Home for the holidays is a feeling one cannot bypass – the warmth of a cozy, familiar bed, the homemade meals full of delicious ingredients and the laughs you have with those around you. When I lived away or even just in Chicago, traveling home was something that brought comfort, and the activities I grew up on were things that I needed to make my holidays feel real. We still continue traditions to this day, and now as a newlywed, we’re beginning to form traditions just our own that we will pass down to our kin one day.
Although I typically have quite the sweet tooth, I somehow manage to make it through ur annual treat baking without adding a few dozen pounds to my frame. Decorate shortbread classics, gingerbread men, caramel corn and cracker toffee are just a few treats my mother passed down to me – each time tasting them makes it feel like the warm, sugary tingle of the holidays. Baking is a great way to put some time together as a family and explore your goofy, creative side. There’s no right or wrong way to bake cookies, and even if they end of burnt or gross, it’s the laughs of messing them up that matter.
Our holidays are always quite the fluster because my family is large, and now with an in-law side, the holidays are multiplying. Since all of my family members are now growing older, marrying and having children, our Christmas is actually celebrated on Christmas Eve to ensure that everyone can get together. When you pack that many people in homes every year, a little family fun is bound to happen and our family continues to find creative ways to make that happen.
One of the many games we host is the “Right-Left Story” Ornament exchange. Everyone brings one ornaments and sits in a circle. A story is read that features frequent and random occurrences of the words ‘left’ and ‘right’. When each is said, you pass the ornament in your hand in that direction until the story is over and everyone has a new ornament to take home. The laughs start when people begin to forget their different sides!
We also celebrate every year with a 12 Days of Christmas grab bag – the different lines to the 12 Days of Christmas song are folded into a grab bag and everyone takes one without revealing what they have. We sing the story starting at one and repeating all the way to 12 until everyone has sang (and messed up) and laughed until they almost soil their shorts. Those with a little extra dramatic flair garner the greatest giggles from the whole room.
This tradition we started when I was in college – this local market filled with delicious, traditional German food and handcrafted trinkets make it something unique to vibrant and diverse immigrant culture of Chicago. Over the years, it has slowly expanded to have locations in Naperville, which is a short distance from our current home in the suburbs, and newly inaugurated Wrigleyville location in 2017. Even if you don’t aim to buy anything, seeing the unique ornaments and wood crafting is something to make you remember that Christmas isn’t just about the newest toys, but about the warmth of tradition and culture.
Every year, I loved spending time with my husband decorating the house and the tree. This year posed a little difficult since he just had foot surgery around Thanksgiving and his mobility is limited, but we still found time to ensure we both took in the beauty of our home. Additionally, we buy a new ornament every year and put a photo in it of our biggest highlight from that year. This year, we obviously featured our wedding photo, and in the past, have featured engagement photos, pictures of our first date and a photo of our dog the year we adopted her.