Non-food holiday traditions

Hi all,

I'm a writer with Diabetes Forecast magazine and I'm working on an article for a holiday issue about holiday traditions that don't involve food. For example, I know someone whose family always plays a pick-up game of basketball on Thanksgiving day.

I would love to hear from a couple people who have their own family traditions that don't involve the holiday meal. I'm hoping to interview each this week or early next week. The interview will be fairly short, so I won't need much of your time.

If you're interested, email me at or respond to this discussion, making sure to include your email address so I can contact you.

I'm looking forward to hearing your stories!

Tracey Neithercott

While, as Jews, we have a lot of holiday-specific foods and food-based traditions, there are also a number of other holiday traditions we observe. On Simchat Torah, we take all the torah scrolls down from the ark and dance with them in the synagogue and in the streets. On Purim, we dress up as characters from the Book of Esther, read the story aloud, and shout, boo, and rattle noisemakers (called groggers) to drown out the name “Haman” whenever it is mentioned. On Chanukah, we light a special menorah (called a chanukiah), one candle per day of the holiday (1 on the first day, 2 on the second day, 8 on the 8th day), play with a four-sided top called a dreidl, and give gifts and money (“Chanukah gelt”) to our children.

That said, most holidays observed in the United States have one or more non-food components: Independence Day parades and fireworks, the Thanksgiving Day parade (and football games), more parades on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day; Christmas carols, concerts, and gifts; masquerades for Hallowe’en and Mardi Gras, new clothes for First Day of School, Jewish High Holy Days, Christmas, Easter…

Some of us also have unusual ways of celebrating our birthdays, anniversaries, and other family holidays. I spent my 50th birthday riding the 50-mile route in my local Tour de Cure. (This year it was the week before my birthday, and next year it will be about 10 days before my birthday.)

We live on a farm in Maine with 24 acres of woods. It is our family tradition that on the weekend after Thanksgiving (ideally after the first snowfall), we get everyone bundled up into winter gear and tramp through the woods looking for a young fir tree to cut down and bring back to the house for our Christmas tree. Although there are generally a lot of young trees close to the house, we make a point of REALLY searching for the perfect tree – so, often we’ll spot a very nice tree in the first few minutes of our excursion, and we’ll say “we’ll keep that one in mind” but then we keep going and really search the woods for the best tree we can find. It may wind up being the tree we saw in the first place, or we may find another one near the end of our search; the point is to do the search rather than just find a tree.

A fresh cut wild tree will last as long as 2 months if you keep it watered, and it smells terrific in the house, so it really makes the holiday a long-lasting event.

Oh I love your tradition, Elizabeth. I live in California and it just doesn’t look like the holidays in the Bay Area. Good thing you are so far away or I might try and wrangle an invitation…as long as I wasn’t expected to do the chopping, of course.

Chopping is done by Daddy, but the trees we choose are pretty small in diameter – only a couple of inches. They’re the sort of trees anyone could chop easily. Yet another thing to love about wild trees – they aren’t as bulky as nursery-grown trees.

What great traditions! I’d love to talk with you about them some more. Could you email me so we can set up a time to talk? My email is I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

That sounds like such a great tradition, Elizabeth. I remember when my family did the same, trudging out in the snow to cut our own tree.

I was wondering, since you do this a week after Thanksgiving, is there anything you do on Thanksgiving day or Christmas day that’s not related to food but is a tradition nonetheless?