Holidays in Transition

When I was younger, traditions were the most sacred part of any holiday. Mess with one of the things we did every year and the whole holiday felt off kilter. If the evening didn’t culminate with full bellies and jammies in front of Gramma’s roaring fireplace, it just wasn’t Thanksgiving. If we didn’t drive around in the car with blankets and mugs of hot chocolate to look at Christmas lights in the neighborhood, it just wasn’t Christmas. If the day wasn’t full of little smokies and  G-ma’s black-eyed-peas while reruns of the Rose Parade played on TV, it just wasn’t New Years Day.

Having a blended family may have been what made me crave the stability of those predictable activities around the holidays. However, it was a blended family that made maintaining some those traditions a bit challenging. We had many family gatherings to attend for each holiday and sometimes the heart of the season got lost amidst the brisk schedule of events required to meet everyone’s holiday expectations. As I got older, the peacemaker in me often wrestled with the vestiges of my love for certain traditions. I was more stubborn than submissive about letting some traditions slide in order to promote a joyful and rest-filled holiday.

Just when I thought I was getting better about being flexible around the holidays, I got married and had another person’s traditions and family to mesh with my own. Tim and I had already settled on a system to make “who is celebrating with who” decisions a non-issue. My in-laws would get us the day-of on one holiday (Thanksgiving or Christmas) and my parents would get the other holiday, alternating every year. I liked this system and it worked quite well during the holiday season we were dating.

transition and tradition

Our first married Thanksgiving and Christmas (just last year!) coincided with our recent move from Southern California to Northern Idaho. It was a perfect storm of life and location change. I was a six-month newlywed trying to adjust to married life and struggling to appreciate our new home base. I wasn’t managing either super gracefully. As the holidays approached, I relied heavily on familiar traditions to be a beacon of normalcy in the midst of so many things that seemed out of control in my life. I quickly learned that life changes and location changes make previous traditions hard to replicate. Not only was I grieving the loss of some of my beloved traditions, I was grieving the separation from my family on Christmas Day. I also hadn’t come to terms with the cold winter months quite yet.

This year’s holiday season isn’t without transition. I’m beginning to think transition has become a tradition in itself. With the shadow of last year’s experience in the back of my mind, I’m hoping to find more joy in the effect of these transitions on the way we celebrate. Tim and I are expecting our first child at the beginning of February which derailed our original plans to spend Christmas with my family in New York. I was initially upset that I wouldn’t be seeing my family on their year to spend Christmas Day with us. But, as Christmas approaches and Tim’s’ ministry schedule fills up, I am beginning to see the blessing in a quiet holiday as just the two of us.

That is not to say this holiday season will be devoid of traditions. Many of our traditions revolve around the food we share around the table. Despite the distance separating us, you can bet many of the same dishes will show up on our respective tables, 2,500 miles apart. One of those dishes is Sweet Potato Casserole. It seems like every family has a particular way they make the holiday sweet potatoes — with marshmallows or with maple syrup, baked or mashed. My family makes sweet potatoes (yams, really) casserole style and loaded with brown sugar and butter. The nutty, streusel topping makes the whole dish taste more like the insides of a pie than a vegetable side dish. It’s a delicious accompaniment to virtually all proteins served during the holidays. We’ve had it alongside turkey, prime rib, ham, and pork tenderloin. Despite the distance that separates us, I know all of our bellies will be full of Sweet Potato Casserole when Christmas rolls around.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


For potatoes:

  • 3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

For topping:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Spread potato mixture into an 8x8 inch baking pan.

Mix topping ingredients together with a fork. Sprinkle the topping over the potato mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Freezes well.


  1. Beautiful. Thanks for this, Emily. Though it hasn’t been location/life changes as much as college and the death of my grandpa, I can relate to the transition of traditions and how hard it is…and yet how beautiful the opportunity to savor the season becomes.

    And this is my favorite part of the holidays: the sweet potato casserole! Yum! (I often forsake whatever pies are offered and have seconds of this as my dessert.) 🙂

    1. College and loss absolutely create transitions! My Gramma passed away my junior year in college and I remember that Christmas being so difficult and so far from normal.

      I’m so glad I have a fellow sweet potato casserole lover. I’ve often been tempted to bakes this casserole in a pie crust because it’s so sweet 🙂

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