THANKSGIVING--We gather at Nana's home for a Thanksgiving dinner around 2PM. Since we're the only ones who don't live right in town, we always stay overnight there and help get the turkey in the oven early in the morning. We help with all of the fixings, while my SIL brings a squash side dish, and my other SIL brings the coveted chocolate pie. EVERYONE loves the chocolate pie(s). (Last year we had it at our house and only half of everyone came. I guess the break in tradition was too much for people.)
CHRISTMAS--A week or two into December, the three of us go out to cut our own tree. We then spend the afternoon, decorating the tree, setting up creche scenes and Advent calendars (catching up on the dates we've missed), along with decorations throughout the living room, while listening to lots of Christmas music (Alvin and the Chipmunks, international Christmas music, classical, hammer dulcimer, goofy and serious). When the tree is up, then the next couple of weeks are spent baking cookies.
I used to bake a bunch of different cookies. Now it's down to just Cream Cheese Cookies, which I've been told is the only recipe I ever need to bake in our house at Christmastime. : ) They're our favorite cookie partly because of the process. You bake them, then when they are cooled, you dip them in melted chocolate. Then we eat a bunch, wrap plates as gifts, and inevitably bake more because too many have already been eaten or given away.
We also pick some gifts from a Giving Tree (at church, but lots of businesses and non-profits have them, too). We buy the needed items and bring them back at the designated time to be distributed.
I grew up with us always opening the gifts on Christmas Eve evening. I don't know if that was because my dad was a pastor and had Christmas day services or because we are of German heritage. I've been told it is the latter.
With six kids, the youngest distributed the gifts to everyone (with help if needed). Then we started opening them from youngest to oldest, or oldest to youngest, one gift at a time. That allowed us to savor the gifts along the way. On Christmas day, we each got a small stocking filled with pencils, erasers, and other fun little stuff. (But it all had to fit in the small stockings my mom had made...nothing extravagant.) It was delightful, exciting, and simple, leaving many fond memories. We never traveled to family because they were a day's travel away. It was always just my immediate family which I loved.
For supper we always had beef stroganoff on wild rice and peas, along with a plateful of all sorts of different Christmas cookies we had made over the past few weeks. The stroganoff was my favorite meal of the year. My mom rarely fixed it otherwise. She also put a little tomato soup in it to give it a nice warm color (instead of what other people call stroganoff...gray : P)
My husband grew up with gift opening happening on Christmas day. And then his parents would have a smorgasbord of food for relatives who passed through for visits throughout the day. Santa always left stuff, along with gifts from mom and dad. The gift opening was a free-for-all, everyone opening gifts at the same time with lots of laughter.
Our own family tradition is a blend of both of our childhood traditions. We have a special dinner at home with just the three of us on Christmas Eve. We open all of the gifts from my family that are under the tree that evening...one at a time. And we play with them as the spirit moves--sometimes right away, sometimes after all are opened--or read them if they are books.
We leave a plate of cookies and milk, with a note, for Santa. After our son has gone to bed, Santa arrives, eats all the goodies, and leaves a thank you note to our son.
The next morning, we open our stockings filled with chocolate kisses, mini Dove bars, Reese's peanut butter cups, a new roll of tape, fun-shaped sticky notes, a new pen (or pencil or one of those cool erasers that are the length of a pen), some little toy or something special (CD, earrings, etc.), and a clementine at the toe. The exact content sometimes varies but the basics are always there.
After we've had a mellow morning and cooked a nice breakfast, we leave late-morning for Nana's house. In Nana's living room, gifts are distributed for those who are there and gift cards/money envelopes are pulled from the tree branches. Then presents are all opened at once, Santa's gifts and all. As other relatives arrive throughout the day, more gifts are opened and lots of food is eaten.
The great thing about this pattern is that we both get our own tradition to savor and our son gets his new blended version, the best of both.