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Dec 14, 2015

Blending Traditions: Christmas at Home

Steeped in tradition, the Christmas season is one we all look forward to rolling around each year. In our family, as I'm sure it is with most, there are dozens of traditions that make the holidays feel like the holidays to us. Some we've passed down from generation to generation, others we've recently acquired as our family trees branch off into newer branches. When D and I moved to Germany in 2011, we couldn't go home that December, so we spent our very first Christmas alone as a couple. Even though we couldn't be with family, we still kept with our Christmas traditions from home...so family never felt that far from our hearts. As the years passed by, we also began to adopt holiday traditions from our gracious host country. These days, we've got a good blend of family customs and adopted traditions that make our Christmas just that much more special.

 Christmas traditions may vary from country to country, family to family, person to person...but one thing we all can agree on is that they bring us all together during a magical time of year. Here are just a few of the ways holiday tradition has influenced Christmas at Haus Cote...

When I graduated college and D were in our first year of marriage, I decorated the WHOLE DARN HOUSE. I loved going to Garden Ridge (my Greensboro peeps know this) and buying all the Christmas decor I could stuff in one shopping cart. Obsessed, just like my momma (who has a Santa Claus shower curtain, not kidding). With all the moving we do thanks to Uncle Sam, I've slowly opted for simplicity in my holiday decor. Because lugging around 15 tubs of Christmas decor is a bit much, no? These days, we do a tree, preferably real...but I've got love for the fake ones, too. This year, thanks to the Florida heat, we're going fake...and I'm cool with it. Less pine needles to micro-manage all month, that's for sure! With the tree comes our extensive collection of ornaments we've collected on all our travels. Next year, I'm afraid I might have to be one of those people who has two trees, because we're bursting at the seams with ornaments I can't bear not to hang (thank you, Lord, for your abundant travel blessings!). My favorite ornament? I love all the ones we acquired at the German Christmas markets we frequented. Especially the pickle. While not exactly something the Germans claim as their own tradition, the fun of "hiding the pickle" continues to spread joy to tourists and locals alike.

Another fun piece of holiday decor I brought home from Europe is a wooden sled we found at a Polish antique shop in Bolesalwaic. It adds just the right amount of rustic kitsch to our living room and reminds me of the fabulous antiques stores I used to wander through during our travels. We also have a few German smokers and authentic nutcrackers scattered around the house. I couldn't leave Germany without snatching up such famous Christmas handicrafts! They'll be pieces I pass down to generations to come.

This is a tradition we haven't quite started yet in our family just yet, but it's waiting in the wings for when we have children. Families all over Germany participate in Sankt Nikolaus Day at the beginning of the advent season. Children leave out their shoes the night of December 5th, and wake up on the morning of December 6th to find all sorts of treats left in them from jolly ol' Saint Nicolas! It's such a sweet and meaningful tradition for countries all over Europe, but experiencing it firsthand while living in Germany made it all the more exciting. We loved hearing the church bells ringing in our town as Sankt Nikolaus (or der Weihachtsmann) wandered through, signifying the start of the Christmas season. I like to think of this holiday tradition as a sort of "Elf on the Shelf" for Europe. If the kiddos are bad, twigs and coal are left in the shoes instead of treats. In some areas of Germany and Austria, these bad gifts are given by Sankt Nikolaus's evil counterpart, Krampus!

I happily adopted many traditions from our time living in Germany, but none more tasty than the mug of piping hot gluhwein. Oh, the many mugs of gluhwein I've consumed the last 4 years. I bet you could wring me out and it would all be gluhwein, no joke. When the holiday season rolls around, it doesn't take me long to dust off the 53 Christmas market mugs I collected abroad (yes, you read that right) and make my first batch. In fact, I love the stuff so much, I spent quite a few hours in the kitchen perfecting my own mulled wine recipe. Don't worry, you can find it here. As long as I am living, this spiced holiday libation will be a part of our Christmas season.

Since the year D put a ring on my finger, I've mailed out a Team Cote holiday card. It's a tradition most celebrate, but one I credit to my mom, who has faithfuly sent out a holiday card from our family since I was a little girl. I used to watch her spend hours flipping through catalogs, choosing the card that reflected the perfect sentiment for the year. Once they were delivered to the house, she would sit on the couch with her address book and blank envelopes and hand-address each card, allowing me to place a stamp on the finished ones. There are years I think, ehhh, maybe I won't send any out (I'm too busy, too tired, too cheap)...but then I remember how much joy they bring me when I receive sweet cards from my friends & family. So, I continue the tradition. Even hand-addressing them just like mom. :)

The holidays are largely driven by food...good food. And rightly so. Food and tradition go hand in hand so well! There are SO many incredible treats that have become Christmas staples in our family. Every year, my mom makes a large batch of Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls (Buckeyes to Northerners, as I've been told) and gives them out to the mailman, friends at church, and family across the country. We're always lucky enough to snag a few morsels before they're divvied up, thank goodness! We also make sugar cookies from scratch in fun Christmas shapes and decorate them with colorful icings and gobs of sprinkles. This is a food tradition we've been a part of as far as my memory will go. I remember many Christmases at MeeMaw's house, all the grandbabies around her tiny kitchen table, rolling out dough, covered in flour. A tradition I most definitely will be keeping around for years and years to come (you can read more about this family tradition here). OH, and that yummy, caramel-colored doughy ring on the right there...that's our Christmas Day Monkey Bread. It isn't Christmas Day until those and Granny's Sausage Balls arrive on the breakfast table!

Sometimes they match, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I wear them after Christmas, sometimes I hide them in my pajama drawer until, well, forever. No matter the year, we open our Christmas jammies on Christmas Eve...a tradition my mom started when we were a bit older and had an appreciation for such a quirky pre-Christmas gift. Truth be told, it a gift I always look forward to, mostly because I'm curious to see whether we'll all get silly Santa onesies or something more fashionable. Even while we lived abroad, D and I continued the tradition between the two of us when we celebrated Christmas far from home. I mean, who doesn't love new jammies?!

The culmination of all traditions through the holiday season come to a head this day. It's the Big Kahuna, so we send it out with a bang! The kids (even now that we're not quite kids anymore) are the last to wake...we always find mom and dad in the kitchen sipping coffee and waiting patiently for us to come barreling down the hall. Now that we're older, we have enough restraint (although not much more than before) to be able to eat breakfast as family rather than diving straight into the presents. A smorgasbord of monkey bread, coffee cake, bacon, and sausage balls are the typical fare. Calories don't count on Christmas morning. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Once breakfast is done, we all grab a spot on the couch and the gifts are distributed. Stockings are opened first...then on to the good stuff! Instead of diving in all at once, we each take turns opening a gift...and round and round it goes until all gifts are opened. Takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R (especially when all family is in town), but that's just how we like it. Christmas lasts longer this way (in our minds, at least). 

After the living room is turned into a wrapping paper war-zone, we usually call or Skype with our Kansas family...then spend the rest of the day Christmas movie watching and snacking on holiday treats until Christmas dinner is served. Again, calories don't count and a holiday ham is always in attendance. My dad's face in this last photo...the most accurate portrayal of his disdain for photos ever captured. God love 'em. ;)

I hope you've enjoyed this little peek into our holiday traditions!

What are some favorite traditions you hope to pass down to your family someday?

**Be sure to check out all the holiday tradition and cheer found across the globe over on the Expat Holidays landing page on MontgomeryFest! Happy holidays to all!**


  1. OHMIGOODNESS. y'all just can't get any cuter. this post has every feel-good feeling from Europe to America! I can't wait to start the Saint Nicolas tradition when we have kids too!

    1. Thank ya much, my deary! And thank you for hosting such a holiday cheer-filled prompt and hashtag! You're the bee's knees!!

  2. I love your holiday traditions! I'm glad Elf on the Shelf wasn't around when I was a kid... that thing is CREEPY! My favorite tradition is collecting ornaments and sending cards.

  3. Christmas pjs are the best! And peanut butter balls, oh how I love those things!

    1. Agreed! I'm really looking forward to what my mom comes up with for jammies this year! And I'm counting down the days until I get a peanut butter ball into my mouth. 5 days...in case you were curious. ;) Happy holidays, Kaelene!

  4. I have been thinking about Christmas traditions lately since this year my eldest daughter has decided that this year she isn't going to here grandparents place for Christmas lunch and you know what I am ok with that as she is now 30 with her own family

  5. Such a fun post with beautiful photos - it really captures an American Christmas with a hint of Germanness in there somewhere ;) Your Landsend stockings are beautiful! My mom got some ages ago and they are just so classic.

  6. I hope to pass down a new Christmas ornament every year.


  7. I absolutely love this post! Every year, my mom gives me an ornament and now my husband and I share that tradition -- it's one of my favorites :)

  8. These are awesome! We have a super late lunch / early dinner before midnight mass on Christmas eve. When we come home from church we have a big snack plate dinner. Since we are all older now its turned into a potluck sort of thing but still snacks, appitizer, and dessert type items. I love this tradition.

  9. Hot wine and yummy Christmas treats! What lovely traditions you guys have! Merry Christmas :)

  10. We have friends that celebrate St. Nicholas here. Hope you have a Happy Christmas!

  11. Loved reading about your unique traditions. I think I am going to do the Christmas Eve PJ's thing when I have kiddos.

  12. Love reading about your traditons. Such a great christmas spirit. Having moved from Norway to Turkey, who is a muslim country, it is not so easy to make use of all those traditions that I grew up with. But still trying to make as many traditions as possible for my family. Wish you all the best for the new year :)


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