How do you spread holiday cheer? Whether you’re the Miracle-on-34th-Street-on-the-television type, the downing-Mistletoe-Martinis-at-your-favorite-bar sort, or prefer Christmas carol karaoke, you probably know exactly what you’re doing for Christmas this year. You most likely did the same thing last year; in fact, you probably do it every year. You’re stuck in a Christmas rut.
We all have our holiday traditions that we swear by, whether it’s Christmas sweaters and eggnog, or Christmas dinner at the China Buffet.
When we asked our writers to tell us their favorite Christmas traditions and what it takes to make their season festive, we got the range of those who like their holidays warm and fuzzy (and purring), to those who prefer to get a little crazier and take their holiday cheer in liquid form. Read on to see what our writers insist on doing to keep their Christmases merry and bright.
When I was young, the other kiddies used to make fun of me because I still believed in Santa Claus well past the age when it’s considered acceptable to believe. But see, I had proof of Santa’s existence that they didn’t—I knew the guy personally. Every Christmas Eve, on his way to distribute gifts and capitalism around the globe, he would first stop by our place for a visit. My grandpa, uncle, dad, or later, even my brother, would pull the musty Santa suit out of the basement and grab the sleigh bells. Next thing we knew, he was ho-ho-ho-ing and peering in the windows at us from outside like some sort of Christmas stalker.
In exchange for doing “a trick” for Santa—showing off any random talent such as playing a ditty on the piano or juggling—all the kids in the family were allowed to open one “special” gift that Santa had brought for them.
These days, Santa is overbooked and doesn’t come around anymore. So instead, Christmas traditions include baking many cookies, picking constantly at a buffet-style spread of munchies for Christmas lunch, eggnog daiquiris in the blender, family caroling on Christmas Eve, and cousin Kevin’s homemade gumbo dinner Christmas night. –Kathy Bradshaw
I have a large family on both sides: Mom’s and Dad’s. As a kid, I’d spend half my day with my mom’s family and the other half with my dad’s. Those times spent included a plethora of traditions: like when my aunt would buy all the males in the family the same sweater for Christmas and they’d have to put them on and take a group picture. Or riding back to New Orleans from the “country” late Thanksgiving nights, listening to the Christmas music playing on the radio, while the whole family sang very loudly!
Out of all the traditions, my favorite tends to be the Christmas toast that my family has been doing for decades. Every Christmas Day, the family has a toast, and the drink is usually a choice between a shot of tequila or Jägermeister. As a small child, I remember the tequila being aged and usually with a worm inside. But now, the family tends to stick to modern popular brands. Regardless of your drink of choice, this time is spent talking and allowing everyone to say a piece of their mind while expressing our love for each other. Once the words are said and done, CHEERS! And then we party. Got to love family.
I find that my favorite holiday tradition is fairly pedestrian, but it’s still something that I can honestly say I look forward to every year. Ever since I was a kid, my family would hold two parties for my extended relatives: one on Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house for my dad’s side, and the other on Christmas Day at my house for my mom’s side. These parties have always had a ton of hectic preplanning that would cause us a great deal of stress (my mom kept saying, “This’ll be the last one, I swear,” every time), but we still find ourselves doing it every single year.
Most of the work always comes from preparing the food: ordering trays from Breaux Mart, baking my mom’s stuffed oyster patties, mixing my dad’s homemade amaretto slush, etc. This year is going to have a drastic change in our formula, however. My grandmother, who always put together the Christmas Eve party, passed away on Easter of this year. My parents are still debating whether they are able to do both parties or just have everyone come together for only one party. Regardless, this tradition is one we won’t give up anytime soon. –Burke Bischoff
An equally enjoyable yet regrettable Heneghan family tradition has to be the annual viewing of my younger brother Chris’s and my New Orleans Christmas music video. In 2000, I, an exhaustingly energetic, pimply-faced 13-year-old, had a goal—to perform and record Weird Al-esque parody music videos for our family’s favorite NOLA Christmas songs. I chose the songs (“12 Yats of Christmas” and “Santa and His Reindeer Used to Live Right Here”), worked out the choreography, and made relevant props. I then forced my adorable (read: amenable), nearly nine-year-old brother to participate, likely using some veiled threat involving domination of SNES/N64 time (a regular point of contention). We “borrowed” our dad’s video camera and filmed the whole thing one evening in the corner of our living room.
Unveiling our “masterpiece” in front of our entire extended family post-Christmas dinner, a new tradition was born in the resulting uproar. I’m still not positive whether they were laughing with us or at us (though both are acceptable—my siblings and I have been chronic jokesters from the womb). But either way, my brother and I still exchange cringes every year our dad asks, grinning, “Time for the Christmas video?” –Carolyn Heneghan
Yes, childhood is often over-romanticized. But there’s something to be said for the wonder and joy children get from Christmas lights, carnival rides, and cotton candy. While I won’t be able to experience those feelings with the same purity I did as a child, seeing things through the children’s eyes can remind me that the world is still a place of wonder. This is why every year, I go with my brother’s family to Celebration in the Oaks.
Last year, I watched my youngest nephew (then six) jump up and down for a solid minute when he realized he was tall enough to ride the bumper cars. He smiled, laughed, and pointed at cars he wanted me to ram throughout the ride. After it was over, he grabbed me by the hand and led me running through Storyland. My knees and feet have deteriorated over the years. I can’t run like I used to and, like all adults, my life has had its share of disappointments and heartbreaks. But in those moments, even a critic and curmudgeon like I am was full of unironic joy. –Fritz Esker
Thinking about holiday traditions, my family seems so cliché. Yet, I would not have it any other way. We spend the month of December watching cheesy Hallmark movies, because they are happy and predictable and full of Christmas cheer. We bake homemade chocolate chip peanut butter cookies and our famous almond cookies. We make about five batches of homemade fudge, because it takes that many times to get the consistency right. We have Christmas music blaring through the house. We spend Christmas Eve with my husband’s family—opening gifts and preparing for Santa. Christmas Day, we wake up really early and devour all the pretty presents under the tree, Christmas music still blaring through the house. We spend the day with my family. It is normally a super chill day of just hanging out and enjoying family time. Usually, we end up having Nerf gun wars. Christmas is a total success if you find Nerf darts in the Christmas tree when you are picking up your ornaments. I cannot pick one of these traditions that is my favorite. My holidays would not be the same without all of them. –Krystral Cooper Christen
It’s probably no surprise that my favorite holiday tradition revolves around eating and drinking. Every winter, my perpetual plus-one and I do a Réveillon dinner. Creoles invented these Christmas meals as a follow-up to midnight mass, and now New Orleans restaurants celebrate them as seasonal dinners.
We’ve eaten foie gras and Banyuls terrine, a decadent French classic, at pre-crisis Restaurant August. We’ve visited (and left) Galatoire’s, because we couldn’t afford to bid in a table auction. We’ve drunk “Yule Shoot Yer Eye Out” cocktails at what was Sainte Marie, now semi-resurrected as MeauxBar. We’ve eaten hot gumbo at Tujague’s on a cold Christmas Eve. And yes, we’ve even returned to Galatoire’s on a non-auction night and eaten escargot while drinking too much champagne.
The experience doesn’t have to be French or Creole—one year, we decided to get weird at pre-crisis Shaya for something we dubbed “Reveillon-ukkah.” Lamb and pomegranates. Very festive.
Reveillon. Google it. Find a menu that suits your tastes, comfort level, and budget.
I hope you’ll try this tradition. Maybe we’ll even bump into you there. But no matter how you celebrate your holidays, they’re always better when you’re sharing food and drink with someone you love. –Andrew Marin
These holidays, my tradition is simple: there’s She and me and the critters.
Three days before Christmas, I make a big pot of chicken vegetable soup for dinner; we eat well, and I thicken the leftovers with a blond roux and refrigerate them. I’ve also shopped for eggs, waffles, wine, coffee, etc. We take a trip to Family Dollar, where we’ll spend a whopping 10 bucks each for Christmas presents for each other.
Christmas Day, I cook breakfast and roll a pleasant pie crust and bake a big chicken pot pie. The pie bakes, breakfast is served, and we haven’t gotten (nor will we get) out of our pajamas. We will putter about the house, watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the 200th time, and eat pot pie with cranberry sauce.
Our gifts will be assembled around the floor heater, and we’ll wrap and later rip open and giggle lots—staying the children that we never grow tired of being. Even if I leave the house, I will not change out of my jammies and slippers; I will wake lazy, stay lazy, and go to bed that night having been lazy all day.
Oh, did I tell you about having ice cream and cheesecake and sitting on the porch waving at the neighbors? –Phil LaMancusa
I am a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas—not in the faith-based or conventional family-style sense—but still and all, I love rituals and customs, whether classic or self-made. From the time I was a kid, my idea of Christmas was tagging along with my parents to visit all the “open house” parties that their friends and family threw. We did this until they passed on to that forever festivity above and beyond. This left me to make my own routines and treasured moments.
For years, Boyfriend and I have enjoyed being The Tipping Santas. Christmas gift-giving has always been too contrived, complicated. You buy gifts for one friend and not another, and soon, you’ve either spent your rent money or hurt some feelings along the way. Yet giving is fun, and so we wrap up greenbacks with ribbons and tip (extravagant as we can afford) random bartenders and waiters. Love to go for a cup of coffee somewhere and leave a 20 gussied up with a red bow.
This year, we may tweak our Santa tipping tradition and send those monies to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and our still-recovering Texas. –Debbie Lindsey
Being a cat-owner truly devours all other aspects of your personality in the eyes of your friends. When pressed to describe you, their default response is always, “They’re cat people.” It’s not uncommon for your besties to greet you with a clever t-shirt, magnet, or coloring book they just had to buy you, featuring a kitten skiing through space on Kit Kat bars shooting lasers out of its eyes at an exploding unicorn. And you better expect to be tagged in all things that “meow” on social media. It’s as if everyone else is a dog-person by default—cat people are a peculiar aberration that must be singled out and examined for sanity.
Your only choice is to own it—and my wife and I own it something extra. Being a graphic artist by trade, I’ve Photoshopped our precious purr-pal into endless scenarios printed on birthday cakes, wedding decorations, and, of course, our annual holiday card. The previous three years, she has served as a digital feline stand-in for an elf, the baby Jesus, and had her likeness etched on the side of a dreidel. I honestly feel pressure now to top last season’s over-the-top design. –Greg Roques
Each year, the Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball hosts its infamous "White Elephant Gift Exchange." Everybody brings a wrapped gift, potentially suitable (or unsuitable) for anyone in attendance. The mystery gifts are put on display, and participants are randomly selected to pick a gift. The first person selected unwraps their gift and keeps it, but will have an option to steal another gift after everybody else has participated. On subsequent turns, each chosen person has the option to either select a new, unopened gift, or steal somebody else's opened gift.
In our group, we take pride in coming up with clever gifts. Gifts can be beautiful, handmade items that everybody wants, or items that will have great meaning to a certain percentage of people, but not others. The ideal gift can be both odd and funky, but also highly desirable.
It’s always funny to find out, at the end of the night, that what someone thought was a gag gift was actually something very nice! Or vice versa. One person opened a box that was thought to contain a kitchen appliance, but instead, contained appliances better suited for a more intimate room in the house. Whether it’s a Michael Bolton t-shirt, a velvet canvas depicting Elvis, or a unicorn clock made from an old tree trunk, there’s a good chance someone thinks it’s ugly, while another person thinks it’s awesome. –Mike Perry