How to start a family holiday tradition


How does your family celebrate the holidays? Bruce Littlefield, author of Merry Christmas, America, has some great ideas for fun family traditions that can make any holiday more memorable.

How to start a family holiday tradition No matter what holiday you celebrate, it’s always nice to have a family tradition. Bruce Littlefield, author of Merry Christmas, America!, shares his tips on how to make this holiday season, and every one after it, special.

Decorating the house for Christmas
  • When it comes to yard decorations, there is no such thing as too much!
  • Pick out your Christmas tree as a family. If you buy a tree from root-ball, the tradition continues even after Christmas. You can plant the tree in your garden together. The garden grows more beautiful each year, and each tree holds memories of Christmas.
  • Give each of your children a different ornament every Christmas that holds to a theme, like trains or teddy bears, and mark the ornament with the year it was given.
Homemade Ornaments
  • Make ornaments as a family; you can add new ornaments to the tree each year and create new memories.
  • Yet another holiday card arriving in the mail of a smiling family can get monotonous – do something fun in your photo!
  • “Silly” head gear, like Santa hats or reindeer antlers, add some humor to your family card.
For the Kids
  • Hide a special ornament in your tree – Bruce’s mother used a pickle – and have your kids search for it. Whoever finds it gets a special present. It makes Christmas morning even more exciting.
  • How about those letters that your kids write to Santa every year? Save them!  Twenty-five years from now they will want to see what they wrote when they were seven years old.

LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for It’s holiday time and it’s really a good time to think about starting a family tradition for the holidays — whatever holiday you celebrate. With me is Bruce Littlefield of Merry Christmas, America. Bruce, do you think about Christmas all the time?

BRUCE:  You know, I really don’t think about Christmas all the time, but I do think about things that will be fun year round. And, one of those things is decorating the house for Christmas. A big family tradition all across the country. And in my book I went across the country and detailed how people decorate their front yards for Christmas.

LISA:  Now, there is no such thing in your book as over the top, right? Too much is not enough.

BRUCE: Exactly, I don’t think there is anything that is over the top at Christmas. In Richmond, Virginia, they do a tacky light tour. They’ve done it since the late ’80s and they, in order to be on the list, have to have at least 40,000 lights on your house.

LISA: That’s a lot.

BRUCE: Yeah, and many of the houses have 150-200,000 lights on their house. It’s incredible. 150,000 lights? Imagine climbing up on the roof and putting all those on. That’s a lot of power to use.

LISA: Yes, it is. And do people love that? Are there other cities and towns across the country?

BRUCE: There are. From coast to coast and I have certainly have seen them all. Raleigh Durham, for example, does Ho-Ho Homes and one family in Arkansas became so big and did so many lights — they had several million that the Supreme Court of Arkansas shut them down because the neighbors were complaining. They have since moved their display to Disney. It’s The Osborne Family Christmas at Disney.

LISA: What did you have growing up? What was your thing?

BRUCE:  When I grew up my mother had traditions for us all along. One was picking out the family Christmas tree. We’d go to a tree farm and actually pick one. You know, a lot of families now do that as a tradition but many of them get them root-balled so that after Christmas the tradition continues and they’ll plant it out in their yard and have it “1999” or “2007.” It’s really a nice tradition. My mother also had a tradition of each year she gave us, my brothers, sister and I, an ornament. I was trains, my sister was angels, and my brother was teddy bears.

LISA: How nice.

BRUCE:  So when I left the house she was able to give me all of these and each of them, by the way, are marked with the year that she gave it to me. 1986 from Italy. And then I was able to take them with me. And I had the complete decorations for one tree.

LISA:  How wonderful. What about homemade ornaments?

BRUCE:  Homemade ornaments are incredible and I’ll tell you that we, as a child we would get together as a family and make ornaments. These I made when I was 4 years old. They’re pretty good.

LISA:  They are good.

BRUCE:  You can see I was 4 in the ’70s obviously and I went to town.

LISA:  You’re into symmetry.

BRUCE: Into symmetry, yeah, I guess I still am a Libra. I’m pretty balanced. But, I joke that I knew sequins then and I had more sequins on most of my ornaments than Bob Mackey had on a gown. So, it’s really something fun and I do cherish these and they are very old. I won’t tell you how old but they’re very old and I still enjoy them as much as the day I made them.

LISA:  That’s lovely. What about pictures?

BRUCE:  Especially, you know, everybody looks at your card and studies it. It is kind of an audition for the year. It is, and it’s something that you can do whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Kwanzaa or you’re celebrating Hanukkah. But, each year I recommend that your family does something unusual in the photos. So, you might one year have on Santa hats. You want to try this one on? Sure. You might one year try on Santa hats. Another year you might all decide to wear reindeer ears. Another year you might talk your dad into wearing the whole Santa garb but maybe substituting something fun like these. Is that for Dad’s special friend or for Dad?

LISA:  What is the pickle?

BRUCE:  Oh, the pickle is really fun. My mother would always put a pickle on the tree on Christmas morning. And what the pickle represented was, was whoever would search the tree and find the pickle would get a special present. One year she did put a real pickle on the tree and it was ... And so somebody smelled it and found it. It was very funny as a 10-year-old to find a real pickle on the tree. But, I’m not sure where the tradition of the pickle came from. Many people say Germany, but Germany is not claiming it as theirs. Germany doesn’t want anything part of this pickle. No, the pickle is something unusual but you know it’s something fun to do as a tradition.

LISA:  What about the letter to Santa? Do people still do that?

BRUCE: People do and I think it’s something fun. You know, they make the cookies and they get the milk and they write a little note to Santa, “Enjoy your cookies and milk.” The one thing that I suggest is to make sure that you save that. It’s something precious because 25 years from now, your child is going to want to see what he or she wrote when they were seven.

LISA:  “Santa, please take away my baby brother.”

BRUCE: You got it. That’s it.

LISA:  Thank you. For, I’m Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Bruce Littlefield

    Bruce Littlefield Design and Lifestyle Guru Bruce Littlefield is a New York-based designer, writer, and restaurateur. Hailed as a "design and lifestyle guru" by Publisher's Weekly, he is the author of the recently published Merry Christmas, America!: Megawatt Displays Across the U.S.A. (HarperCollins 2007), Garage Sale America and Airstream Living (HarperCollins 2007), and co-writer of the best-selling Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I learned from My Mom (Penguin Group) with real-estate magnate Barbara Corcoran. The Today more about this expert »