Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Senior Side: grandparents and holiday family traditions        

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published October 31, 2019

“Your grandchildren are likely to remember your family traditions more than the gifts you gave them.”                          

Lorene Hanley Duquin, The Catholic Grandparents Handbook

Parents have a lifetime to create family traditions for their children. We grandparents don’t have quite as long with our grandchildren, but we are able to enrich the family traditions because we have more memories of holidays past.

One of our roles as grandparents is to keep holiday traditions alive so our children and grandchildren can pass them along. Below are some of the many beautiful holiday traditions.

-Start a Thanksgiving tablecloth by having each family member write down what they are thankful for on the tablecloth that can be used for this holiday and for years to come. Be sure to record names and ages.

-The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on Dec. 6. Children leave their shoes outside their bedroom the night before and awaken to find surprise treats inside the shoes. If the child misbehaved, they might get a lump of charcoal, an early alert to behave better.

-The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec. 12. This Mexican tradition is a major feast day for many Hispanic families in the United States. Some parishes celebrate in period costumes by reenacting the apparitions of Our Lady to Juan Diego, praying a rosary and singing at midnight the traditional “Las Mañanitas.”

-The Advent wreath is probably the most recognized Advent tradition. The wreath holds four candles. The first purple candle symbolizes hope. The second candle represents faith. The third candle is pink for joy and is lit on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent and reminds us of the joy of reaching the midpoint. On the fourth week, the final purple candle is lit to mark the final week of prayer and penance as we wait for the birth of our Savior.

Memories of Christmases past

When I was a boy, we had a tradition in our family of waiting until the last minute to shop for a Christmas tree, usually on Christmas Eve when the tree sellers reduced their prices. We would haggle over a price, then drag it home and decorate it while the entire family sang Christmas carols, not very well but certainly with gusto. It was a fun time that bonded us together in a wonderful family tradition.

After we married and had children, on Christmas Eve we gave the youngest child in the family the honor of carrying the Baby Jesus figurine to the Nativity scene and placing him gently into the manger while we all sang “Oh, Holy Night.” When our children had their children, they continued the tradition and it has become a must-do every Christmas Eve.

This crèche with ceramic pieces was purchased by Marcy Borkowski-Glass in Columbus, and it was part of a 2018 Christmas crèche exhibit at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. Displaying a nativity or crèche scene in the home is a tradition for many Catholic families.


Aone present per person Christmas” is a tradition in some families. The money intentionally not spent on additional presents is given as a family donation to a charity like St. Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities. It is a way of counting our blessings and remembering those less fortunate.

The Nativity scene or crèche dates back to St. Francis of Assisi, who created the first live nativity scene in 1223 as a way to make public worship of Jesus part of the Christmas season. In later centuries, the use of small figurines and elaborate displays were featured in churches and homes around the world. This is an important tradition for Catholic families.

Start a new tradition

Bambinelli Sunday is a beautiful newer tradition started by St. John Paul II, and it is celebrated on Gaudete Sunday. Pope Francis continued the tradition, blessing the figurines (bambinelli) of the Baby Jesus that children hold high in St. Peter’s Square. Parishes around the world now join in the celebration with a special blessing during the Gaudete Sunday Mass. St. Jude the Apostle Church in Sandy Springs started the tradition last year with strong encouragement from their grandparent ministry.

For more information on how to start a Bambinelli Sunday tradition at your parish, visit

Holiday traditions bring back beautiful memories, and memories create beautiful traditions in all families. Grandparents are the keepers of family traditions. Make your holidays special this year by starting or continuing family holiday traditions.