Christmas Traditions: Up Close & Personal

What are some of the things you remember most clearly from your childhood Christmases? As you stop to reflect, I have no doubt that you will find that most of your memories probably stem from words or events that were repeated frequently and regularly over the course of many celebrated Christmases. Which do you think…

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Deborah Haddix

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Christmas Tradition

What are some of the things you remember most clearly from your childhood Christmases?

As you stop to reflect, I have no doubt that you will find that most of your memories probably stem from words or events that were repeated frequently and regularly over the course of many celebrated Christmases.

Which do you think will be your child’s strongest, lasting Christmas memories?

While it’s nearly impossible to say for sure, it is pretty safe to state that they will emanate from words or events that are repeated frequently and regularly during your celebrated family Christmases.

A Personal Example

I grew up in a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio.  Every year throughout my childhood and teen years, our family singled out one Friday evening in December for the purpose of driving downtown to enjoy the Christmas decorations.  It was one of our annual family traditions, and we looked forward to it with eager anticipation.  The highlight of the evening was always Shillito’s (a large department store which sat on a downtown Cincinnati corner).  Their store windows were magical.  And inside, on the same floor as the toy department, was Santa’s Workshop – an elaborate display visitors could walk through as they enjoyed scenes from the North Pole complete with elves and Christmas music.  Once through the Workshop maze, children could sit on Santa’s lap, talk with him, receive a candy cane, and have their photo taken with Santa.

As a child – something I looked forward to; something I enjoyed.

The anticipation of this annual event did not fade even as I became a teen and then young adult.  Without batting an eye or even considering the thought that he might think it silly, when I became engaged to marry, I simply extended an invitation to join us for this annual trek to my future husband.

Still giving this little outing no heavy weight of meaning, we continued it as a newly married couple.  When our first child’s first Christmas rolled around – she was five months old! – we called both of our mothers, set a Friday evening, piled in the car and headed downtown.

We continued the downtown visits as our family grew.  What was once a “Jones family tradition” was now a “Haddix family tradition.”  The only difference was that the visits moved to Saturday and lasted ALL DAY!  Over the years the decorations in downtown Cincinnati exploded, and it took an entire day to see them all.  We even developed our own personal “route” from one end of the city to the other:  Shillito’s (it always started with Shillito’s), Fountain Square, the Westin lobby, the train display at Cincinnati Gas & Electric, cookies in the bank lobby, the display at Carew Tower, and on and on and on.  The tradition even expanded to include our good family friends who we invited along one year.

As a mom – something I looked forward to; something I enjoyed.

Then our children began to leave home – for college and marriage.  My husband and I continued to observe our annual outing either alone or with children (and spouses) who came home for the holidays, but it wasn’t quite the same.  Shillito’s had been sold – no more Santa’s Workshop, no more elves!  And some of the other decorations began to disappear.  It no longer took an entire Saturday to enjoy it all.  Still… when the children were home and made the request, we continued to go!

Even at this point and after all those years, I did not comprehend the weight of this little tradition upon our family until the year our son (the youngest) was celebrating his first Christmas as a married man.  When the first of December rolled around, he INSISTED that we choose a Saturday to make our trek downtown as a family just as we had so many times before.  We tried to tell him that downtown was different – so many of the decorations were gone.  This information did not matter in the least to him.  What WAS important was that his wife experience this Haddix family tradition.

Needless to say, our outing was pretty much a bust – as far as enjoying decorations goes.  There were almost no decorations up at all downtown anymore.  It didn’t even take an hour to walk our “route.”  Such disappointment as we walked from place to place only to find NOTHING.

The day itself may have been a bust but it was in that experience, that Christmas that I finally realized just what this little family tradition of nearly 50 years meant.  Spending a December Saturday downtown walking the “route” was a family thing – a Haddix thing.

A Few More of Our Haddix Family Traditions
  1. Attending Christmas Eve service as a family (whatever portion of the family can be in town).
  2. A family gathering on Christmas Eve complete with a large pot of chili (or two) and games (after the Christmas Eve service).
  3. Dad/Grandpa reading Twas the Night before Christmas to all the children of every age right before bedtime on Christmas Eve.
  4. Dad/Grandpa reading the Luke 2 account of Jesus’ birth to everyone first thing on Christmas morning (before any other activities or celebrations).
  5. An informal family photo taken each year (in the same spot) on Christmas Eve.
  6. Children taking turns placing the Christmas star on top of the tree. (Established as a way to keep arguments down over who was going to place the star on top!  Three children meant each child got a turn every three years.  I noticed my daughter observing this tradition with her children when they put their tree up this year!)
  7. And our newest tradition – The Christmas Journal. (Oh, don’t you long to know what your children’s and grandchildren’s favorite memories are?  Which traditions to keep and which to store away in the attic?)  Last year we purchased a journal for the specific purpose of gathering Christmas memories from family members.  Honestly, it was a last minute idea that didn’t take because it caught everyone off guard – not prepared with what to write.  This year a message has been delivered to each family member ahead of time announcing the new tradition and giving them time to think about what they will write.  The journal has been placed on a table in our home, and each family member, no matter their age, is being asked to pick it up and write about ONE favorite Christmas memory – past or present – while they are home during the Christmas holiday.  I can’t wait to look back in a few years to see what memories we have collected.


On the way to church this past Sunday, I heard an advertisement for the SHILLITO ELVES.  Apparently an individual has obtained the elves in recent years and has recreated the Workshop for the enjoyment of others.  Guess where this family will be going next week.  There are now nine grandchildren who have absolutely no idea what they have been missing!

Shillito Elves
Photo credits: Santa’s Workshop featuring the Shillito’s Elves – FB page

Shillito Elves 4          Shillito Elves2           Shillito Elves3




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About the Author

Deborah Haddix

I am a child of God, wife, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, niece, and friend who loves nothing better than spending time with those I love.

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