The holiday season is a special time. As Philip and I are somewhat newly married, we are bridging our old traditions while we create new ones for our family. Our children are grown and beginning to create their own family traditions. As grandparents, we have the extra special privilege of creating Christmas traditions with the grandkids.
A Treasured Keepsake
One of my favorite Christmas traditions with the grandkids is updating my Handprint Christmas Tree skirt. Our oldest granddaughter, Addison, is 7 years old. The year she was born, I saw a handprint tree skirt on social media. Right away I decided that I wanted to make one and start a new tradition. I am fortunate that she lives nearby and I frequently get to spend time with her. I incorporated the project into our Tuesday with GiGi activities.
That first Christmas, as an eager new GiGi, I found a plain white Christmas tree skirt on clearance. I learned a lot that first year! Doing handprints with a baby is no easy task and takes a couple of people. First and foremost, I learned the importance of blotting the paint on a piece of paper rather than the Christmas tree skirt. My sister took one look at our very first attempt at handprints on my Christmas tree skirt and declared it a Pinterest fail! However, I strongly disagree.
It’s Not About Perfection
Perfect moments aren’t memorable.Barbra-Sue Kowalski
With all family traditions, especially with young children, it’s not about perfect projects or even perfect memories. I learned a long time ago that perfect moments aren’t memorable. Think about it, many of your most precious memories or most unforgettable events in life aren’t perfect. My family and I have camped together for years. We never talk about the trips that went without a hitch. We talk about the trip that we about froze to death or the one we got two flat tires or even the one where we ran out of water on a long hike and had to climb down to a glacier to get more water.
None of those moments sound like a special time, but on that cold camping trip, four generations of family members all huddled side by side around the campfire. We weren’t all spread out, doing different activities, we enjoyed each other’s companionship and warmth which is the most treasured tradition of all. The glacier water, though challenging to get, was cool and crisp and the most refreshing I ever remember! (no worries, we filtered it). And thankfully we had two spare tires that got us through the trip. The kids learned how we change a tire and we even found the railroad spikes that were the source of our challenges.
Enjoy Imperfect Moments
My Christmas tree skirt is far from perfect! Since the kids are young, many of the prints are smudged. Harper, our youngest granddaughter did her first set of handprints this Christmas without crying. Her first Christmas she was just a couple of weeks old, the next she didn’t like the paint on her hands. Finally, this year was going really well! When she put her fingers down she moved them like a snow angel, making smudged prints. While I tried to stop her smudging, I just laughed, it’s what will make this set of prints memorable.
I determined when I started this tradition that I wouldn’t allow long distances to exclude any of the grandkids. The first year after Philip and I got engaged, I mailed the Christmas tree skirt and all the supplies to my stepchildren, Jess and Eric in Oklahoma. It was important to me, to add Weston, our grandson’s hand prints to our special traditions. Weston and his family have since moved to Florida, this was the first year we got to do the Christmas traditions with the grandkids all together!
As our family continues to grow, I will need to mail the Christmas tree skirt out early. Our children live in four different states! It will take time to ensure the skirt makes its rounds to the whole family so that no one is excluded.
The Value of Long-Standing Traditions
The value of long-standing traditions is that my Christmas tree skirt also is a time to reminisce over past years. My daughter, Kaitlyn, and her husband Chris have been foster parents. To help the foster kids feel included in our family traditions I encouraged them to add their handprints to the Christmas tree skirt if they wanted to. I was thrilled when Kalli agreed to add her handprints! She’s grown now, but she still participates in our family’s holiday plans and special occasions when she is able. The tree skirt reminds us of the first Christmas she spent with us. I can only hope that as she has her own family, she will remember the special Christmas traditions that she experienced in our family.
Meaningful Traditions Help Us Navigate Difficult Times
My children grew up as military brats, far from our extended family, and experienced frequent changes in life. They weathered a difficult divorce between their father and myself. Their entire world was uprooted. However, meaningful traditions intentionally celebrated bring order to holiday celebrations and help soothe young hearts. Traditions can help us navigate difficult chapters of our lives. No matter where we lived, or who we might be celebrating with, my kids knew that we would travel around to see the holiday lights and Christmas decorations in our neighborhood. They could always count on decorating Christmas cookies and watching Christmas movies together. They knew that each year they would get a new ornament for their own trees.
Traditions are Intentional
Traditions are a means to create fun activities and create memories. They don’t need to be fancy or elaborate. It’s important they are carried out intentionally. Traditions don’t just happen! Sometimes in the holiday rush or in difficult chapters of life, we neglect to enjoy this special time of year. In our busyness, we must be intentional to take time for the small things. We learn as we get older, the small things really are the things that matter most. As my children share their memories about their childhoods, so frequently it’s the small things that rise to the top and remind them of mom. Things like the flowers I planted in my garden, or the drop biscuits I made for supper. Neither was a moment I was trying to create memories, but those things warmly remind my children of me.
Obstacles to Meaningful Traditions
When Philip and I sold the house and moved into the RV, we packed up all of our household goods into storage. When that first Christmas rolled around, I knew that our Christmas celebrations would be a little bit different. I didn’t have room for a full-sized Christmas tree or a place to put my tree skirt. However, I was determined that no matter what we would still be incorporating the Christmas tree skirt into our Christmas activities.
I insisted that Philip dig through the 10′ x 20′ storage unit. He had to find the Christmas tree skirt no matter how deep it was buried. Thankfully he was happy to honor the request of his new wife and dug it out of storage. Well, maybe not happily, but he did it for me anyway! When we do finally move into our own home in Kentucky, the Christmas tree skirt will not have missed a single year of precious handprints of all of our grandkids.
Seasons of Traditions
I learned as my family grew that traditions though a constant celebration, must evolve. I found when my oldest daughter got married, our most difficult Christmas was the first one she celebrated in her own home with her husband. She still lived close by and we enjoyed seeing her and her husband on Christmas and at our holiday gatherings. But the change in our family made the Christmas traditions seem hollow. I was struggling with the change myself, but my youngest daughter, Faith, struggled with each tradition. Every activity she would bemoan, it just wasn’t the same without Kaitlyn!
Evolving Traditions as the Family Evolves
I decided that year, our traditions needed to evolve. We needed to add new traditions that we could look forward to and not just feel the loss of a family growing up. We still continued some of the “old” traditions, but we enjoyed new ones too, ice skating together and riding in a horse-drawn carriage under a Florida snowfall of bubbles. The first child leaving the nest is only the beginning. Eventually, all the kids moved on as they grew up. Rather than be heartbroken as an empty nester, I can cherish the memories created with my family.
Accepting Future Change
My Handprint Christmas tree skirt tradition will evolve too. The grandkids are young now, but a day will come when they will outgrow this family tradition. We will no longer add handprints to it, but I hope we will celebrate using it. As we look at each print and talk about how tiny they are. We will reminisce about the silly things that happened to make that particular handprint so funny looking, lopsided, or smudged. We’ll remember how hard it is to do handprints with a new baby. We’ll celebrate the year we decided to make baby footprints instead of handprints the year that Harper was born.
An Important Role
As grandparents, we play such an important role in our grandkids’ lives. As you develop Christmas traditions to celebrate with your grandkids, be mindful of their parents’ wishes. It’s a good idea to create traditions that don’t interfere with the memory-making our children are creating with their own families. I personally believe that Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are special times that my children need to share with their own families. Unless invited, there are plenty of memorable activities to do with the grandkids that won’t interrupt the special moments our children are creating with their own holiday traditions. As a young mom, I always appreciated my parents honoring my wishes as a parent and I try to do the same.
Traditions Across the Generations
During family gatherings, many fun family Christmas traditions are perfect to be done with all generations in the family. We regularly decorate gingerbread houses as part of our Thanksgiving tradition with four generations of family. We get to enjoy the gingerbread houses all season and it’s a great way to mix up the generations. Rather than dividing the family into age groups, mix it up and allow all generations to spend quality time together.
I regularly take my grandkids to look at the Christmas lights. This was a tradition I always enjoyed with my own kids. Sharing Christmas traditions with the grandkids also give my grown children a chance to work on some of their secret projects, or to spend time together as a couple. My daughter and her husband always celebrate their first date together and have dinner in the same restaurant every December. I told my daughter it has become my tradition as well since it means I always get to spend time with the grandkids on that day.
Weston’s family moved to Florida this year. This is the first year we were able to do our handprints all together. Join us as we add the 2022 handprints to GiGi’s Handprints Christmas tree skirt. Some of the conversations is sweet and some hilarious. While my tree skirt is far from perfect, it’s precious to me!
Other Unique Christmas Traditions
This post was done in collaboration with 9 other bloggers. Check out the full list of 10 Unique Christmas Traditions That Will Bring You Closer to Your Family.
Merry Christmas from Kowalski Mountain
I realize as empty nesters, the holidays change in drastic ways. It can be difficult to cope with the holidays when the children are grown. Creating memorable Christmas traditions with the grandkids is a great way to make special memories with them. If you are able to take the kids yourself, it gives your adult children much-needed time to prepare for the holidays. Plus, young children make the holidays magical! Enjoying seeing the holidays through young eyes again makes it extra special.
As you celebrate this holiday season, here at Kowalski Mountain, Philip and I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Take time to be intentional and create Christmas traditions with the grandkids. Remember, perfect moments aren’t memorable. Don’t be discouraged if plans don’t go exactly as you had hoped. Go with the flow and soak up every precious memory. The days are fleeting, before you know it the grandkids will be all grown up too! May God bless you and your family this holiday season.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.