American Christmas celebrations are as varied and diverse as its people. There is no one convention observed by all, and as such no “quintiscentially American” Holiday celebration can be mapped out. The festivities are different for every individual or family – a myriad of traditions and improvisations all their own. In this way, Holiday festivities are very personal. The manner in which Christmas is observed in a given household can tell you a great deal about the family within, and it is not uncommon for many of the Christmas rituals to be dictated by heritage. German glüwein, Italian panettone, and Mexican rosca de Reyes are common fixtures in American households – lasting vestiges of generations past reminding us where we come from.
With all of these differences, only one thing is for sure: Christmas in America is what you make it.
Even though there is no one all-encompassing set of traditions, a few things are etched in the American consciousness as synonymous with Christmas, and I have listed a couple of them below:
Kissing Under the Mistletoe: The ultimate example of turning lemons into proverbial lemonade… we take mistletoe, a parasitic plant, hang it in the doorway, and use it as an excuse to kiss anyone and everyone. Sounds great, right?? This is the perfect means by which to shower your loved ones with affection, and to finally get a little lovin’ from your secret admirer. 😉
Decorating one’s house with lights: Christmas lights are far from being exclusively American, but we have definitely turned the domestic version into an art – or maybe an obsession… Famously parodied in the movie “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation,” draping one’s house in Christmas lights has become a national pastime (and unofficial neighborhood competition). In recent years, it has even morphed into a charitable fundraiser – houses with the most over-the-top decorations charge admission to visitors and donate the proceeds to a local food bank.
Taking the family Christmas picture: Probably the most dreaded of all familial obligations, this Chritmas ritual actually takes place before the “big day.” After all, the family Christmas picture has to be taken with plenty of time to affix it to the perennial Christmas cards that will grace the mailboxes of family and friends. In most families (or at least families with more than one child) taking a Christmas picture is a painful process filled with bickering and complaining yet meant to capture its participants looking relaxed, happy, and festive. It is generally at this blessed event that parents resort to reminding all their children of the “naughty & nice list” kept by Father Christmas.
Baking cookies for Santa: This is one tradition that affects two holidays: Christmas and New Years. For children, baking cookies for Santa is a last minute insurance policy to make sure he knows how well-behaved and selfless you were all year (not to mention an excellent excuse to eat your own body weight in cookie dough). For parents, it’s a last minute opportunity to pack on a few extra pounds while wrapping presents just in time to resolve to lose them come New Year’s.
Well, those are some of the most tried-and-true American pastimes, and a couple of my favorites.
Whatever your Christmas celebration may look like, I wish you a very merry one and a Happy New Year.