Ruth McKeaney is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Virginia, and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney. Ruth and her husband, Bob, are now raising their five children on their restored historic farm in Berwyn, PA. (Hillside Farm was featured in the books Stone Houses and Theology of Home and has been exhibited in multiple home tours.) They have flipped many historic homes over the last two decades and joyfully lived in each one of them. They have company more often than not in a given year.
As a constant host (to literally thousands of people over the years), Ruth goes to the heart of what makes one feel at home. Every day, her goal is to make her home a safe place so her family and her guests have the opportunity to have deeper needs met. Intentional homemaking, in its most idealized form, is creating a setting where vulnerability and honesty are valued and protected, where understanding and grace are fostered and love freely given.
Follow Ruth: @hungryforhome
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY TRADITIONS AROUND THE HOLIDAYS
BY RUTH McKEANEY
Definition of tradition: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.”
While “out with the old, in with the new” certainly has its place, not everything is meant to be innovative. The tried and true is tried and true for a reason. Certain things just work. All you need to do is ask whether the tradition passes down faith, hope, and love. If the answer is “yes,” it is a tradition worth keeping.
My husband Bob and I have special traditions for every holiday and season, but the following are unique traditions we follow this time of year when the holidays are in full swing.
My husband, Bob, and I are now raising our five children on our restored historic farm in Berwyn, PA.
Every Thanksgiving, we sit down for the traditional favorites like turkey and pumpkin pie with family and friends. But, we also take time to read Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation out loud, reminding us of what we have to be thankful for and who we need to bless. In the midst of a difficult chapter for our nation and the world, his words hold greater significance than ever before.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him… they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
While you do not need to read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation at your family-dinner, I do recommend finding something to read every year that is meaningful to you and your family, whether that is a beloved short story, scripture, or poem. You will be surprised how important these readings become over time.
See an exclusive tour of our barn decorated for Thanksgiving below!
Each December, the whole family gathers in the kitchen to make more than a dozen trays of our version of an old family recipe (Almond Roca!) to give away as Christmas gifts. The night is always filled with laughter and excitement as we embark on one of our favorite holiday traditions. (I think it is especially fun because it includes so much butter and chocolate.) By now, we have it down to a science and are down to 15 minutes a pan. That is a record! It’s not only a fun and yummy memory to make, but it’s always a big hit with our friends!
Every Christmas Eve, we make about 400 sweet rolls to give away. It’s a family affair. All seven of us (Bob, me, and the kids) create an assembly line to roll the dough, spread the filling, and fill seemingly endless tins with breakfast sweetness. I wish I could describe how delectable the kitchen smells on “sweet rolls day.” When all the preparations are finished, one of my daughters prints off the directions to tell each recipient how to let the rolls rise overnight, when to add the cream, and how long they should bake. We wrap the rolls carefully, secure the directions on the top with a bright red bow, and load them up in the car. Half the fun is belting out carols as we deliver each Christmas surprise.
After the last sweet roll is delivered, we stop by our favorite Chinese neighborhood restaurant and order takeout. We dine on Moo Goo Gai Pan, Egg Drop Soup, and fried dumplings by candlelight on my best china. Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without Chinese food. As soon as the meal is over, Bob and I lock eyes and count to three. The kids take off to the tree in the den on a crazy hunt to find the “pickle ornament.”
About a week or two before Christmas, I “wrap” the doors of the dining room to look like two enormous presents. From this day until Christmas, no one but Bob and I may enter the room. Behind its doors, we wrap presents and create other surprises for the kids. You can’t imagine how much they love seeing those wrapped doors and feeling the anticipation of what Bob and I are preparing for them.
Our barn decorated for Christmas
Whoever finds the pickle ornament on the tree has the honor of opening the first “Christmas box.” The Christmas box contains the new things for the year — the new game, new ornament, new puzzle, and most importantly, the new book we will read together.
Everyone fetches their sleeping bags, including Bob and me. In front of the fire in the living room, we spread out in front of the tree and settle in to watch White Christmas. Cozy together, we fall asleep, all seven of us, by the light of the fire.
In the morning, the kids wake us up with coffee and the fire roaring cheerfully. I slip the last tray of sweet rolls (reserved for us!) into the oven. After an enormous brunch, Bob reads the Christmas story, and we take turns opening presents, but only after they’ve found the ceramic baby Jesus that Bob and I have hidden while no one was watching.
But the sweetest gift of all is the time we spend together. Every single Christmas is a gift, and I value it more than any gift I’ve ever given or received.
It’s important to have regular traditions that make you smile and bring your family together. Beautiful traditions have the power to hold families together in times of uncertainty, providing a sense of stability and regularity. They are both a heritage and a legacy no one can take from you or your children. Why not take the holidays this year to create new traditions for your family and friends? It’s never too late to lay the foundations for a lifetime of precious memories.