Holiday Traditions That Stand The Test Of Time

A Holiday Tradition that Rings True

Mel, a Boomerater member, tells a charming tale of how her childhood Christmas traditions took on greater meaning later in life. Growing up in a very small town in Ohio, decorating the Christmas tree in her home was a much-anticipated event. On the lower limbs of the tree the family hung multicolor tin bell ornaments, popular in the 50's and 60's. The location for the bells held a special purpose, for each time the family dogs passed by their tails would ring the bells. Mel remembers being told that every time one of the bells rang an angel got its wings, a tribute to "It's A Wonderful Life", a film full of Christmas memories for her family. Flash forward 25 years when she met a man who shared her love for dogs. In fact, in many ways their love for Springer Spaniels contributed to their mutual attraction and soon they were married. They continued the tradition by hanging the very same bells (a gift from Mel's Mom & Dad) near the bottom of their Christmas tree so their dogs will continue to ring in the holidays. Mel discovered that her mother-in-law was an avid bell collector, having collected them from all over the world. When the beloved woman passed into eternal life, Mel's family received most of her bells. One more quick look to the future - On October 30th of this year Mel's daughter was married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony. On each chair was placed a bell from her grandmother's collection. The tags on the bells proclaimed "No rice or seeds to toss up high, When the bride & groom are passing by, But wedding bells rung strong & clear, Resound good luck to all who hear! …" When the minister pronounced them "husband and wife" the guests all rang their bells in celebration. The family was convinced that all the grandparents were present to hear the joyful sound of the bells celebrating their only granddaughter's blessed day.

A Smashing Good Luck Tradition

Pigs have for centuries been good luck symbols. It is not unusual for antique Victorian postcards to be adorned with pigs, along with shamrocks and horseshoes. A Christmas tradition that originated in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the 1880's was to smash a Peppermint Pig to bring good luck in the New Year. This tradition lives on today. The pink candy pig is made from hard peppermint candy. After the holiday dinner the pig is placed in a cloth bag and broken into pieces, to be shared by all dinner guests in hopes of having good fortune in the coming year. Grandparents have been handing down this good-luck tradition for generations. If you would like to pass this along to your family you can buy a Peppermint Pig from the Vermont Country Store. The Peppermint Pig comes with Smash a Peppermint Pig in the Victorian Holiday Tradition, a red velvet bag and metal hammer. Replacement pigs and piglets are also available.

An Evergreen Family Tradition

Related by the Press Family of Wyckoff, New Jersey

"What does Christmas mean to us? We decided to "recap" the year on Christmas each year. We were married on August 24, 2002. That year for Christmas, we sawed off the bottom of our Christmas tree and wrote anything special or important for us to remember from that year. Each year since then, we saw off the bottom of the tree to recap our year. The Christmas tree trunks remind us of our very small apartment in Jersey City, our townhouse in Nutley and our first home in Wyckoff. They also remind us of our various jobs and/or positions at work. We put the name of a loved one who we lost in a heart and the birth date of our children or our relatives. The very thick tree trunk reminds us of cutting the first trunk with a hack saw because we didn't even own a saw! (It took almost an hour to get it cut and we laugh about that each year!) We display the growing number of tree trunks each year in a brass sled by our stockings. Friends and family always look through them and share their memories of joy and sadness from the different things that we wrote down that year. It is a wonderful tradition for our family and we enjoy looking through them all at Christmas!"

Unforgettable Celebrity Holiday Memories

Each year Reader's Digest publishes a number of heartwarming holiday memories from celebrities. Below are just two, read others at

Hope and Faith - from George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's "This Week"

"I spent Christmas 1984 distributing food and medicine in a refugee camp in the Sudan, which was in the midst of a famine. Imagine an empty desert basin with several thousand people, all of whom had nothing. Across the plains, all I could see were carcasses of cows and dried-up bushes.

Yet two images stuck in my head. First, I saw the commitment of relief workers from Save the Children and other places. Many had dedicated their lives to helping desperate people. Why? They would answer, "We can do something, so we will."

The second image: In the middle of the camp, a group of Ethiopian villagers had constructed a small church made of sticks and cardboard. One day, I saw a priest sweep out the sanctuary in preparation for Christmas services. The people gathered to sing and pray. To celebrate here, in the midst of a hopeless situation, was one determined act of faith and hope."

A Christmas Memory from Will Ferrel, star of the New Line Film, Elf

"I was a pretty friendly kid growing up in Corona del Mar, California. I'd walk up to anyone on the sidewalk and start talking. One Christmas, on the way to the hardware store with my dad, I went up to this very large man and said, "Hello, mister, how are you?"

He picked me up and asked what I wanted for Christmas. I told him a red football helmet -- I called it a "football hat" -- and he told me a story about being in a football movie with Pat O'Brien. As he's saying this, a crowd starts to gather, watching this man and this little boy. When he finished telling the story, he set me down, and my dad and I went on our way.

Turns out it was John Wayne.

Whenever the holidays roll around, I always tell this story. It's a Christmas story of being connected to Americana -- talking about football movies with The Duke. "

Kid-Favorite Traditions

Gingerbread Memories

December 12th is "Gingerbread House Day", a perfect time to help your children or grandchildren make their own gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses date back to 11th century Europe. The spice ginger was introduced by explorers returning from the Middle East. It was especially popular in Germany and the town of Nuremberg is often considered the gingerbread capital of the world. In America, gingerbread houses became more popular because of the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, written by The Brothers Grimm. Pre-made gingerbread houses that you just assemble and decorate are available at thousands of outlets, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon Marketplace, Miles Kimball catalog, Taylor Gifts and Williams Sonoma. Generally the prices range from $10 - $20. Some families in America make Gingerbread houses for holiday decorations and later offer them as a treat for backyard wildlife. When decorating your gingerbread house consider including birdseed "shingles" and peanut butter "mortar." After the holidays the children can set their gingerbread house outside and watch birds in the yard get their own special Christmas "gifts" from the house they decorated.

A Christmas Tree that's for the Birds

Another way to encourage children to invite feathered friends to your yard over the holidays is to help them decorate an outdoor tree with edible ornaments. Pinecones spread with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed are special treats and easy for even the youngest of Santa's helpers. Popcorn, berries and dried fruit can be strung to create an incredible, edible garland (stale, unbuttered popcorn is best.) What better way to enjoy time with the children or grandchildren, while also teaching them to appreciate wildlife in their own back yard?

Hide the Pickle

While a pickle may not be the most festive ornament for the Christmas tree, it is the basis for a tradition that delights children. The pickle is a green glass ornament in the shape of a pickle. But don't put it on the tree with the rest of the ornaments. Instead, you should hang it when Santa will be placing gifts under the tree. On Christmas morning the child who is the first to spot the pickle gets to be the first to open a present. Some families give a small extra gift for the one who spots it first. If you want to purchase a Christmas pickle ornament you will find one at most stores that sell a variety of Christmas decorations. Or just search "Christmas Pickle Ornament"; Google has over one million sites answering that search.

The baffling history of this tradition is offered by B. Francis Morlan, writing for at

"It is a quaint tradition that nobody wants to claim. And its story would not be the first tradition of Christmas born of a total fabrication. It is the little-known tradition of the Christmas pickle.

There are two versions of the origins of the Christmas pickle. One is a family story of a Bavarian-born ancestor who fought in the American Civil War. A prisoner in poor health and starving, he begged a guard for just one pickle before he died. The guard took pity on him and found a pickle for him. The pickle by the grace of God gave him the mental and physical strength to live on.

The other, perpetuated in Berrien Springs, MI, is a medieval tale of two Spanish boys traveling home from boarding school for the holidays. When they stopped at an inn for the night, the innkeeper, a mean and evil man, stuffed the boys into a pickle barrel. That evening, St. Nicholas stopped at the same inn, became aware of the boys' plight, tapped the pickle barrel with his staff, and the boys were magically freed.

Berrien Springs calls itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. They celebrate with an annual Christmas Pickle Festival held during the early part of December. A parade, led by the Grand Dillmeister who passes out fresh pickles along the parade route, is the featured event. You may even purchase the German glass pickle ornaments at the town's museum.

Rumor and speculation place the origin of this tradition in Germany. However few in modern-day Germany recognize or have even heard of the Christmas pickle. Some in West Germany blame generations of East Germans who may have had nothing more than pickles to decorate their Christmas trees with after World War II. But even families and historians in East Germany shrug at the mention of the Christmas pickle tradition.

Regardless of where it came from, the Christmas tradition survives. Ornament manufacturers continue to make the specialty decoration and enjoy perpetuating the myth of its legendary origins -- false though they may be. "

Whether you celebrate with your own holiday traditions or are looking to establish new family memories, the staff of wishes you a joyous holiday season and happy and healthy New Year.