The Magic of Holiday Traditions


Every family has them, and most of us can’t say how or when they got started. But one thing is for sure—we depend on the comfort, the certainty of those repetitive customs every year. Without these precious rituals, the holidays just don’t seem complete.

In my family, growing up, my mother was the Queen of Christmas. A stay-at-home mom, she devoted all her time and efforts to making our family’s holiday season special each and every year. It all began the day after Thanksgiving. That was the day we decorated the fireplace.

equipment-1851112_1280Our family home, though small and rustic, boasted a huge, fieldstone hearth covering nearly one entire wall of the living room. The day after Thanksgiving was, for us kids, the beginning—the official commencement of Christmas. We helped Mom drag out and dust off the boxes of well-worn decorations. We waited not-so-patiently as she set the phonograph needle on one of her scratchy but coveted vinyl LPs of beloved carols. Then she’d make us hot chocolate to sip in between climbing up and down off the kitchen stool. Together, we’d arrange—and rearrange—and arrange some more—the strings of colored lights, the holly, the garland, the lighted Christmas village, and the sparkly fake snow along the mantel and across the face of our huge stone chimney.

It took all afternoon, and we made sure that it did. The anticipation was the best part. Because when Mom finally plugged in the lights, and the usually dark and somber wall of stone sparkled with a fairy-tale glow, our eyes and hearts took flight with a feeling I’ve never quite forgotten. A child’s wonder—the magic of Christmas.

Soon, my daughter and grandson, who live in Florida, will be coming to visit us for the holidays. This year, though, will be special. Lil Guy is four now, and for the first time, he’s old enough to express his concern to his mother—“Mommy, we don’t have a fireplace. How will Santa get in to bring my presents?”lego-1199550_1280

In our Massachusetts home, we have not one, but two fireplaces. I’ve already decorated one—of course, the day after Thanksgiving. But the other remains unadorned, waiting patiently for Lil Guy to arrive next weekend. Then we will drag out the box of decorations. We will tune Pandora to a Christmas music station. We will make hot chocolate, and together, we will revive the ritual born when I was as wee as he.

We will decorate our second fireplace. The one, of course, where Santa will choose to make his grand entry.img_1126



Claire Gem writes intensely emotional stories from a heart who lives by them. Visit her at


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