Our family traditions during the winter holidays

A year ago was the first time Jacob, William, and I spent Christmas and New Year’s together. William was a little more than 1 month old at the time, so things were a bit crazy. It was fun for sure but crazy nonetheless.

Jacob and I thought long and hard about which family traditions we’d like to emphasize as a family. As we live in the Netherlands, we are surrounded by traditions that are not really ours but some of which we like, so we could consciously choose which ones we want to celebrate family. We also thought about what other traditions we’d like to add, whether from our own cultures, upbringing, or ideas.


First, we thought about the lovely Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas (kind of like Santa Claus but with poems as well as gifts and on December 5th instead of 24th of 25th). We both think this is a cool tradition and would like to implement it at some point. So far, however, William is way too small to have any understanding of Sinterklaas (and too young to write poems, alas), so we’ll probably start with this celebration next year.


When I think about Christmas, decorations, songs, and food come to mind. In our family, food is veeery important, so we cook up a feast for Christmas! Jacob usually cooks some tasty meat and vegetables in the oven in a bit of a fancy way (the exact choice varies every year, but last year he made some fancy pork roast with sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts), and I make a dessert (this year we’re getting an ice cream maker as a present to ourselves, so I’ll probably make home-made ice cream).

Another tradition for us is that we go for a hike on Christmas day. We love going for hikes, and there’s something really nice about going outside, getting some fresh air, and moving your body. Afterwards, you come back to delicious lunch and a warm cup of cocoa… lovely! We also go to the gym on the 26th usually. It’s often empty and super fun to feel like we own the place and play whatever music we want while we train!

This year, for the first time, we will put up Christmas decorations. Jacob doesn’t like decorations very much, but he agreed to help out. I’m super excited because I love Christmas decorations! It would be even better if I could play Christmas music and all of us dance to it, but that might be too much for Jacob. Anyway, I hope William enjoys the decorations too–we’ll have to come up with a way to keep him away from the Christmas tree…

Of course, this year is a bit different. We’re not seeing family over the holidays, and we aren’t gathering with many people indoors. But we are going walking with friends: that’s a nice way to still have social interactions, enjoy the holiday mood, and catch up with our friends.

New Year’s Eve

Since Jacob and I got together 5 years ago, we’ve always had a relaxing evening on New Year’s Eve. He doesn’t like going out much, especially when it’s busy, and I feel like New Year’s Eve if unfortunately often a disappointment due to unrealistically high expectations. Therefore, we tend to stay in and just chill together.

Somehow it became a tradition for us to cook lasagna for dinner, which is strange since we don’t generally eat grain. On this occasion, we just buy gluten-free lasagna sheets and make a delicious lasagna with minced meat, tomato sauce, onions, and lots of cheese. Did I mention that food is important in our family?

I have to say, we have a really cool tradition that I came up with: showing each other our favorite photos of the year. In the days before the 31st, we each go through the photos we’ve taken that year and select our ~30 favorites. On New Year’s Eve, we show them to each other. It’s very fun because we get to see the year through the other person’s eyes, understand what they find cool and enjoyable, and relive fun moments from the year past. To be honest, this may be my favorite tradition: it brings us closer, and it feels truly festive. And I can only imagine it will become even more fun when William can take pictures too and show us his favorites!

At midnight, we usually watch the fireworks from our home. We live on the 4th (top) floor in our building, and we have a beautiful view of the rest of the city, so we can really appreciate the fireworks. This year there will be no fireworks in the Netherlands, so it will be a strange year indeed, but I personally believe that’s a good decision.

We’ll see if I make it to midnight this year… Last year Jacob and William stayed up to watch the fireworks, while I went to bed and got an unbelievable 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep! To a mother of a 1.5-month-old baby, that seemed like an incredible opportunity to give up. I even slept through the fireworks!

New Year’s Day

I love New Year’s Day! It’s the fresh beginning of the new year, and everything feels eerie and spooky because most people are still sleeping. I’ve come to enjoy New Year’s Day much more since I stopped drinking because I wasn’t greeted by a splitting headache and hangover on the first day of the new year, hahaha!

We usually go for a hike in the morning (are you starting to see a pattern here?), and after lunch we do the Yearly Review!!!!!!!!!!! This is my favorite review of all because it’s the biggest and the rarest one (only once a year, duh). Oh, it’s so cool! We look back over the entire year and remember what happened. We think about what went well that year, what didn’t go so well, and what we’d like to change in the upcoming year.

Then, we turn to the new year and make an overview. We get a bit more specific by planning activities per month, thinking about what kinds of work deadlines we’d like to meet when, and also plan some holidays (which got completely disrupted in 2020, but oh well). It’s wonderful to start the new year with specific intentions for how we’d like the new year to be.

Back to regular life

And that’s about it for traditions, I think. On January 2nd, we usually go to the gym again and then gradually get back into the regular rhythm of life. It’s a bit sad when the holidays are behind us; this special time of year is over, and we need to go back to ‘normal’ life. To make the transition a bit easier, we try to give ourselves some free time, so we don’t have to rush through our usual chores. It’s nice to keep the relaxed feeling of the holidays for just a little longer.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Let me know!

Photo credit: Janina Pieterse

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