How to Tap Into Your Family’s Holiday Traditions

One great way to get your children thinking about their family’s history is to interview older family members about their own holiday traditions when they were young. And there’s no better time than when everyone’s together for the holidays.

The time is right; so is the setting and the ambience. And it’s a fun, satisfying project for after — or even during — that big holiday meal.

If your kids are old enough, they can ask questions and then write down (or videotape) the answers themselves. You’ll be creating your own family history document for future generations while your kids explore their past!

For Thanksgiving, ask the extended family questions like these:

  • Where did your family usually gather for this holiday?
  • What do you remember about going there for dinner?
  • Who was always there?
  • What did you eat?
  • What were your favorite dishes?
  • Who cooked them?
  • Where did you eat? How was the table set?
  • What else did you do there?

For Christmas:

  • Where did you celebrate Christmas? At home or somewhere else?
  • Who was there?
  • What did you do on Christmas Day? Did you go to church? What church?
  • Did you put up Christmas stockings? Tell me about them.
  • Did you write a letter or leave cookies for Santa Claus?
  • Tell me about your Christmas trees. How did you get them? Where did they stand? How did you decorate them?
  • Did you get together with others for Christmas dinner? Who? When? What were your favorite dishes?
  • What was your favorite Christmas? Why? What were some of your favorite gifts?

Another great topic for questions is to explore whether some of the family’s traditions have come down from previous generations. Which beloved holiday traditions, recipes, or ornaments have been passed down and from whom? What is their story?

After the holiday, type up the stories neatly and put them into a folder or store them online, and put video interviews onto labeled DVDs. Keep those old family stories alive by giving everyone a copy. Store one with your holiday decorations too, so you can look at it every year when the holidays come around.

Take it a step further by learning more about some of the relatives your older family members tell you about. On, you can search for them in state or census records, or maybe see if there’s anything in military records about Uncle Charles who came home from the war just in time for Christmas one year.

Or try looking at historical maps together as a family to see where the family hails from and where different relatives moved to. Ancestry has a collection of maps, atlases, and gazetteers that can help you become familiar with the neighborhood or even country where your people used to celebrate the holidays.

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