5 ways to slow down and embrace your holiday stories

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by Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and journal crafter. She helps people celebrate their stories with her award-winning writing prompt journals at Gadanke. She also blogs at Making This Home about simple, handmade living from a vintage airplane hangar in Montana.

This season isn’t about the stuff and how much we can cram into our lives. It’s the people.

You and I have a mental list of all the awesome things we want to do this holiday season. It all stems from memories and traditions in our families. For me, there’s making Vanilkové Rohlíčky (vanilla crescents), a Czech Christmas cookie my husband’s grandma made as he grew up. There’s goofing off in the snow with everyone above. There’s cooking my very first Thanksgiving turkey as my mom coaches me in my home.

The problem—as we all know so well—is that this time of year can get really overwhelming in our search for the perfect holiday.

That’s why I’m here to challenge you with one thing: slow down. Take Emily’s approach (at Remodeling This Life) this holiday by only saying YES to the things you really, truly want to celebrate. And focus on the story you are creating this season.

Why story? Because the story is what defines us.

I realize that I could probably just skip the turkey this Thanksgiving and keep serving a vegetarian meal. But deep in my heart, I know. It isn’t about having meat on the table. It’s about creating that one beautiful day that brings our family together. It’s about the memories of that day – seeing my grandma teach my mom how to roast a turkey thirty years ago, watching my grandpa carve it at the head of the table. Thanksgiving is about creating foods that have been favorites for generations. It’s about gratitude.

Deep in your heart, you know, too. You know the things that matter most. You’re crafting a series of traditions and legacies that future generations are going to continue. That’s a version of us worth celebrating and capturing.

The greatest thing is when these traditions are celebrated and documented. Here are four ways to slow down and start capturing the stories of your holiday.

1. When you gather for a meal, have everyone share something she’s thankful for or a holiday memory she loves.

Use something like this gratitude journal of prompts, have someone transcribe everything to paper as people talk, or do like Lynne Palazzi’s mom does every Thanksgiving and embroider memories and signatures onto a tablecloth. Pull out the same list each year and see how your story changes.

2. Keep an ongoing scrapbook.

Scrapbookers around the world begin a mammoth-sized project of documenting their holidays in a project called December Daily. Led by Ali Edwards, they start scrapbooking a page a day from December 1 to 25th. It’s a lot of work, but something you could easily scale down. Imagine the stories they are capturing!


Photo by The Borrowed Abode for Gadanke

3. Keep a more relaxed, reflective holiday journal.

Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate. Maybe invite the kids to join you. And keep a holiday journal. You can journal about specific days and events that year. You could tuck in wish lists and shopping lists. Reflect on memories of past holidays. This holiday journal from Gadanke offers a lot of prompts to keep you inspired and places to store Christmas cards and programs. Imagine pulling out Christmas journals from past years. (It’s something my mom and I do every year, and we’re always amazed by the things we have forgotten… things we were so sure we wouldn’t forget!)

4. Create a memory box.

Hang onto all the bits and pieces from your season—from programs and wrapping paper scraps to and trinkets and baby’s firsts. Print off photos. Tuck everything away and store it with your holiday decorations. To keep everything together, you could order a pretty box with family photos and names on it. Your kids could decorate an old cereal box or shoe box. You could just use a simple large envelope.


Photo by Katie Clemons

5. Make a habit of telling your kids your Christmas stories.

There are hundreds of holiday books to chose from. But why not set those aside some nights? Tell some of your own stories. Describe family traditions and memories from your childhood. Talk about favorite recipes and things that your family does today that you did when you were little. Ask grandparents to do the same. Our kids will love that stuff!

See those Christmas cookies your kids made? You know – the ones that have more frosting and candies than actual cookies? (Embrace holiday imperfection, right?!) Well do you remember how that exact recipe came to be a family tradition or why you chose the sprinkles and candies? Share it this season. Imagine the time capsules of stories and memories you could create.

How are you documenting the pieces of your story this season?

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Comments

  1. Every year around our Thanksgiving table we pause to have everyone (young and old) share what they are most thankful for, for the year. It is so neat to hear peoples hearts open up and reflect on God’s blessings – whether big or small. I do love your idea of a Thanksgiving journal and might suggest this as a new “tradition” this year. Great post!

  2. I’ve been surprised by just how much my kids loooove hearing the stories from my husband’s and my childhoods. (Especially my husband–he’s a great storyteller!) I hadn’t thought about how meaningful stories from the past can be this time of year, especially–thank you!

  3. Katie, I love that photo. So 70’s. And Grandma reading to the baby, who’s looking so intently at the pages. And Grandpa with his Award Ribbon. Love it.

    • Thanks Maryann – I appreciate your description. Certainly making me look at this photo with my grandparents a whole lot more deeply!

  4. Great suggestions. I’ve started small versions of some of these projects (a journal, a holiday notebook/scrapbook, but am looking forward to trying to use them more consistently this year. And how true, that now that we are the heads of our families that we are trying to recreate the memories from our own Christmases…likely though, we don’t remember the stress our poor parents were probably experiencing because they never told us!! Hoping to find balance this Christmas.

  5. uh oh…did my last comment disappear? Maybe it will show up…if not, wanted to say LOVEd your ideas. Thank you for sharing…and would LOVE to see a picture of your house made from recycled material…how cool!!

  6. I love the idea of the holiday journal. I try to cherish every moment with our children while they are small, but sometimes it is hard to slow down. Another idea I plan to use this year is to ask our daughters to draw their own memories of Christmas, so we can insert those into the Christmas book. My six-year-old will write her own story, and I feel sure that 20 years from now we will all LOVE to read that!

  7. We have a Christmas card album that I started the first year we were married. It’s a beautiful, handmade paper album, and I put our annual photo Christmas card in it each year. This is year 12, and it is fun to flip through and see how our family has evolved – from our wedding, to pets, to pregnancy, to babies and now to school aged kids.

  8. These are all fantastic suggestions, and I’ll be taking all of them to heart this season.

    I never got around to recording holiday memories until I found you and your blog and Gadanke! I’m so thankful to have the Christmas journal becuase it’s much less intimdating than a scrapbook. It’s easy to just take 5 minutes here or there to jot a memory before that memory fades!

  9. I love these ideas! Especially the holiday journal. That would be a really neat tradition and a keepsake to treasure. I also like the idea in the comment above me of their Christmas card album!

  10. I was having a discussion with my 29 year old daughter recently. She has 6 children of her own now and we were discussing how she doesn’t remember any of the gifts she received as a child. What she remembers are funny things we did, traditions we tried, the memories that were made, not the presents that were wrapped. We are trying to keep this in mind as we create traditions now as the grandparents of another generation.
    I love the idea of the journal!
    Bernice

  11. I’m already a memory box fan, but I’m totally going to try and do something more with the stash of Christmas cards we’ve been collecting over the years. Such a simple (and free) thing to create with this season!

  12. I love Ali’s December Daily scrapbook. I love capturing our holiday family traditions. You can certainly simplify, or really get into the details-whatever works for you.

  13. Thank you for this list. My daughters and I each have memory boxes, and find ourselves going through them at random times. It’s a great time to share stories.

    This year, we’ve decided to limit our gift list and get all of our shopping done before Thanksgiving. We may miss out on a deal or two, but we’ll have more time to enjoy each other.

  14. Lately I’ve been asking folks around the table, “When did you first…”

    For example, one of my in-laws always has herring. It’s a family tradition. So, I would ask, “When did you first taste herring?” And, from there, everyone in the family joins in with stories.

    Thanks for the wonderful ideas of how to better appreciate the holiday time.
    ~

  15. One more enthusiastic YES for the signed tablecloths! I do not have the needle skills to embroider the names but oh, it is so lovely to see the signatures of those we love and miss around our table when we gather again.

  16. Love the idea of scrapbooking a page a day! I’m going to do that come December…

  17. Katie, I love your ideas and appreciate you linking to my post from last year.

    xo!

  18. FANTASTIC ideas!! Stories are so valuable. I would love to gather some from my parents when we see them next month!

    While there’s no way I would take on a scrapbooking project in December, in January, I might consider it…

  19. Memories are so important! What great ways to hold onto them! I would love for you to link this post to my Thanksgiving Traditions Link Up!

  20. Great post, Katie!

  21. The problem—as we all know so well—is that this time of year can get really overwhelming in our search for the perfect holiday.

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