Christmas traditions have a way of sticking with you all your life. That’s what makes them so magical. And they don’t have to be costly or extensive, either. I think what makes something a real Christmas tradition is that you do it together as a family and everyone enjoys it. Then you do it again the next year and the next, for as long as you like.
If you are looking to start some new traditions with your family this year, I asked several people for their favorites memories or things to do every year, and here are their top picks:
Christmas Traditions to Start with Your Family
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1. Decorate as a family
I know it’s easier to put up all the decorations yourself, but getting the kids involved means so much to them. I started giving each daughter a room to decorate and they absolutely love the freedom to let their creativity shine, and I have really enjoyed seeing what they come up with.
You could even sit down with them during Thanksgiving break and help them plan out their designs. Check this out for some great inspiration!
2. Take a drive to look at Christmas lights
Bonus points if you do this in your comfy pajamas while sipping hot cocoa. This is probably one of my favorites because it was something I did as a kid and also something we do as a family now.
You might live near a town with an impressive light display if you’re lucky. Here in Northwest Indiana, we have an entire street that turns into a winter wonderland and people come from all over to walk the paths and enjoy the festivities.
Make it even more fun with these personalized hot chocolate mugs!
3. Have a holiday movie night
I’m pretty sure this is a tradition in just about every home. There are so many Christmas movie classics to choose from. Some families will spend Christmas Eve letting the specials play all day. Some take their movie night seriously and cook and decorate for the theme.
My favorite movie to watch on Christmas Eve is Little Women. I grew up with all sisters, and I have only daughters so the movie is very fitting for my life and always gets me in the holiday spirit.
4. Read Christmas-themed books
Some families hunt for these year-round at thrift stores and bargain bins so they can collect enough to read every night in December without breaking the bank.
One family’s tradition is to read a page a night out of an advent book, then a chapter a day out of the book of Luke from the Bible.
5. Take kids shopping for Christmas gifts
One Grandma would save her coins all year and after her grandkids helped her decorate the tree, they would take the coins to the bank and split the amount amongst the grandkids as pay for helping her decorate. After that, they would head to the dollar tree, and she would help them shop for their families. After that, they went back to the house to wrap their gifts.
Kids love doing their own shopping with their own money and this is a creative way to do that. If you have a Five Below near you, that is a fun (and budget-friendly!) place to take your kids shopping. My teens like to shop there still.
6. Visit a tree farm
Growing up I loved trampling through the snow to find the perfect tree and then waiting inside near the roaring fire snacking on roasted chestnuts and popcorn and sipping hot cocoa while they cut down the tree and wrapped it. As a kid, it really was magical.
Make it festive with these personalized Santa hats you’ll want to wear everywhere!
7. Bake with the kids
I really do not like to bake, but every year around the holidays, I get the itch to bake something festive with my girls. Probably because baking holiday treats is something almost everyone enjoys. At least that was a common thread when I asked several people to give me some of their favorite Christmas traditions they enjoyed growing up.
You can even pop in a holiday baking show to set the mood. I may not like to bake but I love to watch holiday baking shows!
8. Make homemade decorations
When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite things to do in school. We always made homemade decorations and my mom was always so good to give them a place on our tree every year. We never had a magazine-worthy tree or decor, for that matter. But to me, our home was the most beautiful, because our home was decked out in all the things my sisters and I created.
Even now, I prefer a tree decorated in childish creations to one extravagantly decked in the prettiest ornaments. Another fun thing to do is string popcorn and/or cranberries and drape them around the tree or entryways.
9. Have some fun in the snow
In our town growing up, we had the best sledding hill ever. It was tradition to make it across town to that hill a least once a year. The rest of the time we would build igloos in our yard and have snowball fights. These were always followed by buttered toast and hot chocolate after we shed our dripping clothes and were bundled in warm pjs.
Too cold to go outside? Bring the fun indoors with these snowballs that never melt!
10. Invest in a family gift
This should be something everyone will enjoy. It can be as epic as a family vacation or smaller scale but fun, like a board game.
You know your family best, so this will be different for everyone, but having a set time to enjoy something together as a family will mean more to your kids than probably any gift you could give them.
11. Break out the coloring books
I might be the only one who enjoys this, but one of the things I have always looked forward to doing every December was getting out my Christmas coloring books and coloring. I have enjoyed this from as far back as I can remember and still do it to this day. It makes me feel festive and it’s incredibly relaxing, especially while you’re playing a Christmas classic.
12. Play Christmas music
This one is a given. We have a station here in Chicago that’s kinda a big deal when it comes to Christmas music. We locals wait for “opening day” when the first song airs before we officially feel like it’s Christmas time.
I also love to pull out the old CDs I grew up listening to and play those. We have music playing while we clean, while we bake, and especially while we’re sitting in the dark living room, enjoying the coziness of the soft glow of the Christmas tree.
But there are so many local schools, churches, etc. that put on concerts, and most for free. They’re definitely worth getting out in the cold to enjoy with your family.
13. Prepare goodies for the neighbors
I love this tradition in particular. We don’t always get a chance to talk with our neighbors since we have such a big property but at Christmas time we enjoy a friendly chat when I deliver something to them. This doesn’t have to be anything much, sometimes it’s something I bought at the store and added a bow and a card and that’s it.
But it’s a chance to spread a little love at Christmas and connect with the people I live closest to. Through the years, some of our closest friends have been our neighbors. O course, there are always those who keep to themselves, but I always make a point to love on those ones a little extra. 🙂
14. Visit nursing homes/hospitals, etc.
The one thing that stuck with me the most as a child was visiting nursing homes to sing carols and hand out little homemade ornaments. I think I remember it so fondly because of the change I saw in the residents when we entered. Some were despondent or lonely looking but when my group came in, there was suddenly a sparkle in their eyes, and their faces lit up with the sweetest smiles.
Some of those residents became my friends and I would visit them every holiday for years until I left home. That’s how much those little excursions changed my life. But I know it changed theirs, too. Or at least made a difference in what is often the saddest time for them. I know this because when I had kids of my own, I started taking them to different nursing homes every week and the workers always told me how much they appreciated the visits since some of the residents never had visitors.
If this sounds like something you’d like to start doing, I have some ideas for you here.
15. Buy yearly ornaments
I have several friends who do this and my mother-in-law does this for our girls. They pick out a special ornament for that year and as they decorate their tree, enjoy thinking back on the memories of years past and why they chose each specific ornament.
If you aren’t all about braving the crowds and weather this time of year, no worries, find your next special ornament here!
16. Have matching pajamas
Now this isn’t for everyone, I get that. I don’t think my family has ever done it, but those who do, love the tradition. A lot of people will get their matching sets and then get family photos in them. It really seems like a lot of fun. Maybe one year…
Even though we aren’t big on matching pajamas, my girls still love to get a new pair every year, so we try to have a new set under the tree.
17. Have an advent calendar
Our family has about half a dozen of these in some form but I often forget to get them ready. However, we always buy a chocolate advent calendar for each girl at our Aldi’s and my teens still get excited about them!
On the years I do remember to do our other Advent calendars, the girls love opening the boxes every morning and seeing what little trinkets/candies I have added. It really is a small thing but the smiles are totally worth it. It just takes a bit of planning to make sure you start on time.
Don’t have one? Find the perfect Advent calendar for your family here!
18. Make your own Christmas cards
I am not a super crafty type but I have always enjoyed doing something like this with my girls. And people enjoy opening cards that their loved ones made especially for them. December can be a crazy busy month, so this might not be something you can do, but if you started earlier, maybe in October/November, you might get them all done in time.
This coloring Christmas card is relaxing to design!
19. Send Santa a letter
There’s nothing like being a kid and pouring over the colorful pages of a toy catalog and circling all the wonderful toys you want added to your wish list. Then sitting down with your best pen to write Santa a letter, detailing your top picks, and making sure to add how good you’ve been, just in case he didn’t know.
20. Adopt a family/person
There are so many people who need extra cheer during the holiday season, due to being lonely, ill, or down on their luck, and a little love can go a long way. We started doing this with our girls a few years back and even though money is usually tight for us in December, we always try to set an amount aside to devote towards a goody bag of some sort.
Oftentimes we’ll deliver the items anonymously but the girls love the planning and execution so much, they start discussing who they want to spoil the next year and ways to make it even better. I love that so much!
It’s a great way to take our eyes off ourselves for a time and focus on someone else. This is in line with the Christmas spirit if I’m not mistaken…
21. Have a holiday contest
Whether you’re making gingerbread houses, designing a display, or coloring a picture, there are so many fun things you can turn into a contest. Post your final results on social media and let your friends judge. The winner should get something fun or yummy as a prize.
If you make it all in good fun, it’s something your family will want to do every year. You can do the same contest every year and build on your techniques or have it change every year.
22. Set a Christmas Eve tradition
About five years ago we adopted a tradition founded in Iceland, called Jolabokaflod, which translates into “Christmas book flood”. It’s a fun tradition where they exchange books on Christmas Eve.
We loved it so much that we started giving our girls a new book and a bar of chocolate on Christmas Eve and they can stay up as late as they want reading and eating their chocolate.
They love this tradition and I do, too!
23. Let the kids be Santa
Every year our girls take turns putting the star on the tree and playing Santa on Christmas morning. It’s really such a simple thing but our oldest is graduating this year and she’s already mentioned to her sisters that it’s her last year to put the star on the tree. When we started doing this with our girls, we had no idea it would turn into a tradition and become one they look forward to.
This just goes to show that traditions don’t have to cost a thing.
24. Host a shop/workshop
This one can be done one of two ways and both are super fun!
The first idea is to host a workshop where your kids invite their friends (and their moms, too!) over to your house to work on Christmas crafts that they can in turn gift to their loved ones. I loved doing this as a kid!
The second idea is to gather discounted items throughout the year and then in December set up a little store for kids to come and shop for their friends and family at prices they can afford. Our kid’s school does one every year and it’s a huge success, complete with games, face-painting, etc.
Either of these ideas can be as extravagant or as simple as you want but they make kids very happy and they allow them to participate in gift-giving without relying on mom and dad to provide the gifts.
25. Take time to reflect
This tradition is not flashy but boy is it important. It’s great fun to take part in all the festivities but there should be a time when you get your family together to think about what Christmas is all about.
As Christians, our family reads Luke 2 together and thinks about the birth of our Lord and Savior and what His coming to earth means to us personally. But Christmas might mean something different to you. Whatever that is, take time to think about it as a family. It is a beautiful way to put everything into perspective and be grateful for another year together.