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Scavenger Hunts and Fondue: B-N Families Share Their Holiday Traditions

Tracy McCoy
Tracy McCoy of Normal and her daughter, Bella, at the Normal Theater. They go to see "White Christmas" there every year.

For a moment, let’s skip the idyllic version of Christmas—the milk and cookies, the stockings hung from the chimney with care, the turkey feast straight out of a Norman Rockwell piece.

Let's talk about real Christmas traditions.

For many Bloomington-Normal families, the best holiday traditions are not the normal ones. They’re special creations, passed down from generation to generation, or sometimes invented on the fly. Wherever they originate, they come to define the holiday season and are annual traditions.

GLT asked you to share your family holiday traditions. Here are some of our favorites:

Dani Schroeder, Normal

“It’s a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt. Since my four siblings and I are all college-aged or older, my Mom has come up with this new tradition where she plans out these crazy scavenger hunt clues for us to go around town and do wacky things like finding unique Christmas lights, taking goofy pictures in public places, or even singing with gas-station employees in jovial Christmas carols.

"At the end of the night, after we’re done with all of those crazy escapades, we compare photo and video evidence of everything we’ve done, and one of the teams is announced the Christmas scavenger hunt winner.”

Bella McCoy recently was a featured singer in a production of "White Christmas" at Normal West.

Tracy McCoy, Normal

“My daughter and I go to see ‘White Christmas’ at the Normal Theater every year. (Bella) has three brothers—she’s the only girl—so that’s the mother-daughter thing we do together. We’ve been going for 10 years, since she was 6. The first time, I was worried she’d be bored. She wasn’t. She loved it.

"As time progressed, she really got into musical theater. Last year she was a featured singer in the Normal West (high school) production of ‘White Christmas,’ so that was a dream come true.”

J.T. Payne, Bloomington

“Our family celebrates on Christmas Eve with a fondue dinner. Since 1962 we've celebrated this traditional menu. Family members gather together to cook steak, shrimp, chicken, breaded cheese sticks and jalapeno poppers in numerous fondue pots of hot oil. Many sauces are created to dip the fondued food in. We also have a delicious pear salad with blue cheese and walnuts. Also served are a choice of baked russet potato or baked sweet potato.

Then we open our gifts one at a time by wearing a Santa Claus picker hat. The picker chooses a gift from under the tree that they think might be theirs. If it isn't, the gift is identified and given to the recipient to open. Then they put on the picker hat and pick another gift from the tree. This can go on for hours especially if there are a lot of gifts or you forget whose gift is whose! This tradition has been passed on to four generations in our family.”

Credit Jamie Pollitt
Jamie Pollitt
The Pollitt family's Christmas lights scavenger hunt list from 2016.

Jamie Pollitt, Bloomington

“The day when winter break begins and school gets out, usually we go out to eat (with her husband, Craig, and daughters ages 9 and 11) and then we go out for a Christmas lights scavenger hunt. The girls will have their clipboards and a list of items that we find just by staying in a car, listening to Christmas music, maybe have some hot chocolate, and just drive around our neighborhood and all around Bloomington-Normal looking for certain props outside of people’s houses. Like a yard with at least five reindeer. Or Disney characters. Or Star Wars ones. A decorated mailbox.

“It’s simple, and it’s fun, and the girls look forward to it now.”

Brian Albertsen, Bloomington

“Every Christmas, and to this day, our family tapes the name tag of who the gift is for (the To/From label) upside down on the box. Yes, this often includes two pieces of tape (depends on the size of the gift tag) so any pesky and inquisitive minds looking would not be able to find the presents for themselves. Then on Christmas morning, we would open gifts one by one, the last person opening the gift choosing the next at random until they lifted up the tag showing who the gift was ultimately for.

"It really slows it down so that we have time together and we’re not rushing through it. And it also adds some fun and spontaneity to it because there’s been times where my sister or brother will get five gifts in a row and I’ll think, ‘Gosh, is there anything under the tree for me?’ And so it adds some fun and laughter to it, trying to figure out, ‘Gosh, who got that big box in the back?’ It adds to the mystery of who’s getting that gift."

Credit Larissa Armstrong
Larissa Armstrong
Christmas is all about sugar cookies for Larissa Armstrong's family.

Larissa Armstrong, Bloomington

“Ever since I was a kid, Christmas cookies have been a major player in my family’s Christmas. My parents and I love making Christmas cookies together, and every year we make cutout sugar cookies using my late paternal grandma’s 7-minute Kris Kringle sugar cookie recipe. Only, rather than decorate them with frosting, we methodically decorate them with sprinkles instead! And we always listen to The Roches Christmas album ‘We Three Kings.’

“If you want to eat yummy stuff, sometimes you have to make it yourself.”

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.