I am so excited for a quiet relaxed Christmas at home this year. It sounds so delightful to wake up in our own house as a family of four + our two rowdy dogs. Next Christmas, we’ll be a family of 5. Holidays are such a clear marker of time passing and children growing. It’s tremendous and beautiful yet earth-shattering at the same time. On Christmas morning, I’m looking forward to sipping hot cocoa and opening stockings together before heading to my parents’ house for a large Christmas morning breakfast of cinnamon rolls, casseroles, and mimosas. While I am undoubtedly excited for the holiday to unfold this way, at the same time, I’ve been feeling an overwhelming sense of missing old traditions and missing places I grew up with, which have mainly ended or ceased to be our spots with the passage of my grandparents.
I was reading a book to Rowan this week that my sister-in-law sent us and was wiping away tears reading about a little boy exploring love through the ocean and the mountains. Perhaps more than I realize, I associate both landscapes with my grandparents (the beach for my fraternal grandparents and the beach + mountains for my maternal grandparents) and have extremely interconnected memories, feelings, and notions about each backdrop that are wound up in my memories of my grandparents and, as such, my childhood. I’m an extremely nostalgic person so these feelings pop-up for me, if I’m being honest, constantly but there is no time like the month of December (or the summer months) that such feelings are so ever-present.
Family Holiday Traditions to Start and Make your Own
I feel joy thinking back to how we spent our Christmases but also feel completely verklempt that my children won’t know Christmases like the Christmases of my past. I sometimes find it hard to reconcile those feelings. Our Christmas traditions were widely tied into spending the holiday in Jackson, Wyoming – for example, we always skied a half day on the afternoon of Christmas day – and they matter of factly can’t be replicated in Charleston. Can any of you relate? So, I’ve been reflecting a lot on ways parents and grandparents make the holidays (or any holiday for that matter) special and magical for children. I’ve gathered my ideas, polled my friends, and asked y’all on Instagram about holiday traditions you cherish to create this post, family holiday traditions to start and make your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
The holiday season is the perfect time to create and embrace family traditions that foster warmth, joy, and lasting memories. Have you considered starting your own unique rituals, whether it’s decorating the tree together while sipping on hot cocoa, organizing a family cookie-baking day, or venturing out on a festive neighborhood lights tour? My parents and grandparents made the holidays so special and magical for us so, when I became a parent, I knew I wanted to do the same thing. Embrace the magic of the season by crafting personalized ornaments, sharing favorite holiday stories, or even hosting a themed movie night with beloved classics.
These traditions not only create a sense of togetherness but also serve as cherished anchors amid the hustle and bustle of the season, ensuring that each celebration is imbued with the spirit of family and the magic of the holidays. Here are some suggestions for family holiday traditions to start and make your own:
Open new matching Christmas pajamas as a family.
Open Christmas pajamas on 1) Christmas Eve to wear Christmas morning or on 2) Thanksgiving night to kick off the Christmas season. I’ve started gifting my boys a fresh pair of matching Christmas pajamas on Thanksgiving night after the big meal. It feels like a very exciting bridge from one holiday and season to the next. We then watched The Grinch (the original animated version) and talked about the festivities to come the upcoming weeks.
Host an annual holiday party or gathering.
I’ve adopted this holiday tradition with my annual cookie exchange! I think hosting and throwing parties is really a part of someone’s identity. It goes back to how you make people feel – gathering and connecting makes people happy and it makes me feel great when I’m the one doing it. A morbid but still special way to think about this is this – have you ever been to a funeral and heard someone share a sentiment like “Your mother threw the most marvelous annual Christmas party. I attended it every year for 50 years and can’t imagine the holiday without it or her.” A true identity marker.
There are so many different types of Christmas parties you can host every year – cookie exchanges, tree trimming parties, ornament exchanges, white elephants, black tie fêtes, tea parties, gingerbread house decorating parties, wrapping parties, a Christmas caroling night, or just a good old fashion Christmas cocktail party.
Make gift wrapping a celebrated joy instead of a chore.
Gift giving is such a source of excitement for me so I don’t like to take away from that by having the wrapping process be a dreaded affair. Instead, consider hosting an annual wrapping party (like I mentioned above) or make it into an annual ritual you do by yourself or with your spouse as an opportunity to steal away an entire evening spent slowing down while still enjoying the festive spirit of the season. Pour yourself a glass of wine, listen to holiday music or put on a Christmas movie, and spread your wrapping materials out to enjoy the creative process.
Bake cookies for neighbors, teachers, postmen, and so on.
I clearly love a cookie theme at the holidays! A really nice way to reinforce the spirit of giving with children is to do something with them they love like baking cookies and then demonstrate how that can be an act of kindness for others. I love this annual holiday tradition of baking cookies with your littles, wrapping them up in cellophane (larger size here) with a ribbon and a personalized tag, and handing them out to people they know who make a difference in their lives.
See The Nutcracker every year with your mother or grandmother.
This is such a cherish tradition for so many as evident by the number of responses I received on Instagram from y’all saying this is one of your most treasured holiday traditions. I think seeing The Nutcracker every year encapsulates the magic of the holidays for children and the wonderment of the season for little minds. I adore hearing stories about what seeing The Nutcracker with a grandmother or mother meant to someone in childhood and into adulthood – these enduring traditions and lasting memories are what make life so rich and can be especially meaningful after the passing of a grandmother or mother.
Make neighbors and loved ones homemade holiday potpourri.
Make neighbors, teachers, and holiday hostess your own homemade potpourri. Directions to make your own potpourri: 1/2 cup cranberries, 1 small orange, 1 spring of rosemary or pine, 1 tablespoon of cloves, 1-2 star anise, and a couple cinnamon sticks. Be sure to tie on a little tag with directions to slice the orange, drop the potpourri in a pan, add water to cover, and simmer on low to make the whole house welcoming and fragrant. Gift in these mason jars.
Annual ornaments can be done a few different ways – each of which is incredibly special and meaningful. One idea a reader shared (which I love and have never done before myself) is to make a new Christmas ornament every year for your kids or with your kids and write their names and years on the backs. If you are especially crafty, then this seems like something special and lasting you could do for your children that they will have forever. If you do it with your children, then it feels like a great way to spend a December morning engaged with your littles and like a wonderful and funny collection to look back on later in life.
An alternative to crafting is to buy the annual Reed & Barton or Wallace silver ornaments each year for your children so they have a complete set from the year they were born onwards. This will become a marvelous gift to give your children when they get married or buy their first house. No matter how you do it, annual ornaments give each child a holiday collection of their own.
Read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.
A tried and true Christmas tradition that will never not be a perfect way to snuggle up as a family on Christmas Eve. We have this special leather-bound version of the classic story as well as this less expensive hardcover version too. If the leather-bound book is speaking to you, then don’t miss Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Christmas Carol. We do this tradition every year and it feels very cozy and special.
Read the story of the birth of Christ in the Bible on Christmas Day.
My dad read us the birth of Christ story as a family on Christmas Day when we were growing up and it is something I remember very fondly. The holiday is so involved in modern times that the true meaning of the holiday can get lost or be forgotten. So, this annual tradition is a really nice way to ground children and remind them why we gather, celebrate, and give gifts.
Watch It’s A Wonderful Life the week of Christmas.
This has been a family tradition for us for as long as I can remember. To this day, I say It’s A Wonderful Life is not only my favorite Christmas movie but my favorite movie, period. We like to see this movie in local theaters that play it here in Charleston during the holiday season too. This is such a heartfelt tradition for me that I can’t wait to continue on with my children. It sounds like a lot of you view this movie as a tradition with your families too.
Visit a local cemetery and toast to loved ones lost with mimosas and family.
I have such thoughtful readers and this family holiday tradition one of you sent in is so heartfelt. I teared up reading this one. So special and a wonderful way to honor family at the holidays.
Christmas Eve mass or church.
For me, it’s not Christmas Eve without going to church. I love a candlelit signing of ‘Silent Night’ by a whole congregation. Edwin feels the same way – I love listening to him talk about his memories of midnight mass with his grandmother. So many of you have this built into your family holiday traditions as well.
I’m so excited because I have been on a hunt for the past few years for a traditional advent calendar to have year after year and I finally found a German one this week in Greenville, SC. It has little drawers to fill so it can be used annually. Y’all sent in some very clever ideas for advent calendars that I just loved reading about like a ‘random acts of kindness advent calendar’ and sprinkling different advent calendars all over the house for children to run around and do every morning.
Find the German Pickle Ornament.
We never did this as a family but it sounds like a beloved Christmas tradition for many of you. Every year, a green pickle shaped ornament is hung in the Christmas tree. Then, on Christmas morning, whichever child is the first to find the Christmas pickle hidden within the tree gets to open the first present or gets a special gift or treat!
Rowan and my mom planted paperwhites together this year and he was so proud. The tip with planting paperwhites is to plant them the weekend before Thanksgiving and then plant more every weekend through the beginning of December so you’ll have blooming paperwhites throughout the holiday season. These two are the best bulbs to buy: one, two. Promise.
Bake Santa Claus cookies.
Of course, baking cookies with your littles for Santa Claus is a tradition in just about every house. Sometimes, you don’t have to be inventive with new traditions when the tried and true ones can ignite the most magic.
Write Santa Claus letters.
We had so much fun writing Santa letters this year to the North Pole and walking to a post box drop to mail them. Rowan thought it was an absolute hoot and asked us for days if Santa had received his letter yet. On Rowan’s wish list this year: chapter books, bath bombs, and a wolf stuffed animal.
Santa Claus’s Footprints.
My dear friend Ashley’s parents did this for her and her sisters when they were growing up. They took a pair of her dad’s boots and dipped the soles in flour before having her dad take steps from the chimney to the tree and to the plate of cookies they made for Santa. Ashley recalls so fondly how fun it was to imagine Santa Claus walking through their living room! I want to do this with our boys.
Open one gift on Christmas Eve.
This is another timeless tradition that is so very exciting for children in the lead up to Christmas Day. Many, many of you do this tradition every year.
Bake Jesus a Birthday cake.
This is such a joyous idea that I hadn’t heard of before. A girlfriend shared with me that she and her family bake Jesus a birthday cake on Christmas Eve, wear party hats, and sing happy birthday to Jesus. Her children love the celebration! What a sweet way to commemorate the birth of Christ for children.
Make a special Christmas Eve dinner.
For both my family and Edwin’s family, the Christmas Eve dinner was a bigger deal than the Christmas night dinner. My mom and aunts always prepared wonderful, warm, delicious meals like lamb shanks or racks of lamb on Christmas Eve. They worked to prepare the special meals while my siblings, cousins, and I skied all day long.
Make and serve specialty food items.
A few special items y’all shared that you and your family enjoy every Christmas run the gamut: cinnamon rolls, ham biscuits, caviar, and tamales. Our family does caviar every year – a tradition started by my grandparents! I recommend ordering from here or here. I cherish this special tradition every year!
Reenact the Christmas story.
This is another idea one of my thoughtful readers shared that struck a chord with me. If you have a large family gathering for Christmas, this feels like such a fun and cheery way to celebrate the holiday and do something engaging as a family. Many children reenact the Christmas story at school so they are familiar with the parts, the animals, and the people. Kids can be both silly and serious reenacting the Christmas story (it also makes me think of the funny scene in the movie Four Christmases when Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn reenact the birth of Christ).
Decorating gingerbread houses is a holiday tradition for every generation. I loved decorating gingerbread houses as a little girl and now love doing it as a mother with my boys. A few of you said your families turn decorating gingerbread houses into a competition, which is another way to keep spirits and energy high!
Sing Christmas carols.
I always think about the scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan and her loved ones gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. It’s creating memories like these with family and friends that really stay with you year after year. My friends and I have also done Christmas carol crawls around town where we go into different festive bars and sing carols. For the most part, the whole bar loves it and the other patrons join in!
Serve the community.
As a family, we grew up adopting a family through our church. We went as a family to shop for the family and to deliver everything. I will not lie when I say that it had a huge impact on me as a child. Other ways y’all shared that you serve the community during the holidays is by serving meals at a shelter as a family and donating toys to a local hospital every year.
Build your children a little library of holiday books from classics (a few favorites: one, two, three) to newer (a few favorites: one, two, three) releases. We get so excited to bring out our bin of Christmas books every year and I have such vivid memories of reading my favorite holiday books every year growing up.
Are you familiar with Bauble Stockings? The concept is that every family member gets a bauble stocking and it contains the final special present or a clue to the final present of Christmas. It’s the grand finale of the holiday! I think this is the simplest and sweetest way to add an extra touch of excitement to gift gifting and gift opening.
Fill in Christmas memories book.
My mother has a Christmas scrapbook of sorts that is a compilation of all of our Christmases. It really is the most special time of year so it’s nice to take a few minutes of quiet to mark the holiday season by writing down cherished memories from each year. I have one of these Christmas memory books for each child that I’ve filled in for them each year and I love this tradition of mine. I’m excited to give the books to my littles one day when they are grown up.
Elf on the Shelf.
Our mornings in the month of December aren’t complete without looking for our Elf on the Shelf, affectionately named “Trixie” last year by Rowan. I highly recommend getting the Elf on the Shelf that comes with the accompanying book, which shares the elf’s story. Between Elf on the Shelf and our advent calendar, our holiday mornings are full of fun!
Annual notes to self.
This is a fun tradition I’ve never heard of until the year – every year, you write down notes or write a letter to yourself about the happenings of your family at the present time. Then, when the holidays end, you pack up the notes along with your ornaments. When you unbox your ornaments next year, it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane reading what you were doing the year before.