Our family is blended in more ways than one, so Christmas traditions required some effort to form. The differences between the American and Hungarian culture made for some awkward misunderstandings and false expectations during our first family Christmas. Ever since, we have decided that the best way for us to celebrate is to take a bit of this, a bit of that and add our own new ideas too. We have tweaked our customs a bit each year, but overall – after 8 years together we now have a fairly set way of celebrating HungAmerican Christmas.
We decorate our Christmas tree halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas
It caused me a smaller heart attack when I realized, trees here go up the day of Thanksgiving in many houses or definitely shortly after. In Hungary, we decorate strictly on Christmas Eve and keep the tree up for 4-6 weeks afterwards. Ever since, I made peace with this small detail, and this year, I wouldn`t mind putting the tree up as early as after Thanksgiving. What can I say, 8 years of living here has definitely Americanized me.
We celebrate St Nicholas Day on December 6th
The Hungarian tradition is to put out your freshly cleaned boots and by the morning of December 6th, Santa will bring a gift. It’s Jesus and the angels who traditionally bring gifts on Christmas Eve for the Hungarian children. My little ones love getting an extra day of special treatment and look forward to their filled shoes in the morning. We buy very small gifts, such as Santa shaped chocolate, a puzzle, a book or a set of pens. Supposedly, when children are naughty, they only get a twig, but so far my kids haven’t seen any of that… (probably not because they are always so good).
We celebrate the Advent with simple activities to keep our focus on Jesus
The kids look forward to our Advent calendar, nightly candle lighting, reading, small treats and crafts each year. My stepdaughter is old enough to remember the past years, and she has seen the most changes as our traditions have formed. Thankfully, she adapted quickly, and tells her younger siblings about what we used to do when she was younger. The littles are just barely old enough to participate, but they seem to enjoy the action.
We have a small family celebration on Christmas Eve
This usually consists of going to church and then having a meal at home, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, singing carols and reading “The Night before Christmas.” We also have a set menu, consisting of our favorite pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes and bacon-garlic green beans. The kids also get to open one smaller gift, like a set of new pajamas to wear on Christmas Morning. This tradition also serves to preserve my Hungarian heritage, because families there open all of the gifts on Christmas Eve.
Our Christmas Day is All American
For Christmas Day, I conform to the tradition all-American holiday expectation, complete with a
too elaborate special breakfast, opening gifts and traveling to see extended family. In Hungary, Christmas is a two-day holiday, so I really miss that aspect for some extra family time and longer visits. On the upside, we do only have one sets of grandparents to visit each year, since my family is so far, therefore at least we don’t fight over where to go on the one and only Christmas Day.
We take a picture of the kids under the tree each year
This is one of our newer traditions, which we started 4 years ago. I love it, because I can put the pictures next to each other and see how the kids changed and grew year by year. Hard to believe that this time next year, we will have four munchkins under the tree! Time goes by so fast though, and I want to preserve a little bit of it…
We bake Christmas treats together
We have made American sugar cookies, Hungarian gingerbread cookies and shortbread cookies filled with jam, as well as beigli, my favorite Christmas dessert. I am especially fond of the one with walnut filling, and I could eat these rolls non-stop. The last few Christmases, I have been completely occupied with having a baby, nursing a baby, moving or being sick, so not all of our beloved foods made it into the oven. However, we still took time to bake something, just so the tradition of baking together stays alive (even when it meant a boxed cookie mix).
We have a collection of special books we only read during the Christmas Season
I buy 2-3 new Christmas themed books each year, and last time I also got a huge selection of library books to go with our own books. They were all placed under the tree in a basket and we read 1-2 new ones each day leading up to Christmas.
We buy a special ornament each year
We started this Christmas tradition during our first year marriage, when decorating the tree we realized we pretty much already had a collection of meaningful ornaments that reminded us of special events. From then on, we sought out special ornaments to put on the tree based on what happened that year or just something we could relate to. The ultimate plan is to give each child all their ornaments when they grow up and move out (sniff, sniff…), reminding them of the special Christmases we spent together and encouraging them to make the celebration special for their own families. We also buy ornaments for us, as a couple, so we have some tangible memories left too.
I hope this post inspires you to make the season your own by enriching it with personal touches and traditions! There’s no wrong way to do it, just determine what works best and means the most to your family. Soon, these activities will become something everyone will surely look forward to each Christmas.