Friday, April 25, 2014

Wright Words: 7-Eleven trips, Chinese food and other unusual Christmas traditions

By Jason F. Wright, For the Deseret News

Published: Tue, Dec. 24 5:00 a.m. MST

 Koleson Wright, center, hides from his siblings during a recent Christmas shopping trip to a Walmart in Front Royal. Va.

Koleson Wright, center, hides from his siblings during a recent Christmas shopping trip to a Walmart in Front Royal. Va.

(Jason Wright)

Every year, a few days before Christmas, my family walks into a superstore and with Mom and Dad’s help, our children scatter and purchase pre-budgeted presents for one another. They bob and weave like spies to avoid detection, hiding in clothing displays or playfully posing as mannequins.

We meet up front when we’re done, purchase and triple bag the inexpensive gifts, then head home. It’s a highlight of the Christmas season that dates back more than 30 years to my own childhood with my own siblings.

Other traditions have persevered, as well. Just as in my childhood, all presents are opened one at a time as we go in a circle around the room. Candy and fudge fill the countertops and it’s the only day of the year the kids don’t have to ask before diving in at any point throughout the day. The stomachaches are tradition, too.

These might be a little unusual, but they belong to us, no different than prized photos or inherited heirlooms. Over time, these quirky customs, no matter the time of year, become the vibrant colors of our family memories.

How about you?

Meet the Armstrongs of Strasburg, Va. This family says Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to 7-Eleven for a soda and a chat with the employees. The tradition began 14 years ago in Washington state when a family friend had to work and the Armstrongs visited to cheer her up with cookies and a smile. Even now with the children grown and a grandchild on the way, the tradition will play an important part of their 2013 Christmas Day.

The Shumways of Snowflake, Ariz., love Christmas movies. Their favorite is the classic “A Christmas Story,” and Dec. 24 isn’t complete until the family has enjoyed their traditional dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The family has moved through the years and the exact restaurant has never been important, as long as the family is gathered around a table with rice, noodles and a lot of laughter.

The Becks of Omaha, Neb., put a spin on a more common tradition. Like many, each member of the family receives new pajamas on Christmas Eve. But the Becks don’t just put on their new PJs and hit the hay; they hop in the car and drive around town to admire the Christmas lights. Even Mom and Dad don the new duds in public.

When living in Texas and Iowa, Laura Leigh woke at 1 a.m. to open presents with her family. One year, her mother told the children to go back to bed because their grandmother would be visiting later that morning and they needed to wait for her. “Just then the phone rang,” Leigh said. “It was Grandma wondering where we were! So we all piled in the car and went the few blocks to Grandma's house to give her an official escort.” Thanks to a spunky grandmother, the 1 a.m. tradition lived on.

Dennis George of Woodstock, Va., likes burning the midnight oil, too. For more than two decades, George and a few friends and family call people after midnight to be the first to wish them a Merry Christmas. What started once after they’d finally finished putting toys together under the tree has turned into a tradition. “I have one aunt and cousin in particular that looks forward to it every year. When the phone rings, she doesn't even say ‘hello’ any more. She says, ‘Merry Christmas!’ ”

When Jennifer Cox of Mountain Home, Idaho, was a little girl, her mother burned her hands badly with bacon grease just days before Christmas. “Both hands were wrapped in bandages and she couldn't do much,” Cox said. “Dad had to cook dinner and made homemade pizza instead of the big meal. It was so easy and relaxed that we repeated it the next year. Twenty years later, my twin brother and I still carry on the tradition in our own families.”

For Elizabeth Blight and her family in Berryville, Va., this tradition might not be decades old, but what it lacks in longevity, it makes up for with wackiness. Several years ago, an uncle was dating a woman with a son named Timmy and the generous Blights purchased a few Christmas gifts for him. “Unfortunately, Timmy wasn't at the family get-together,” Blight said. Then, at the end of the evening, the family forgot to send the presents home with the boy’s mother and the gifts ended up in the Blight’s decoration storage. So, the next year, the boxes went back under the tree. By then, however, the couple had broken up and Timmy was long gone.

Undaunted, the family has put the presents back under the tree each year waiting for a Timmy Christmas miracle, imagining one day he would show up at their door in search of his presents from years ago. “In 2013,” Blight said, “we finally got our Timmy Christmas miracle, though it was not in the way we thought it would be! One of our family friends had a premature baby a couple weeks before Christmas and he is a miracle baby. His name? Timmy.”

Maybe I should ask my children what they will recall about their childhood Christmases. When they’re 22, 32 or my age — 42 — will they remember the gift they got? The gift they didn’t? Or will they remember slashing and dashing through Target like top-secret CIA agents, hiding gifts in shopping carts and eating Cherry Cordials for breakfast on Christmas morning?

I suppose I know the answer — my stomach hurts already.

Jason Wright is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and his latest, "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at, or

1. my two cents777
, ,
Dec. 24, 2013

Our family, who lives in the Southwest, love our tradition of tamales and other mexican food for Christmas eve. Even our grown children who are away from home still have Mexican food for that special day. Then we snuggle in and watch Christmas movies and each family member gets to open one gift. The rest are saved for Christmas morning after Santa has left his exciting loot for each child. My own family had few traditions beyond a tree and a big dinner- so, we had to create our own version of tradition. Many of our friends do the same thing- and it gives the entire family a sense of tradition going forth for generations. Merry Christmas everyone. Blessings to each of you who read this.

2. small town granny
small town, UT,
Dec. 24, 2013

When our youngest was small, he did not like Christmas dinner. He did not like hot, mashed potatoes, green beans made him gag, turkey and dressing looked plain awful to him. We started a Christmas eve tradition, a meal that he could enjoy. We had hamburgers, french fries and root beer floats. No more sad little boy without a special Christmas meal.
He passed away unexpectedly at a very young age, almost 5 years ago. But we still have the Christmas Eve hamburger and french fry tradition. He is still a part of our Christmas!

3. Rocky in Texas
Buda, TX,
Dec. 25, 2013

Much like the first individual from the southwest, our tradition started over 70 years ago. It was something my mother brought her family, flat enchiladas with a fried egg on top, that has to be done one at a time. This tradition has spread throughout the family and was for the first time cooked and served by a third generation to the original grandparents. Tamales are also a tradition that was added and when they were not to be had, a new tradition of learning how to make them begun. Traditions can be added to, so with the added action version of the 12 days of Christmas, the re-enactment of the nativity, along with a reading of The second chapter of Luke every Christmas morning,, the love of Christ and Christmas traditions keep us all tightly knit in feeling family warmth across the world.

4. george of the jungle
goshen, UT,
Dec. 26, 2013

Ouster soup, I don't remember how long or when we started it, over 30 years ago. I learn last year that ousters are a French tradition on Christmas.

5. Kay Hunt
Celebration, FL,
Dec. 26, 2013

Just like Jason when I was a child we we're let loose in a store and we shopped from our siblings with a set price per gift. We would sometimes conspire with another to get a gift we wanted like a baton so we could learn to twirl. But our biggest tradition was the arrival of Mrs. Claus on New Years morning. With six kids in the house it always seemed that at least one child would not get all the gifts that our mother claimed should have been under the tree. So by New Year's morning Mrs. Claus would have found the gift and it would be waiting under the tree. I kept Mrs Claus alive in my traditions with my kids. Even when there is not lost gifts Mrs Claus brings a few fun things. Sometimes when my kids were small I would pick out a few gifts to hold back from Christmas just so that Mrs Claus would have something to bring. My kids are grown now but they still have the traitors in their homes.