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Timeless Traditions, with a Twist, Make Holidays Special for West Hartford Families

Tree skirt with handprints. Courtesy of Lauren Santos

West Hartford families share some of their holiday traditions – which are a bit less traditional.

Kindness elves are fun and easy, says mom Jenn Ford: “’Jennifer’ and ‘Ryan’ arrived this year just before the start of December. I explained to the ladies that kindness elves leave little notes with suggestions for something kind you can do that day.” Courtesy of Jenn Ford

By Tracey Weiss

For some families, holiday traditions run deep: decorating the tree for Christmas; lighting Menorah candles for Hanukah; adorning the house with art for Kwanzaa.

For other families, certain rituals are less traditional but just as essential. We asked our neighbors to share their more unusual traditions, which we are delighted to share with readers.

Tradition in the tub
Cynthia Donn Callis

Years ago, Cynthia Donn Callis and family started a tradition of taking an annual holiday photo in their in the well-decorated bathroom “in the tub!” she said. “We always take just the five of us. No extras for this one annual photo.” Courtesy of Cynthia Dorn

“Here is the one tradition we started back when my daughter (now a senior in high school) was a baby. We spend Christmas Eve celebrating with my former in- laws. They all take their pictures as an individual family in front of the tree.

“My husband thought we needed to do something different, being the Jewish arm of the family, so we started a tradition of taking our picture in the well-decorated bathroom in the tub! We always take just the five of us. No extras for this one annual photo.

“One year my son couldn’t make it so we held up his picture and one year my daughter was studying for finals and drove over in her PJs for the picture. Everyone looks forward to the photo we post.”

A cookie dinner
Lauren Santos

At Lauren Santos’s house, her children got to have cookies for dinner for one night. “There were two rules … they needed to eat one healthy thing first (cucumber, orange, etc.) and they weren’t allowed to eat so many that they got sick!” she said. Courtesy of Lauren Santos

“My family (my parents and siblings and their families) does our own version of Festivus but it’s nothing like the ‘real’ one! We don’t celebrate it until the Saturday before the Super Bowl, either. My family (my kids, now ages 22, 19, and 17 and my husband) makes gingerbread houses every year and have been since my kids were old enough to help!

“We also have a tradition of putting the kids’ handprints on our tree skirt every year with paint. We are on our 3rd tree skirt because the kids’ hands are so big!

“We had one final tradition after Christmas when the kids were little, but not so much anymore because they are too old.

“I make tons of Christmas cookies every year so we have so many left after Christmas. When the kids were little one night for dinner they only ate cookies for dinner. it was called ‘cookie dinner’ and there were two rules … they needed to eat one healthy thing first (cucumber, orange, etc.) and they weren’t allowed to eat so many that they got sick!

“They never got sick and really never ate that many cookies but it was always fun for them!”

Lanyard of love
Tracy Tighe Johnston

Tracy Tighe Johnston and family like to share stories about each other using lanyards with photos in them that they then hang on the tree. “It slows everything down during a frantic holiday,” she said and “it’s for everyone from kids to 80-year-olds.” Courtesy Tracy Tighe Johnston

“The tradition we do could apply to any family. We have lanyards (that have a clear nametag hanging on the end and a photo of a family member). Everyone in the family picks a lanyard with the photo of the person they want and when we get together that person talks about the person they picked. It’s a way to acknowledge and speak about each other.

“My dad, who has Alzheimer’s, had my mom’s photo and lanyard in his hand and he said, ‘what would I do without her?’He was just so sweet.

“There is no exchange, other than kindness. It’s morphed and evolved over the years. It’s a sweet, spontaneous thing. It slows everything down during a frantic holiday. It’s for everyone from kids to 80-year-olds.

“The magic of this is as the kids get older, the next generation gets involved.”

Elves of kindness
Jenn Ford

Messages from “Kindness Elves.” Courtesy of Jenn Ford

“We do kindness elves instead of Elf in the Shelf for our daughters. It tells you something kind to do every day. It can be something big or small: bake brownies for the fire fighters down the street; smile at a friend today. And so on.

“My mom came up with it. I was complaining about Elf on the Shelf, because I’m not creative. The appeal is you don’t have to come up with big things or even do it every single night.

“It can be something really simple, like sending a thank you card to a friend, or telling a joke to make someone smile. It made me realize that doing nice things makes you feel good.”

In a blog she wrote a few years ago, Ford explained: “’Jennifer’ and ‘Ryan’ (the elves) arrived this year just before the start of December. I explained to the ladies that kindness elves leave little notes with suggestions for something kind you can do that day. I made sure to let them know that the kindness elves don’t always leave an act of kindness every day, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be kind or come up with their own idea that day. And the best part is that you can play with the kindness elves. They just have to make it back to their special place on the rocking chair at the end of the day.

“Maybe the kindness elf or the Elf on the Shelf isn’t for you. Whatever you do, just remember that even the littlest things mean the world to the littlest folks in your life. My husband and I love coming up with new little fun things to do with the kids this time of year. Whether is making some hot cocoa and hopping in the car to go see some neighborhood lights or going to visit Santa at our local park, it really is the most magical time of the year.”

A version of this story was originally published in the December issue of West Hartford LIFE

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1 Comment

  • The Kindness Elves are so wonderful! They were created by Anna Ranson over at the Imagination Tree. Such a lovely idea, we’ve been doing it for years now 🙂

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