All aboard the Minivan Express!


My family members are sticklers for tradition, most especially during the holidays. What’s fascinating to me is that some of the traditions and stories that came out of nowhere or last-minute desperation are the most enduring and endearing to my children. Take, for instance, the Minivan Express.

It was several years ago—I admit I can’t remember exactly how long we’ve been doing the Minivan Express—when we were closing in on Dec. 25 and still hadn’t taken the kids around to see Christmas lights. If I recall correctly, we were supposed to go with friends to see the WPS Garden of Lights at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens but had to cancel due to bad roads or weather or something. Also, this was back in the day when my stepson lived with us but only 50 percent of the time, and we also had to juggle wrestling practices, swimming lessons, Advent services, and the like. We were short on time but didn’t want to skip this beloved tradition.

So one night, shortly after we’d just watched “The Polar Express,” I told my husband, “Why don’t we make our own Minivan Express?” He got the kids ready for bed while I printed out colorful “tickets” and put them on their pillows. Dressed in their pajamas, everyone came out to the garage and got their ticket punched before hopping in the van. We brought along mugs of hot cocoa and played Christmas carols as we drove around Green Bay and De Pere in the dark, searching for the best and brightest lights displays.

With each year that’s gone by, the kids love the Minivan Express more and more. Sometimes I’ll make that a card in their Advent activity calendar and give them the whole day to look forward to that tradition. More often, though, my husband and I will just pick a random weeknight when we don’t have anything else going on—we still print out the tickets, though, and put them on their pillows. Once we hear the girls screaming in delight, we know it’s time to start the minivan!

As they’ve gotten older, aimlessly driving around to look at lights has lost some of its thrill. To make the Minivan Express more interesting, I’ve started printing out Christmas lights “Bingo” sheets that they race to complete. You can find printables on Pinterest, but I’d rather make my own. I always include something super specific that will be difficult to find and keep my kids’ eyes peeled!

The older I get, the more I love this tradition, too—not because I particularly like driving around in the dark, trying not to spill hot cocoa on myself. But because the Minivan Express is something that is unique to us. No matter where we are or what is going on in the world around us, this is a tradition we can hold close to our hearts. It costs next to nothing but is beyond value for the memories made. I’m going to have to find a night and some good lights displays this year, even as we are traveling and spending time with my stepson and his wife, who now live in South Carolina.

Maybe the Minivan Express idea isn’t for you. Maybe you are more about sledding or skiing, ringing bells for Salvation Army, or baking cookies together. Whatever your favorite holiday traditions might be, this is the year to dig in deep and give time and attention to every single one… and perhaps make some new ones. Hold those kiddos tight and enjoy every second, because before you know it, you might be going to visit them out of state for the holidays!

What is one of your family’s favorite Christmas traditions? Please share in the comments!