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Family Traditions: New and Old

Published on Monday, December 29, 2014

As I sit here reflecting on all of the wonderful food I ate and memories made over the Christmas holiday, my mind quickly turns to the special family traditions we honor each year.

Traditions are something I think are incredibly important to each family. To me, traditions are very special. They help carry on the lessons and values that my parents, grandparents and even great grandparents instilled and built their families upon.

If you think about it, traditions are also what this country and the American culture were built upon. The farming practices, craftsmanship, work ethic, and business values of our grandparents were taught to our parents, and then in turn, taught to us. And it has made us what we are today. Even something as simple as attending church, cooking a big Sunday supper and dozing off in the rocking chair after a long week can be a special family tradition. I can still remember my grandpa dozing off in his rocking chair on Sundays after church.

In my family, and maybe in yours as well, many of the traditions have been passed down to generation after generation. But as I’ve gotten older, the traditions also evolve as time goes on, and new ones are added. We have different traditions depending on the time of year, but it seems like some of the most memorable ones come around Christmas.

St. Nick’s Day
Beginning shortly after Thanksgiving, the first one that’s memorable to me is celebrating St. Nick’s Day on December 6. This tradition of St Nick’s Day began in Europe and is celebrated mainly by the Catholic and Episcopalian Church to remember St. Nikolaos of Myra who was a bishop that helped others by placing a coin in a needy person’s shoe or boot when they didn’t know. The current tradition is for children to put their shoe outside their bedroom door and a special gift or surprise will be there in the morning for the good children, and the bad children received a lump of coal. Instead of using the shoe or boot, we use a Christmas stocking.

                    Image courtesy of

Since I don’t live at home anymore, I haven’t always been able to be with my family for St. Nick’s Day but my mom usually finds a way to send us a little something to keep the tradition going. This year, I actually had my family up to my house over the weekend of Dec. 6, so I decided to surprise them. Since they wouldn't be expecting it, I gave them a St. Nick’s treat of oranges and candies. But lo and behold, my Mom still managed to bring a treat as well! That just shows how much of a tradition it is.

Live Christmas Tree
Another special tradition in our house is having a live Christmas tree. But I’m not talking about your typical tree. They are huge! Standing around 12 ft. tall, they reach all the way to the top of our cathedral ceilings, require a pulley system attached to the ceiling to hold them up, and a special stick or fishing poles to hang the ornaments.

We moved in to the house my parents still live in when I was in 2nd grade. The house has this large picture window in the front and the couple who lived there before us had the tradition to buy a live Christmas tree large enough to take up the whole window! They told us about that tradition and encouraged us to keep it going, as everyone in our little town enjoyed seeing it as they drove by.

When we were little, my Dad, sister and I would go out to a neighboring tree farm and pick out the perfect one to cut down. We have some interesting stories about these trees, including having to fit it in our front door (before we installed French doors in the dining room) and the tree being so big that we once had to tape Christmas lights to the window because it was too big to go all the way around! 

          Left: a picture of our Christmas tree this year. Top right: My dad and sister out getting the tree.
    Bottom right: this is a picture of my sister and her boyfriend in front of one of our original huge trees.

Since I went away to college, this tradition has become a special thing for my Dad and sister to do together, but I still enjoy having it when I come home for the holidays. The past couple of years our trees have been a little smaller (10 ft. vs 12 ft., maybe?) and we have moved the tree into our newer living room. But we still put a smaller one in the “old living room” as we call it so there are some lights in there.

Christmas Eve Mass & Egg Nog at the Farm
This tradition has varied over the years. I need to ask my Dad when this tradition started, but ever since I can remember, we have been going to Christmas Eve Mass and then drink egg nog with family afterward. In 1988, Christmas Eve for my family was especially eventful because I was almost ready to be born! The story my Mom and Dad always tell is that they were getting ready to go to Midnight Mass but ended up having to miss it that year because it was time for Mom to go to the hospital. I was born shortly after at 3:30am on Christmas morning!


When I was little we went to the Children’s Mass, where we participated in the program, and then went to have egg nog with Grandma and Grandpa at the farm. They are no longer with us now, but we still celebrate this tradition at our house in honor of them and share stories and memories from years past.

Red Velvet Cake
This is my favorite food-related Christmas tradition and my favorite kind of cake in general. The only time of year that we typically make red velvet cake is for my sister’s birthday around Thanksgiving and mine on Christmas. Our recipe has been passed down for four generations on my Mom’s side of the family and out of all red velvet cakes I’ve ever had, this is my absolute favorite. And bless my mom’s heart for making me one every year because it’s not the quickest recipe. But the labor is totally worth it!

                        My sister even took the Red Velvet theme a little further this year by making
           Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning! They were delicious too!

Baking and passing on family recipes are traditions that come from both sides of my family. So making and enjoying these treats each year is always special for me.

New Traditions
As my reflections continued, I also started thinking about how my husband Tyler and I are starting to incorporate our family traditions into our life together. From our Christmas decorations, to celebrations, we’re enjoying learning about each other’s family traditions and making a few new ones of our own.


Do you have special family traditions you honor each year?

Whether traditions are new or old, they are just another important piece of the growth of our families and farms. As the New Year approaches, I encourage all of you to spend some time reflecting on your own family traditions. Then share the history behind them with your children so they can continue to celebrate them for years to come.

Happy New Year!

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Chelsea O'Brien
Chelsea O'Brien>

Chelsea O'Brien

Beck's Hybrids marketing associate, social media specialist, southern Indiana native and advocate of agriculture.

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