Exploring Holiday Traditions that Transcend Time

Growing up, my parents were big on traditions, especially ones that centered around the Holidays. Some were simple. For example, every Christmas Eve for our family included attending the candlelight service at our church, and then opening one small gift from under the tree before bed. We also couldn’t get through Christmas week without watching the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life” at least a time or two. Those traditions were simple and likely mirrored in all sorts of other homes; maybe even yours. But other traditions were more complicated and maybe, unique. Our tiny tree, to name one.

Whenever I look at a tiny, tabletop tree these days, I am immediately brought back to my childhood. Growing up, a small tree in our home could only mean one thing: the Holidays were near. See, as a child, my parents had a tradition that they called our “Thankful For Tree.” – And the name pretty accurately describes what it was…

Thankfulness by Day

Each year at the beginning of November my Mom and Dad would take out our tiny, table top tree and my siblings and I would decorate it with a handful of small ornaments we had either made or picked up along the way. But, that was just the beginning. Each day throughout the month we would then choose one thing that we were collectively thankful for, and my mom would write it out on a piece of paper and paperclip or string that piece of paper to the tree. At the end of November, we would have a tiny tree that was literally covered in thanks.

Of course, at the beginning of the month, things we were thankful for were easy to think of: our home, our beds, each other, etc. But, as the month went on, we had to dig a little deeper to fill up those slips of paper. Year after year, the tree always got covered, but some days were harder than others. Some years, for one reason or another, harder than others too. I recall nights that the whole gather-around-the-tiny-tree-routine seemed frustrating, especially as I got a little older. But looking back, the truth is that whether it was easy, hard, fun or annoying (totally dependent on the day!), from a young age, this tradition shaped and molded me. Our tiny tree helped me to practice thankfulness even in times when the “What are you thankful for?” questions was not an easy one to answer.

Finding Value in Tradition

Once I became a mother myself, I knew that I wanted to start traditions in our home; both passed down ones, and new ones as well. I am a mother of three, and our children are all still young: 22 months, 3 years and 4 years old, and due to that, this year has kind of been our beginning as far as family traditions in our home. Last year, we still felt our oldest two were too young, especially for something like the Thankful For Tree, but this year, they understand gratitude, friendship, etc. in their own way, and we knew it was time to start this simple, yet meaningful tradition.

So, we purchased a tiny tree, decorated it and then started sharing our own thanks. And, just like I remember as a child, sitting with my own family, the first few weeks of November the answers were easy: friends, parents, toys, books, our house – these are all things our own children (or at least our oldest two!) expressed thanks for. But, eventually the easy, or obvious answers were already on our tree. With children 4 years old and under, of course my husband and I were the ones that had to dig a little deeper this year, and prompt our children with less easy answers such as preschool, transportation, sunshine, etc. We also took time to point out things that we so easily take for granted, like food for example. How easy is it to overlook necessities, just because we don’t know what it is like to not have them? (as I am sure you can imagine, our Thankful For Tree is also quite the conversation starter!)

Though hard, I am so thankful that we started our own Thankful For Tree this year. It isn’t always easy to take time as a family to do these kinds of things, but as I said above, this practice from an early age, has stuck with me for thirty plus years, and I believe, plays a huge role in the attitude I have today when it comes to gratitude and truly seeing reasons to be thankful in all things, at all times.

Transcending Generations

Life can be so busy, especially as a parent. But I would challenge each of you to continue with your family traditions, or start new ones now: this next month as we transition from Thanksgiving to December and Christmas. I would also encourage you to be intentional with the traditions you choose. Fun and silly traditions are important (we do new pajama sets the day after Thanksgiving and I love this tradition!), but so are more meaningful ones. Whether you start your own Thankful For Tree, or something else, make time for family traditions – You won’t regret it!

I am so thankful that my own parents took the time, as chaotic as it must have been for them some days, to remind our family of what mattered and teach us gratitude that extended far beyond the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I can only hope that the traditions my husband and I are starting in our own home now, will leave our children with the same kind of impact as tiny trees left on me.


And, if food is your love language or you like traditions that center around food (or are just looking for a delicious recipe that incorporates Sneakz) then check out this recipe for my Cheesy Potato Gratin. This is a variant of a recipe passed down from my own grandmother; a favorite side dish that you can always find on our shared table around the Holidays (another tradition!).