Last Sunday, I visited my parents in Gilbert to help prepare for the upcoming holidays. As I placed ornaments on their tree, I reflected on some of our past Christmas gatherings.

My parents were very intentional about establishing family traditions around the holidays. We'd include the typical traditions such as decorating the tree, wrapping presents and gathering for a Christmas breakfast. But we'd also add our own Cadeau-family spin to each tradition.

The first Christmas tradition is hiding the Christmas Mouse somewhere in the tree. I grew up before the whole “Elf on the Shelf” craze, but we had our own homemade Christmas character. It’s a small, shaggy gray and red mouse made out of two yarn pom-poms, a bit of felt and a set of googly eyes. It’s the one decoration that goes on the tree without a hanger, as it was often hidden somewhere between the branches.

The Christmas Mouse sits on the Cadeau family Christmas tree in reporter Teri Cadeau's parents' house. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
The Christmas Mouse sits on the Cadeau family Christmas tree in reporter Teri Cadeau's parents' house. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

To me, adding the Christmas Mouse always signaled that the tree was ready and the countdown to Christmas had begun. Even though my parents’ Christmas tree has grown smaller (mostly to keep it off the floor and away from a pair of particularly curious puppies), I still made sure the Christmas Mouse found a cozy home among the branches and lights.

Another tradition exists between me and my beloved older sister. Whenever I buy her a less-than-exciting gift such as a gift card, scarf or hat, I make sure to wrap it creatively. One year, I took a Starbucks gift card, wrapped the card, the card sleeve, the gift card box and then placed it in a shoe box. To really throw her off, I added a bunch of loose change to the shoe box, so it would rattle if she shook it.

Come Christmas morning, it took her a good 5-10 minutes to get through all the layers.

The next year, she got her revenge back by giving me a poster, covered with layers of gift wrap. In the end, the poster was from Disney's "Frozen," a movie I absolutely can't stand. Since then, we've mostly let the tradition lag, but I have a feeling it might make a return this Christmas. Prepare yourself, Jackie!

The last tradition we've established is our Christmas morning menu. Every year, we dig out a well-used copy of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" and flip to the bread section to find the popover recipe.

It's a pretty simple recipe, consisting of eggs, milk, flour and salt. Fill up a set of cupcake cups, place into the oven at 450 degrees and about 20 minutes later, you've got the perfect golden brown, puffy Christmas morning treat. Usually, one of us mixes up a batch of honey butter to spread inside the little cups.

None of us can remember the first Christmas we made popovers, but it's a tradition that's stuck through the years. Even when my mom had to work on Christmas day, we'd bake a warm batch to wait for her in the early afternoon.

I'm excited to head home for a short Christmas break with my family this week and observe our favorite traditions. I hope you get the chance to celebrate in your own unique ways with the people you love and appreciate as well.

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She can be reached at 218-830-2186 or tcadeau@lcnewschronicle.com.