by | Dec 22, 2019 | Chris Goff, On writing | 9 comments

by Chris Goff

The holidays are a special time, and a stressful time. A great time for crime writers to gather fodder. Not! While rumors have persisted that murder rates jump during the holidays, it’s just not true. According to research, December and the winter months traditionally boast the lowest rates of violent crime.

So much for Aunt Millie skewering Uncle Ted with the carving knife.

Still, one cannot deny that holiday stress exists. Expectations run high. Kids are out of school and excited. There’s too much to do, and too many people to please. We’ve all heard the suggestions for sanity. “Lower your expectations.” “Find ways to keep the kids busy.” “Avoid conversational landmines.” “Take a break.” “Mind your manners.” But my all time favorite is “Relish in Family Rituals.

It doesn’t matter what the ritual is, sharing a special moment with family members each year creates bonds. According to Nick Hobson, Director of Science at, “[Rituals] serve as a buffer to counteract different sources of anxiety.” In other words, they serve as a distraction, helping to preserve your mental health.

My family has a number of rituals. Opening stockings on Christmas morning while eating pumpkin pie. A big dinner in the late afternoon followed by games—Bingo, with a white elephant gift exchange; Pictionary; Charades. But my all time favorite tradition happens on Christmas Eve. All the preparations are complete and everyone has gathered. Kids are settling down, trying to be extra good while waiting for Santa to come. As the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling in the background, the credits come up, and my family watches “White Christmas.” My parents started the tradition the year the movie came out—1954. A year before I was born. It’s a classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Now 65 years later, it’s still a staple in the Goff family.
I asked the other Rogues about their traditions, and here’s how they responded:
KJ Howe 
The holidays are my favorite time of year for a beach getaway—whether it is in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, or another island paradise, the turquoise waters and white sand are what strikes a holiday chord for this escaping Canadian. I’m happy to leave the other white stuff for everyone else!

Gayle Lynds
When John and I married in 2011 and blended our families, we discovered we had a lot of combined holiday traditions – beloved old tree ornaments dating back a half century (at least), faded recipes from our grandmothers, and Santa Claus and reindeer songs on CDs transferred from LPs during what is now considered the Golden Age in recordings. (Oh, to still have all those old LPs!)

So considering the circumstances, how does one create something new? Have trees! As it turned out, a lot of white pines and hemlocks (perfect for poisoning a character) grow on our land. So John and I snowshoed out to cut one and drag it home. Because our trees are wild, they’re always lopsided, the branches sprawl, and they’re entirely naked in places – far from the usual tradition of symmetry. But we have a high ceiling (my first), which means the tree can be really, really tall, which is nice.

That first year after everyone finished laughing at what appeared to be a Christmas bush on steroids growing in our living room, the grandkids discovered the joy of climbing step ladders to decorate the towering green giant. And the adults found themselves fondling the soft needles and sniffing the fresh scent – heavenly. So now every year we have a Christmas bush. It’s traditional in a nontraditional way. We like it. Happy holidays!

Robin Burcell
We try to get the tree up just after Thanksgiving, and down just after New Year’s. I’ve collected unique ornaments for decades but absolutely adore the Storybook Renaker Brazel Beachstone ornaments.

Lisa Black
My parents’ tradition had been to put the tree up on Christmas Eve, after the children had gone to bed so they could wake to pure wonder on Christmas morning at what Santa Claus had wrought. Once we got past the age of believing in magic elves, this rule got flexed and we would help with the tree. I never knew where they came from, but from the gaps and bare spots I’m thinking someone’s back yard. In one infamous family video, my father and sister and brother-in-law are hanging delicate ornaments on pretty branches. After a break, filming starts up again but the tree looks different, the ornaments somehow awry, as if it had fallen onto one side. Because it had. My father scrounged in his basement work area and found the heaviest thing he could, an old bucket full of chains. He tied the tree trunk to the handle of the bucket and voila! It never quite recaptured its earlier sparkle, but at least it stayed upright.

But hey, with enough tinsel and twinkling lights, anything becomes magical.

Valerie Constantine
We go to a candlelight performance of Handel’s Messiah at St. Anne’s Church every Christmas. The first church in Annapolis, St. Anne’s was founded in 1692.

Karna Small Bodman
“We have been collecting Christmas ornaments from the White House Historical Association for decades. We always begin decorating our Christmas tree with these precious ornaments – each focuses on a different time frame and is accompanied by a little story about that particular time in White House history. Anyone can purchase them here:

Lynne Constantine
Every Christmas Eve my husband, the kids and I go to church, and when we get home we watch A Christmas Story together. I love the nostalgic feel of the movie and it’s a great way to relax and take a little break during the business of the season.

Jamie Freveletti
Our holiday tradition has been evolving in a wonderful way as our kids’ friends bring some of theirs to us. Last year instead of traditional eggnog, (which I love) my son’s friend introduced us to Coquito, which means “Little Coconut” in Spanish. It’s just like eggnog, contains alcohol, and is delicious!

Tell us about your holiday traditions?
Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Karna Bodman

    I love reading about these "Rogue" family traditions! I do recall one Christmas though when our home was being renovated and much was in storage. So we got a Christmas tree and the only way I could figure out to "decorate it" was by making a gazillion "bows" out of that yellow "Keep Out" construction safety tape as rolls of it were lying around, left by our contractor. Pretty funny, but also pretty memorable. Thanks, Chris, for putting this list together for all of us to enjoy.

  2. Gayle Lynds

    This is so much fun, Chris. I really enjoyed reading about the Rogues' holiday traditions. Let's make this a blog topic every year! Ho ho ho! 🎄

  3. Chris Goff

    Better than having to use Crime Scene tape.

  4. Chris Goff

    We're inventing a new tradition this year. Mardee (our middle daughter) is hosting a pre-Christmas Eve Soiree tomorrow night and has asked everyone to bring a "STORYTELLING SHARE: a show-n-tell of sorts. While I am secretly hoping Gin presents a monologue, Travis performs a white dwarf-inspired interpretive dance and Mom & Dad bring penguin poop…don't let this cause stress! Just bring something, anything, to share in 5 mins. I have prepared a short talk on penguin poop (they wouldn't let us bring samples) and the great research that is being done studying said poop by NASA and world-renowned scientists.

  5. Chris Goff

    I agree!

  6. Lisa Black

    Now I have to make Crime Scene tape bows!! Why did I never think of that before?

  7. Lisa Black

    I'm kinda guessing your family will be grateful they didn't let you bring samples!

  8. Karen

    I wholly agree with the value of rituals and traditions. During a time of year that lacks the usual routine (school days, work days, normal sleeping hours), they hold a few boundaries in place, and I think generally we humans thrive among moderate amounts of routine. My fave traditions: On Christmas Eve, my two kids sleep in our bedroom on blow-up air mattresses, like we're camping. It began the year Kyle was 5 and wanted two things for Christmas: a bag of dirt and a bunkbed. (So 5YO boy, I know.) We had to figure out a way to keep him out of his bedroom so we could set it up, and the air-mattress camping out idea worked. It remained a tradition; my kids are now 19 and 15. And the other tradition I love is that they wear their pajama onesies (my daughter has a green horned dragon and son has a wolf) and drive to Starbucks and fetch coffee for all of us before we open stockings. The bonuses of having teenage children! Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday!