Greg Johnson: You’re Never Too Old To Believe In Santa

Greg Johnson writes: If theres one universal tradition thats consistent year after year, its giving. Thats because the holidays arent about the stuff, theyre about the spirit behind the stuff. I count myself lucky I grew up in a house where giving outweighs the getting.

Greg Johnson

December 24, 20224 min read

Greg Johnson mug 11 23 22
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

How many times do we catch ourselves saying it wouldn’t be the holidays without … whatever tradition completes the sentence.

Perhaps you mean it wouldn’t be the holidays without Dad nodding off and snoring his way through Christmas dinner or that it’s not complete until Aunt Susan pulls out her famous green Jell-O mold suspending those awful little bits of carrot and celery.

Or maybe in your family, there’s a rotating white elephant gift that’s passed around and the holidays just won’t be complete until someone else gets the garden gnome that moons everyone.

There are many holiday traditions in the Johnson family — some universal and others uniquely Johnson — we couldn’t do without.

Traditions Are Important

While some family traditions may leave outsiders scratching their heads, they are no less important in bringing meaning to the holidays.

“Holiday traditions are essentially ritualistic behaviors that nurture us and our relationships,” says Dr. Michele L. Grennan, a psychologist and life coach in her online blog titled “Living a Balanced Life.”

“They are primal parts of us, which have survived since the dawn of man,” she writes. “Holiday traditions are an important part to building a strong bond between family and our community. 

“They give us a sense of belonging and a way to express what is important to us. They connect us to our history and help us celebrate generations of family.”

Here are some traditions that make a Johnson family holiday so special.

Santa is real: Yes, even for every adult in the house, Santa exists and he comes every year no matter your age, as long as you believe.

Must-watch movies: This starts on Thanksgiving Day with the annual family viewing of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and continues the day after with “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” 

By the time Christmas comes there usually have been multiple viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.”

Board games: Santa always brings a family gift with at least one new board game, and the afternoon is spent playing games around the dining room table.

The buffet: Unlike many families that dress up and gather around for a large holiday meal, we put out a large and diverse buffet, then just graze on it all afternoon as we enjoy the day. 

Many items also have become tradition, like mom’s special garlic dip, the homemade cheese ball, deviled eggs and plenty of olives for the kids to put on their fingers.

Written thank-yous: Gifts are unwrapped one at a time and in order (usually youngest to oldest) and Mom keeps a list of who got what so everyone can write thank-you notes before playing with the toys.

The early present: Like many families, we also allow the kids to open one gift on Christmas Eve, which traditionally are the handmade matching pajamas my Mom has made for them.

Off-the-wall: Opening presents is just another opportunity for pranking each other in the Johnson family. 

My brother likes to get creative with his wrapping, like in the exact shape of a present or like a few years ago when one gift to his 19-year-old daughter was tied up tight behind a huge ball of several hundred plastic zip ties. 

Mom once gave my sister a Jell-O mold encased in 5 gallons of green Jell-O. You get the picture.

Gingerbread houses: Mom always makes at least a dozen to give away or donate, and every one of them is made from scratch, no kits here. 

She makes the gingerbread on sheet pans, cuts the pieces by hand and even makes her own icing to assemble them with. 

The only hiccup came one year when my buddies and I came home from high school one day, saw the gingerbread on the counter cooling, and we ate it all. 

It must’ve been amusing for Mom to watch as she made us remake all we ate.

Giving: If there’s one universal tradition that’s consistent year after year, it’s giving.

That’s because the holidays aren’t about the stuff, they’re about the spirit behind the stuff. 

I count myself lucky I grew up in a house where giving outweighs the getting.

Share this article



Greg Johnson

Managing Editor

Veteran Wyoming journalist Greg Johnson is managing editor for Cowboy State Daily.