Blending Families and Holiday Traditions

One of my favorite things about being married is that, in addition to my own little nuclear unit, I have a whole new family to enjoy! Our Connor-Ellis-Nelson-Bechler-Monterastelli traditions have evolved considerably through the years as our family has grown and changed.

Here’s a little glimpse into our past and present holiday traditions and how we’ve blended some of our favorite traditions to make new memories for our little family:

Grandma Ruth Connor was our lovely and talented matriarch on my mom’s side of the family. Her parties and feasts never lacked for amazing food and her house was always sparkling clean and comforting. My memories of early Christmases are filled with family, warmth, fancy dresses, St. Paul’s church, pie and chex mix.

In 1986, when I was six years old, my father, Joseph Ellis, started a new tradition. At the time, I doubt he knew how much this gift would mean to me and how long his tradition would carry on. The December after his terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis, he penned a short story for his children. The Nutcracker. A famous story indeed. 😉 However, his story had a personal twist. The crafty and clever nutcracker came to life and used his crunching abilities to munch and maneuver initials to give them new meaning. When the nutcracker took a peek at my name, Natalie Lynn Ellis, he bit off the first initials, rearranged them a bit to create, NOEL – my nutcracker name. 🙂 That year, my father gave me my first nutcracker to go along with the story. That was his last Christmas with us, but not the nutcracker’s … each year, another would appear, thanks to my mom ( in the guise of Santa) continuing the ritual. I grew to look forward to this gift most of all as each unique and fragile nutcracker was a reminder of my dad, his whimsical sense of humor, wisdom and love of storytelling.

The First Nutcracker 1986

The First Nutcracker 1986

In 1994, our family traditions shifted again as my mom remarried. – A wonderful gift to both of us to become a part of the Nelson family! We were quickly embraced by loving father, Doug, Aunt Sonny, Uncle Stu, cousins Shelley and Stefanie and Doug’s bright and witty mother, Selma. We continue to celebrate Christmas with the Nelsons, although this year, to accommodate new marriages, babies and travels, we celebrated on December 19th so that we could extend the party and have plenty of time with all sides of our growing families. Our gift-giving traditions have evolved with our family as well. This year, we chose to focus on our gratitude for the time together, new babies (Mira and Annika) and the opportunity to share another year with matriarch, Selma — Who is a spry 96 years old! Our turkey feast evolved to Chinese food and the large gift exchange has turned into a fun white elephant game, with plenty of laughs and mischief.

And of course, the nutcracker of the year is always there.



In 2013, when I married into the Monterastelli family, I gained the opportunity to be a part of even more festive family traditions at their home in Wyoming. 🙂 The Monterastellis (coincidentally, from Ottawa, IL – like the Nelsons) have a rich family history that they commemorate through a fun and lively yearly party called, GenoVino! Appropriately named after Geno Monterastelli who owned a bar/restaurant in Ottawa, where pizzas were made and eaten every Saturday night. During this pizza party, the Monterastelli’s family home is transformed into an Italian Ristorante for the evening, with pizzas baking and wine flowing! It’s impossible not to have a blast!

Nutcraker4 Nutcracker5

This year, all of our family traditions were made even more special because it was our first time enjoying this season of love with our baby girl, Mira! We are so grateful that she will have a lifetime of sharing in wonderful times with these amazing people and will go on to create new traditions of her own.

I would have opened my 30th nutcracker from my dad (and mom 🙂 ) this year, but instead, we decided it was time for Grandpa Joe to spread the magic of the season to another curious girl.


Nutcraker6Mira Joseph Monterastelli received her very first nutcracker this year …

And of course, he’s a Pizza Boy! 😉 A loving blend of our family traditions with anticipation of new rituals and adventures to come.

Wishing you and yours much joy, love and fond memories during this holiday season and in the new year!

xoNatalie, Tony & Mira


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