What Is Your Most Unique Holiday Tradition?
Real Simple readers share the uncostumary customs they celebrate year after year.
After a few glasses of wine on Christmas Eve, my family and friends play Name That Tune using my late mother’s collection of wooden nutcrackers. The rules are simple: You “crack” out the song using the jaw’s lever, and the group has to guess what it is. Christmas carols are typically easy to identify-—I can pull off a mean version of “Jingle Bell Rock”—but opera, which was my mom’s favorite, and blues, my uncle’s music of choice, are nearly impossible to recognize.
Our tree is covered with mementos instead of ornaments. We have key chains from trips (Germany, the Grand Canyon); my grandmother’s credit cards from high-end stores, like Harrods in London; and the hook my brother wore when he played Captain Hook in second grade—all of which are hung with green ribbon. During the year, we keep the more fragile items (origami swans, napkins with funny quotes scribbled on them, business cards) pressed between the pages of a Life magazine from the 1960s, which is when my parents started this tradition. Flipping through that magazine is a beloved part of the occasion now, too.
Saratoga Springs, New York
Our New Year’s Eve would not be complete without bagna cauda, a southern Italian dip. Its literal translation is “hot bath.” To make it, you combine anchovies, tuna, garlic, and heavy cream in a sizzling skillet. (A word of warning: The overpowering smell may ward off some guests.) Still, we believe, as the Italians of Calabria do, that you must consume at least one cabbage leaf soaked in it or your luck in the coming year may be jeopardized.
Prior Lake, Minnesota
I trace my kids’ hands on our red flannel tree skirt with fabric-paint pens and also include their ages. I have been doing this for the past seven years. My boys, ages 13 and 11, have loved witnessing how their hands have grown. The skirt is now half-full. Someday we’ll add their spouses’ handprints, or just wait for their children to be born.
Rebecca Wheat Townsend
We collect dry milkweed pods in the fall. Then we open them during the holidays and blow the fluffy white seeds all over our tree. It looks like snow on the branches.
Vicki Ann Shannon
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, our family and friends join us to bang on the light post in front of our home. Using hammers and wrenches, we hit the post for about two minutes straight while shouting, “Happy New Year!” Hopefully, we don’t drive the neighbors crazy.
Our tradition is eating plum pudding and hard sauce, which is a topping made of butter, sugar, and alcohol. While my sisters and I were growing up, my Irish mother always bought a particular brand of pudding. When the company stopped making it, we tried other versions, but nothing tasted right to us. Mom experimented until she came up with a recipe that was reminiscent of the original. Nowadays, we live far apart from one another, but one thing we all do during the holidays is whip up her matchless holiday treat.
Every January, my family cuts the base off the Christmas tree in order to display it in a glass-topped coffee table. It’s a long process: To keep the wood from rotting, we dry it out for several months, then coat the entire thing in polyurethane. We then use rub-on numbers to mark the year. There is the base of the tree my brother pulled down as a toddler, and one from the tiny tree my dad had when he was serving in Saudi Arabia. The nearly three dozen bases make up a family time line like no other.