Traditions in Transition

While unpacking Christmas decorations  the day after Thanksgiving, I received calls from my grown children. This year they “stopped by” for left-overs. It occurred to me how some of our family’s traditions had changed while some had lasted through the years. 

Since moving into our first home in North Boulder, my husband Danny and I have worked together to hang Christmas lights. I love turning them on beforehand so it seems like I am drawing with the dazzling strands. This year we have added many LED lights. I love them because about 40,000 of them can be linked end-to-end! Danny always tackles the house (after the year I nearly fell off the roof), and I work on the garlands, trees, and bushes. You can tell that we decorate our own home since we only go as high as our tallest ladder. You won’t find a cherry picker or professional service at our address. Like a little kid, I anticipate turning them on for the first time after the sun sets, gasping in delight at the display. Weeks later, I will check the newspaper to see if our house gets listed in the top 20 Light Displays of Boulder County. We have made the list nearly every year.

This is the first year in a long time that we won’t be entertaining since other friends have volunteered. That won’t stop me from unpacking all of the plastic containers piled high to the ceiling full of Christmas decorations and decking the halls for my own family.

Barbara Streisand and Harry Connick Jr. will sing in the background while I roll out dough for my friend’s cookie exchange. Traditional recipes will be pulled out of the file and cakes will be baked along with gooey sticky cinnamon rolls  -I will still be sneaking slivers of them well into the first week of January. 

Illustrating our family Christmas card every year is a tradition I cling to. Many have captured the events or interests of our family. Some were insanely time-consuming like the year I made pop-up cards. After drawing and printing the outside and inside of the card, it had to be individually cut and pasted. This year’s creation has yet to be determined…

Years ago, we owned a wholesale toy and school supply business. I had it made. Danny would come home like Santa with a garbage bag filled with little toys for our children and the argument would begin. “In my house Santa always left all the presents unwrapped under the tree. That’s how we knew they were from him,” I pleaded.

“Our presents were always wrapped,” Danny replied.

Somehow I caved in on that one. He did all the “shopping” after all. We would sit for hours wrapping all the little gifts while our children dreamt of sugar plums

The next morning they would rise with the sun and we would hear the door open to our bedroom. Kelly and Courtney, dressed in their footy pajamas, would pad across the bedroom floor and tap us on our shoulders. Kelly would say, “Mama, wake up! It’s Christmas!”

“Do you think Santa came last night?” I’d ask.

With eyes as big as saucers they would both answer with a resounding, “Yes!”

Then we would do the unthinkable. We would take showers, get dressed, go downstairs and make coffee. We would make our children wait on the steps until all the adults were up. Then with the enormous video camera all ready to go, Danny would finally shout, “Santa came!” The kids would bound into the family room and begin ripping open their presents, tossing all that carefully wrapped paper over their shoulders.

Now that our children have grown, our traditions have evolved. They no longer have to wait on the stairs, but everyone has to be dressed and ready before the first stocking is dumped out onto the hardwood floor. Our compact digital cameras have to be in video mode. Gone are the days when we packed up our kids and spent Christmas break in the mountains.  I have to adjust to my empty nest after they return to their own apartments since they are both in college.

We consider this photo taken after Mass last year to be a Christmas miracle!

My parents used to drive from Wisconsin in a van packed with gifts with only a sliver of space for the rear view mirror. As they got older, I insisted they fly and the packages preceded them in the mail. For the first time, my father won’t be healthy enough to make the trip. Last year, after they arrived in Colorado, we drove him to the hospital where he stayed for a week after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Instead of a joyful vacation, we traveled back and forth to the Denver VA Hospital while praying he would stabilize. He was released on Christmas Eve and was our Christmas miracle.

Our family will travel back to Wisconsin after the holidays to celebrate at our parents’ homes for the first time in nearly twenty years. My brother Joe is excited to have everyone back to celebrate in original McCartan fashion. After all, before Danny and I started dating, the Lindaus and McCartans had been known to celebrate Christmas together!

Until then, the timers will pop when the sun goes down and the house will take on a festive glow. I’ll light up the inside of my house just like the outside. My husband and I will move ahead with our plans and our children will join us when they can. I’ll send out my homemade cards. The holidays are always in transition just as in life. Some traditions will be added, adapted or discarded, while others will survive for years to come.

What are some of your holiday traditions? Are any of your traditions in transition?

45 thoughts on “Traditions in Transition

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  1. Our holiday traditions have changed many times over the years, too, Susie. Seems we’re always tinkering with some, adding others, and repeating the ones we love best. Thanks for the memories.


    1. Thanks Diane! This is the first year both kids have their own apartments and that has brought about some changes.while others remain~
      I love the lights, decorating and baking so they will stay high on the list of family traditions.


  2. Thank you for honoring us with your family traditions and your gifts of self-expression.

    I enjoyed your nostalgic reflections and speculation on what the future holds. The change you describe in many ways has a degree of universal application. Your positive spirit is uplifting. Wishing you and yours a special Merry Christmas with hopes and prayers for your dad.


  3. I enjoyed the glimpse into your Christmas home. Sounds like a special place with so many memories. Our children are still in in-house so we continue with our traditions.

    One tradition in our house that is fun and that used to end in tears (which somehow makes it more fun) was decorating our tree. Every year, we’ve gotten the kids an ornament. We’ve tried to pick one that is significant for that year. I keep a list and someday when they move away, they’ll get their ornaments to decorate their first tree away from home. (sniff) But since my husband is a big kid, over the years he’s gotten a lot of Batman and Star Trek ornaments. Here’s where the tears come in. Every year the boys would fight over hanging up his Batman which hangs from this little battarang thing. Anyway, William (the adult!) would insist on hanging it himself. Sons crying, Daughter looking for anything purple and sparkly and mommy liberally spiking her eggnog! 🙂 You know–think I just discovered a great upcoming blog topic! Thanks!!


    1. That is too funny! Last year I kept the small container of my children’s ornaments for them to hang on the tree themselves and they never got around to it even though they did spend quite a bit of their Christmas break with us! This year I am hanging them!


  4. Susie,

    When I was a boy, I loved walking the nighttime streets with my brothers and my dad, watching the Christmas lights and feeling magic lift my spirits. Not many people in my nowadays neighborhood decorate with sparkle, so your post today brought back memories. That, and the note about making your young children wait on the staircase till the grownups were ready. Much as I thought I hated the waiting, somewhere inside I knew that anticipation was the best part of Christmas morning.


  5. When I was a kid, my parents let us empty our stockings before they woke up–which they instituted the first year after we opened everything while they still slept!! yikes! But present opening was a big deal.
    Now with my own kids–we celebrate chanuka, but I still like to make a lot of fanfare. There’s always one night that I make them search for their present via a big treasure hunt complete with clues. They still have fun even though they are teens now, but I imagine that will evolve too. 🙂


  6. My tradition was trying to get my sister to wake up so we could finally open presents. Oh, she was a sound sleeper 😦
    Very nice, Susie. You even succeeded in getting me a little more in the mood 🙂


  7. Your family picture is awesome, a treasured memory you can look at year after year. Our boys are grown and not yet married, so they’re here every Christmas morning. Then we gather with the rest of the family for a lovely turkey dinner.

    Thanks for sharing your family traditions, Susie! 🙂


  8. Hey, Susie,
    What a wonderful story about your traditions. And pictures to complete the story! We all have to go through the pangs of children missing from those traditions. Can you tell me how you do it? Mine still want to be around….My 22 yr. old was lamenting in a text message that I didn’t fill her advent calendar this year with goodies. Really? I bet your house is beautiful all lit up!


  9. Thanks Melissa! Mine are around, but Kelly drove his girlfriend back home to Ft. Collins and Courtney went out to Midnight Madness with friends after Thanksgiving. They came for left-overs then went home to study. Oh well at least we got to see them! We will see more of them over Christmas – I hope!
    Your daughter is so cute! Those are the things that pull at our hearts!
    Thanks for reading!


  10. You illustrate your own Christmas cards? That’s amazing! I’d love to see some of the ones from years past. Do you post them on your website? Love the image of your house only being decorated with lights up to the highest ladder. 🙂 Classic.


    1. I may do something with them. I wasn’t sure how the pop – up would look so I didn’t use that one. Last year’s was a modified version.
      Thank you so much!
      Seriously it is pretty obvious and we still usually make the list! Hahaha!


  11. This is such a lovely post. You are amazing, illustrating your own Christmas cards. And made pop-up cards one year! Wow! I’m so glad your father was okay and released from the hospital just in time for Christmas Eve! Yes, a nice miracle. My parents, like yours, are too old to travel far. It’s hard to watch them age, but every day that they’re still with us is a gift. Like your family, ours is always in a state of transition. We just go with the flow. This year we’ll have two grandchildren to celebrate the holidays with, a baby grandson and a toddler granddaughter. They make Christmas extra-special. Actually, they make life special period. Not that it wasn’t already special.

    I had to laugh at the part about how the gifts weren’t wrapped under the tree when you were a kid, but they were always wrapped under your husband’s family’s trees. My hubby and I used to go through that every year. His family had unwrapped gifts. Mine always had wrapped gifts. Well, I did the shopping and then the wrapping and of course signed the gifts as from Santa. And now with the kids all grown, we don’t have to deal with that anymore! Have a wonderful Christmas season this year.


    1. Lynn thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I am trying to come up with something along the line of transitions for this year’s card. Hmmmm….
      How wonderful to have grandchildren at Christmas!
      That is so funny that you had the same argument. Shopper always wins! Hahaha!
      Have a very merry Christmas too!


  12. Susie, what a beautiful post. Took me down memory lane. I have been single for 13 years, after 30 years of marriage, so our traditions changed after he remarried. But it’s interesting to watch the new traditions spring up. and a tradition that we had maintained for years (everyone comes home and helps to decorate the tree) has been revived by my daughter and her family. I go over there and help decorate their tree and then a couple of days later everyone comes here to decorate mine.

    when she first suggested revisiting the past in this way, I was touched and emotional and grateful. New ways are wonderful and fun, but sometimes repeating the old traditions are also great.


    1. Thanks for sharing this Louise. I am so glad that new traditions are taking hold. It sounds like you have a wonderful family!
      I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas season!


  13. Your story has given me the inspiration to start my decorating for the Holiday! Even though I feel exhausted from my trip abroad, I am unpacking those lights and ornaments today. Thanks for sharing your little holiday traditions Susie.


  14. Thanks Dee for stopping by to read! I hope you had a “mahvelous” vacation. You probably saw the beacon that is our house as you drove down the street! The pressure is off me a bit without a party looming, but I need to start on that Christmas card!
    Enjoy your unpacking~


  15. A lovely post! I admire you for continuing your traditions – especially the time-consuming ones! I, too, have designed our cards for the last several years, but I’m afraid this year we settled for a photocard. I have a feeling I’ll regret that and will be back to tradition next year.

    My favorite tradition is putting glitter on my kids’ noses (yes, even though they’re grown), so they can hear Santa’s sleigh bells at night. It’s a carry-over from when I was a child.

    Also, we open ONE present on Christmas Eve, and it’s no coincidence it’s always a new pair of pajamas. That way, we all look pretty for our Christmas morning pictures. 🙂


  16. Thank you!
    I love the glitter on the noses and the pajamas idea! Those are excellent traditions. Enjoy the extra time you will have this year since you have the photo card. Maybe you can make extra Christmas cookies!


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