Most Christmas family traditions happen naturally. You don’t put much thought into it; you do what you have always done. Every family has its own Christmas traditions. Some are unique. Some are common and shared with many others around the world.
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I’m sure if you stopped and thought about it right now, you could write down several of your Christmas family traditions either from your childhood or as an adult with your children.
But maybe you want to start some new Christmas family traditions. Maybe you have always wanted to do something. Or, perhaps you are just looking for new traditions to start with your kids. That is where this article comes in. This is a list of common and some unique family traditions that you can do with your family during the holiday season. Read through them to see if there are any that pique your interest that you aren’t currently doing but may want to start.
1. Don’t forget your Elf!
Celebrate the Elf’s arrival on the day after Thanksgiving (or whenever your Elf arrives). Then enjoy seeing all of the Elf’s antics and trouble he gets into during the days leading up to Christmas. If you are a busy parent and need some easy Elf on the Shelf ideas, you can find 27 simple Elf ideas here.
2. Hang outdoor lights or decorations.
You don’t want to be the bah humbug house of your neighborhood! Enjoy putting out the outdoor decorations and lights as a family and make it an annual tradition. This doesn’t have to be elaborate like “Christmas Vacation” or anything. Ours are just a wreath, star shower, and some outdoor ornaments. But you may decorate your porch or railings, and kids can help with things like this.
3. Make Christmas cookies
This is always a fun activity that I do with my daughter. She picks the recipes for the year of the cookies that we will bake. We usually bake about 5 or 6 different kinds. We space them out over a couple of days. Make sure one of the cookies you bake is sugar cookies because they are super fun to decorate. Baking cookies is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
4. Send out holiday cards with a family photo
Send out holiday cards with a family picture. Send out Christmas cards with your family photo or a picture of the kids. In my experience, people you don’t see often appreciate this as they see how much the kids have grown each year.
5. Make and decorate a gingerbread house.
We always buy a kit and put it together, but if you are ambitious and have the time, you could make the house from scratch. Decorating the gingerbread house is always a fun family activity that the entire family can enjoy. I admit our gingerbread house does not always look magazine quality, but we still have lots of fun doing it.
6. Hang the Christmas stockings and decorate the mantel
These are my absolute favorite Christmas decorations. I always want to start decorating for Christmas way before it is time to do so. So I jokingly tell my family that it is done in phases and it is time for phase 1 (there are 3 phases). 1. The mantel and the stockings and other decorations around the house. 2. The artificial Christmas tree and village. 3. The real Christmas tree and nativity scene.
If you are like me and want to start decorating early, I say go for it. After all, a lot of work goes into decorating, and you want to enjoy it for as long as you possibly can.
7. Visit the local tree farm to get your Christmas tree
We always put up an artificial tree about a week or so before Thanksgiving, then about the second weekend in December, we visit the tree farm and pick out our live tree. The whole family goes, and it is a fun family activity that I look forward to each year. The tree farm that we go to has hot chocolate and pictures with Santa as well.
8. Take a train ride on the “Polar Express”
We have a couple of places within about an hour’s drive where we can take a Polar Express themed ride to the North Pole. There are light displays along the way and the highlight of seeing Santa. Hot chocolate is served on the train ride, and Santa hands out candy canes. If your kids are young and like the movie or book “The Polar Express,” this can be a fun family tradition.
9. Watch Christmas movies together
I always look forward to the usual Christmas movies each year. Some of my favorites are “Elf,” “Christmas Vacation,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” You can have a movie night where you watch your favorites, or if you are like me, you can have them on pretty much every evening during the holiday season.
10. Visit Santa
It is always fun to visit Santa, no matter how old your kids are. It’s a fun family tradition to get an annual photo with Santa Claus. There are lots of places that you can usually visit Santa. My sister and her family have seen the same Santa at the local mall for 22 years. Every year they get a picture of the entire family with him. Even though her oldest is now 22 years old, this is still something they all do every year.
11. Write letters to Santa Claus
Have your kids write a letter to Santa Claus. You can get some free templates to print out here. This is a super fun activity for kids, and it is also a super helpful thing for you as you get many gift ideas of what they want for Christmas. You can even get a letter postmarked from the North Pole sent to your child through the Greetings from the North Pole Post Office program through USPS.
12. Buy some gifts for a child from the giving tree
My church has a giving tree where they put the first name and the child’s age and gender on a tag. Then they hang several tags on the tree. These tags are for children from families who cannot afford Christmas gifts. You then take a tag, buy gifts for that child and bring them back to put under the tree with the tag attached to be given to that child. This is always a fun family tradition to shop and pick out gifts for the child together.
13. Host a cookie exchange
Rather than making 5 or 6 different kinds of Christmas cookies yourself, you can host a cookie exchange. This is where you have 5 or 6 people each making 5 or 6 dozen of one kind of cookie. Then you get together for a little Christmas party and exchange the cookies, so each person leaves with a dozen of each of 5 or 6 different kinds of cookies. You can modify it for how many people or family members you wish to include, but you get the idea. This is great idea if you have lots of siblings that live in the same area as you.
14. Decorate the Christmas tree together with your unique family ornaments
This is one of my favorite Christmas family traditions. My kids have made many different tree ornaments throughout the years when in preschool, elementary school, at various church events, and just other places along the way. We have many special family tree ornaments that we always put on our live Christmas tree. Everyone loves grabbing their ornaments from the bin and placing them on the tree, reliving the memories as they go.
An angel goes on top of the artificial tree, and an angel that my Mom had made goes on top of the real tree. This angel is in pretty bad shape from so much use over the years, but she is very special to our family, so we all love putting her up there even though she has seen better days. We take turns on who gets to put her on top of the tree.
15. Put the village and nativity scene under the Christmas tree
Put the village and nativity scene under the Christmas tree. We always put a village under our artificial tree, complete with cotton snow, houses and several other buildings. We put a nativity scene under our real Christmas tree. However you choose to decorate under your tree, this is a fun Christmas family tradition where everyone can help set it up.
16. Place Christmas wreaths on loved ones who have passed gravesites
This is something we do as a family each year. We place a wreath near my Mom’s headstone. The kids remember my Mom very well as they were a bit older when she passed, so this is very meaningful to all of us, and since her passing in 2015 has become an annual tradition.
17. Make a list of acts of kindness to do together and do them
Make a list of acts of kindness to do together and do them. Creating this list together as a family can be lots of fun. Every family member can come up with a couple of ideas. You then write them all down. You can get a free printable “Acts of Kindness” template in the Christmas planner located here. So make sure you grab the Christmas planner. It will help you keep all things related to the holiday season organized and in one place.
18. Take a drive to look at Christmas light displays
Drive around looking at Christmas lights throughout the neighborhood or go to special holiday light shows in your area. This is always a fun family activity. There are many “light up the village” nights in many towns to kick off the holiday season. Attend one or several.
19. Host a holiday party
If you are the type that likes to entertain, you may want to host an annual Christmas party. Although we do not host one ourselves. We do attend at least one every year. This is a wonderful way to get together with friends during the holiday season, and your kids will enjoy it too. You can even have a hot chocolate bar for the kids to make hot cocoa and add marshmallows, chocolate, candy canes, and whatever else you can think of. There is a Christmas party planning page in the free printable Christmas planner here.
20. Go Christmas caroling
We don’t do this anymore, but for years when the kids were little, we did. We lived in a different neighborhood at the time, and a bunch of families from the neighborhood would get together and go door to door singing Christmas carols. I know my kids remember this fondly, as do I. We would then get together at someone’s house and drink hot cocoa to warm up after we were done caroling.
21. Countdown to Christmas
Countdown to Christmas using an Advent calendar or other way to count down the days. Here is a super cute one here. We have a Santa that stands on our mantel and holds the number of days until Christmas. It is fun for the kids to change it every day when they get up in the morning to one day closer to Christmas.
22. Volunteer as a family
This can be through your church, at a local food bank, or a homeless shelter. You can even ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Your kids will remember doing this growing up, and it will make a lasting impression on them. I know it has my kids, and they look forward to and are always ready to volunteer during the holiday season and throughout the year.
23. Hand out Christmas chocolate bars
Print out Christmas candy wrappers and wrap them around candy bars. Carry them in your purse or car with you wherever you go and hand them out to people as you come in contact with them. You will be putting a smile on someone’s face when they receive a chocolate bar for no reason at all and out of the blue. You can purchase boxes of 36 Hershey milk chocolate bars at Sam’s or Costco’s. Print out 36 copies of the 1.55 oz wrapper here, and have fun handing them out!
24. Attend a church service together
We always attend mass on Christmas Eve. We go to the 4 pm service. It is the beginning of our Christmas festivities as the extended family comes over after, and we eat lasagna and Christmas cookies and have our gift exchange.
25. Have a gift exchange with your extended family
It can be hard to buy gifts for everyone in your extended family that you may be gathering with for Christmas. Instead, try picking names out of a hat—that way, each person only has to purchase one gift for one person. This will save you lots of money, and everyone gets a gift, and you still get into the gift-giving spirit with loved ones.
26. Exchange family gifts on Christmas eve – consider matching family pajamas
Our immediate family (my husband, I, and the kids) will exchange gifts to each other on Christmas eve. Every year, we also will all get matching family pajamas and take a picture of them sitting on the couch. This is super fun to look back on the pictures over the year. Our kids still look forward to getting their pajamas even as they are getting older.
Some years there has been a theme to the pajamas. One year they were mickey mouse themed since we were going to Disney World over Christmas break and spending New Year’s Eve at Epcot. Last year they were Star Wars themed since we were going to Hollywood Studios to ride Rise of the Resistance for the first time.
27. Put a lottery ticket in everyone’s stocking
This is fun to see if anyone wins! We buy a bunch of scratch-off tickets and put one in everyone’s stocking. Since they only cost a dollar, we also hand them out to extended family members on Christmas eve. This is fun for kids and adults alike. Usually, with that many tickets, someone always wins a dollar or two!
28. Sprinkle Reindeer food for Santa’s reindeer and put out milk and cookies for Santa
We always mix a little bit of edible glitter and oatmeal in a baggie and give one to each of the kids. They then run outside and sprinkle the food around for the reindeer. Then they come inside and put the cookies and milk out for Santa. We would videotape this each year, and they are some of my favorite videos. We live in Ohio, and it would usually be quite cold outside, which always made for total cuteness in words and actions.
29. Read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “The Story of Christmas” on Christmas Eve
This is another of my favorite Christmas family traditions. My Mom always read to my sister and me when we were kids. I always read it to my kids as well. It didn’t stop there, though. There was a stack of Christmas books that we read on Christmas Eve. We would always make sure to read the story of Christmas and make sure the kids knew that Christmas was not all about Santa Claus but about Jesus’ birth.
30. Set the scene for Christmas morning
On Christmas morning, make sure you put the tree lights on and play Christmas music in the background for when the kids wake up and open their presents from Santa. You can also serve the same breakfast each Christmas morning. I always make cinnamon rolls and a breakfast casserole. Of course, family traditions aren’t just for Christmas. Check out these 13 breakfast ideas for Valentine’s Day and continue on with the traditions well past Christmas.
31. Have a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the fixings
Have a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the fixings. I’m sure someone in your family hosts Christmas dinner, or maybe it is even you. This may be another good time for a holiday gift exchange with other extended family members that you have not seen yet.
I hope you find something helpful on this list of Christmas family traditions, and make sure to start or continue traditions with your family. These become important to your children, and you are creating lasting memories that will be treasured for years to come. Many Christmas family traditions may even be carried on into future generations.
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