Family Christmas Traditions

By Lee Rennick

Every family has their set of traditions that make the Christmas Season special. Some of these traditions are deeply rooted, passed down from generation to generation. Some are created by the blending of families through marriage. And some traditions happen by accident, but without them the holiday season just doesn’t seem the same.

VIP asked several local families and some staff members to share one or more of their favorite ways to celebrate the season with friends and family.

Judge Don and Rita Ash

Senior Judge, Tennessee Administrative Office of Courts
Realtor, Bob Parks Realty

“We changed our traditions four years ago when our first grandchild was born,” said Rita Ash. “That is when we started to get Christmas pajamas for the grandchildren. Now we have seven of them.”

“And for us Christmas is whenever the family can get together,” added Judge Ash. “I have seen too many families fight over who gets to see the grandchildren during Christmas.”

The Ash family tries to all get together some time near Christmas Day so they can open presents, but also because the cousins are so close in age and enjoy being together. And they want to make sure that their children’s spouses get to spend Christmas Day with their families.

“We do not wrap packages,” added Rita, “we get these big Santa bags from Pottery Barn and fill them for the kids. Like Santa left one bag for each of them. And we have matching stockings for each grandchild.”

Because they have downsized and their children’s families are growing, the celebration has moved out of their home and to one of their local children’s homes. And the traditional turkey dinner has been abandoned for a nice steak dinner.

“The best part is being together as a family,” said Judge Ash, “watching the kids get excited opening their gifts, and seeing them playing together.”

John Hood

Director of Government and Community Affairs, Development & Advancement ServicesMiddle Tennessee State University

Traditionally the Hood family gathers on Christmas Eve at John’s son, Garry’s home in Franklin. They have dinner together.

“Not so much of a traditional meal,” said Hood, “but something like barbecue that we can serve buffet style and is easy to serve. That way no one is stuck cooking and serving, but we can spend more time interacting as a family.“

They open family gifts during their celebrations at Garry’s house, having drawn names at Thanksgiving. This allows each individual family to open their presents on Christmas morning, and to spend Christmas day with spouse’s families. This photo is from 2014.

Amy Byers

Director of Marketing Murfreesboro Electric Department

“My favorite family tradition is a work thing that turned into a family thing. When MainStreet first started the annual tree lighting ceremony of the official Rutherford County Christmas Tree on Murfreesboro’s Historic Downtown Square to get the holiday season started, it was very small. Then Murfreesboro Electric Department became the major sponsor and it became more of an event with more of a production.”

When Amy came to the event to represent the electric company that first year, she brought along her then 10-year-old daughter. It became a tradition for her daughter. She came with her mother every year, often bringing some of her friends along.

The family has always loved to hear the many singers and school choirs perform, see the dancers from one or more of the local dance schools, and see the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

Now her daughter is in college and she hates that she has to miss the event, but it is on December 2, right in the middle of final exams.

Lee Rennick

Freelance Writer, Vox Luminos

For the last 14 years, Rotary Club of Murfreesboro has produced a pancake breakfast fundraiser called Hotcakes and Holly. Rennick was there from the beginning, and she brought with her one of her family traditions, wearing goofy holiday headwear.

“Every Christmas morning my mother, father, husband (Jack) and I would all put on crazy headwear as we open our presents,” said Rennick. “I decided to bring that tradition to Hotcakes and Holly and I look for different hats and headbands every year.”

She has worn everything from reindeer antlers to a headband of Christmas lights made of fabric to a plaid dancing Santa hat. She looks all over trying to find a new unique hat. She is still looking for this year.

“It got started when I worked at The Daily News Journal and we had a talent contest as part of the Christmas party,” Rennick shares. “I played the reindeer that ran over grandma on roller skates. I ended up wearing the antlers and red nose from that when I opened my gifts that year, and my Dad, who was a big golfer, had found this Santa golf hat. Then the next year Dad and I made my mom and Jack wear something silly, too.”

Amy E. Jackson

Community Volunteer

“For our family,” explains Jackson, “Christmas celebrates the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. In an effort to ensure our daughters understand the true reason for the season, we began hosting a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party each December.”

The Jackson family began this tradition when their triplet daughters were three years old, inviting friends and their families to join them for nativity related crafts and games. After they read a story related to the birth of Christ, each child receives a cupcake with a birthday candle. They finish the celebration by singing, “Happy Birthday to Jesus,” together before blowing out the candles.  

“It truly fills my heart to include friends we love like family in this tradition,” added Jackson.

K. Beth Duffield

VP, Education & Workforce Development Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce

The Duffield family’s most unique traditions center around how their sons receive their gifts. First, when their boys were old enough to understand what Christmas was all about, they started two family traditions.  First, each child was limited to three gifts since the wise men presented Jesus with three gifts. 

“The second,” said Duffield, “started when they were two and four. I decided to add some hype to the already high level of anticipation on Christmas morning.  I hid the presents around the house and presented Wes and Drew with their own treasure map.  As they got older, I turned it into a scavenger hunt, with one clue card leading to another until all three presents were recovered.”

When the family moved to Murfreesboro in 2010, Duffield thought that her sons were probably too old for games on Christmas morning, but when she told them she wasn’t going to hide their presents that year, she was “…met with great grumbling, mumbling and protests.” 

“Every year since,” noted Duffield, “I have attempted to nix the present search tradition, but Wes is almost 18 and Drew is 16 and it doesn’t appear as if they are ever going to outgrow of this tradition (or) let me start a new one. So, I look forward to sharing the present hunt with their children someday.”

Brooke LaRoche

Community Volunteer

Brooke LaRoche and her family have a number of interrelated traditions. First, the day that the family decorate their Christmas tree, each child receives a new pair of pajamas to wear during the season. And Christmas morning you will find her children in their new pjs sitting semi-patiently at the top of the stairs awaiting the “all clear” sign that they can come down and open their gifts from Santa.

“When I was a young girl,” said LaRoche, “every Christmas morning I would sit at the top of the stairs with my sister until I heard the Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas record playing.  Once we heard that, we could come downstairs.  This is a tradition that we very much enjoy with our kids.”

Last year, the family started a new tradition of giving each child a snow globe to commemorate the year, so they will have a large collection of them when they have their own family.

And, best of all, on the way to visit her parents on Christmas Eve, the family stops to feed the reindeer so they have plenty of nourishment before they have to leave to go to the North Pole and help Santa deliver all those presents around the world.

Gloria Bonner

Assistant to the President Office of Community Support and Engagement Middle Tennessee State University

“In the midst of all of the symbols of the season, the Christmas Tree was always the centerpiece of many of the traditions in our family,” said Bonner. “…Year after year, my [maternal] grandfather would pick the perfect cedar tree for our home and we would spend hours decorating it together.”

Being the first grandchild and only granddaughter, Bonner was the “apple of his eye,” and he spent many hours with her instilling a strong love of God and Jesus. He was also all about family, and he had a strong influence on her spiritual, educational, and social development. Christmas was his favorite time of year, and Bonner tells how he celebrated the season by spreading joy throughout the family in very special ways through the season, especially with his grandchildren.

“…He affectionately communicated that Believers use the tree as a sign of everlasting life with God, and that Christmas was a season of miracles through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ,” Bonner noted.

Bonner relates that he spared no expense decorating the tree, topping it with the Star of Bethlehem, and once the tree was decorated, she loved to run into the living room to enjoy the scent of fresh cedar.

“My grandfather’s enthusiasm for the Christmas tree has strongly influenced me…I absolutely love a beautifully decorated tree, and the …memory of the great times I spent with my adoring grandfather.”

Carrie Beth Catron

Managing Editor VIP Magazine

“In our home,“ said Catron, “our children have been overly blessed with extraordinary gift givers in grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even family friends, during the holidays.”

In light of this, the Catrons came up with a plan to “encourage” their daughters, Carrigan and Charleigh Ann, then two and four, to ask Santa for trips each year, in lieu of more gifts for which there was no room.  The girls proved easy to sway, and the family has since enjoyed many trips together, away from the distractions of everyday life.

“Christmas morning is still very exciting and full of energy,” said Catron.  “Santa Claus has not forgotten to make even the simple gift of a trip extravagant, just like the many packages of the past. The girls have been surprised with scavenger hunts, where they followed instructions to each clue to collect puzzle pieces around the house that, when put together upon finding the last, reveal a map of the destination!“

The family has since enjoyed trips to Chicago, Disneyland in California, snow skiing and snow tubing, to a couple relaxing trips to tropical sites in the Caribbean, where they have been swimming with dolphins, taken in local culture, and even held monkeys!

“At the conclusion of each trip,” shared Catron, “I take the thousands of pictures we take to capture the memories and drop them into a photo book, of which I order a copy for both girls.”

Doug and Andrew Young

Co-Owners, City Tile

For the Youngs it is all about family. The whole Young family goes to church together and then they descend upon Doug’s home for dinner on Christmas Eve.

“We don’t have a traditional Christmas dinner,” said Andrew Young, “we usually have something that can be served buffet style.”

“I have five grandchildren,” says Doug, “all girls. They have a great time opening presents and playing together.”

For Andrew’s family, they spend Christmas morning opening the presents that their daughters received from Santa, and then they go to his wife’s family home for dinner Christmas night.