Texas Living

Celebrate and Create Texas Family Traditions

By Jennifer Chappell Smith 12.1.16

When I moved to Texas 10 years ago, I learned a few things about the state’s food rituals. No. 1: People eat tacos for breakfast here, often. No. 2: They eat tamales on Christmas Eve.

A decade later, I can’t imagine serving anything other than tamales with all the fixings alongside my go-to taco soup for my family of five, my parents, and my in-laws after a candlelight service. It’s our tradition. And it’s holiday rituals that make the season special.

Now, Hollywood often equates family drama with holiday gatherings — arguments at Christmas dinner that will make you squirm and tales of couples racing from house to house on Christmas day — but typical Texas clans find ways to keep the holidays happy, and traditions often provide touchstones. Your family celebrations may not resemble the feel-good, bell-ringing conclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life. But rituals can keep your family focused on the true spirit of the season.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to establish meaningful traditions. It’s more about consistency than anything else. These ideas can help you start customs close to home, in your community, and beyond.

Around the house

  • Host a holiday dinner for friends and neighbors. Get the family’s input on who they want to include — a coworker who is recently widowed, a friend whose relatives live far away, or even a new family on the block.
  • Give out annual Christmas ornaments. Inscribe the treasure with the recipient’s name and the year for a trip down memory lane each holiday. When it’s time to trim the tree in my home, I make piles of ornaments for my boys — ones I’ve given them, others have given them, or they’ve made at preschool.
  • Decorate together. Acts as simple as unwrapping the Nativity pieces from tissue paper can mean a lot to your kids, even as they grow. Assign tasks that repeat each year — from the oldest always hanging the wreath on your door to the youngest placing the star on the tree.

For extended family

  • Have your kids help pick out a gift for their grandparents. A special shopping trip each year can instill the idea of focusing on others. 
  • Consider homemade gifts or baked goods instead of buying all your presents this year. Working on these projects with your kids is a tradition in itself. The lessons they learn from making something for others are a wonderful bonus.     
  • Play a gift exchange game after a holiday meal for memorable laughs — think Secret Santa or White Elephant, or you can even get crafty with a Pinterest theme.

In the community

  • Donate to a charity as a family each year. Whether it’s a local group supporting the U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots program for underprivileged kids or The Salvation Army Angel Tree, which gives gifts to children in need, find a way to brighten a child’s Christmas morning.
  • Support the Ronald McDonald House by providing food for families with hospitalized children. Groups can prepare a meal for families receiving lodging at the houses in major Texas cities. Such an act of kindness would mean even more during the holidays. Learn more about Ronald McDonald House locations across Texas and opportunities in other cities near you.

For the military

  • Send a special delivery to armed service members and their families through the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation’s Trees for Troops program.
  • Help decorate a military family’s home for the holidays. Christmas Decor invites nominations for its Decorated Family program — its franchises will donate lights and more to families of deployed servicemen and -women.

At our house, we still make a to-do about spreading reindeer food on the front lawn before we tuck in our three boys on Christmas Eve. Once they get a bit older, that activity will probably end. But I know we’ll always go to a candlelight service and sing “Silent Night,” with the faces I love the best illuminated by a magical orange glow. And it’s my hope that my sons will keep that tradition close to their hearts for many years to come.

For more ways to enjoy the holidays with your loved ones, check out “Must-See Holiday Lights in Texas.”