Christmas is the season for gift-giving, caroling, rich food and joy. It is also the season for creating and remembering family memories and traditions. These family traditions can instill in families a sense of togetherness and comfort. Christmas can also be a great time to teach and remember family history.
I knew an Italian-American family, for example, where the father had grown up attending midnight mass. Every Christmas Eve the extended family and friends would gather before mass to visit and eat Italian sausage and other delectable Italian cuisine.
Coming from a thoroughly British background, my wife and I decided we wanted our children to learn about and appreciate their own heritage so we have a Christmas Eve dinner that is British in flavor. We settled upon a menu that includes shepherd’s pie and trifle for dessert. At times we’ve even included Christmas Crackers (the type you pop, not eat), as well as stories about our ancestors and family history.
Admittedly, our menu selection was not the traditional British Christmas fare, which can include shortbread in Scotland and soda bread in Ireland, and especially the plentiful sampling of minced pies, Christmas cake and various puddings for dessert. But what we have accomplished with our Christmas Eve British-themed dinner is to remind our family of our British heritage. The same can be done for any other nationality. For example, I know an American family of Norwegian heritage who have adopted Christmas customs and food of their Scandinavian ancestors.
Here are a few suggestions of how to incorporate your own family history into your Yuletide celebrations:
- The week between Christmas and New Year’s, which is a little quieter than the weeks leading up to the holidays, is the perfect time to take your children to the Family History Library and teach them how to do genealogical research. Just a little bit at a time to make it something different and fun.
- If your ancestors’ traditions included celebrating the whole season of 6 December, St. Nicholas Day, to 6 January, Epiphany, you might consider doing the same.
- Think of hanging tree ornaments or other decorations that are either from or visually represent the country of your family’s origin.
- As you do genealogy, look for examples of ancestors born on or around this special time of year and then look up histories to see what life and Christmas celebrations were like at the time of their birth.
- Gather quotes and stories from family histories, diaries, journals and letters that talk about past Christmases and holiday traditions. Then read and explain them to family members.
- If, like my family, your ancestors came from different countries or parts of the world, then you might consider focusing one ancestral line on one night, Swedish customs on New Year’s Eve and Irish traditions on Christmas day, like cooking a traditional Irish breakfast before (or after if you’re really eager) opening the presents.
Whatever you do, it will help make your Christmas celebrations richer and more complete and will help pass on your family traditions to the next generation.