When I think about being a kid at Christmas, certain memories always come to mind. They seem to have defined my family’s version of holiday traditions. It wasn’t the Advent calendar that told us it was Christmas Eve; it was my mother’s sneaky way of getting us to help with the housework that kicked off the countdown to Santa’s arrival.

My mom claimed Santa would not stop at messy houses, and, before my budding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder bloomed, it was the one day of the year when my brother and I would clean without complaint.

Another tradition in our house was the singing of Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus, the wet blanket of Christmas morning. No presents or delicious treats could be consumed until we read the Christmas story from the books of Matthew and Luke and then sang to the tiny bundle of angelic joy. Once we moaned our way through that, my brother and I tore into wonderfully dry cinnamon, powdered sugar, or waxy chocolate doughnuts packaged so snugly in the box that they stuck to each other.

My sugar loving, Jewish partner has embraced the doughnut tradition, but not the retelling of the New Testament. I’m not religious and have let it go, too. I appreciate the history behind religious beliefs and holidays the same way I appreciate the story line in a porno; it’s nice that it’s there, but I’d rather skip to the good parts.

My partner and I have other traditions that have grown organically during our 18 holiday seasons together. Each year I tell myself this will be the year I go against her grain and finally put multicolored lights on the Christmas tree. She prefers the soft glow of the white twinkle lights. I agree, they’re pretty. But the temptation to replace them with big, old-fashioned colored ones is strong.

We slip National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation into the DVD player each year as we wrap Christmas presents. We forget to light the menorah at least three of the eight nights of Hanukkah. If there is snow, we go sledding with friends on Christmas Eve. We have adult beverages, hit the hill, and then feast until we can’t move. After the kids are in bed, I fall asleep to the light of the television playing A Christmas Story.

When my oldest daughter was almost two, she started to notice the sights and sounds of the season. Her toddler-fueled passion for illuminated yard inflatables started at Halloween with giant, nylon ghosts, spiders, and black cats. The obsession grew when giant, air-stuffed turkeys showed up on lawns at Thanksgiving. The disease fully took hold when Santa arrived on his motorcycle with reindeer riding in a sidecar, officially kicking off the season of neighbors competing for the most festive yard.

But it wasn’t just Santa who rode into my life four years ago on his bulbous hog. Seasonal enthusiastic pleas for “more Mickey, more Minnie, more Santa, more Rudolph, MORE BLOW UPS” also arrived. Back then, one little voice begged me to drive around the block to look at obnoxious yard decorations. Now three eager children assault me with their demands from the back of our minivan. As I screech to a halt so my kids can stare at a giant holiday dragon eating a candy cane, I repeat to myself – almost in unison with their begging for more – that we are never getting one of those things for our yard.

When I was a kid, we drove through the neighborhoods on Christmas Eve, looking for the most spectacular light displays. For my own children, the tradition will also include denying them a giant blow-up reindeer. They want one to go with the small snowman that looks like a sad puddle of melted Christmas cheer when not inflated – the snowman my mother gifted to my children two years ago without telling me what was in the box so I couldn’t intercept the contraband.

I hate that snowman. But, man, I love my kids. Frosty comes out after Thanksgiving, and every year I’m tempted to damage him beyond repair. But instead I take extra care of our tacky, inflatable snowman because I can’t resist my kids’ excitement over something so simple.

With each holiday, their memory banks slowly fill with images of our family traditions, for better or for worse. Sometimes the best are the ones that start without much thought. Others begin with reluctance and your kids’ obsessive affinity for lawn ornaments. 

That’s the beauty of traditions. You can continue them or you can discard them, but they will always be a part of who you are.