We had our Santa Claus Parade in our town yesterday! What fun! The air was just cold enough to make it seem seasonal, but mild enough that we weren’t absolutely frozen. My brother was driving in the parade and invited my kids to ride with him. I must admit, I wasn’t entirely clear on what they’d be doing, but it turns out they were collecting food for the food bank and handing out candy. They had a blast – in fact, way more fun than had they just watched the parade with us. Afterwards, they proceeded to the food bank and spent a couple of hours sorting the 1000 pounds of food they collected (they didn’t do this alone – they were part of a large team of helpers).

That left the hubby and I to go the parade alone. It felt strange to go to a Santa Claus Parade without kids, and even stranger to watch the parade without them. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world … how else would we have gotten pictures of them! Then, we had our extended family over for a soup-feast afterwards. Aunts, uncles, cousins – one of those big, loud family gatherings! Fabulous!

So, it got me to thinking about rituals (because I think that I want this to become a new one). Rituals provide more than routine and structure to our family life. They also help mark special occasions and make meaningful memories. Advent calendars, such as the Jesse Tree are a perfect example of this. Some other Christmas ritual ideas are:

* Take a photo of your child with their present to send to the gift-giver. Have them hold a sign that says “thank you”.

* Our kids have always enjoyed building a gingerbread house the week before Christmas – we break it apart and eat it (or a few bites of it) on Christmas Eve!

* Magic Elves have become a popular ritual for some families.

* The most senior person in our home on Christmas Eve has the job of reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to everyone else. We read from the book that I had as a child. My kids know not to even think about cracking that book open before then!

* Some families really love doing the Pickle Ornament!

* In my husband’s Danish family, rice pudding is the traditional Christmas dessert. In the bowl of rice pudding, there is one blanched almond. Each person gets some pudding ladled into their bowl. Whoever ends up with the almond gets a special present!

* When my kids were little (pre-school aged), we used an advent calendar with pockets. Rather than put candies in the pockets, I put a small bit of paper with an activity on it. The activities included making paper snowflakes, going tobogganing, baking cookies, going to see Santa at the mall, etc. This was a wonderful ritual – we just find that now that they are in school, and busy with all of their various activities and friends, it was just getting to all be a bit much. So, we are now onto candy canes in the advent calendar. But the kids still remember it, and miss it.

* I know a family that has had their family’s picture taken with Santa at the mall since the couple was first married, even before they had kids. They still do it to this day, and their kids are in university. They display all of these photos on their mantle at Christmas … a wonderful memento of all of their Christmases together!

Whatever you decide to do, incorporating rituals into your family’s Christmas is a wonderful way to make memories. I’d love to hear what rituals your family enjoys!