Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, December means coming together with friends and family to celebrate. That can mean big church services and concerts, musical programs and plays at school, or simply time spent with loved ones at home. Read on as some of our favorite composers and arrangers reflect on their own holiday traditions.

Ruth Morris Gray

For most of my adult life, my husband, our three kids, and I have celebrated Christmas week in the mountains with my family and then at the beach with my husband’s family. Packing is always an adventure! In the same suitcase, we load snow clothes, boots, and jackets alongside shorts, bathing suits, and flip-flops. Only in Southern California! Some of my favorite Christmas memories include gingerbread house contests (boys against girls), sledding down a snowy road in a canoe, and our yearly picture of the cousins crammed together on the sofa. Now the kids are all grown-up, and they absolutely can’t fit on that sofa anymore!

Russell Robinson

I grew up as a “preacher’s kid,” so religious traditions were very important. Christmas Day was one of them. My two older brothers and I would get up early. Dad would insist on a shave and a shower for himself as we anxiously awaited opening presents and seeing what “Santa” had brought us. Before any gifts were opened, Dad would read the Christmas story: Luke Chapter 2, Verses 1–20. Then we would have prayer so that we all knew the “reason for the season.” I have carried on that tradition. Before any presents are opened, we always read the Christmas story and have prayer. We miss Dad who passed away in 2012 and Mom who passed away in 2004, but these traditions keep them alive in our hearts.

Greg Gilpin

Traditions are a bit scarce in my family, though there are things we try to do on the holiday. My mom always cooks her homemade chicken and noodles and it never seems like Thanksgiving or Christmas without them. I’ve yet to learn how to make them myself! We usually decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving evening and almost always see a movie on Christmas Day in the afternoon. These are the little things that have become our traditions—simple, but meaningful to us.

Douglas E. Wagner

Our family Christmas traditions always begin with a drive up to Chicago to take in the sensational Christmas Around the World celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a festive, multi-sensory mix of decorated trees and exhibits reflecting 50+ countries and cultures, seasonal performances, and even falling snow in the great hall every 30 minutes. This year’s journey was made extra special as our granddaughter joined our daughter, my wife, and I on her first trip. Needless to say, she also now owns the spirit that we have embraced and loved for decades at one of the happiest places on earth at Christmastime.

Dave and Jean Perry

One tradition that we enjoy in Sierra Vista, Arizona is our annual Candlelight Concert. Each year, the community women’s chorus joins with the community college choir for this seasonal concert. The musical performances are interspersed with poems and short readings, serious and humorous, from America and the British Isles. A local church, festooned with greenery, garlands, ornaments, and lights, serves as our venue. The audience becomes part of the concert with sing-alongs of familiar carols accompanied by a brass quintet and organ. The concert draws to a close when the choirs join together to surround the audience and sing John Rutter’s “Candlelight Carol.” At this time a single candle is lit, the lights are dimmed, and the flame of each chorister’s candle is passed on to the next, filling the darkened sanctuary with many flickering lights. The choir members then recess outside and sing traditional carols to send the concertgoers out into the cold winter night.