21 of our Favorite Christmas Traditions for making memories with your family all season long!
I’m a firm believer in traditions. When I look back on my own childhood, so many of my brightest memories revolve around family traditions, especially holiday traditions.
Since having children of my own, I’ve tried to carry on all of my favorite Christmas traditions from my own childhood. We’ve also added a few new ones over the years that have stuck.
A lot of these favorite Christmas traditions are simple. Some of that simplicity is intentional, and some of it is by necessity. I’ve never been very crafty, I don’t have a lot of money to spend, and I’m terrible at following through with elaborate advent calendars, daily Elf on the Shelf antics, and planned daily activity calendars.
I’ve learned that I’d rather keep things simple and be happy in December than plan 25 days of crafts and sledding and gifts and feel stressed and grumpy all month.
These are my Favorite Christmas Traditions. They make the holiday feel magical and special all month long so that the Christmas season feels like more than just Santa and presents one day of the month.
Favorite Christmas Traditions
The Nutcracker Ballet
When Esme was just three years old and dreamed of being a ballerina, I took her to see the Nutcracker Ballet at the Kimo in downtown Albuquerque. It’s been a favorite Christmas tradition ever since, but now I take all four kids.
Some years we see the full ballet, but other years we just see the Nutcracker Ballet preview at Popejoy, which is only 1 hour long. I first did this because I could get $3 tickets, but then I realized that 1 hour of ballet for young kids is actually more enjoyable than 2.
Every year the kids either make or buy a new ornament. Honestly, most years we buy them. It’s a fun tradition to go the store and let everyone pick out a favorite ornament. I catalog these ornaments – who picked them, the year, and their significance (like the first year Esme started playing the violin, she picked a violin ornament).
I imagine someday gifting all of these ornaments to my grown up children for their own trees.
December 1st Box
I love to kick off the season with something extra special. I pick a few small Christmasy gifts and treats and wrap them up in a box that we open on December 1st. In this year’s box, I’ve included a pair of holiday socks for everyone (from the $1 bins at Target), Christmas stickers, some fancy flavored hot chocolate, our traditional box of white fudge covered Oreos, and this Lego advent calendar (that’s really the only kind of advent calendar I can manage).
Decorating the tree
We do this the day after Thanksgiving and it’s a family affair. We turn on the Christmas music and everyone helps. Unwrapping all of the ornaments and talking about where they came from is one of my favorite parts of the entire season!
I always buy or make matching winter dresses for the girls that they wear in December, and then a tie or sweater that matches for Rory. This is getting harder to keep up now that my girls are getting older and Esme isn’t wearing kid’s sizes anymore. I’m still going to try though.
We always like to acknowledge winter solstice, though this looks different every year. On the winter solstice we normally take a hike and get out in nature. We almost always have a bonfire to light the darkest day of the year and a special candle light dinner.
In the past we’ve also made edible ornaments for the birds, read solstice stories, and written down our hopes for the year ahead.
This is different every year but we like to find a giving tree or toy drive to contribute to, a shelter to donate to, or volunteer work. We find great service projects at JustServe.org
This is one of my favorite traditions. I LOVE to send Christmas cards. We take our own pictures with a tripod every year and I normally design the card myself in Photoshop. Then, I enlist all the kids in the stuffing, stamping, and decorating of envelopes.
I love tracing the last 12 years of parenting through our annual holiday cards. And I love receiving holiday cards in the mail all month long.
I don’t do Elf on a Shelf. That’s way too much for me. But when my mom was a kid, her grandparents had a little elf ornament that would hide around the house. Whenever the kids would go over to their grandparents’ house, they’d have so much fun looking for the elf and returning him to the Christmas tree.
We didn’t do this when I was a kid, but a few years ago my mom found an elf ornament at the store that looked just like the one her grandparents had when she was a kid. She bought one for her house and one for our house. This is now one of my kids’ favorite Christmas traditions. It’s so simple, but they really get so excited to wake up in the morning and look for the elf. The only rule is that the elf has to be visible when he hides – he can’t be hidden under or in something.
Christmas Book Traditions
Christmas Picture Books
The day after Thanksgiving is everyone’s favorite day. It’s the day I get out the bins filled with all of our favorite Christmas Picture Books. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone will sit and read books for hours on this day. Here’s our list of favorites. We normally add a couple of new ones each year – sometimes in our December 1st box.
I always think it would be fun to do a holiday book advent, but I haven’t done it yet.
Family Read Aloud
New Book on Christmas Eve
When I was a kid, we opened one present on Christmas Eve. I’ve altered that tradition just a bit and now on Christmas Eve everyone gets a new book. It’s hard to go to bed on such an exciting night, so a new book to take to bed and read always helps. Plus, I’m always looking for a reason to give my kids books.
Christmas Food Traditions
We followed Aimee’s instructions for a ginger bread house from scratch four years ago and it turned into an official family tradition. It’s easier than you’d think it would be, and so much more fun than graham crackers or a kit.
Christmas Eve Dinner
We don’t do a big meal on Christmas Eve, but we do live in New Mexico so we’ve made Christmas Eve tamales a tradition.
Since we don’t do a big Christmas Eve meal, we go all out for Christmas morning breakfast. We always have Orange Rolls, a Ham, and Baked Eggs. There will be both eggnog and hot chocolate, along with fruit so we don’t feel too badly about ourselves.
The other treats that ALWAYS happen in December are:
- Biscochitos – New Mexico’s state cookie and a beloved local tradition
- We always bake Ginger Cookies and Chocolate Orange Crinkle Cookies to share
- Homemade Caramel Popcorn is a tradition passed down from my parents and a must have Christmas treat
- A package of White Fudge Dipped Oreos
- Peppermint Bark
- A flavored popcorn tin (Cheese, Caramel, and Butter)
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Christmas Trees in our Christmas stockings – this is a carryover from my own childhood
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Traditions
Christmas Eve Pajamas
When Esme was 3 and Eila was 1, I sewed Christmas Pajamas for them on Christmas Eve. . . and there have been matching homemade jammies on Christmas Eve every year since. All too often I’m actually sewing them on Christmas Eve, even though every year I vow not to do that again. This year will be the year . . . ha ha ha.
The Christmas Story
On Christmas Eve we always read the Christmas story in the Bible.
When I was a kid, we’d drive and find the neighborhoods with the best Christmas lights on Christmas Eve and then go home and drink hot chocolate before bed. This is a tradition I’ve kept with my own kids too.
At our house, Santa only brings one present per kid. We don’t go crazy with presents – less stuff, more adventure (as Miranda is always saying) is definitely my motto – so one Santa present is just right. Plus, the best presents always come from me because I don’t love Santa enough to let him get all the credit for the great gifts.
We open presents one at a time so that it doesn’t get too crazy and everyone gets individual attention as they open their present. I like Christmas morning to feel slow and relaxed.
What are your holiday traditions, Christmas or otherwise? I love hearing about other people’s family traditions!