When It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas {Learning to Make Your Own Traditions}


When It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas

Growing up in Tennessee our family always celebrated Christmas on December 24 (Santa is magical…he can come on whatever day he needs to!) because on December 25, we were packing up for a long car trip to my grandparent’s house in Michigan. I think we did this because of timing with other family members arrivals and there is less traffic on the roads on Christmas day. However, this meant there were never many options for lunches and dinners, so most actual Christmas day meals were spent at Waffle Houses off the interstate. Who needs a beautifully garnished turkey when there are waffles and burned hashbrowns smothered in ketchup just the way you ordered them?! My dad always left our waitress a nice tip. A Waffle House Christmas dinner might sounds sacrilegious to some of you, but it was just what we did and what we loved! Once in Michigan we celebrated the holiday again and shared a house with about 26 other family members. Sleeping in basements, cousin fun galore, board games, huge meals, waiting in line for the bathrooms, talking over one another, the long hours in the car on snowy roads were always worth it to be with my cousins for those few days. I loved it. It will remain one of my favorite childhood memories always.

Then I grew up and got married and we’ve been back to Michigan once in ten years. We’ve split up a few holidays between my family in Tennessee or his family in Oregon, but it hasn’t always been in the budget or fit our work schedules to travel. Especially when we keep adding more airplane ticket holders (AKA: our beloved children) into the mix! So we’ve been by ourselves in Oklahoma for a few Christmases and I can’t lie…it’s really awkward. Hear me out, I love my immediate family and the thought of a few days snowed in together with the magic of Christmas around us SOUNDS like a nice idea. I should be thankful I don’t have to pack suitcases for all of us and find boarding for our dog and deal with unpredictable weather conditions affecting roads or flight delays. But in my heart Christmas equals chaotic family gatherings. I want there to be kids running everywhere and cousins and games and so many cookies on a platter that I can’t decide which to take and eat one of each! 

So we are still new to this game. How do we make our own traditions? What’s the point in preparing a big Christmas meal for 4 people when one of the four only wants chicken nuggets, one only wants breastmilk, and even if I DID know how to make a turkey my hubby and I can’t eat it all! Do we go volunteer our time somewhere? Do we invite other family-less people over and coordinate our own dinner? I don’t have answers to all these questions; we’re still figuring it out. In years past we’ve been invited to friends houses for their meal and although it feels like we are crashing in on their family, I’m so grateful for it because it does feel more authentic to me to have a big meal surrounded by those we love.

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I did not crop this photo. When there’s no family around to take your photo on Christmas day you set the auto timer and laugh at the outcome!

I want my daughters to have Christmas tradition memories and I know they don’t have to be the same as mine so we’ve tried to start a few throughout the month of December. We hide Elf on the Shelf, have an advent countdown with books, buy a Hallmark ornament, assemble care packages, and donate to a few organizations. Some things I hope we continue to do on Christmas day are cinnamon rolls for breakfast, opening gifts, watch a Christmas movie, and play in the snow (although you can’t really plan for that in Oklahoma). Some new ones I hope to incorporate are volunteering somewhere, doing a big puzzle, and skyping in to family that we miss! I feel blessed by what we have and the generous people who offer to have us over, and I know that some years we will be able to travel to see family, so don’t take this post as a complaint about not getting what I want. I’m just trying to figure out how to make Christmas traditions for our family as we navigate the world of being the parents and not the children anymore! So if you see us at a Waffle House on Christmas Day, don’t pity us. Just wave and realize it’s an old tradition and I’m trying to make it feel like Christmas for me!

How do you spend Christmas if you have no family in town?

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Katie left her home state of Tennessee to come pursue an interior design degree in Oklahoma fourteen years ago. She met a handsome young fella from Oregon while in school, and they decided to marry and settle down in OKC. A dog and two daughters soon followed. She has been a textile designer, showroom merchandiser, custom furniture draftsman and children’s minister, but her most challenging and favorite role has definitely been that of a mother. You can read about the adventures she shares with her family at Strawberry Ruckus. Katie enjoys reading, being creative, exploring old houses, eating peanut butter, zumba and watching complete television series all at once on Netflix.


  1. I have family in town but I still have the feeling of “it doesn’t feel like Christmas!” I think it’s like you said- we are not the kids anymore! Even if we loaded up and went to my grandparents it wouldn’t be the same as all my cousins have grown up too and are doing their own things. I’m just greatful that in my family we grew up eating tortilla soup on Christmas… That’s an easy one to recreate!!!

  2. My husband is like you – he has a huge chaotic family and that’s what he relates with fun. In my family, it’s just me and my brother (and now his wife and kids), so our holidays are more laid back and well.. boring. but that’s how we like it! big Christmas breakfast, opening presents, playing games, maybe going to see a movie in theaters (not something we do very often).
    I’m so excited to start our “own” family traditions with my babe this year!


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