The Most Wonderful Time of the Year–Christmas Traditions

Mary Connealy Header

In my recent Christmas novella release I include a small Christmas tradition that I, in fact, made up.

I remember a pastor once challenging the congregation to think beyond our stereotyped images of Christmas because some of the things we love … aren’t in fact in the Bible.

A couple of examples. No where in the Bible does it say there are three wise men. It says wise men came from the east. And it specifically mentions three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the wise men themselves were never numbers.

He also said some Biblical experts believe the wise men didn’t come to the stable on the night Jesus was born.


King Herod estimated the time the wise men had set out on their journey, assumed that they’d begun it on the night Jesus was born, and that made Jesus as much as two years old when the wise men arrived. That’s why he ordered the deaths of every baby boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.

But what doesn’t make sense about that theory is, why would Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem? They went there from Nazareth for the census and to pay their taxes but why wouldn’t they go back home after they’d paid? It’s no where mentioned that they had to MOVE to Bethlehem, just go, pay, get counted and then go home.

So I’ve always disagreed with that part of it. I think the wise men got there on the night Jesus was born, I think they were able to see the star well ahead so they could follow it and arrive on Christmas Day.

Anyway, I enjoy being challenged about things like that. It makes me read the chapters more carefully and be more aware of how we are all affected by a simple nativity set, always with three wise men. We see it so often, and all of them there at Jesus birth, that we begin to accept as true some things that we’ve never been told. I like to think there were fifty wise men–and they came from all corners of the east. I imagine them bringing many gifts, including–but not limited to: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Because of this memory and the fact that I have written maybe as many as ten children’s plays for our Sunday School Christmas Program (I’m letting others handle that now!), I think I’ve looked deeply at many aspects of the Christmas story for new angles, new things to emphasize, the staging, the characters, how did they really act, how did they really feel?

And I used this familiarity I have with Jesus birth to create this tradition for my book.

Here’s an excerpt from Longhorn Christmas, from the novella collection Cowboy Christmas Homecoming

Roy watched while Jeremy helped Netty arrange a Nativity set. Roy heard family stories, some so old they went back to the beginning of America. Some took them across the ocean.

Me with my family 1960. I’m top left. Poor overwhelmed Santa. It was the baby boom, though. He was probably used to it. We had three more kids after this.

As she talked she set the pieces in a strange order Roy didn’t understand. There was a wooden stable with a little manger. She sat that on the mantle over the fireplace, but instead of putting the other figures beside it, she put three pieces in the farthest corner of the room. The corner of the kitchen. The shepherds were on the floor right to the side of the hearth. Mary and Joseph were against the wall that ran at a right angle to the fireplace. There was an angel and Netty sat her right on the kitchen table…right beside the salt cellar.

“It was my pa that wanted them placed like this.” She pointed to the corner of the kitchen and the wise men. “We think of them as coming to see Jesus on the night he was born, but then when Herod orders all boy children under two years of age be killed, Pa said that might mean the wise men didn’t get there all that soon. If they set out for Bethlehem following the star when it appeared over Jesus in the manger, it might’ve taken them two years to get there.”

Netty picked up the little angel. It was only about three inches tall, and a fine shade of stained oak. A perfect match for the rest of the set. “But I’ve always wondered if, instead, they saw the star over their own heads two years before Jesus was born. And it guided them for all that time.”

Netty turned and pointed to Mary and Joseph. “They had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census, but why would they still be there two years later? They didn’t have to stay there, did they? So that makes me think the wise men got their right away.”

She looked at Roy expectantly, as if she wanted him to have the answers. He said, “I like the idea of them showing up right when Jesus is born. Especially because Jesus is only a few days old when they go to the temple and the story seems to be told in order. Why talk about the night of his birth, then something that happens two years later, then go back to the baby just a few days old, then jump back to the story of Herod and the wise men. Of course I think those stories are in different books of the Bible so maybe it’s not in as straight of order as I remember.”

Nodding, Netty said, “I like thinking of them showing up, too, but it doesn’t matter when. What matters is making our peace with God and believing in Jesus. This is just the details of a beautiful story and we like to think we know how it was, even though we don’t.”

“So the wise men are in that corner then, because—

   Ho Ho Ho

“They come from far away, in the east. They traveled, possibly for years to get to Bethlehem. When Ma and Pa set out the nativity, they’d move the travelers a bit each day. The wise men first because they had so far to come. The last week we move Mary and Joseph closer and closer. They reach the stable on Christmas Eve,” she held up the angel, “the angel appears.”

Netty reached into the box that had held all the figures and pulled out a manger with the Baby Jesus in it. “On Christmas morning, when Jeremy wakes up, he’ll find Christ the Savior is born. Then shepherds come in from the pastures. Finally, the wise men get there with their gifts.”

Netty tucked the baby in a manger back into the box and set the angel back on the table. “Every night until Christmas, I’m going to read a bit of the story of Jesus. I’ll tell Jeremy stories of our family, and I’ll move the pieces. Closer every day to the stable. Together, we’ll take the journey all these people made, toward the birth of our Savior.”

What this little tradition made me wonder is, do you have any traditions in your family that are especially precious to you?

The one that always comes to mind for me is, on Thanksgiving when we are washing up after dinner, whoever’s home we are in, we play Mannheim Steamroller’s Celebration Christmas. This music just kicks off the season. It puts us all in a festive mood, guides our conversation about Christmas plans and memories. It’s a little thing but that music, that beautiful, instrumental music, begins the journey to Christmas for me.

Leave a comment about your favorite Christmas traditions to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Cowboy Christmas Homecoming.


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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series

46 thoughts on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year–Christmas Traditions”

  1. Being with family is my favorite. We are all so busy, but Christmas we all sit back and laugh and enjoy dinner and each other’s company.

    • Estella, all four of my children will be together this year. Four daughters, three husbands, four grandchildren….My Cowboy and Me.
      My own brothers and sisters gather at my mom’s house and we try and spend time in there, too.

  2. My family doesn’t really have traditions and even at Christmas we don’t get together. I guess one thing that I can call a tradition would be going to the mall to watch shoppers and see the directions.

    • Janine, I don’t like shopping this time of year but I do love to go at least once to the mall and just see the crowds and the decorations, hear the music.
      It’s a great atmosphere if you don’t have a whole lotta gifts to buy.

  3. When the kids were home, we always used to have an actual birthday party for Jesus. We did it on December 23 so it wasn’t associated with any gift opening on our part. We baked and decorated a birthday cake and brought the baby Jesus from the nativity to the table and we sang Happy Birthday. Sometimes we invited friends to join us and sometimes not. My favorite part of the holiday!

  4. We get together for Christmas.
    We always give my daughter a gift from St. Nick on December 6 th and a gift on epiphany.

    • Mary, I think my daughter did that St. Nick day. I’d never heard of that before. I think they got a tiny toy and a small orange in their shoe in the morning.
      They’re doing that elf on the shelf thing, too.
      My daughter thinks it’s sort of weird but the kids LOVE looking for that elf.

  5. Over the last few years since my mother passed away, it’s seems it’s harder and harder for my brother’s, their families and I do get together at Christmas. I just do my own thing, make my own plans and if it fits in with theirs, that’s fine.

    • Kathleen that’s happened with my husband’s family too. Getting together has fallen by the wayside now that his mom is gone. She held us all together.
      We see them and talk and gather for things like family weddings, but no big get togethers. I miss those.

  6. i come from a big family, there are seven of us, and each had at least three to four children, and at Christmas every year the men and the children would go out and play football, no matter what the weather was. Now i live in northern part of Wisconsin, so you never knew what the Temperature would be or what the weather condition would be. They would be out side playing. My mother passes away a year and a half ago, so we don’t have a big gathering at Christmas. But we try to get together in the summer for a picnic, and of course for a day of football, but now it’s the grandkids husbands and there children that play

  7. For most of my life before most of my Dad’s generation passed away, all of my paternal relatives gathered the Sunday before Christmas for a huge meal. The children exchanged gifts and for several years we all brought lots of gifts for Bingo prizes. What a loud & happy time we all had! Now many are no longer with us & we all have different Christmas traditions but I know all my cousin’s also look back on those times with fondness.

    • Pamela I’ve tried for YEARS to get my family to move Christmas off Christmas day. Now with my kids grown and their own in-laws to arrange with, it’s just impossible for me to get to my mom’s house on Christmas day. But a few stubborn voices rule and we can NOT have this gathering on any day except Christmas. It’s really frustrating. But me and my family not being there is the choice they make.
      Oh the Other Hand my grown kids, married, children is 13 people now, so we really add a huge crowd to Mom’s over burdened house.

  8. There are many traditions I love at Christmas, the most moving is the church Christmas candlelight service the last Sunday night before Christmas. In our family my favorite tradition is everyone gets new pjs to wear on Christmas Eve and each one gets to open one gift before going to bed. As a child, this was exciting, because you had to choose based on the wrapped packages, and it was hard to find a toy instead of clothes.

    • Ah, Elaine that’s so nice. My daughter is doing the pajama thing. Three kids, and mom and dad, all have the new pjs, this year it’s red plaid flannel. They get a picture of it. Very precious and cute.

  9. For over 60 years my husband side of the family has camped out at Christmas time. Some come in for the day to visit with family and roast hotdogs over a fire and catch up with one another. Santa comes and hands out presents and everyone takes family photos with him. Always remembering it’s Jesus birth we celebrate.

  10. We always make a birthday cake for Jesus and sing happy birthday to Him. The youngest child present gets to blow out the candle. We also start the wise men out on one side of the room, Mary, Joseph and a donkey on the other, and shepherds and sheep on top of the tv. The wise men and Mary and Joseph will get to the stable on Christmas eve as the Christmas Story is read out of the Bible and acted out with our figurenes. The angels will appear to the shepherds who will hurry down to the stable. All are made of hard plastic so the kids can play with tham as much as they want.

    • Michelle, you do this? You do these same thing as I did in my book???
      I LOVE THIS!

      Do you suppose I’ve heard of it somewhere and only think I made it up???
      I’ve talked to lots of people who leave the manger empty until on Christmas Morning the Baby Jesus is in the manger. But never the whole traveling thing.

      Thank you for sharing this.

  11. We used to have breakfast pizza! We would wake super early and then have pizza for breakfast. It was so fun!

    • Danielle, have you ever made cinnamon rolls in a cast iron skillet? Add that to the breakfast pizza!!!
      I’ve got a super simple recipe from frozen cinnamon roll dough, then serve it right in the skillet. Very delicious.

      Cinnamon Rolls

      24 Rhodes (Hy-Vee) frozen dinner rolls
      ½ cup sugar with ½ tsp cinnamon
      ½ cup nuts (I used 2 cups today)
      1 3oz pkg butterscotch pudding (dry powder)
      ½ cup (1 stick) butter
      ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

      The recipe calls for greasing a 9×13 pan. But I use a cast iron skillet. It makes a super cute way to serve the rolls. one large skillet will hold about a dozen rolls so you’ll need to or cut the recipe in half (that’s what I do, we don’t need 24 rolls!)Sprinkle sugar mixture over the top, then the nuts followed by the pudding. Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small pan. Pour this mixture over the top of the pan. Make a tent with aluminum foil and leave overnight. Remove tent, bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Turn out and serve. (I use the tenting foil as a base to turn the rolls out onto).

  12. We lived out of the country, in Central or South America, for over 8 years! Being away from family really teaches you to cherish each and every moment you have with them! As a child, I remember my favorite thing at Christmas was setting up the nativity! It always sat on top of our piano in the living room. Our family would gather around the piano after Christmas dinner to sing Christmas carols together! My grandmother would play the piano for us. We still have her with us! She is 101 years young!

  13. My family always decorates together… I love getting together to make M&M cookies and no matter what I have to have my grandmother’s pumpkin pie!

  14. Seeing the name Jeremy makes me smile as our son (30 years old) is Jeremy. 🙂

    A couple of our traditions, the first one still being in use (and always looking forward to it…I think this will be the first Christmas Eve that it will be just my husband and me for dinner…):

    Eating Christmas Eve dinner by candlelight and Christmas tree-light before going to service at church.

    When our kids were living at home, on Christmas morning I would come downstairs to plug the tree in and take photos and start cinnamon rolls in the oven before anyone else was allowed to come down. 😉 We would eat rolls while opening stockings and presents, then gather at the table for more rolls and scrambled eggs and orange juice. And a “Santa gift” (this was before we started attending church) for each of us on our plates to open as we ate (the kids, when they were little, wondered why we didn’t get gifts from Santa, especially when we didn’t have enough money for hubby and me to exchange gifts ).

    Merry Christmas, Mary! 🙂

  15. Ours of course revolves around tastes… Specifically wassail.
    Must. Have. Wassail.

    Easy to make.
    1 gallon of 100% apple juice (no sugar)
    1 large can of 100% pineapple juice
    1 large can of frozen orange juice
    to taste – lemon juice (depends on how tart you would like it to be)

    we have a large pot with a collander attached
    to the collander, we put in maybe 4-5 cinnamon sticks and a handful of cloves

    pour all juices into the pot and heat, do not boil.
    let it simmer for at least an hour or two

    DEE-licious and the house smells so good.

    As far as Christmas itself, there are a few ornaments with special first Christmas themes and others with family memories that go on the tree every year.

    Lovely post. Thank you!

  16. We always put a container of Tic Tacs in everyone’s Christmas stocking in memory of my grandpa who passed when we were kids; he always had them in his pocket and we loved looking for them. My mom started the tradition and it’s still going strong 🙂

  17. We’re starting new traditions with our kids now that the oldest is old enough to participate. We’re doing the Jesse tree as well as making a ribbon marker for the family bible with references written on it of passages chosen by each family member, passages that represent something important about that year.
    This is our second year doing the marker.

  18. I started a tradition of having a tree trimming party every year. Lots of family, friends, food and fun. It starts off the holiday for us. Now my oldest, married daughter does it too 🙂

  19. Favorite Christmas traditions…we have so many! Setting out the numerous nativity scenes starts the season, along with the other decorating. On Christmas Eve we have our special meal and open an ornament for the tree, then go to the candlelight service at church. Before opening presents, we start Christmas morning with Jesus’ birthday cake, then have Eggs Benedist for brunch. Being with family as we celebrate the meaning of day is the best!

  20. When our sons were small, we never had the extra money to buy the toys everyone wanted. So one morning they got up and found notes for them in the tree. They became excited and hopped all over the living room. This began the elf-mail. My younger son has a little different version.

  21. Since my daughter was two years old (she’s 26 now), we have made peppernut cookies every year. They are quite time consuming so we only make them at Christmas. We often give some for gifts. I’d probably be willing to stop, but she insists we need to keep doing it. It is a good time together. Sometimes we can even get her brother to help.

  22. I love the “tradition” you made up for your story. It would be a good way to make Christmas more understandable and put everything in perspective. In most retellings, everyone just shows up about the same time. Understanding a bit more about who these people were and how they got there makes it a bit more real.
    The Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music is a big favorite at our house. Thanksgiving weekend is the weekend to decorate, or at least start it. The outdoor lights go up, the wreaths come out and are hung (that doesn’t sound right), The inside decorations get started and the area for the tree is prepared. If we are getting a fresh tree, we wait until a couple of weeks before Christmas to put it up. We don’t take it down until after Epiphany. If we are using an artificial tree, it can go up any time. The decorating is a good time for visiting, listening to Christmas music, and having hot chocolate & cookies.

    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Great New Year.

  23. I might be too late for the drawing but my favorite tradition is waking up early to open presents. There’s something wondrous about that early morning stillness and the joy of the gifts that feels like the miracle of Jesus and the gift of salvation.

  24. No major traditions. When our children were home and growing up, I always tried to give at least one of the five a music item for Christmas. I loved the tinkling of some form of music during the day. Sometimes a music box, sometimes the bell on a Fisher Price schoolhouse. Music was always such a major part of Christmas for me ringing out the news of the birth of my Saviour.

  25. We speed up to our daughter’s house Christmas morning as the grands are waking up so we can see their precious faces when they see what Santa brought. Their joy and delight , their laughter and twinkle in their eyes…priceless!

  26. We alway go to my sister’s house which was my mother’s house on Christmas Eve so its like going home. We listen to Christmas music on the way and I always enjoy it. We go to my mother in laws on Christmas day.

  27. We used to read the Christmas story from Luke, talk and pray, then exchange gifts (whether home or with extended family) and play games. We would fill the stockings overnight and open them after breakfast Christmas morning. Now that our girls are grown, my eldest goes to her in-laws Christmas eve for the exact same tradition and we get everyone for brunch, a short time of prayer, fellowship, and stockings Christmas morning. Our youngest, being home in TX from CA, sometimes stays with us Christmas Eve to talk and play games. Our brunch has moved to Christmas Eve morning this year as Christmas Day is a Sunday and we will all be worshipping together as usual.

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