Think fast: What is your favorite thing about the holidays? For many people it's shopping, baking cookies, decorating the house or spending time with loved ones. For me, it's the family traditions. Growing up, our Christmas Eve rituals shaped us as a family and will always have a place in my heart.
The night before Christmas was a special night for just us. After school and work, my sister, brother and I, along with our parents would go to mass. I loved Christmas Eve Mass -- the decorations, the beautiful poinsettias, the festive songs and the anticipation of what was ahead. After church, we'd head back home for dinner, which was usually lasagna and all the accompaniments. Then, we'd all get into our pajamas and meet in the living room by the Christmas tree. My dad would turn on the lights and we'd all take turns exchanging one gift from each other (Santa's loot came the next day!).
My parents started another tradition: Each year we'd receive a themed ornament. It started with "baby's first Christmas" and each year there after, the ornament would signify something from the past year. For example, the year I played tennis, my ornament was a character holding a tennis racket. Another year I was into baking, so I received a chef's hat ornament. The year I got my first cell phone, under the tree on Christmas Eve was a digital cell phone ornament that made noises. When I got my first job at a magazine, I got a ornament with Snoopy holding a typewriter. The last year I received an ornament was when my husband Jason and I got engaged -- it was Montauk's lighthouse -- a special place for us as that's where he proposed. My parents came up with this tradition so that when we moved out and had our own Christmas trees, we'd have a built-in ornament collection that captured our lives. Now as I decorate my own tree, it symbolizes my childhood, along with ornaments Jason and I have collected over the years we've been together, including ornaments from St. Lucia where we went on our honeymoon to when we bought our first house. Maggie will get her "baby's first Christmas" ornament this year as this tradition continues into the next generation.
After we exchanged the gifts, we'd head in for dessert and watch our all-time favorite holiday movie: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." It didn't matter that we watched it year-after-year. We still laughed and recited every line. When we were younger, after the movie, we'd put out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Off to bed we went, with excitement for Santa's visit. I'm so thankful to have these wonderful memories with my family and I can't wait to create new traditions with my own.
With that in mind, I reached out to our Facebook and Twitter fans to find out about their family's holiday traditions. Here's what they had to say:
We have an elf that brings all the kids new pjs and a movie/book and hides it under their pillow a day before Christmas.
-Adele Baranello LaChacz, via Facebook
I can remember when I was younger the night before Christmas was always filled with lots of family members coming and going. Then my sister, cousin and I would get into our Christmas pj's and open presents. Everyone would finally go home and my sister and I would put out a note with a pen so Santa could write back, cookies and milk and a carrot (for the reindeers). When we woke up in the morning, we would sit in our room and wait for Santa (a.k.a. my mom) to ring a bell which meant we could get up and open our presents. We always saved our stockings for last and ate Panettone (Italian Fruitcake) for breakfast. We always left all our lights and tree up until after "Little Christmas."
- Tara Pallisco, via Facebook
Fish on Christmas Eve! Hands down!
-Lisa Frisone Marrin, via Facebook
We always have our daughter pick out special wrapping paper for Santa. One of his elves comes and gets it before Christmas and wraps all her presents from him in it. No need for tags, she knows which are hers from Santa.
-Adele Baranello LaChacz, via Facebook
As a young family, we participate in typical Christmas traditions and are making new ones as the kids grow. We like to go all together to pick out a real tree. Our older two girls (ages 5 and 7) always make a batch of special decorated cookies. Our children always craft simple homemade gifts for their relatives to show their love. The last few years, we have been going to see the reindeer and Christmas decorations at Hicks Nursery. We always celebrate Christmas Eve with family and then attend an evening Mass at church. One of our new traditions is going into New York City to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.
-Monica Mahar, East Rockaway
Being blessed to be with family and celebrate Jesus' birthday!! The rest doesn't matter...
-Tina Torres, via Facebook
Decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving with family while watching the movie "Elf." Best day of the year!
-Dawn-Marie Englert Galarza, via Facebook
We buy and hang at least one meaningful ornament on the tree each year. When my Polish Babchi (grandmother) was alive, we had a huge reunion at her house every Christmas Eve and feasted on different Polish foods. (One thing I never tried was the herring!) She went around to all of us with a thin wafer that was blessed by the priest. We would break off a small piece, eat it and exchange good wishes. I miss those days!
-Susan Pszczolkowski Baxter, via Facebook
Hanging the pickle ornament ... we do it every year and the kids love looking for it in the tree.
-Denise Ann Cairo Donack, via Facebook
Our favorite tradition is seeing Santa at Hicks. I love that all of our pictures have the same Santa! It's fun too look back and see how much bigger our son is now.
-Sarah Naimzadeh-Kiersh, @100CalsPerMile, via Twitter
Drinking, eating, repeat.
-Christopher Gawarecki, via Facebook
Because my birthday is on January 5th, we always keep the tree up until then.
-Roberta Arnone, via Facebook
Baking and decorating cookies with the kids. The kids leave cookies and milk for Santa. My husband works ever Christmas so we get up early to open presents together and watch Christmas movies and have hot chocolate.
-Maria Ottomanelli, via Facebook
Both of my parents are from Europe, so as a child we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day. We'd put out our shoes before bedtime on Dec. 5th (and leave a treat for his horse). In the morning, we'd find a small treat -- chocolates, fruit or a puzzle. I passed this tradition on to my own children and have also shared it with the children in my Religious education class the past 3 years.
-Kim Kaufer, via Facebook
Seeing houses decorated to the max, and going to Bright Lites in Bluepoint.
-Pat Cunningham, via Facebook
Christmas Eve Mass with mom.
-Amy Lindstrom Marino, via Facebook
We watch "Christmas Vacation" while decorating the Christmas tree.
-Donna McDevitt Wright, via Facebook
We have a baking marathon the weekend before Christmas.
-Debra Tubito Cherpock, via Facebook
Every year since my kids were babies, we go to the hospital where I've worked for the last 20 years. The Friday before Christmas. North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, puts on an exquisite Christmas show for all the employees' children. Each kid 10 and under gets a gift. All kids get to sit with Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. To top it all off, they have a lovely, lovely Winter Wonderland put together by both our engineering and AV department. And of course, the hospital's generosity includes free dinner for all who attend, including ice cream treats!
-Alicia Seitz, South Huntington
We cuddle up and watch "Love Actually" after all the family leaves after Thanksgiving. A warm and fuzzy start to the holiday season.
-Sharon Marcus, via Facebook
Cutting down our tree at a tree farm. Santa hats on and all. We've been doing it since the high school days.
-Jessica Berry, via Facebook
While in graduate school, I worked for an upstate organization that serves people with disabilities. For over 30 years now, I've sent packages for their "Operation Reindeer" project, which distributes gifts to hospitalized and homebound individuals. It's really the start to my holiday season. My son has been studying at Empire State Karate in Smithtown for eight years. We enjoy attending the holiday party at the dojo in early December. And of course, we have to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV, and the Nesconset Fire Department Parade, complete with Santa, passing by our door!
-Jane Cassi, Nesconset
We would get Christmas pajamas on Christmas eve from my grandmother. Now my mother does it with her grandkids.
-Noel Fuentes, via Facebook
Chocolate Advent Calendar and this year we started "Elf on the Shelf"
-Elaina Veveakis Narvaez, via Facebook
Watching "A Christmas Story" on Christmas Eve, the Yule Log on Christmas Morning, and the "Honeymooners" marathon on New Year's Day!
-Natalie Maio, via Facebook
With the crazy hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, our family started this when the kids were 2 and 5. On Christmas Eve, we have a special dinner at home. Just the four of us. After dinner the kids get into their PJ's. My husband warms up our truck. I get hot cocoa ready to take with us. We then drive around and listen to the Santa Norad Tracker on Walk -97.5. We get such a thrill listening about Santa's arrival. Our last stop before we head home is to Our Lady of the Island Shrine. As you pull into the entrance, they have a life size Nativity set up. It is absolutely beautiful! So many people are driving in and out doing the same thing. To our family it brings to us the true meaning of Christmas that no present could top! The Birth of Jesus! The best gift of the Christmas season. This holiday tradition will continue even after our children are grown up!
-Connie Kenter, Riverhead
Pancakes at Grandma and Grandpa's house. The family gets together for a Christmas morning brunch -- it's a great way to start the day.
-Bonnie Spellman, via Facebook