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Lawmakers Share Their Christmas Traditions

Christmas Nutcrackers don the outside Dingell's Cannon office. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

While their Capitol Hill offices remain decorated with holiday spirit, lawmakers are home celebrating with their families and loved ones.  

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in the four decades he has been in Congress, he has never spent a Christmas in the Washington area, always in Iowa. “For the most part, during those 40 years, it has been at our farm house,” the senator told Roll Call. “I guess when I had in-laws alive more than 25 years ago, we used to go there for Christmas but we always had a Grassley Christmas.” Grassley and his wife, Barbara, run the family’s grain and livestock operation, where he grows corn and soybeans on 720 acres.  

“We’ve got five children, four out of five live within 10 miles of where they were born, nine grandchildren, seven out of nine live in Iowa. So we have a lot of grandchildren, a few great grandchildren, a few boyfriends or girlfriends,” he said. Typically, about 25 to 30 people exchange presents “usually centered around a big meal on Christmas.”  

The Dingells are known for embodying a festive spirit of Christmas.  

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., decorated her Cannon House Office Building with nutcrackers and followed in the footsteps of her predecessor and husband John Dingell’s footsteps by releasing the annual "Dingell Jingle" before heading home .  

Inside their Michigan home, “my nutcracker is big, there’s no place to put it so it stays by my fireplace all year long,” she said. On Dec. 25, the Dingells like a “nice, quiet Christmas day.”  

“And yes, I am one of those people that is at Lord and Taylor at 6 a.m. [Dec. 26] the minute the store opens, the best time to get cashmere sweater cardigans. You can get them for $30 or $40. Then I am at the door when Saks [Fifth Avenue] opens because they are 40 percent off their already reduced prices, and it’s the best time to buy shoes,” she said.  

She adds, “I cook dinner that night and play poker with the girls. John’s the only man allowed.”  

For California Democratic Rep. Juan C. Vargas, Christmas is a kid-centered time. “Once I’m home, I really love putting up all the Christmas decorations. The Christmas tree, I love doing it with my little one, she loves putting up all the Christmas ornaments and I love handing it to her,” he said of his 12-year-old. “She doesn’t break them all like she used to.”  

With his 19-year-old home from college, “she sets up this Christmas village that we have, all these little houses we’ve collected over the years.” Vargas also makes Mexican Hot Chocolate while they decorate, which includes cinnamon and cayenne pepper or chili powder. On Christmas, his nine siblings rotate who hosts the family. “This year it’s our turn; it’s exciting when it’s your year because it’s literally a 10-year rotation,” he said.  

“We sing Christmas songs and depending on whose house we’re at, we serenade the neighbors with some of our yuletide,” Vargas said. “Late at night, we exchange presents and the kids go crazy.” Vargas, who left Washington last Friday, said his wife does the shopping and he buys the last minute “pizzazz” gifts.  

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., hosted an open house in his district office for staff and constituents this week. “Whether they had something specific they wanted to share from their heart or just come by and talk a little bit,” he said.  

“Being a former music director, my wife and the three children sing,” Walker said. “We always try to do some caroling and at least get together and do some kind of singing that’s not too cheesy. We enjoy doing that while we can.”

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