Dec 23, 2009

The luminarias — also known as farolitos — lining Milan and adjoining streets illuminate the sidewalks with a warm, old-fashioned glow. Who would have ever thought brown paper bags and votive candles could be so festive? These low-tech versions of Christmas lights originated in Mexico and eventually spread to New Mexico and the western United States. More than mere decorations, these lights once represented hope for many Christians who believed the lights would lead the spirit of the Christ child to their homes.

Luminaria-lined pathways, figgy pudding, advent calendars, mulled wine, yule logs, marzipan, stollen, mistletoe, mincemeat pies, tamales, giant inflatable mylar yard Santas and electronic mini-light animatronic reindeer … so many different traditions intertwine in our country’s holiday tapestry. Take your pick: rum in the eggnog, or bourbon? Flocked tree or plain? White lights or colored? Ham or turkey? It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas? Father Christmas, St. Nick or Santa Claus? Open presents on Christmas eve or Christmas morning? (I’ll take all of the above, thank you, including my Jewish pals’ Hanukkah latkes and Christmas Day Chinese take-out!)

One of my family’s personal Christmas traditions started years ago when my mother’s brother wrote a cryptic poem on the tag of her gift, hinting at what was inside. Not to be outdone, Mom put hints on all the presents the next year … and a tradition was born. When Jon and I got married, I introduced the custom to his immediate family — who ran with it. Now, any gift for any occasion includes a hint — the more creative and puzzling, the better. Coming up with hints is one of the most fun parts of my holiday season — though presents wrapped at the last minute often end up with crappy hints, and those wrapped while drinking eggnog are usually a bit obscure…

So, what are some of your family’s favorite holiday traditions?

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