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My Different Christmases and the Importance of Family Traditions

Christmas is fast approaching, and I can smell it in the air.

The sounds of parties echo around the neighbourhood. Shops are bursting at the seams. There is a sense of hustle and bustle and everything seems more sparkly.

This year is a little strange for us. We will remain separated from our extended families due to international travel restrictions. I’ve tried to keep the traditions alive in my heart by remembering what truly defines the Christmas season for both my own, and my husband’s families.

Christmas with my Family

Christmas is by far my favourite holiday. It’s the one that I remember the most as a child. Not because of the gifts I received but the traditions we created as a family.

My mom always hosts Christmas Eve dinner at our place for the entire extended family. This meant that we have a full-house with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and all my cousins. Turkey is a non-negotiable (with Mom’s custom-made Chinese-style stuffing, of course). We always use the “good” crockery and my Dad’s Christmas CDs are on replay. As children, we went to bed on Christmas Eve full of excitement and expectations for Christmas Day. My siblings and I always tried to stay awake long enough to try and catch Santa in action. Christmas Day sees a continuation of the feasting with the entire joyful morning filled with presents and love centred around our beloved Christmas tree, always the same one throughout our childhood.

Christmas with Iker’s Family

I am so fortunate to have joined my husband’s family, who also uphold strong family traditions.

In the Basque Country, the Christmas rituals start on the 21st of December with the Santo Thomas festival, when everyone dons traditional outfits, visit local markets where locally grown fare is sold and where traditional food and wine is enjoyed. This is the prelude to Christmas.

By tradition, on Christmas Eve, the Basque television and radio stations broadcast that Olentzero, the Basque version of Santa, has begun his journey from the mountains to everyone’s homes. Christmas Eve is a family affair filled with holiday food and loud, joyful conversation.

My husband’s family traditionally opens all the family gifts on Christmas Eve and Olentzero’s gifts on Christmas day. Unsurprisingly, there is more food on Christmas Day, which has always included a large T-Bone steak that I have never been able to tackle.

Why Create Traditions?

There is great value in creating traditions. They create meaningful memories, especially for children, and give them something to look forward to each year. These actions become associated with emotions, which in turn make the event even more special.

Unity: Traditions bring family together. Coming together to take part in a family tradition gives everyone a sense of belonging. It creates acceptance within a family, which is so important as children will feel less of a need to seek acceptance outside of their family unit.

A constant: Life and its rhythms change all the time, but traditions can be used as a constant in everyone’s lives that can be looked forward to year after year.

Embrace change and evolution: Families evolve and so do traditions. Some traditions will never change, and some will slowly evolve over the generations to suit the times. Embrace change so that you can remain pliable and make traditions work within your current constraints. By embracing change, you also allow yourself to make new traditions with your family.

My Reflections on this Year

I know our family is not the only family who has been affected by the international borders being closed. Without a doubt, this year is going to be a little sad if you are used to being with your family at Christmas time, like myself.

I urge you to find solace in the hope that 2021 is going to be a little easier and to keep some of your family traditions alive. Choose a few of your favourites and try to incorporate them into your own Christmas routines this year.

I’ve learnt through the years that it doesn’t matter where you are, or what is happening in everyone’s respective worlds. Those little traditions bind us together as a family unit.

When you think about your family’s holiday traditions, what do you picture?


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