Hands down, fall is one of my favorite seasons. Steeped in traditions, treasured memories, and comforting elements, this season brings me the most joy by far. ,
Also, because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so that might have something to do with it, too. 🙂
Being that I was born and raised in Nebraska, I think my love of all things fall comes naturally. Because no one knows how to do fall traditions quite like the Midwest.
Apple orchards, pumpkin patches, bonfires, and hayrides are all par for course when you live in the heartland. And we also had some of the best fairs and carnivals that brought in the fall season. I still miss going to those!
But I know not everyone has established traditions. Or maybe you’re just starting your family and aren’t sure which ones you want to incorporate. Let me share with you my top favorites and see if any of them spark some interest.
And just remember, there are no set rules with traditions. Try one or try all of them. It’s up to you. Just find something your family enjoys and make it a yearly thing. Because there will be a time when the kids are all grown and you’ll be glad you gave them precious memories they can look back on.
I still talk with my parents and sisters about the traditions we had growing up and us girls have introduced most of them to our own children.
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1. Create a leaf pile.
I know what you are thinking, raking leaves is work, not fun. If that is your take on the “chore” then you have never created a leaf pile large enough to swallow you.
Growing up, we had this massive Oak in our backyard that produced a crisp bounty every fall. We never raked its fallen leaves to make our yard look nice, we gathered them for the sole purpose of creating a leaf pile big enough for the entire neighborhood!
Since we lived one house away from the school, tons of kids would stop at our house for a little fun before heading home so we had a lot of pressure to make the pile as big as we could.
To say it was large enough for a dozen or more kids at a time was not an exaggeration. And when everyone pitched in to gather leaves from other trees on our property, the pile doubled.
A free activity, hidden workout, hours of fun; what more could you want in a fall tradition? 🙂
2. Visit an orchard.
Orchards were as much a part of my life in Nebraska as cornfields and the Henry Doorly Zoo. Caramel apples, apple cider, honey sticks; these were autumn staples. (Funny story about honey sticks: my husband didn’t believe such things existed. I had to take him to the orchards in Nebraska to prove they did. haha)
There’s just something about being bundled in warm clothes while picking apples on a crisp autumn day before retiring to the shop for some hot apple cider. It’s nothing short of magical! Not to mention fresh apples taste amazing and even better in Dutch apple pie later on. 🙂
Here in Indiana, we have an orchard that is so popular it’s nearly impossible to get into on Saturdays during their peak season. I’m talking hundreds of people there at a time. They have great donuts but have built the place up so much that their prices reflect their popularity now.
So we were told about a hidden, family-owned orchard near us that charges a 1/3 of the price the popular place charges, so we have been getting our apples and cider there while visiting the other for the donuts.
It might surprise you to find you have some local orchards you didn’t even know about.
3. Pick your pumpkin at a pumpkin patch.
You can buy pumpkins most anywhere this time of year, most grocery stores sell them, but you miss out on some special memories by not going to the source.
Heading out to the pumpkin patch you get to enjoy the fun of finding the best-looking pumpkin, the largest, the weirdest, etc. You can have all sorts of fun while looking for the one you plan to take home.
Me, I prefer to look for hidden gems. White is my favorite color, so I naturally look for white pumpkins. However, this time of year is all about color so nothing excites me more than to find a tiny, perfectly shaped pumpkin among all the giants.
This point is a two-fold tradition because you can’t pick out a pumpkin without taking it home to carve and roast its shells. And, if you’re ambitious, make fresh pumpkin pie.
But the girls and I are allergic to the insides of a pumpkin so we no longer do the gutting, we have promoted daddy to this full-time.
After the insides are clean and the shells are in the oven, we start on the carving. This past year we bought these pumpkin stencil kits and they were so much fun we plan to buy them again this year.
4. Take a hayride and end with a bonfire.
Many orchards are all-inclusive, meaning you can most likely knock out the last three suggestions in one visit.
However, if you do not live close to one that offers all the above, make sure you carve out some time this fall to find some place that offers hayrides. There is just something so fun and “fallish” about taking a ride on a moving haystack that brings me back to my childhood every time.
Back home we always took hayrides through haunted cornfields or along a friend’s property every fall. Then we would end at a large bonfire where we would sing and roast hot dogs and marshmallows and drink hot cider.
But having a fire pit in your backyard works, too. We built one the first autumn in our new home and use it nearly every week once the weather turns nippy. Our girls love being out by the fire and we have to keep a steady supply of marshmallows on hand at all times.
(These Smores Sticks are perfect for kids as they rotate for even cooking and extend so you don’t have to get too close to the fire. AND they are color coded so each child can claim his/her own stick. Priorities.)
5. Attend a fall festival.
Growing up in Nebraska I’m sure you can imagine the number of fairs available to us. We had our pick and often hit up several at a time. But my favorite gathering was the carnival our little town put on every September for as long as I can remember. In fact, it was the first memory I have of the town when we moved there.
They still have it every year and people still come from all over to take part and enjoy the three-day festivities. They have vendors, food trucks, carnival rides and a parade on the last night.
It felt so huge when I was a kid, but now that I’m an adult, I realize it was as big as a small-town gathering can produce. But it holds such fond memories for me. We lived only a couple of blocks from the center of town, so we walked down every day and enjoyed having so many people in one place. It was all part of what made fall special for us.
If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, check around. Some little town nearby may hold the quaintest little festival that could become your family’s newest tradition during fall break.
6. Collect some nature and decorate.
Now, I have to be honest, when it comes to decorating, Christmas is about the only holiday I really put much effort into. Just being real. I decorated for fall this past year and it shocked my girls we had so many autumn decorations. I just never get them out much.
However, when I get around to going all out for fall, I absolutely love it! The house feels so homey with all the rustic colors, warm textures, and Pumpkin Spice candles burning. (Check out my favorite autumn printable that will go perfect with just about any decor!)
Adding nature to your home is not only a beautiful touch but also loads of fun to gather and assemble. Give the kids charge over collecting leaves, ask a farmer if you can purchase stalks of field corn or a bale of hay. Go to your local pumpkin patch and buy some small pumpkins and gourds for your table and counter tops.
There are so many options and most of them turn into quick fall crafts for the entire family. Or gather some neighborhood kids on fall break and invite them over for some fun.
Here’s a video of our family collecting things for our home:
7. Plan a Fall Fun Night.
Ok, of all the wonderful fall traditions we had growing up, this one was by far my favorite. Every year, my church would host what we called a Fall Fun Night for any families who didn’t want to go trick-or-treating and it was so much fun!
In the early years, we would have a costume contest, carnival games with prizes, a cakewalk, SO MUCH FOOD, and bags of candy for every child. It has since grown to including a bonfire, hayrides, and even more activities.
Of all the things I miss most about fall time in Nebraska, our Fall Fun Night tops the list. Since we have nothing like that here, we have tried to replicate it a few times with friends and it’s been so much fun.
And honestly, the adults enjoy the fun just as much as the kids!
8. Make soup and watch Halloween shows.
Since starting our own family, we have tried to incorporate most of our favorite traditions every year, but I also didn’t want the fall season to be all about going and doing. I wanted it to be a time of coziness and togetherness.
So on the cool nights when we aren’t outside around the fire pit, I like to whip up some hearty soup or chili along with some golden cornbread made in my cast-iron skillet and enjoy a wonderful meal together. Then retire to the living room where we grab our blankets and enjoy a spooky show and some caramel apples for dessert.
It’s so simple but brings a special warmth to the season I feel is so important. Making memories doesn’t have to take a lot of effort. It’s the time spent together that makes it memorable. Even if it’s just over a bowl of soup or blowing steam off hot apple cider in your favorite overstuffed chair.
(These are a few of my favorite family Halloween movies and make for some great fall traditions!)
9. Plan a day of baking.
I do not enjoy baking. At all. HOWEVER, there are two times a year I get in the mood to be in the kitchen and don my apron. One is during Christmas break when the cravings are hitting an all-time high and all the sugar cookies are calling my name.
The other is when the smell of cinnamon and apples are everywhere you go and the pumpkin-spiced everything is literally assaulting your senses.
Of all the sweets in the world, pie is my husband’s favorite. So when I get in this rare baking form, I am almost always baking Dutch Apple pie or a pumpkin pie. Which are perfect accents in Autumn and deepen the association of fall traditions in the eyes (and bellies) and my family.
And children love that one-on-one time they get in the kitchen when they help cook/bake, so making this a tradition for your family is a wonderful—and tasty—idea!
10. Create your own traditions.
All the ideas I’ve listed for you are ones that have been a part of my family for years. And some of them might be like ones you have, too. But there are a lot of ideas out there, some you may not have thought of before.
So why not get your family together and brainstorm ideas of what your kids would consider fun to do? When we did this, it was neat to see what each member of the family came up with.
Create a fall family bucket list and cross off them off as you do them. If there are some you love, move them over to your fall family traditions list.
As our kids have gotten older, their ideas have developed, too, and we have found new things to do that we enjoy very much. That in itself can be a tradition: coming up with something new to do as a family each year. What a neat spin on the tradition! haha
Whatever you do, make it fun and if you really find that you enjoy it, make it a fall tradition.
I hope you take these fun fall activities and turn them into traditions for your family to enjoy for years to come.
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.