I offer this description of my family's Christmas traditions at the inspiration of Patience Brewster, a designer of Christmas gifts, ornaments, and greeting cards. My favorite Patience Brewster ornament is called Jambo! Zelda Zebra because it reminds me of a very special little girl named Bridget, who had a fondness for zebras.
We have quite a few Christmas traditions in our family. As Catholics we, of course, celebrate the four weeks before Christmas with an Advent wreath. Grace before dinner includes a short meditation on the season and a candle is lit for each of the four weeks before Christmas.
We also start the season with a small empty manger. When someone does a good deed or makes a sacrifice they may put a straw in the manger. The goal, of course, is to have the manger full of straw by Christmas so the Baby Jesus will be kept warm.
On Christmas morning from the time my children were very small we started a tradition I learned when studying Japanese history at the University of Michigan. I had a wonderful modern Japanese history professor. He was kind, engaging, and extremely knowledgable. I'm sure I learned a great deal from him, but the information that has stayed with me the longest was his description, casually mentioned, of what he and his wife did on Christmas morning with their children. He said they always made the children stay upstairs until they heard "Joy to the World" being played. Practically, that gave Mom and Dad time to get everything ready downstairs. I don't think I had even met my husband yet, but I made a mental note of what a fine idea that was.
And so that's what we have always done. The children stay upstairs until they hear the hymn "Joy to the World." It gives us time to get all in order but it is also a reminder to the children, right up front, of the reason we are celebrating this day.
We have a number of Nativity scenes among our Christmas decorations. We never put the Baby Jesuses in until Christmas morning, another reminder of Jesus' arrival on Christmas day. So at the top of the stairs the children would wait, my own six and my two nephews who were always with us. Before the music started, we would pass out a Baby Jesus to each child. When "Joy to the World" began, each child would come downstairs and place the Baby Jesus in the appropriate Nativity scene.
My nephew Luke never minded taking the large white plastic Baby Jesus outside to the Nativity Scene in the yard. Out he would go in his pajamas. I think he may have enjoyed the drama of it and the size of the Baby Jesus HE got to carry.
The parade down the stairs was an adorable combination of reverence and excitement. Ok, well maybe the excitement was a little more prevalent. Then we would gather around the Advent wreath where all the candles were lit. The Baby Jesus was placed in the manger that had slowly filled with straw pieces from the family's good deeds during Advent.
Then we sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, the Newborn King.
After that? Well, after that, we head for the stockings and presents and all chaos breaks loose!