Christmas Traditions

By April Hawkins, Gwen Vonderheide, Sarah Blair, & Emily Roegge


Family and traditions are so important to us here at O'Donnell-Cookson. Read on to hear about a few of our staff's favorite holiday traditions!



My husband Austin and I put up our Christmas tree together shortly after Thanksgiving while we watch White Christmas. It was my grandma’s favorite movie that she enjoyed watching all year round, so it always brings back memories of her when I watch it. Every year since Austin and I have been together, we have bought 1 ornament that represents our relationship that year. The first year was a sushi ornament because our first date was at Fuji for sushi, then we’ve had ones for moving, getting our first house together, getting our dog, getting engaged, and now getting married.


My mom, sisters, and I get together to make homemade noodles (see the last blog post for the recipe!) and Christmas treats every year. Then we go to church as a family on Christmas Eve, and the girls all wear matching pajamas on Christmas morning.

Austin and I make time to go through the Festival of Lights at least once every year, and we always visit one particular house in town that programs a huge light display at their home to music! The house is at 23rd and Adams and their display spans all the way around their home. Highly recommend! We also love doting on our dog Sadie all year long and Christmas is no exception, so she gets her own stocking and advent calendar. The second photo of her shows her anxiously awaiting her Advent treat for the day.


Last, Austin and I do a few things every year to try to be generous throughout the holiday season. We typically shop for Operation Christmas Child and/or choose a child off the Salvation Army Christmas Tree to shop for. We’ve also started a tradition of going to a restaurant that is open on Thanksgiving and leaving a large tip for a waiter/waitress who could really use it. (We ask the manager before being seated if there is anyone who could use a blessing this holiday season and have him/her seat us at their table.) We also try to donate to programs that have been special to us, such as the basketball team and dance studio we were a part of growing up. Whether it's buying new gear for the team or paying for lessons for a struggling family, it varies every year, but we love giving back to programs that meant so much to us growing up.



On Thanksgiving, we play the Tijuana Christmas Album by The Border Brass because why not. We watch Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, plus the obligatory football game. I also make stuffed mushrooms every year and apparently they're amazing, but I wouldn't know because I don't like mushrooms. (See the last blog post for the stuffed mushroom recipe!)


Since 2017, my husband Ben and I have celebrated the winter solstice (Yule). We go out to his grandmother's farm before the sun comes up (like 5am-ish) and cut a branch off one of the trees in the small chunk of forest on her property. We take it home and we decorate it like a regular tree, and we dub it "The Christmas Stick". We also throw a party that day (or on whatever Saturday is closer to the actual day). I make pretzels and roast and all sorts of treats, and we hand-make gifts for people. Last year it was tiny shields and the year before that was incense holders. Then we eat and play board games until everyone is ready to go (sometimes 'til 3am).

Our first Christmas stick:

Our most recent Christmas stick:




My kids and I always have Advent Calendars that count down the days until Christmas. My mom always bakes Weihnachtsstollen (fruit bread that’s way better than fruit cake) and we enjoy Glühwein (warm mulled wine). Here are a few pictures of my kids, Max and Rosie, from last Christmas:

Family recipe for Weihnachtsstollen (German Christmas bread)

Bread ingredients:

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 1 cup warm 2% milk (110° to 115°)
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup mixed candied fruit
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds

Glaze ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar & 2 to 3 tablespoons 2% milk



  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, butter, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, salt and 3 cups flour. Add the raisins, candied fruit, and almonds. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Punch dough down and divide in half; cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll or press each half into a 12x7-inch oval. Fold a long side over to within 1 inch of opposite side; press edge lightly to seal. Place on greased baking sheets; curve ends slightly. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
  4. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Combine confectioners' sugar and enough milk to achieve desired consistency; spread over stollen.



My husband Mat’s family comes from Germany and mine from Scandinavia, so our Christmas tradition is decorating with Krampus-themed decor and opening presents with the kitties in their holiday sweaters.

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