Wallet-Friendly Traditions for the Holiday Season, by Juliana Smith

MyFamily.com 2.0 Sample SiteAs I wrote last week’s column, I was still in that, “I’m not ready for the holidays” mode. But this morning I went out and bought my annual turkey (which I got on sale for a really sweet price!) and with the thought of next week’s turkey and dressing (my favorite meal), I’m starting to get a little more in the mood. This morning I broke tradition and even let my daughter listen to the holiday music station on the way to school. Typically this is something that is not done until after Mommy has started shopping. My rationale is that if I don’t hear holiday music then I’m not behind with shopping–kind of an ostrich approach, but it works for me.

I’ve noticed as the years go by, I’m finding myself adding new traditions. Most of them are not quite as uh . . . “eccentric” as the whole holiday music thing, and a lot of them have to do with family–past and present. So in this week’s column, I thought I’d share some ideas that you might like to turn into traditions for your family. And since many of us may be stressing about the cost of gas, heating, and holiday shopping, I’m focusing on cost-efficient traditions.

Family Newsletters
While the custom of sending family newsletters has been the object of ridicule on sitcoms, and even with some people I know, I love receiving them. Since you’re reading this newsletter about family history, I’m betting you agree. They’re full of the stuff that we wish we knew about our ancestors. These are holiday greetings that I save. (Yes, I save some others too, but as nice as the sentiment is, the one from my insurance guy is probably going to hit the old recycle bin.)

Beyond the usual “what we did this year,” you can spice your newsletter up by adding some family history. Do you have a family recipe that other family members might enjoy? Type it up or scan grandma’s recipe card to print on the backside of the newsletter. Write up a brief biographical sketch about an ancestor, or simply share an interesting find that you made recently. A copy of a passenger arrival record for your great-grandfather or a census record may even prompt a relative to share something they have stashed away.

My mom has been going through old letters she has saved for decades. Sharing them with cousins has stirred an interest to know more about our shared family history. Perhaps you have some old correspondence that a family member would appreciate.

HP has a good article on writing your family newsletter online. One unique idea it mentioned was to share seeds with other family members. I received an heirloom tomato plant from a neighbor this year. The tomato is called Purple Prince and they were absolutely delicious! I saved a lot of the seeds from them so I could replant, and was thinking that the extras might make a good gift for other family members who enjoy gardening. Is there a plant that someone in your family enjoyed? Share the seeds and the story of how it relates to your family history.

Virtual Greetings
You can save on stamps by creating a greeting for family online. MyFamily.com offers a free way to connect with family. The new version, MyFamily.com 2.0 includes some great features and setting up a site is free. You can post the news you would include in a paper newsletter as well as photos, videos, family history stories, your family tree, recipes, and files that could include scans of family history documents. Then invite family members from your Christmas card list to come and browse. (Click on the image to see a sample site I set up in about five minutes.)

SnapGenie is another neat tool available on MyFamily.com. Maureen Taylor wrote about it back in February 2007. SnapGenie allows you to create a photo show with narration that you record over the phone. It’s very simple to use, and best of all–free.

With gas prices going up, it might not be affordable to be with family in person over the holidays, but it’s nice to have a virtual way to make contact.

Gifts and Cards for Troops
The son of one of my cousins is serving in Iraq, and like so many families we’re praying for him and all of the servicemen and women in harm’s way. My daughter has made no-sew fleece blankets through her school as a project for charity, and this year at Thanksgiving, she and her cousins are going to work together on blankets and care packages to send to the soldiers. Not only is it an appropriate way to say thanks, but the cousins will be working together and creating memories for themselves. I’d like to see them get together each year for some sort of charitable project.

New, Old Traditions
The holidays are a time rich with old tradition, but sometimes the customs of our ancestors get lost along the way. There are scores of books available that can help you learn more about the traditions your ancestors kept around the holidays in their homelands. A trip to the library or bookstore can put you back in touch with the recipes and customs of long ago, and draw your family a little closer to its heritage. Older family members are a great resource too. Ask what they remember about the holidays of their childhood. You may find a new, old tradition to revive, and the relative will probably enjoy the opportunity to reminisce with you.

Make Some Family History
Most importantly, the holidays are a time to share your love with family. We are planning a trip to Chicago for one of the days that my daughter is off school. While our budget isn’t quite up to shopping on the “Mag Mile,” we do enjoy looking at the window displays, checking out the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, and just enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city. Since my daughter is half German, the Christkindlmarket is a great way to expose her to a part of her heritage while we create new memories. We started this tradition a few years ago, and look forward to it every year. Check out local holiday festivities near you and create some memories that your family will treasure always.

What are your family traditions–new or old? I hope you’ll take a minute to share them with us on the blog.

I wish you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving full of warm memories and love! You are all high on my “thankful for” list.

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Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.

2 thoughts on “Wallet-Friendly Traditions for the Holiday Season, by Juliana Smith

  1. Years ago when I lived far from my hometown, my sisters baked cookies at Christmas to send to me and my family. When we moved back home we decided to continue making cookies at Christmas and it has become a tradition.
    We use my Paternal Grandmother’s rolled sugar cookie recipe. In the beginning we brought our already mixed up dough and rolled out the cookies and frosted them. It was an all day affair, the kids loved the fact that they could eat as many cookies as they wanted.
    Now 25 years later it has evolved. Since our kids have kids (and there ae many), we bake the cookies at home and just bring some to decorate together. Each generation enjoys it and we manage to get some visiting in, even though it is a bit chaotic and loud.

  2. I have just finished reading this artical and it has come at the right time for me. I have just finished coping my Father’s letters written during WW11 to his mother and to his best friend who was on the Battan Death March. They are like seeing 2 different people. To his mother everthing was just fine to his friend it was the truth. I am making copies for several family members as a Christmas Present,

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