“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” — Andy Williams
Table of Contents
Traditions Large and Small
Black Friday and Giving Gifts
Holiday Vacation Destinations
Staying Safe this Holiday Season
Christmas is indeed that time of year. Holiday jingles have been on endless loop since before Thanksgiving. The rush of Black Friday has given way to a last-minute scramble to buy presents for distant cousins you only see once or twice a year. The ornaments and stockings are all hung with care and many a little tot is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa. Each of these holiday traditions make Christmas special. What activities do you hold most dear? What are those things you simply can’t celebrate without? In this special holiday guide, we’re taking a look at traditions in the United States. Decorating the tree, mailing cards, wrapping gifts, eggnog, etc. Come along as we reminisce about fond memories and offer some tips on staying safe in the face of COVID-19. We’ll also toss in a few holiday vacation destination recommendations for good measure. This is our guide to Christmas traditions in the United States.
What Makes a Tradition?
Traditions come in endless variety. There are those adopted by large numbers of people such as giving gifts during Christmas. Then there are intimate, family-specific traditions such as always playing a particular game, watching the same movie on Christmas Eve, or buying a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Essentially traditions are what we make an effort to pass on from generation to generation. They may not even be acknowledged as such. Why does your family do what it does during the holidays? Well, because that’s what you’ve always done, right? Traditions are in-part how we define our lives and acknowledge the links between past, present, and future. Making a point to identify your traditions can imbue them with extra meaning. This year, take a moment to recognize the traditions large and small without which, for you, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas.
Traditions Large and Small
The Christmas Tree
You can be sure the holidays are around the corner when the Christmas tree makes its annual appearance. Among Americans who make a point of having a tree, there exists a stark divide between those insisting on a real tree and those who favor the reusable variety. This author’s extended family was firmly in the latter camp. Our tradition involved mom or dad bringing the tree box down from the attic, dusting it off, and reassembling the pieces in a corner of our living room. Nothing about this seemed unusual or any less meaningful. For us, our Christmas tree was as “real” as any other. It was ours. Of course, there are those for whom the holiday magic begins when the family all piles in the car and drives to the local Christmas tree farm. There’s something special, even romantic, about walking rows of stoic green pines looking for one with just the right shape. Once found, the swift swipe of a sharp axe or the gasoline smell from a rumbling two-stroke engine heralds the newest addition to the family. Packed up and strapped to the car, everyone imagines how it will look all dressed up.
Decorating the Tree
No matter whether you were a real or reusable tree family, decorating its many branches with ornaments, lights, and candy canes was a joyous experience. Over the years, the collection of ornaments always seemed to grow. There were the commemorative bulbs and figurines parents purchased while on summer vacation. Maybe it was a White House ornament you got on a trip to Washington DC, or one the kids made in school. There were the ones labeled Hallmark and the multi-year runs of “collector’s edition” decorations from some big-box retailer. Everyone had their favorites and competition for prominent branches could be fierce. Many a devious sibling was known to slyly rearrange a few over the coming days and weeks too. Still, there was one decoration that stood above the others. It was the starring attraction, the headline performer perched at the very apex of the tree. Every time you went to someone’s house, you always made a point to see whether their crowing ornament was better than your family’s. The tradition in most households is to use some sort of star or angel to adorn the top of the Christmas tree, a symbolic nod to the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in Christian biblical canon.
Decorating the House
Elsewhere around the house, holiday decorating involves stringing up a length of Christmas lights, hanging stockings by the fireplace, and adding the decorative bit of snow or sparkle to various nooks and crannies. Giant inflatable snowmen would appear in the neighborhood alongside elves and Santa sleighs complete with all the reindeer, even an illuminated red nose for Rudolph. If you’re of a certain age, you might remember endless frustration trying to untangle the Christmas lights you promised yourself last year you weren’t going to just haphazardly toss in a box after New Year’s. Then there was the beguiling search for the one damaged bulb that left a large portion of the strand dark. Kids today can count themselves fortunate modern LED lights suffer no such drawbacks, though this has all but eliminated what for many was very much a Christmas tradition.
Black Friday and Giving Gifts
Are you one who adores scouring for bargains and hunting the year’s hottest items with ruthless determination? Is Black Friday a personal quest, a challenge to be faced and conquered? Do you forego some Thanksgiving enjoyment if it means better preparation and planning for Black Friday? Everyone knows the annual spectacle wherein a few localities achieve ignominious recognition for Black Friday fisticuffs or near stampedes. Watching grizzly reports on nightly newscasts or now blasted across social media is part and parcel of this annual holiday tradition. Spectators revel in the entertainment while congratulating themselves for remaining above the fray. Once Black Friday passes the freneticism gives way to a relentless march towards store shelves, cash registers, and virtual bazaars as Americans look to encapsulate a year’s worth of memories or estrangement with a gift communicating some personalized combination of heartfelt attachment and begrudging obligation towards the recipient. If you’re the type to stress about gift-giving, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer general gift cards or cash. Consider adding a personalized message either in-person or via a card to show you care.
The Christmas Party
Holiday parties tend to come in two basic flavors. Those celebrated among family and close friends, and those awkwardly celebrated at the workplace. Each is full of its own traditions. Family get-togethers run the gamut between relatively stodgy affairs and raucous occasions powered by liberal servings of bourbon in the eggnog. Cataloging idiosyncratic family traditions is a Sisyphean task. Here are ones that made a lasting impression on us over the years. In homage to the classic 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” some families venture to a Chinese restaurant in the days leading up to Christmas for a hearty meal and some laughter. In places where the weather permits, there’s the family snowperson-building contest. Or the simple family movie night featuring such favorites as “Home Alone,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” or the best Christmas film of all-time “Die Hard.” Time spent among family and friends is what makes the holiday season memorable. Take a moment this year to recognize the traditions you hold most dear. You might even use that as a topic of conversation during the dreaded holiday office party. People lucky enough to enjoy their jobs and coworkers, take a moment to empathize with everyone else. Office parties can be downright mundane or, in the extreme, soul-crushing affairs. This year companies may elect to forego the ritual and it would certainly come off as reasonable to decline an invitation due to health-related concerns.
Holiday Vacation Destinations
2020 has been a trying year. A well-timed holiday vacation may be just want you need to bid good riddance to all the trials and tribulations. Here are a few recommendations to consider.
Park City, Utah
Utah is one of the best destinations in all North America for outdoor adventure. Located just over 50 kilometers east of Salt Lake City, the area is home to multiple ski resorts including Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort. Both featured in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic alpine and snowboarding events. Eastern facing slopes make for excellent dry-powder conditions. You may not realize, but Park City offers tremendous opportunities to non-skiers as well. For starters, you can simply enjoy a walk around the Park City Main Street Historic District. Home to excellent examples of modern architecture, Historic Main Street overflows with great shops and cafes. Visit the interactive Park City Museum and stop in at the Meyer Gallery, which features modern and abstract works housed in a historic former bank building. Or come during the world-famous Sundance Film Festival and watch Park City transform into the epicenter of the film world for two weeks smackdab in the middle of ski season. With so much to do, everyone falls in love with Park City. It’s much more than just a ski resort town.
Tenmile Range in the Colorado Rocky Mountains is home to Breckenridge, a town long associated with ski culture. Closely integrated with the surrounding resorts, there is a wealth of things to do both on and off the slopes. Go from iconic Main Street to the ski lifts in no time. Visit Summit Ski Museum to learn about the town’s history. The museum showcases early equipment worm by local winter sports pioneers. The Barney Ford House Museum is also a great stop. This preserved period home from the 1880s was where renowned entrepreneur and civil rights leader Barney Ford lived. Art lovers should pay a visit to Breckenridge Galley, which has an eclectic collection of Western-themed works on display. Catch a film at the Speakeasy Movie Theater or a play at Breckenridge Theater. Kids will enjoy Mountain Top Children’s Museum where they can dress up and explore various themed activities. As an iconic small town, shopping and dining options are abundant throughout the city center. Spend time wandering through the many local businesses and visiting popular coffee houses. The culture and atmosphere here are great. Take a run or two and then head into town for some fun at one the world’s top ski resort destinations.
Hawaii’s rich landscapes and proud indigenous culture have long attracted visitors. There is a beauty here found nowhere else in the United States. The state’s well-developed tourist infrastructure and easy connections to the mainland also make it an ideal getaway. Explore pristine trails on Kaua’i, snap photos of migrating whale pods off Maui, shoot the curl at Banzai Pipeline, or stand in awe of immense volcanic eruptions on the Big Island. Hawaii is a place you have to experience to believe. Once you do, you’ll understand why the Aloha State is nothing short of paradise. The capital Honolulu has the state’s largest airport and offers the best options if you’re traveling from the continental US or cities abroad. Once in Hawaii, you can easily secure onward air transportation to the other islands. Interisland flights are easy to book, though baggage fees can get out of hand if you’re continually checking bags. This year, you need to keep in mind that state authorities have mandated quarantine or self-isolation requirements for visitors coming in from the mainland. Make sure you consult the latest travel information before booking tickets. Whatever your passions, you can scratch the itch in Hawaii. It’s not all sunsets and palm trees (though to be fair that sounds pretty good).
Santa Rosa, California
Santa Rosa, in California’s wine region, is waiting for you with open arms. Sonoma County is chock-full of great vineyards and Santa Rosa is right in the middle of the action. Visitors will delight in its small town atmosphere and delicious local food culture. Venture out for wine tastings and return at night for great food and entertainment. Recreation abounds as Santa Rosa is a fantastic place for cycling and enjoying the outdoors. All of these factors have helped the city garner a reputation for cool. Enjoy driving around California wine country and paying a visit to the numerous vineyards along the way. Some locations may offer attractive accommodation packages. Or make Santa Rosa your base of operations and branch out in several directions over a few days.
New York City, NY
First-time visitors to New York City can easily lose themselves in the glass and steel, and the frenetic pace of a city rushing towards the next big thing. Even seasoned New Yorkers find it a maddeningly complex place to navigate. Yet this is precisely why New York City is arguably the greatest city in the world. Its bright lights, glamour, and tall buildings inspire us to dream. If you’ve only read about it or seen it in the movies, you know New York City is the place to be. This is especially true now that events have upended normal city life. Hotels and many tourist attractions have responded to the drop in demand with attractive packages or dramatically improved rates in a bid to lure would-be visitors. Some attractions, most notably Broadway theaters and classic concert venues are shuttered for the time being; however, there is still plenty of shopping and enjoyment to be found in the Big Apple.
Staying Safe this Holiday Season
Regardless of your personal traditions and how you tend to enjoy your holidays, it’s critically important we all do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This means wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing your hands frequently, and remaining vigilant anytime you’re in contact with other people. Work out a pandemic response plan with your family and friends. This holiday season, the best way to ensure a good time for you and your family is to plan early. Don’t wait until the last minute to make your travel arrangements. Find out whether the destination you plan to visit has any special quarantine requirements / recommendations for travelers. The same goes for your own state and locality during the return trip. If you plan to have friends and family over to your house, consult with them ahead of time regarding your own personal pandemic safety precautions. Do you expect your guests to wear masks? Is there a member of your family who might refuse to abide by your guidelines? Have you decided how you might handle any awkward interactions? Developing a plan or some basic strategies will go a long way towards making your holiday season more reminiscent of the carefree time we all remember from not so long ago.