Every year since I became a stepmother to my husband’s three children, we have shared a special family tradition during the holiday season. Our tradition began as a fluke in December, 2000 when the kids were 6, 7 and 9. They were on holiday break from school and were bored, antsy and bickering with each other. We all needed to get out of the house! In pouring rain and chilly wind, we drove to downtown Sonoma and soon found ourselves seeking shelter in a Mexican restaurant. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were the only customers. We ordered a round of sodas, a plate of nachos and gave the kids some quarters to play the jukebox. We laughed and sang while the littlest showed us her latest dance moves. Afterwards, we braved the stormy weather to walk around the plaza when we happened upon a candy shop. Inside we found a large glass case filled with chocolate treats and a wall stocked to the rafters with gum, hard candy, licorice, gummies in all shapes, colors and flavors, taffies, lollipops, and jelly beans. This was a shop kids of all ages dream about visiting. We couldn’t possibly leave without letting each child pick out some candy. We waited patiently for them to carefully select their sweets then headed out onto the streets again, the kids thrilled with their purchases, with no particular place to go. We gazed at holiday window displays and bought a few gifts before noticing it was close to dinnertime. We stopped at a casual restaurant for dinner, but between lunch at home, and bellies full of candy and nachos, none of us were hungry enough for a full meal. But french fries sure sounded good! We ordered three baskets of fries and more soda and called it dinner. Midway through our meal, my stepson said, “This was the best day ever! Nachos, candy, soda, and fries for dinner?! Boy, I wish we could eat like this everyday!” Chuckling to myself, I agreed how wonderful it would be if we could eat like this daily, but had to remind him how sick we would feel if we did. Suddenly, I had an idea. I said, “You know, Ryan, I think eating french fries and candy for dinner every once in a while is a great idea. How about if we do this again in one year?” All three kids’ faces lit up like Christmas trees and a new family tradition was born. We even gave it a name, ‘French Fry, Candy Night’ and promised the kids we would return next holiday season. We have had 13 French Fry, Candy Nights since that special day. The tradition has changed slightly over the years. When the kids were adolescents, we had them earn their candy money throughout the evening by eating something “icky” like a tiny piece of jalapeño or taking a silly dare like wearing fake teeth or a goofy hat. Those were some of the best memories. Now that the kids are older, we invite their significant others to come along. We also make a point of stopping by the Sonoma Mission Inn on our way home to have a hot chocolate or, in my case, a glass of champagne while we admire the hotel’s holiday décor. Family traditions are gifts that continue to give year round. They bring richness and meaning to our lives. Do you have your own family traditions? If not, create one of your own. Or add to your current traditions? It’s not too late and you don’t have to have a family to start one. You can begin new traditions with friends, co-workers or neighbors, too. Here are a few ideas: ~ Go out for dinner somewhere fun like for sushi or fondue. Afterwards, drive around and look at the decorated houses in your town. Bring a camera along and take lots of photos. ~ Have an arts and crafts tradition and make ornaments together. Personalize them and commemorate this year’s holiday season. ~ Go caroling in your neighborhood. Dress festively and bring along a wagon filled with candy, cookies, or even some eggnog to share. ~ Surprise your loved ones and serve dinner by the Christmas tree one evening. Lay out a picnic blanket on the floor by the tree and dine by the ornaments and holidays lights. Turn on some holiday music and build a roaring fire in the fireplace. Family traditions are about having fun but they also give us something to look forward to and count on every year. Happy memories that will last a lifetime and can be relived over and over again are created with each passing year. For me, the most cherished gift that I have received from our family tradition is the priceless opportunity as a stepmother to bond with my stepchildren. It’s a priceless gift I get to experience year in and year out. Wishing you and your loved ones the happiest of holidays!