From Mother’s House to Mine

Happy family at Christmas dinner
Written by Kerry McDonald

I never thought the day would come. I knew, theoretically, that traditions are often passed down from one generation to the next, and altered and enhanced with each new bearer. I knew that this was the cycle of family rhythms, but still I never thought the day would come when the decades-long tradition of hosting our family’s annual Christmas Eve celebration would pass from my mother’s house to mine.

My mother knew otherwise. She knew that when she was my age, 30-some- thing with a young family, she had assumed this tradition from her mother.

Like me, she had also quietly argued that Christmas Eve belonged at her mother’s home, where it had been celebrated since she was a baby, where it stood as the singular day upon which to mark the changes of the year. Her mother had gently told her that someday, when she had her own home and her own family, she would wish to host this holiday tradition, gathering together beloved family members and friends old and new.

“Someday,” my mother calmly and knowingly told me when my oldest was a baby, “Someday soon you won’t want to come here for Christmas Eve anymore.”

I laughed at my mother’s comment, knowing that my lifelong memories of Christmas Eve and its party were inseparable from my mother’s home.

Years passed and I continued to savor the Christmas Eve gathering at her home, using it to mark my children’s growth now as well as my own.

And then it happened. Subtly, unexpectedly, it happened. One year, with a preschooler, a toddler, and a new baby due any day, our family stayed home on Christmas Eve.

We were surrounded by many of the family members and old friend who migrated, some distance, to our home to continue this long-held holiday tradition in a new venue with a new generation of children. We were joined by streams of new friends, who also decided to stay close to home to celebrate the holiday with their young and growing families.

And just like that my family’s Christmas Eve tradition shifted from my childhood home to my children’s home. It was so simple, so natural really, for this holiday treasure to be passed along from my mother to me, just as it had been passed along from my grandmother to my mother in much the same way so many years before.

This year, as I prepare my home for our annual Christmas Eve celebration, I am more mindful of the important tradition I have inherited, and I am more deliberate in involving my children in the planning and preparation. As they help me to decorate our home, draft invitations, and determine the party’s essentials, I tell them how this family tradition has evolved from my grandmother to their grandmother and now to me. I share with them that someday it will be their turn to carry on this holiday tradition in their own home, should they choose, and tailor it to their own family’s rhythm of the season.

“No mama,” my five year-old objects. “I want Christmas Eve to always be here at this house.” I nod.

Our mothers know, long before we realize it, that babies and little ones change us. They draw us home, connect us more deeply with family and tradition, guide us to create new seasonal celebrations, and, very often, remind us of our mother’s wisdom.

About the author

Kerry McDonald

Kerry McDonald has been deeply involved in education policy and practice for two decades. She has a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. from Harvard University, where she studied education administration, planning, and social policy. Kerry lives and learns together with her husband and four, never-been-schooled children in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can email Kerry at, and visit her blog at Whole Family Learning.