Family Traditions During the Holidays

It’s the time of year when traditions are prevalent.  Some were purposely and thoughtfully created while others just evolved.  For example, I sought out the perfect wooden advent calendar with the intention of opening 25 magical doors becoming tradition in my children’s lives.   On the other hand, when my Mom and I start to decorate the inside of the house for Christmas, my Dad goes and puts the lights on the outside of the house.  It happens the same way, at the same time, every year.  It just started happening that way and now, it’s tradition.

The Advent calendar that is now one of my children's holiday traditions.

The Advent calendar that is now one of my children’s holiday traditions.

In my experience, regardless of culture, traditions tend to be centered around at least one of three things: food, religion and time.  I thought it would be fun to see what a few our writers thought about when it comes to holiday traditions in their home countries.

Jasper – The Netherlands

In December Dutch families come together twice, on Dec 5th to celebrate Sinterklaas (St Nicolas Eve) and for Christmas. Sinterklaas is a traditional Dutch children’s party. Every year Sinterklaas sails on his steamboat full of gifts from Spain to the Netherlands. In his big book he can look up children’s names and see how they behaved in the past year.  On St Nicolas Eve family members make small dishes using a electric table-top grill with small pans. At the end of the dinner a family member sneaks out the house, rings the doorbell (pretending he is Sinterklaas) and leaves a basket with gifts at the door.

When the doorbell rings children rush to the door and find a basket with presents from St Nicolas

When the doorbell rings children rush to the door and find a basket with presents from St Nicolas

When the children rush to the door he secretly returns to the living room through the garden door. The gifts are accompanied by a poem from Sinterklaas with a personal message for the receiver.  It is usually a humorous poem which often teases the recipient for well-known bad habits or other character deficiencies. Every year Sinterklaas visits San Francisco to see the Dutch children from the Bay Area.

Sinterklaas reads a poem before his helper Piet gives a present

Every year Sinterklaas visits San Francisco

Nicoletta – Italy, specifically Rome

Christmas and the following holidays are the most traditional festivities in Italy: during Christmas Holidays all family members find the way to get together and children start dreaming about it months in advance.

We start celebrating on Christmas Eve, when all families and friends gather together in some relative`s house for a traditional meal. Dinner usually starts around 8:30 pm and includes a lot of different courses:  some Southern Italy traditions envisage up to 33 different foods, to reminder Jesus Christ`s age!! However, no matter how regional traditions vary, meat is drastically forbidden on Christmas Eve, while fish is allowed and mostly served. After dinner, all family members join to play some traditional games: la Tombola (the Italian version of Bingo) is the most famous, but also card games are very popular. And, even it may seem incredible, all these games involve gambling! Yes, very cheap bets are encouraged and children (who always win their parents` money!!!) are very happy to have some euros of their own to spend on toys!

 La Tombola

La Tombola

After playing, gifts are opened: in an unspecified period of the day, Babbo Natale (our Santa Claus) leaves all gifts under the Christmas Trees  or near the Presepio (the Nativity) and they are opened just before going out to the traditional Midnight Christmas Mass.

On Christmas Day, families gather again for lunch, but usually at another relative`s house. In Italy, also December 26th is a national Holiday: we celebrate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Our food marathon continues!



Italian holidays last until the Epifany, on January 6th, when we celebrate the most beloved day by all kids. La Befana, is when we hang out our stockings and when an old lady, flying on her broom, flies into our chimney and fills them with sweets and gifts.

Holiday Lights at San Francisco City Hall

Holiday Lights at San Francisco City Hall

What are some of your favorite family traditions? Are there specific traditions from your country, that you’ll try to recreate in California?

Here are a few more ideas for holiday events in the Bay Area:

Events in San Francisco
 – Bay Area Events for Kids 
Best Holiday events for 2014


About Jessica H

I have spent my life exploring my surroundings. I grew up in Michigan and made a career in marketing. I followed my husband to NY, NJ and now CA for his career. I have a passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. I love being out of my comfort zone. I currently work as a contracted Marketing Product Manager at Google. I love the Bay Area. The sun, relaxed environment and access to outdoor activities is very different from the East Coast.

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