"A Practical Tip for Family Traditions" by Jake Frost (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2016 Jake Frost. All rights reserved.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was walking the kids to school in the morning. It was the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and the kids were pretty excited. They were talking about all the things we were going to do over the Thanksgiving holiday. Every sentence started with: “Every year, we always . . .”

“Every year, we always make Thanksgiving decorations. This year I want to paint a Mayflower.”

“Every year, we always play Harvest Festival games. My favorite is the clothespin drop.”

“Every year, we always get a new animal for our pilgrim farm.”

“Every year, we always make potato balls. They’re my favorite.”

Listening to their memories of Thanksgivings gone by their anticipation for the Thanksgiving yet to come put a warm holiday glow in my heart, until I heard the words:

“Every year, we always get a little surprise Thanksgiving morning.”

Gulp. My glow disappeared in a sudden pang of holiday panic.

A little surprise . . . to be waiting on the table two days from now. How could I have forgotten!

And I’d been so happy to have all my shopping done last week! I was already in Cozy Mode: ready for roaring fires, hot chocolate, and nestling snuggly within the salubrious confines of our own little home for five days of festive family fun. I wasn’t planning on sallying forth into the outer world again until well after the holiday frenzy had subsided. I even had the Christmas blankets out!

But I forgot to get Thanksgiving surprises!

“Uh . . .” I ventured, “we get a little surprise every Thanksgiving?” I said the word “every” as a question, as if the “every” were . . . optional. Like maybe the surprise were one of those ‘we do this every year . . . except the years we don’t’ sort of family traditions.

“Every year,” my daughter assured me, her firm tone making it clear that no question mark hovered over the magic word every. “Last year we got a little notebook and a pen.”

And then they ran through the list of little surprises from Thanksgivings past. It was kind of fun to hear the list. I remembered them all. I just couldn’t believe they did too!

“What will our surprise be this year?” they wanted to know.

I’m sure I had a deer-in-the-headlights look.

But that’s ok. I have that look a lot, so it was a good cover for the pause that ensued while my mind raced. Then it came to me: Daddy’s Secret Stash! I keep a (semi) secret supply of surprises for just such situations. I did a quick mental inventory of what I had on hand at the moment, and yes! Sure enough, I had just the thing to serve the purpose.

Ahh, disaster averted.

“Well,” I intoned with a knowing smile, “we’ll see come Thanksgiving morning!”

“Oh, I can’t wait!” they exclaimed, bubbling over with excitement.

Thank you for the reminder, Jesus, I silently prayed as we walked on.

It turned out to be a great Thanksgiving. We did all of the activities and crafts that we “always do every year,” and had a ton of fun in the doing. It even snowed the day before Thanksgiving! We played outside and the kids built us a Thanksgiving snowman. It was a wonderful holiday!

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But the near catastrophe, side-stepped at the last second by sweet serendipity (aka The Holy Spirit), reminded me of a good practical tip for building great holidays and family traditions: keep notes on your holidays.

First, find someplace to keep your holiday notes where you know you’ll always be able to find them. For me, that means my computer in a file labeled “Family Holidays.” Inside, I have separate documents for all the big holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, All Souls Day, St. Nick’s, etc., and documents for more general times like summer.

Once you have a place to save your notes, write down your vision and plan for the given holiday. You can write out the decorations you want to have, any presents, surprises or special items (like chocolate coins for St. Nick’s Day) you need to buy, the food you’ll make, music and activities for the holiday, etc. I also keep recipes in my holiday notes, and every year I add cooking notes for those things I only make once a year, special for the holiday—this has improved my apricot squares for Thanksgiving and my special Christmas coffee cake tremendously. I also make a day-by-day plan for the holidays, including the lead-up preparations, noting when to bake, clean, get the decoration boxes out, and so on.

At the end of each holiday, you can go back to the notes again to tweak things, recording what went well and what you want to change for next year.

The holiday notes have been a great system for our family celebrations and traditions.

But here’s one final tip: make sure to read your notes well in advance of the approaching holiday!

That was the mistake I made. With a number of successful Thanksgivings under my belt, I got a little too comfortable and didn’t bother to consult my notes. But kids remember!

So for all those parents out there working hard to make memories and build family traditions for your kids, the good news is that if you try, you’re likely to succeed! “[K]nock and the door will be opened to you.” Mt 7, 7. Just be sure you’re ready to walk through when the door swings open! That’s where some good holiday notes can help.

Copyright 2016 Jake Frost