Instead of Stuff: The Gift of Family Traditions

I debated whether we should get a Christmas tree this year. For about five seconds.

I don’t like the concept of cutting down a living tree. And a few years ago, I did look into alternatives like renting one or buying one in a pot. They were both really expensive, and the rented one had to be transported a long way. Twice. Not so eco-friendly.

But the real reason is that going to cut down our tree has become our family tradition—one I’m not quite ready to give up. At least not this year.


Each year, we take a thermos of hot chocolate and go to our nearby tree farm. If the day is nice, it’s a beautiful walk in a wooded area. Not to mention an exercise in teamwork as we try to agree on which is the perfect tree.

Since I was little, my mom has bought one ornament each year for each of us, representing something we accomplished or experienced that year. She also puts the date on it. So after we cut down our tree, decorating it becomes a walk down memory lane, appreciating where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. This was the year I studied in Italy. This was the year we got engaged. This was Cece’s first Christmas.

I did minimalize the rest of our Christmas decorations this weekend, putting boxes of stuff together for Goodwill. I no longer needed the tree skirt, or the very eco-Scrooge tinsel, or the fake snowflakes. What remained was the tree base, the perfect tree (we all agreed), ornaments from years gone by, the star, three strings of LED lights, five stockings my mom sewed, a manger set my grandmother made, and three nutcrackers (one for each of the kids, which they wanted to keep).

Mauricio did put some holiday lights outside, too. He’s an electrician. What can I say.

So, as for family traditions, I’m looking at those as gifts I’m giving to my children—things that will never end up in the landfill. Except for the first one on the list, our family traditions are all free:


  • Riding on the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights train
  • Walking down Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos, where people pull out all the stops on decorating
  • Going to see the glorious A Christmas Carol, the Musical, at NDNU, for the low, low cost of some donated toys or food
  • Baking scads of cookies
  • Going to family mass on Christmas Eve
  • Skipping the stressful Christmas dinner and having a leisurely crepe brunch
  • Spending Christmas day in our pajamas and never leaving the house.

This year, we’re also adding a visit to Bethlehem AD, a living history experience of life in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

What are your family traditions?

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