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Our Holiday Traditions: Mixing up old and new customs

The Hill Halvorson family cherishes the past while focusing on the future.


Lindsay Hill and Matt Halvorson enjoy family Christmas traditions like decorating the tree and making favorite meals, but they’ve also created new customs around winter solstice and Kwanzaa reflecting their commitment to social justice and creating a strong community for their two sons.

“We’re holding onto the best parts of our own childhood traditions and incorporating new things into the traditions we grew up with,” Lindsay says. “We’re making our tradition what we want and need it to be.”

Matt and Lindsay take Julian, 9, and Zeke, 3, to a Christmas tree farm, make cookies for Santa and put out celery and carrots for the reindeer just like Lindsay’s family did every year.

“We make the same cookies my grandma used to make, except now we try to make them without gluten,” Lindsay says.

Matt prepares the traditional Norwegian and Swedish dishes he ate with his parents growing up in the Midwest — even lutefisk, the lye-soaked whitefish whose taste and texture are not for everyone.

“That’s how I grew up celebrating Christmas,” Matt says. “I promised my dad a long time ago that I would keep eating lutefisk. I take about three bites — usually with hot sauce — but Julian loves it.”

Along with Christmas cheer, they also incorporate meaningful rituals around their community activism, which they point out runs throughout the year.

Matt, who writes about educational equity at Rise Up For Students, and Lindsay, a program officer who works on national education strategy and diversity at the Raikes Foundation, are committed to racial and social equity. Their family traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, to mark the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, and they spent time at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota this year protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

They want those values to permeate their holidays — even as they take pictures with Santa.

Their family also celebrates winter solstice, gathering friends around a fire in their upper Rainier Beach backyard to honor friendship and express gratitude. A few years ago, they began celebrating Kwanzaa, making a point during the seven-day celebration that starts after Christmas to talk with their children about its themes, such as collective work and responsibility, unity and self-determination.

“We look back at our social involvement during the year,” Matt says. “We set aside time to honor the people we have known and the meaningful social justice work we’ve done.”

“We focus on joy and strength and the power in our community,” Lindsay says. “It feels like a better way to end the year — honoring your family and reflecting on your commitments to making the world a better place and being the best version of yourself in the year ahead.”

Silly or somber, elaborate or simple, every family creates their own unique ways of finding joy and warmth in the midst of winter. Our annual Seattle's Child tradition is to share your holiday traditions so we can celebrate and rejoice together that every family in our community is a one-of-a-kind creation forged from the past and building a brighter future for our kids.

Read about more of our family holiday traditions and holiday happenings here. 

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