Celebrating the Holiday Season with Festive Family Traditions


While I’m not completely in love with Vermont’s below-zero winter weather, I love pretty much everything else about winter. I love watching the snow fall, bundling up to go out in fresh snow, and coming back inside to warm up with hot cocoa. I’m not ashamed to admit that I really (REALLY) love clearing the driveway with the snowblower, and I love pretty much everything that comes along with the holiday season. In our house, winter is chock-full of yummy recipes and festive family traditions.

While I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious home, Christmas has always been an important time of year for our family. It’s a time for family dinners, baking and crafting together, and giving gifts.

It’s a time for us to show our love and appreciation for each other through our festive holiday traditions.

Some of these traditions have been long-standing in our family, and a few are new traditions that my husband and I have started ourselves:

Cutting the Christmas Tree

When we were growing up, my grandfather had a tree farm. Every year, in late November or early December, we would pack into the car as a family, head to my grandparents’ land in New Hampshire, and cut fresh Christmas trees. Even after my grandfather passed away, we still made the trip for many years.

There was something ceremonial about bundling up, donning our brightest orange attire (since we were always cutting trees during hunting season), trudging into the woods, and searching for the perfect tree. For some reason, my dad and I (in particular) seemed to have rose-colored glasses when we were out in the woods, and would often return home to Vermont to find that the perfect tree we had chosen was, in fact, a lopsided tree or one that was missing many branches. Pretty much every year, the tree was too tall and the top would scrape the ceiling.

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My brother and his girls on our last trip to our family’s land in New Hampshire.

In recent years, we’ve taken my nieces on the trip and returned home with multiple trees. When my son was born, I looked forward to taking him on our yearly trips and having him share this festive family tradition with us. However, in the last few years, my family decided to sell our land in New Hampshire and we have had to move this tradition closer to our home in Vermont. We started by taking our son to cut a Christmas tree in our hometown and he had a great time. I’m sure he’ll have an even better time this year, now that he can help Baba (my dad, his grandpa) take down the tree.

I imagine that no matter what flaws our tree might have this time, none of them will matter; the most important part of this tradition will be, as always, being together.

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Last year was my son’s first time joining us to cut Christmas trees.  

Baking Biscotti

When I was a kid, my mom and I made biscotti every year just before Christmas break. It started out as a small tradition, with just a few batches for my parents to bring to work, but over the years, it blossomed into a full-blown biscotti factory. It became a tradition to use the last weekend before vacation to make the biscotti; if there is a snow day around that time, that’s even better. Over the years, my mom and I have developed a shorthand routine in the kitchen, and we’ve streamlined our many biscotti recipes into one basic recipe with many mix-in combinations. In our most productive year, we made 13 batches of 36 biscotti each. That is a serious amount of baking.

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Cranberry-walnut is a staple biscotti flavor in our family. It’s my brother’s favorite, and I don’t think we’ve ever gone a year without making it.

Over the years, the responsibility of biscotti baking has slowly shifted from my mom to me, and the numbers of biscotti we bake have ebbed and flowed as our jobs and social circles have changed. In the last few years, I haven’t wanted to bring any biscotti to work for Christmas, but I feel like it’s something my new colleagues will truly appreciate. And I can’t wait to have my son cooking alongside me this time.

Hosting a Cookie Swap

This is something I always wanted to do growing up, but it was never really in the cards. For the last few years, however, I had particularly excellent groups of students in my Advanced Spanish classes, and I decided to start a new tradition with, “My other kids,” my students. I have had pretty small groups in the upper levels, so planning was pretty easy.

In a cookie swap, I usually ask participants to bring in a half dozen cookies for each person involved. So, if there are 8 of us total, each person should bring 4 dozen cookies and each person will leave with 4 dozen cookies (but 8 different kinds). We usually use a Google Doc to sign up for cookie varieties ahead of time, so we don’t end up with 5 batches of the same type of cookie. My students have loved taking part in this holiday tradition, and while I encourage them to share the 4 dozen mixed cookies with their families, I have a sneaking suspicion that some may not.

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Our cookie swap goodies from last year’s party. Mine were the homemade Oreos.

Having an Advent Calendar

My brother is nearly 8 years older than me, so we were never in the same school at the same time. I will confess to you that I was endlessly jealous of my brother growing up; he had the coolest (and cutest) guy friends, went on the most exciting field trips, and had the best school fundraisers. Yes, I was even jealous of his school fundraisers. He was in the German club, and the two neatest fundraisers they ever did were for (homemade) soft pretzels and chocolate advent calendars. My jealousy blossomed.

The Advent calendars were just colorful cardboard with tiny flimsy doors and thin one-bite chocolates, but to me, they were the epitome of holiday awesomeness.

When the German club ceased to exist at my high school, it stopped being a yearly holiday tradition at our house, and that made me really sad. So, last year, when my son was just over a year old, I decided I wanted to resurrect the old tradition. I spotted a pretty wooden Advent calendar at a local craft store and I just had to have it. It has tiny wooden drawers and battery-powered lights, and I could fill the days with all kinds of treats. After just a few days, my son quickly figured out what it meant when we turned the little lights on; it was chocolate time! This year, I’m thinking I’ll fill some of the drawers with non-food treats, just to mix things up a bit.

Advent calendar, holiday traditions, family traditions, festive traditions
Our Advent calendar, in all it’s glory, waiting to be raided by our two year old.

These are just some of my favorite festive family traditions that make winter and the holiday season special for me and my family. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?



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