started rehearsing with counts alone, I never did. Watching her grow up and dance a new role every year, from a little girl with her class trying so hard to be in sync with each other as Chinese dancers, to a Spanish dancer when she was a little older, to a Russian dancer when she started to get good, and in Waltz of the Snowflakes and Waltz of the Flowers as a senior member of the company is one of my most treasured memories. Now that she’s grown and not dancing anymore, she and I try to catch The Nutcracker somewhere every year.
— Mary Ann Perrin, Warrenton

Frannie Barnes
About Frannie Barnes 38 Articles
Frannie Barnes is a content writer and editor, and the owner of ForWord Communication. She lives in Gainesville with her husband, three active kids, cat, and dog. To contact Frannie, you can e-mail her at

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