Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are some of the winter holidays celebrated around the world — and right here in Charm City. While culture often forms the foundation of these celebrations, families embrace the holidays differently. Some combine and weave holiday traditions together, creating their own interpretations of the season. Others are inspired by historical customs but add their own modern flare. And of course, there are some that are traditionalists when it comes to holidays.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing how local families celebrate the winter holidays. Today, we’re looking at Christmas in Charm City. The common thread tying all of these celebrations together? Kids — no matter what holiday they celebrate — love the magic of spending time together as a family.

To read more, check our our 2018 Holiday Guide.


It’s hard to walk into a store or down the street without a big jolly elf greeting you this time of year. Santa, reindeer, and elves all make this season magical. For many families that celebrate Christmas, there is a desire to balance “American” Christmas with the traditional celebrations of Christ’s birth.

One way families are doing this is by creating their own advent traditions.

Charlena Smith’s eldest son named their Elf on a Shelf “Kindness” the first year that he arrived… which inspired month-long “kindness” advent, full of giving and family fun. Hanging on twine in front of their hearth at the beginning of each December are 24 tiny brown paper bags. Each morning, her two sons wake up and take off looking for Kindness, the elf. Then they run to the little brown bags and open it up to reveal their mission for the day.

“Every day there’s an element of giving… and fun,” said Charlena. “For example, one day the mission will be to bake loads of cookies and Kindness will be hiding the ingredients. The next day’s mission will be to take cookie tins to three firehouses, ending at Wise Avenue Train Garden – where we make a donation from our advent savings.”

In addition to kindness missions, Charlena and her husband Scott mix lots of fun family things into their holiday countdown — like having a picnic under the Christmas tree, eating dessert first, or taking advantage of Dollar Days at the Aquarium.

Megan Palmer’s family has an Elf on the Shelf, too. His name is Gilbert, and Megan says his arrival is the highlight of her kids’ December every year. Annual traditions like Elf on the Shelf are important to Megan.

“I want my kids to always remember that warm, cozy, and safe — Christmas magic — feeling that we all had when we were little,” said Megan.

Megan, her husband Aaron, and her two kids never miss visiting Santa at Smyth’s in Towson (“They even give you the digital files of your pictures!” said Megan). They’ll visit her mom in Salisbury to watch the parade of lighted boats and have a family bonfire. On Christmas Eve, the family drives to see the lights on 34th Street in Hampden and go out to dinner. The kids then put on their Christmas PJs and set out carrots and cookies for Santa.

Editor’s Note: Our 25 Days of BMore Holiday Cheer in this year’s Holiday Guide was inspired by Charlena and her family! Celia’s dress and faux fur collar are courtesy of Wee Chic Boutique. Photos by Laura Black.

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