When I think back to Christmases from my childhood, lots of memories come to mind: the Advent Calendar (complete with gifts) that my grandma would send every year, decorating the tree, sorting (and counting) our presents with my brothers on almost a daily basis, listening to my dad read The Night Before Christmas to us every year, and best of all, the way my whole family was together on Christmas Eve. And by “my whole family,” I mean my parents, both sets of grandparents, my brothers and me. Ours is not a large family. We did have an aunt, uncle, and cousins in Oklahoma, but we didn’t see them very often.

Our kids are all grown now, so one weekend when we were together I asked them about their memories of our family Christmases. When I posed the question, Paul, our oldest son responded with “Well, decorating the tree, hanging our stockings, and always getting our picture taken.” At this point he added a side note: “I’m starting with the things I don’t like.” I knew he didn’t like to decorate the tree – no one in our family really seems to enjoy that – but I was surprised to hear he didn’t enjoy hanging the stockings. He clarified by explaining that he’s happy to hang his stocking; it’s the picture taking he hates. My heart bleeds for him. I mean really, the audacity of me taking a picture right before I stuff it full of goodies for him. What was I thinking?

After we got a good laugh over the photo torture he’d endured, he went on to talk about the rest of the traditions that he remembered. He mentioned how we always read the book A Christmas Guest before we put the angel on the tree. All nice memories. But then I noticed the memories turn to the food. He recalled Christmas Eve dinner with the neighbors and candy cane pie (straight from Baker’s Square). And then Paul mentioned our Christmas morning tradition of having Christmas tree shaped coffee cake. Ah, the food!

Next it was Scott’s turn. He’s the youngest. He went straight to the food and listed the entirety of our traditional Christmas Eve meal from meat and potatoes to Jello. After he finished with Christmas Eve dinner his thoughts turned to the Christmas tree coffee cake, which by the way, we purchase from the local bakery every year. Hmm…I was starting to sense a theme.

Adam (our middle son) wasn’t here for the initial go-round of questions, but when he arrived I presented him with the same query. He recalled the years I wrapped up a “Jesus present.” For many years I’d buy the kids something to remind them of Christ at Christmas (a novel concept, I know.) It could be a Christian CD, book, Bible, or anything that would point them to Jesus, who was, after all, the star of the show. I always wrapped their “Jesus gift” in plain brown paper with a red bow and had them open it later in the day once everything had calmed down. Adam, at least, remembered that. But then, the next thing he said was, “Christmas tree coffee cake.” The way I figure it, our Christmas traditions are toast if the local bakery ever goes out of business.

So, my advice to young parents is this. If you are trying to start some family traditions of your own, don’t worry about the gifts, the decorations, or the stockings. Focus on the food. It doesn’t have to be much; it just has to be consistent. And if you can get the bakery to do the work for you, all the better. You’ll appreciate that when you get older.

What traditions are important to you? I’d love to know. Whatever they are, I pray you get to enjoy at least a few of them during this Christmas season. May your memories be sweet!