Tag Archives: Christmas Eve

A Friend’s Family Tradition: Christmas Pajamas


Informant K is a 20 year old USC student majoring in Narrative Studies. She is from the Seattle area in Washington state. K was born in Boston, MA, moved to San Francisco, CA, and then to Seattle at age 3. Her extended family is from parts of Canada and, though her immediate family is not religious, K’s grandmother is Christian. K is a sophomore and has been living in LA for 2 years.

We exchanged folklore as a group during a designated time in our discussion section. We went around in a circle, and this was one of my friend’s stories.


K: “Mine is also a Christmas tradition. I don’t know if this started with, like, earlier back or if this was a ‘my parents’ kind of introduction or invention but we do Christmas pajamas. So every year on Christmas – on Christmas Eve – we get to open one present. And that is our Christmas pajamas. And it always starts with my mom being like ‘Go look under the tree!’ like ‘Go look for your pajamas!’ And so they’re usually not – I mean sometimes they’re set out? When we were younger it was more like we got to root through the presents under the tree and find our Christmas pajamas and the tag always says, like, ‘Happy Christmas Eve! Love Mom and Dad.’ And then we open them and they usually have a fun little pattern on them, like sometimes they’re candy canes. The ones I got last year were a little less christmassy it was more just animals in a Wintery forest. And my sister and I – we used to get like strictly matching ones, now we get more like coordinating ones. I think as we’ve gotten older, my mom was like, ‘Okay, I’ll give them a little bit more… like I’ll tailor this a little bit more to their personal styles.’ And then we have to go upstairs and we have to try them on and we do like a little mini fashion show for our parents and she’s like ‘Oh, yeah! Those look nice!’ And then we take a picture, usually in front of the tree and you have to go to bed wearing your Christmas pajamas. I don’t think that’s a hard and fast rule but, like, I would never take off my Christmas pajamas ‘cause that would feel like an insult to my parents, and also it just makes it fun and festive.”

A friend, also in the circle: “Is Christmas pajamas just you and your sister or do all of your… do your parents also get…?”

K: “I don’t think my parents get pajamas. I don’t remember if they did at one point but from what I can remember now it’s just me and my sister.”


What K is explaining is a clear tradition – something contemporary that is done each year. I find it intriguing to discuss costumes or outfits as tradition, because wearing them is inherently a kind of performance. K also mentions ‘showing off’ the pajamas to her mother in smaller ‘fashion show’ performances. Her tradition is observable and fits the general description of one, yet it’s debatable in its references to the past or source material, as K doesn’t actually know the origin. It’s also worth noting that K takes this tradition very seriously – she wouldn’t dream of changing out of the pajamas. As far as I can tell, K’s tradition seems rooted in Americana. Matching pajama sets date back to the age of the nuclear family, so it’s fitting that this is a sibling tradition for the informant. Wearing matching clothes for holidays specifically is common, but I would argue that doing so for a Westernized version of Christmas is a way of creating tradition for an originally religious holiday when the participant isn’t actively religious. It’s a conspicuous example of that which is popular in an immigration-heavy society like the United States. To create a tradition is to strengthen identity, because those who participate in tradition are then considered part of an in-group.

Italian American Christmas tradition

Text:Every christmas eve the informant goes to this italian restaurant called Maggianos and then goes to look at christmas lights. Every christmas morning before they would open presents they would eat breakfast, caramel pull apart rolls, biscuits and gravy, fruit salad, and orange juice. Then they all go to Olympia (He lives in Seattle) and sees his step dad’s family.

Context: The informant is religiously Jewish but his mom is Christian so they celebrate Christmas as a family with his moms side of the family, since his parents are divorced. It holds no religious significance to him though he said he loosely knows the story of Jesus. He enjoys gift giving and it’s very important to his mom who is religious. His mom is 100% Italian American but she briefly converted to Judaism while his parents were married and has since returned to Catholicism. This tradition started a couple years after the divorce happened when he was around 10. 

Analysis: These practices highlight the adaptability of holiday customs to accommodate personal beliefs and family histories. Although Christmas holds no religious significance for the informant, the holiday is embraced as a valuable time for family bonding and gift-giving, which are significant to his mother’s Christian beliefs. This blend of traditions: Italian American, Jewish, and Christian illustrates the complex ways in which individuals and families negotiate their identities and cultural legacies through shared celebrations. The food made by the mother, which isn’t Italian cuisine, shows the cultural assimilation that has happened in the family, adopting things they like form the environment around them. He still feels very strongly about celebrating it even though there is no religious meaning to him. It shows how holidays do a lot more for cultures than honoring a religion, they help meet vital psychological effects for those that participate in these cultural practices by providing a sense of belonging and community.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian American Christmas Eve celebration. J’s family has been celebrating with this feast just for the past few years, and he says it allows them to connect with their culture and ethnic community. In accordance with online descriptions of the grand meal, the “essentially have a dinner party with 7 different fish cooked into the dishes.”

According to Eataly, the tradition was started by Italian immigrants in the U.S. in the early 1900s and while the exact origins/meanings are difficult to trace, “the ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols…” Therefore, like for J’s family, one can presume that both the meals and symbolism present were reminiscent of “home” for early participants in the Feast.

He believes it to be a celebration of abundance and the “being better off” that comes with immigrating to the U.S. as well as a ritualistic acknowledgement by Italian Americans of their cultural history and the sacrifices and hard work of their ancestors.

Presenting Christmas

The informant’s family opens all presents from non-immediate family on Christmas eve, while the presents from immediate family are saved for Christmas Day. On Christmas day these presents are only opened after the informant’s mother reads the Christmas story aloud.

The informant thinks that the presents of immediate family being saved for Christmas is because it’s more exciting to see people open gifts that you gave them and hear what they think than it is to see them open presents from other people, so it’s saving the most fun for the most special day. As for the Christmas story reading, he thinks that’s to prioritize and reinforce that it’s the celebration of Christianity and Jesus’ birth, not just a random holiday.

I think the informant is correct with all of his analysis, but that there is an extra layer to saving the immediate family’s presents for Christmas day, and that is to emphasize the importance of one’s family a little more than any other friends or relatives.

The Christmas Eve Nativity

Context :

W is my 17 year-old brother. He was born and raised in Utah, like me. Ever since he was little, he has participated in his family’s Christmas Nativity scene (yes, even now). His father’s side of the family is all Mormon and extremely religious, whereas his mother’s side of the family is atheist. Although W is not Mormon, he is expected to contribute to the nativity as part of the family.

Text :

“My aunt S makes us do the Christmas nativity every freaking year. We pick our roles out of a bowl and then get a costume. All the girls wanted to be Mary. Most of the boys didn’t care if they were Joseph. It’s kind of weird since we’re all cousins. It used to be fun when we were young cause we dressed up and put on a show for our parents. But we’re like, old now, so it’s boring. We literally just stand in the living room in front of the family while one of us reads the scriptures or whatever it’s called. But like we’re five so we can’t really read. My aunt B loves the nativity because she leads everyone in song. She always makes my sister (me) sing a song with her. There has never been a family Christmas without the nativity. My dad and his sisters did it when they were kids, too.”

Analysis :

Christmas traditions are popular with many American families, even those who aren’t religious. Though W grew up in an atheist household, his extended family is Mormon, who means they all take part in a religious tradition of putting on the nativity. The reason they put on the nativity, like many other Christian households, is because it’s a chance to reflect on the past. Their religion is centered around Jesus Christ, so since Christmas is a time to honor him and his “birth”, they nativity scene is put on tell his origin story. In order to keep the tradition going, the nativity is passed down through generations. In doing so, the children grow up with the notion that this is a normal part of their Christmas, and once they have kids of their own, they will pass it on. This is how traditions are created and kept throughout generation to generation.