Home for the Holidays: A Look at Wisconsin Family Traditions

Photo courtesy of Marsha Radewan Connet

By Cherita Booker
November 10, 2022

We asked people across the state to share their favorite holiday traditions. Here’s what they said.. 

Many families have special traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. But they all begin somewhere. If you want to start a new one this year, and need ideas, take inspiration from these Wisconsinites from across the state: 

“We put 7 small items in each other’s stockings. [Starting] one week before Christmas, we take out one item each day to enjoy. We did this with our kids when they were younger, and myy daughter carried on the tradition with her family. My husband and I still do it and sneak things into ours–lottery tickets, candy, magazines, and books.” –Judi Schneider, Green Bay

“We have friends and family over on Christmas Eve for cannibal sandwiches [raw ground round on pumpernickel bread with raw onions on top], herring, and old-fashioneds.” —Jodi Bartels, Racine 

“When our kids were small, we would fill a piñata and break it open on Christmas Eve.” —Miriam Herber Stocking, Green Bay

“The young ones do a fun run in the morning, and every room is full of family and friends, football, food, and the game of Scattergories for all to play.”—Rick Langan, Neenah

“We bake cookies that my mom taught me [how to make] and cook tamales that my dad taught me.”—Shonie Pena, Madison

“We have the men in the family cook breakfast on Christmas Day at Grandma and Grandpa Geary’s. No gifts can be opened until after breakfast.”—Lois Geary, Wisconsin Dells

“Our holidays start out with food, card games, and laughter. After a few drinks, someone starts talking about politics and before you know it, the cops are at the front door. Had to donate my euchre winnings to bail out my aunt last year.”–Shawn Newell, Baraboo

“Every Christmas Eve our family picks up KFC in the afternoon for dinner. We keep it warm and go to church. Then we come home,eat KFC, and open presents.” –Tiffany Kraft, De Pere


“We make my grandmother’s cookie recipes for family and friends. I used to help her. The recipes had to be translated from German and converted from metric. I have her wooden spoon to use. She passed away in 2002 at age 97.”—Karen Krey, Green Bay

“We make homemade pizzas. The usual go-tos are a cheeseburger pizza, mac and cheese, chicken bacon alfredo, and some kind of deluxe. But every year we seem to find a new one.” –Megan McMaster Anderson, Waukesha 

“The Christmas Pickle ornament hunt. Whoever finds it on the tree first gets a special gift. It’s very competitive, even for my adult daughters.” —Misty Steffen, Baraboo

Photo courtesy of Misty Steffen

“My grandfather started this when my parents got married in 1949, and the tradition has continued every year since.  He bought a big laundry basket and filled it with grocery items that my mom and dad couldn’t afford or would never have bought for themselves. Each item was individually wrapped so they didn’t know what they were getting. When my husband and I got married, my parents did it for us,  and now we do it for my son and his girlfriend.  They get a big kick out of it and hopefully, someday, they will continue the tradition.”—Candi Wolfe McNaughtan, Milwaukee

“Each year, we are given a name for someone in our family and make a homemade gift for that person. You can’t choose your spouse.”—Mike Mackin, Green Bay

“We serve homemade cut outs, pecan dreams, date bars and praline cookies after Christmas dinner alongside a Christmas ice cream mold filled with three flavors of ice cream and decorated with frosting, poinsettias, and other holiday designs [like the snowman below] from 31 Flavors. My husband’s family started this tradition in the 1930s.”—-Marsha Radewan Connet, Racine

Photo courtesy Marsha Radewan Connect

“We go to Door County to get frozen cherries around Halloween.  We add Brandy to “bounce” them and don’t touch the bucket until Christmas Eve. Then we break it open for the best Cherry Bounce Brandy Old Fashioneds ever!”—Pam Schultz Streich, Lake Mills

“After my grandmother died, we couldn’t find her molasses cookie recipe. Six years ago I found it on the back of a receipt from 1994. Now I make them.”—Lisa Anderson Herner

“I make homemade eggnog for Christmas Eve. My aunt used to make it. It’s become so popular with our family that I use 9 dozen egg yolks!”–Julie Skinkis

“I sew special Christmas dresses for my granddaughters and let my oldest granddaughter decorate all the cookies with ALL the colored sugar.”—Lisa D. Meyer, Waupun

Photo courtesy of Lisa D Meyer

“My mother has been having everyone in my family sign/date the tablecloth at Thanksgiving since the early ‘90s. She then goes back and hand stitches all the signatures, so you can see them every year. Yeah, she’s pretty amazing.”—Krysta Cridi, Baraboo


  • Cherita Booker

    Milwaukee native Cherita Booker attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has worked in various roles as a multimedia journalist since 2017. She enjoys photography, dancing, and spending time with friends and family.

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