Christmas is, far and away, my favorite holiday. But the entire season has always been a magical time for me since my childhood. As a child, my parents celebrated the season with some fun and meaningful holiday traditions. When I became a parent, I knew I wanted to incorporate those traditions, and a few more, into my family’s holiday celebrations. Making Christmas a special, magical, and heartwarming time of year for my kids has always been important to me!
25 Holiday Traditions to Start This Season
Here are 25 of the best holiday traditions you should consider starting with your family this season:
1. Decorate a gingerbread house.
Sometimes during the Christmas season, my sister and I gather our families and let the kiddos decorate a gingerbread house. It’s a friendly competition amongst cousins (and their overly competitive parents), making for a fun and memorable family tradition.
2. Bake cookies for neighbors.
Baking homemade, hand-decorated Christmas cookies for neighbors and other loved ones is an activity your kids (and the treat recipients!) will love. This can also be used as an act of kindness during the Christmas season. Another cookie-centered idea is to invite friends over for a cookie exchange: each person brings a couple dozen cookies and an empty tin. They get to take home a wide variety of treats!
3. Visit a tree farm.
If you are a real tree lover, this is probably already a tradition of yours. While I’m firmly on Team Fake Tree, my sister and her husband pick a real tree at a Christmas tree farm every year. They get to choose the tree, cut it down, and haul it home . . . and they love it! I take my kids for all the fun and the beautiful picture ops!
4. Sponsor a child.
Many children and families are in need, especially during the holidays. Some organizations allow more fortunate families to sponsor a child or a family every Christmas. Toys for Tots collects unwrapped gifts and distributes them to less fortunate kids. Operation Christmas Child sends shoeboxes stuffed with gifts to children all over the world. The Salvation Army has Christmas tree programs where they put the needs of a specific child on tags, and you pick one and buy the child his list of gifts and needs.
5. Make an ornament.
If you’re the crafty type, making a special ornament with your kids every year is a special tradition. Either help them make one family ornament each year, or you can let each child make their own. When decorating the tree, each child can relive Christmases past by hanging their old ornaments.
6. Host an ugly sweater party.
This is a tradition that is fun for kids of all ages! Whether it’s an adults-only event or a family shindig, everyone has to wear the ugliest sweater they can find (or make!). The worst sweater bearer gets a prize!
7. Look at Christmas lights.
This is one of my personal favorites. My parents would take my sister and me to look at Christmas lights every Christmas Eve after church services. It’s one tradition I couldn’t wait to start with my kids!
8. See The Nutcracker.
When my daughter was old enough to sit still, I began taking her to see the Nutcracker ballet. It was a mommy/daughter date that will always hold a special place in hers and my hearts.
9. Read a different holiday book each night.
I started this tradition with my kids when they were very little. I picked out 24 Christmas books and put them in a special basket under our tree. Each night, one of my kids would pick a book, and I would read it to them. The last book was always The Night Before Christmas, to be read on Christmas Eve. Although my kids are older, we still do this every Christmas!
10. Christmas movie marathon.
Who doesn’t love Christmas movies? My personal favorite is White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Swoon! Christmas movie marathons are one of my favorite holiday traditions, and my kids love them too. Lucky for us that Freeform has 25 days of Christmas movies every year! It takes the guesswork out of it for us tired moms.
11. Hot cocoa and s’mores.
12. Go on a sleigh or wagon ride.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place that gets snow around the holidays, get your kids bundled up, pack a thermos of cocoa, and enjoy a beautiful sleigh ride together. If you live in a warmer climate, many cities still offer horse and buggy rides during the Christmas season.
13. Visit Santa (or write him a letter).
Visiting Santa is one of the quintessential American holiday traditions! We’ve all seen the photos of babies crying on Santa’s lap, so it’s not a fan favorite sometimes. Instead, have your kids write letters to Santa and “mail” them in a special magic mailbox. I started this tradition with my kids when they were young (I have a vintage mailbox that I painted red just for the occasion), and they still write letters every year!
14. Wear matching pajamas on Christmas Eve.
Yup. I am absolutely that mom who makes her kids wear matching jammies on Christmas Eve night. So far, I haven’t had any complaints, so I’ll keep doing it until they stage an uprising! Matching holiday pajamas make for the cutest Christmas morning photos.
15. Start an advent calendar.
Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes. Some are empty and allow you to fill each day’s space with trinkets of your choosing. Others come with pre-filled treats. Still, others come with small crafts or gifts. You can find our favorite advent calendars here.
16. Make salt dough ornaments.
When my kids were little, one of my favorite holiday traditions was making salt dough ornaments. I made an ornament for each child in the shape of their hand each year. But older kids will love creating their own ornaments using cookie cutters and pressing tools. You can find an easy salt dough ornament tutorial here.
17. Celebrate Jolabokaflod (Christmas book flood).
Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic Christmas tradition I am starting with my family this year! Jolabokaflod roughly translates to “Christmas book flood.” It’s a tradition in which families gift each other with new books on Christmas Eve, and they spend the rest of the evening cozied up by the fire, sipping cocoa or cider and reading. As a read-aloud family, this is right up our alley. If you want to start this tradition, you can find our favorite classic books to read aloud to your kids here.
18. Hide a Christmas pickle.
This quirky custom, called Weihnachtsgurke, supposedly has German origins. According to folklore, the first child to find the pickle Christmas ornament hidden deep in the tree’s boughs gets the first present, an extra present, or the job of handing out the gifts, plus good fortune in the year to come.
19. Browse a Christmas Market.
This popular French and German tradition is replicated all around the world. Shoppers meander through endless stalls at local Christmas markets to shop for gifts while sipping hot chocolate or mulled wine. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking of a girl’s day out tradition?
20. Host a Secret Santa party.
Getting together with friends, family, or co-workers can get a little expensive during the holidays. One fun way to celebrate and still give (and get) a little gift during these gatherings is to have a Secret Santa exchange. This will take a little planning on the part of the host, but the idea is that each party participant is assigned the name of another party participant. On the day/night of the party, each guest brings a gift for their assigned person (anonymously). The gifts can be well-thought-out, or they can be silly . . . it’s up to you!
21. Start a holiday book club.
If you have a group of girlfriends who love to read, starting a holiday book club may be just the tradition for you! Pick a holiday-themed book and when you all have read it, gather for some wine and a fireside chat about your book. You could even create a family-friendly book club by gathering other moms, agreeing on a holiday read-aloud book, then gathering for a playdate to do a book-themed craft with the kiddos.
22. Go caroling.
In my opinion, caroling is a long-lost tradition that needs to come back. If we can take our kids around the neighborhood dressed as goblins and ghouls to gather sugary treats, why can’t we take them around singing Christmas carols? I love the idea of surprising neighbors with a sweet rendition of “The First Noel” or “Jingle Bells.”
23. Make a Twelfth Night cake.
Twelfth Night is the last day of Christmas, also known as Epiphany.1 It’s celebrated on January 6 and marks the Three Kings’ visit to baby Jesus. Many people bake a cake for this holiday and hide three trinkets, such as plastic crowns, inside. Whoever finds a treasure in their cake slice is crowned one of the kings or queens for the night!
24. Run a toy train around the tree.
One of my favorite holiday traditions is our Polar Express toy train that circles our tree every year. My son, especially, loves the Christmas train! We also make it a point to watch The Polar Express every year, which adds to the sweetness of this classic holiday tradition.
25. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day.
The feast day of St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6 each year.2 It honors the Christian saint whose habit of secret gift-giving inspired the modern Santa Claus. Different countries celebrate differently, but one common way to mark it is for children to set out a pair of shoes when they go to bed the night before. In the morning, the shoes are filled with candy and treats!
Do you celebrate the holidays with any of these traditions? Are there any holiday traditions on this list that you will start with your family this year? Happy holidays!
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