• Nora Walsh Kerr

Holiday Traditions


Have you ever asked an older family member about how they celebrated the holidays growing up? Some of the best stories unfold and reveal a lot about our loved one's life, from faith and cultural traditions, to family relationships, to socio-economic status. Grandkids love hearing stories about how their grandparents once pined for a special doll or train under their tree or how they were once thrilled to spin the dreidel.


Here are a few of our favorite lines from a few projects from this past year that touch on holidays past. I hope it inspires you to ask away and learn a bit more about your family's holiday traditions!


“On St. Nicholas Day (December 6), the kids had to have their toy list made out and we would burn it in the fireplace so the smoke would go up the chimney and bring their wishes to Santa.”


"One year, my brother and I snuck out of the bedroom at 4am and saw the tree lit and full of presents. I remember just sitting there staring at it, popcorn strung on the branches, tinsel all over the place, bubble lights going, and a train running around the base. Christmas was pretty cool—it was a happy time.”


"When my mom was pregnant with my baby brother, she was sick all the time. That Christmas, she told my sister and I not to expect any presents. All the extra money had to go to buy a crib and things for L. I was 16 and wanted a Timex watch more than anything and she ended up surprising both my sister and I with one. That was the best Christmas ever. Nothing like expecting nothing and getting something special!”



"We didn't celebrate religious holidays in my early days, but by the time I was 13, I went to the synagogue. Growing up in former Czechoslovakia, big family gatherings that are custom in the U.S. didn’t exist in the old country. In the cities, we had no space to have big gatherings, let alone the extra money to spend on presents and a big feast."




"Mom made the holidays nice for us. I got a Lionel train one year. That was the best Christmas I can remember.”


"The holidays were big—my mom loved to decorate the house and never left anybody out when shopping for gifts. It was amazing how far she could stretch her money. She bought things year round because she knew if she waited she wouldn’t have enough money. Every Christmas, she’d find some from last year that she missed so she’d just wrap them up and give them that year."


"At one point, we were having money problems and G. took a job as a mail carrier so he could buy presents for the holidays. He even worked for an undertaker at one point.”


“Christmas was total gluttony. We had one at my parents’ house with the tree, food and

presents. We had one at my grandparents’ house with the same setup. Then we had a third one with my aunt and uncle on their farm. Every year we celebrated it three times—presents, food, the whole deal. We were very spoiled.”


“Growing up in London, I feel like families didn’t have big gatherings for the holidays like they do here in America. My mother would bake for days for us. Christmas gifts were simple. I would get an orange in my stocking and one toy, maybe a doll. That was it. It was a carry over from times past."


"When I was little, I got this full-sized doll for Christmas that you could put your feet into and I was so excited about it, I brought it over to the farm. Well, one of my boy cousins punched a dent in her face. After that, I didn’t bring anything over to my grandparents’ house.”


“At Christmas, we didn’t get a lot of gifts; we’d get a sack of candy, an apple, and an orange from the church. We had a tree and strung it with popcorn and made lots of cookies. It was good enough for us.”


“My boys married girls who enjoy being here, which is so important. They are like my daughters. They all come for Sunday dinner and the holidays, which is why I keep the leaves on my dinner table and have 14 chairs to put around it. For Hanukkah, I love to buy eight nights of presents for each of them. I go a little overboard and my closet gets full of presents.”