Our Editors Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions
What Does A 2020 Holiday Look Like?
Millions of us are asking this same question—where is the celebration in a year that’s taken so much from so many?
When it’s not just blizzards that are keeping us home, and when holiday music breaks more hearts than it mends, we’re flipping through the photobook of our memories for cheerier seasons. The key to our resilience this year is to hold dearly those memories that ground us, to be tender towards our grief, and to warm our hearts with the hope that those good times will come around again. And perhaps, when they do, they’ll be all the more sweet since we now understand the ache of missing them.
Even on The Good Trade team, since we’ve mostly seen each other through a Zoom window this year, we’re looking for ways to connect during this season. Today, we’re all sharing our favorite holiday traditions—both past and present—as we hope for a new year full of connection. Be sure to share your own favorite holiday traditions in the comments below, and from all our families to yours: happy holidays. 💛
Social & Community Lead
Our family traditions haven’t changed much since I was a child. Lucky for the family, my siblings and I all decided to stay put in Southern California, so we’re usually able to get together (along with 40+ aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc) every year.
Our Christmas morning has looked more or less the same since I was about seven years old. I can’t sleep the night before, I wake my twin up at 7:30 am (not his favorite part, I can tell you that), we run next door and jump on my older brother—definitely not his favorite part—before moving into my parents’ bedroom. We pile up on their bed (five adults, one queen size mattress…akin to Twister) and open stockings before moving downstairs and making our Christmas traditional breakfast of Æbleskivers. I’m not entirely sure how that tradition came about—we’re not even Danish! But it’s fun to teach my youngest nieces and nephews how to fill and flip them, before gathering around the table for a big family breakfast.
Since we were little, it’s always been our family tradition to give my mum a Christmas ornament and Santa decoration as part of our gift to her. We’d spend hours scouring vintage markets, shopping online (TY Etsy!), and looking for cool options every time we went out of town. I’m one of five kids, two of whom have their own kids now, so you can only imagine what the Santa collection is like. Since my parents are only about 45 minutes away, I typically go down to decorate with them some time after Thanksgiving, and I love reflecting on each decoration and Christmas ornament as they go up. (Let me tell you, having my life laid out in Santas makes my emo years really obvious.)
The rest of our Christmas day is a bit of a blur, as we always host our extended family members for a big Christmas dinner. It’s loud, maybe a little heavy on the pours, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (except this year, of course).
Co-Founder & CEO
The holiday season is truly the most magical time of the year. I have so many fond memories of tree trimming, gift-giving, family games, food, and fun. Despite our share of heartaches and losses through the years, the holidays were, and remain, a joyous time for my family.
As a child, our favorite family tradition was good ‘ol Ding Dong Ditch with a Christmas present twist. We’d leave holiday gifts (usually homemade Christmas cookies) on the doorsteps of our friends and extended family, ring their doorbell, and run. It was a game for all as the gift receivers would race out of the house and try to catch and tag us. It must have been pretty cute to see four chubby kids in snowsuits running through the wintry conditions and escaping to our getaway car—which was, of course, a minivan. Injuries were incurred annually, but it was a delightful tradition that my parents began before they had children and continued until we all were grown.
My husband and I have started our own sweet traditions, one of my favorites is an annual ice-skating date at the Los Angeles Pershing Square ice rink. We won’t be hitting the rink this year due to COVID, and the fact that I’ll be 9 months preggo at the end of December (I wasn’t coordinated to begin with!), but I look forward to including our daughter in the tradition in years to come.
Growing up in a first-generation Indian-American household, our holiday traditions could be best described as “A for effort.” Because Diwali was a much bigger deal, these half-hearted efforts were more for my sake than anyone else’s. So each year, we strung lights up in our yard, put up the fake tree with excessively colorful ornaments, and my parents humored us with “What should Santa get you?” knowing full well it was “Just tell us, what should we buy you?” (Sorry to anyone whose bubble I’m bursting!)
By the time I entered my teens, I took on holiday traditions in full force because no one else really would. I wanted to experience the magic that is Christmas time, with heaps of presents, sitting in front of our fireplace soaking up every kind of holiday movie, and sipping hot chocolates. And the one tradition we’ve done every year is making chestnuts. We didn’t roast them ~on an open fire~ but my dad and I would always buy a huge bag and make them night after night until our nails would crack. Half the time, the chestnuts would be moldy or rotten anyway, but it was the tradition that mattered.
Now that my husband and I have lived together the last couple of years, we’ve started building our own traditions so I can continue celebrating the way I’ve always dreamed:
The Christmas tree goes up in early November (don’t @ me) full of twinkle lights and white and gold ornaments. We’ll usually add one sentimental ornament each year, too.
We then kick off the holiday season by watching “Love Actually” and “Elf,” complete with hot chocolates, gourmet marshmallows, cinnamon, and whipped cream. Then each weekend, we snuggle under our chunky knit blanket watching newer, questionably better holiday movies.
We visit every kind of holiday market possible including in Jersey City and Bryant Park in NYC, the most magical marketplace to celebrate small businesses.
I painstakingly choose thoughtful gifts for everyone in our families while my husband gracefully wraps them and we play jazzy holiday music.
On the actual holiday, we split our time between our three families’ homes, each for a different meal, which we feel grateful to do since everyone lives only 45 minutes away. We show up with festive treats, exchange gifts, and indulge in a smorgasbord of nontraditional Christmas meals.
The list goes on, but in essence, I savor every moment between November 1 and December 31. In the future, when we have space for a dining table and it’s safe again, I’ll also be the first to host Christmas dinner, with a themed menu, drinks, decor, and all. Including some chestnuts, of course.
With several tinted, grainy home videos to serve as proof, I spent many of my childhood Christmas mornings opening my gifts on camera alongside my older sister, in front of our adorned tree and thanking the senders—at the eager prompt of my parents—one by one. (The footage never did make it back to the gift-givers for their own viewing but, alas, tradition!)
The unwrapping of gifts was always soundtracked by the same Christmas albums: The Jackson 5, Bebe & Cece Winans, Mariah Carey, and the Salsoul Orchestra—all of which I’ve since found on Spotify and still play in my own home every year come the holiday season. (A few years ago, my mother also gifted a teary-eyed me her original Salsoul vinyl 😭.)
More special in our New Jersey home than a tree-topping star, however, was a hand-painted decorative plate that sat above our fireplace every year depicting characters from my father’s favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” My mother also always decorated the house with poinsettias, and still does.
As my parents are no longer together and I now live on the opposite side of the country, traditions are harder to maintain, but my partner and I have created a few of our own: we always open one gift on Christmas Eve, make a boozy coffee or hot chocolate (which helps us pretend that it’s “cold out” in Los Angeles 🙄), and cook, cook, cook—never recipes we’ve mastered but always new ones we’re excited to experience.
I’m a sucker for traditions and rituals, so the holidays are one of my favorite times of the year. Growing up in the mountains with a dad who idolized Clark Griswold, Christmas in our home was always big and bright, and the chopped-down tree was appropriately outlandish—both in size and decor. Let’s just say it required a ladder to hang ornaments on the top half.
As I come from a larger family (three siblings and many cousins), we often got together with extended relatives, with everyone piling into the same house and sleeping on air mattresses and pull-out sofas. Grandma always got everyone matching pajamas for Christmas Eve. These were some of my favorite years as everything was chaotic and exciting—just like in the Griswold home.
But my very favorite holiday tradition is a piece of the past, now that my siblings and I are adults and much prefer our sleep. When we were little kids, the four of us would all sleep in the same bedroom on Christmas Eve, watching holiday movies or whispering stories late into the night. Then, sometime after the house grew quiet, we’d tiptoe into the living room together to see what Santa had left us. We’d peak into our stockings, sometimes taking candy or small toys back to the bedroom. There, we’d impatiently wait together until the sun was up and it was time to wake Mom and Dad (my poor parents 😫). It was a sibling secret, though I’m sure my parents always knew what we were up to.
Christmas Eve, when I spend it with my family in Indiana, always kicks off with a Catholic mass that leaves us all smelling like frankincense. Afterward, we drive downtown to look at the huge Santa light installation that has decorated my hometown since 1940 (you can see it here, although the internet doesn’t do it justice). Then—my favorite part—we go home, watch a Christmas movie, and exchange small gifts that my brothers and I made or purchased for each other. It’s always an evening full of anticipation for the next morning, but also so celebratory and grounding to be with each other.
Now that I live far from my family and flights back to Indiana get tough on the ol’ budget during the holiday rush, my husband and I are creating our own holiday traditions. In normal years, our friends’ parents invite us for holiday dinners, where they feed us and share long stories about their experiences in the film industry. We’re always welcomed as part of their family whenever we’re there, which is something I treasure.
On Christmas day, when it’s just our rabbits and us, we play jazz music all day long while we simmer a homemade ramen stock and make holiday desserts. Last year, we managed to bake up a dozen loaves of chocolate babka to ship cross-country to our families and I have a hunch we’ll do something similar this year.
We drink festive beverages, take a family photo with our bunnies, play board and card games, and sit on our apartment steps to take in the peaceful quiet of Los Angeles. If we decide to give each other gifts, we’ll open them, although this year our presents to each other are our presence (we’re both much more “quality time” people). Basically, my current favorite tradition is to CHILL. It’s different than it was when I was a kid, but it always fills my heart with so much joy and optimism for the new year ahead!
🎁Share your favorite holiday traditions in the comments below! 🎁
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!