Looking for some meaningful family Christmas traditions? We’ve got 52 fun ideas that will help your family make special memories that will last long after the holidays are over.
Despite all of the build-up surrounding what Santa will bring, what your kids will ultimately remember about the holidays is not the toys they received, but rather the special traditions you did together as a family.
Traditions are what make the holidays so magical, and while you may already have some that were passed down from your childhood, it’s never too late to start a new one.
So we’ve partnered with Stonyfield to bring you 52 creative ideas to inspire you to start a new holiday family tradition this year. We’ve also made the list into a free printable so it’s easy to refer to as the season begins.
Before we get to the list – a reminder that one of the most important things for these traditions is that everyone is together…which means you need to keep everyone healthy. No one wants to be sick over the holidays, so to keep your family going strong, make sure everyone is eating well, and getting plenty of vitamins and probiotics.
We like to gobble and gulp down Stonyfield Whole Milk yogurt and Probiotic Smoothies that include live and active cultures, and billions (yup, billions) of probiotics which help support immunity and digestive health. You can even load your littlest members of the family with the probiotic BB-12 via Stonyfield’s YoBaby yogurt line, which is recommended for babies as young as six months. And Stonyfield products are always organic, made without the use of artificial hormones, toxic persistent pesticides and GMOs.
PIN to celebrate old traditions and start new ones!
**Don’t forget to grab the free printable of the entire list at the bottom of the post!**
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS AROUND FOOD
Bake and Decorate Holiday Cookies: Brush off your sugar cookie recipe (bonus points for using Great Grandma’s), pull out your holiday cookie cutters, and get to work! This is always a kid-favorite activity, so do it up – wear Christmas aprons, listen to holiday music and don’t forget the themed-sprinkles!
Host a Cookie Exchange Party: Bake up a large batch of your favorite cookies, catch up with friends and family, and come home with an assortment of delicious desserts – pretty sweet deal if you ask us. We have all the best tips and tricks for hosting your own Cookie Exchange Party right here.
Make Traditional Family Recipes: Honor your family’s history and bake/cook any special family dishes. If you have several, you could plan a special family recipe night where only the traditional food is served.
Decorate a Gingerbread House: Don’t let us stop you from going all-out and making your own gingerbread, but there are some pretty fabulous pre-made sets that lighten the load on your shoulders considerably, and let you and the kids concentrate on the best part: decorating! Set each child up with their own icing bag (can be as simple as a plastic baggie with the corner snipped off), candy and embellishments and let them go to town. Alternatively, grab some graham crackers and make a mini-village.
Drink Hot Chocolate: With chilly December temperatures, there’s never a better time to cozy up with a cup of Hot Chocolate. Take it one step further by creating a Hot Chocolate bar with candy canes, whipped cream, and marshmallows – the perfect treat after an outdoor winter activity like ice skating or sledding. Because Hot Chocolate always tastes better with rosy cheeks!
TRADITIONS AT HOME
Dance to Holiday Music: Ask Alexa to play some holiday tunes and get your groove on! There’s only a limited amount of time to listen to all of the magical music so make the most of it by turning it on wherever you go.
Succumb to Elf on the Shelf: Although the Elf on the Shelf is a newer tradition, we believe it’s one that’s here to stay. The Elf keeps track of your children’s behavior, and reports back to Santa if they’re being naughty or nice. Every day he’s in a new location doing something different – you can even buy activity kits or outfits for your Elf! Despite parents’ displeasure at having to give the Elf his magic powers (make sure you have a good excuse ready for the inevitable time he forgets to return to the North Pole!) kids absolutely love their Elves, which makes it all worthwhile. Make sure you read the book, or even watch the movie, when you introduce your Elf to your kids – their excitement is contagious!
Decorate Your Tree: Whether you’re #teamreal or #teamfake, decorating your Christmas tree together as a family is something your kids will look back on with fond memories. Serve holiday treats, hot chocolate or cider, and crank the Christmas music.
Play I-Spy with your Christmas Tree Ornaments: Once your tree is up, sit back and take in all your hard work. Then engage in a fun game of I-Spy where you have to guess which ornament the “spier” is talking about.
Watch a Holiday Movie or TV Special: Some families like to watch the same holiday movie every year, others like to mix it up. As long as you’ve got on your holiday pajamas and are cuddled together on the couch, you can’t go wrong!
Mail a Letter to Santa…But Keep It!: It goes without saying that your kids will write a letter to Santa with a list full of goodies they hope to receive under the tree Christmas morning, but don’t send it off with making a copy of it first! Photocopy (or take a photo and print) your children’s letters to Santa each year and turn them into a memory book that you can give them when they’re older – totally priceless!
Add Kid-Made Decorations To Your House: Have a holiday craft session and make DIY decorations for your house – think cut paper snowflakes, glitter pinecones and paper plate reindeers!
Have a Christmas Tree Campout: Grab your sleeping bags and set-up camp by your Christmas Tree for the night. This tradition is a kid-favorite because when do they EVER get to have a real sleep-over with mom and dad?! We like to have pizza on the floor, watch a Christmas movie, then talk about our favorite Christmas memories before hopping into our make-shift beds for the night. You may not get the best night sleep, but the special memories that are made will be well worth it.
Hold a Sibling Sleepover: If you’d prefer not to join in the sleepover fun, arrange for a sibling-only sleepover instead. Have them wear their holiday pajamas, set up camp on the floor with their favorite stuffed animals, and pull out all the catalogs to work on their Christmas lists. We recommend arranging it so there’s not school the next day!
Send Holiday Cards + Create a Card Book: Sending out holiday cards is nothing new, but we’re here to tell you this: keep a copy of your own card! Place it in a photo album, memory box or scrap book, and keep adding to it each year. You could even add a handwritten note about some of your favorite memories from that year. In 20 years’ time you’ll have the most amazing memento to look back on with your now-grown children (cue the tears!).
Build a Snowman: If you live in climate where it snows, this is a no-brainer for your kids…but when was the last time YOU built a snowman? Get out there and help roll, pat and dress a new snow friend. We promise it will make you feel like a kid again.
Complete a Holiday Puzzle: Start a holiday-themed puzzle and keeping working on it throughout the season – aim to complete it before Christmas!
SPECIAL EVENT TRADITIONS
See a Holiday-Themed Play: Dress up in your finest holiday clothes and head to the theatre to see “The Nutcracker” or another holiday play of your choosing. The experience of sitting in a fancy theatre will not be lost on your kiddos.
Visit Santa: We know, we know, this is something that goes without saying, but what would the holidays be without the pre-requisite visit to Santa? Whether you visit him at the mall (complete with way-too-expensive photo session) or Christmas tree farm, seeing your kids tell him what they want for Christmas is magical on all levels. Take that photo (or cough up the cash!) and add it to the memory book.
Cut Down Your Christmas Tree: If you’re on #teamreal, do it right and head to your closet Christmas tree farm and hunt for one you can cut down yourself. Make sure you hold a family vote for the final decision – majority rules!
Hold an Ornament Exchange: Gather family or friends and ask everyone to bring an ornament. Draw numbers and start trading. Hope for #1 who gets to choose first AND last.
Host an Ugly Sweater Party: It doesn’t need to be a fancy shin-dig, invite just your family or your closet friends and the only requirement is an ugly holiday sweater. Make your own or buy one on Amazon!
Go on a Special Holiday Outing: Take a look at your community’s local events, and see if you can find one that repeats every year. A lot of Zoos have special events with holiday lights or search for the nearest “Polar Express” train ride. To make it a tradition, repeat the same trip year-after-year.
Give/Make an Annual Ornament: Make (or purchase) an ornament for each child every year. Personalize the ornament with their name and the current year, or have it be based on something that represents their interests or recent experiences – it could be a starfish for a trip to Florida, a truck for your construction aficionado, or Mickey Mouse for a vacation to Disney World. Not only will it be a special trip down memory lane each year as you rehang the ornaments, but you’ll be able to pass these special mementos on to your kids when they’re older, so they’ll have a collection already started when they get their own tree.
Make a Home-Made Gift: All the money in the world can’t buy the thoughtfulness and love that goes into a handmade gift. We like the idea of putting your family’s names into a hat, and each person pulling a name for whom they have to make a gift. You can even have a special gift-opening for these handmade creations – either on Christmas Eve, or after all the presents have been opened on Christmas Day. However you decide to do it, these gifts will be the ones that are ultimately kept and treasured for years to come.
Sibling Gifts: Take each child for a one-on-one trip to the toy store to buy a present for their siblings. Make sure they get a budget, or better yet – have them use their own money. They can then wrap and label it and put it under the tree. Watch how proud they are as they watch their brother or sister open their gift!
Alternatively, scrap the buying altogether and ask them questions about each sibling, such as, “what do you love about…?”, “what’s your favorite memory of them this year?”. Write down their answers (if they can’t themselves) and present each child with their siblings’ kind words.
Secret Santa or Yankee Swap: We love these fun gifting games for large extended families so you don’t have to buy presents for every cousin, aunt and uncle. Instead, draw names so everyone has to buy for only 1 person. Make sure you set a dollar-amount so the gifts are in the same ballpark. You can even choose a gift theme (i.e. personalized gifts, “As Seen on TV” gifts, gag gifts, etc.)
Mom/Dad Date Night to Buy Gifts: We’ve talked to a lot of moms who do all the holiday shopping, and their significant others have no clue what presents their kids are opening – they are just as surprised! So we think the idea of having a date night to shop together is a breath of fresh air. Have an early dinner then head to the mall or local book/toy store to pick out a few special presents. This way you’re both involved, and you get to bounce ideas off of each other, while spending quality time together.
Attend a Local Tree Lighting Ceremony: Check to see if your town (or nearest city) has an annual tree lighting ceremony. Bundle your gang and head out to see the big reveal.
Drive Around To See Holiday Lights: Buckle up in your holiday jammies, crank the Christmas music and drive around on a mission to find the house with the best holiday lights. Amp up the fun by rating each contender, or have a vote at the end to see which one is the winner.
Do an Outdoor Winter Activity: Choose your family’s favorite outdoor activity, or try something new. Consider sledding, ice skating, skiing or snow shoeing.
GIVING BACK TRADITIONS
Volunteer or Donate to a Food Bank: Food banks are at their busiest during the holidays, so consider spreading the holiday spirit and volunteering, or donating non-perishable goods. Check out your local Food Bank’s website first – they usually provide a list of their “most wanted” items.
Sponsor a Family in Need: It’s easy to forget during the holiday festivities that there are many families who are struggling just to put food on the table, and don’t have the funds to give their family special meals or gifts. Consider teaming up with your local church or school to sponsor a family in need, or look into donating to the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program or Toys for Tots who provide gifts for less privileged children, including clothes and toys.
Perform a Random Act of Kindness: Talk to your kids about what the spirit of the holidays really means: caring for others and giving back. Then involve them in a simple act of kindness – it could be baking treats for an elderly neighbor, buying a toy to donate, or leaving a goodie basket on your doorstep for your delivery person. Whatever you decide, have them be an integral part, so they can learn how good it feels to give back.
Make Your Own Advent Calendar: We love the tradition of counting down to Santa’s arrival, with special surprises for each day starting on December 1st. The calendar doesn’t need to be fancy – simply fill 24 bags, envelopes or boxes. It’s up to you what you fill them with: small toys or trinkets, special notes, candy, or coupons for future activities like “one-on-one date with mom” or “bake cookies” (grab our printable holiday coupons HERE). You can even make it a kindness calendar by suggesting good deeds that they must perform that day to spread good cheer. Another fun idea: keep a stash of small ornaments aside, and add a new one to the tree each morning.
Create a Holiday Book Advent “Calendar”: Turn reading holiday books before bed into an extra special event, by wrapping them up and opening a different one every night. If you have multiple kids, have them take turns doing the opening and read them together as a family. If you don’t have a collection of 24 holiday books just yet – count back from the 24th with the number you have, and start the “calendar” on that date. Add a few new titles to your collection each year, and don’t forget to save “The Night Before Christmas” for Christmas Eve!
Make a Countdown to Christmas Chain: This chain serves as a visual reminder to the number of days left until Christmas. Simply cut strips of red and green construction paper and hook them together to create a countdown chain. Have your kids take turns removing a ring off of the chain every night.
CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITIONS
Open a Gift on Christmas Eve: There are many ways to make this fun tradition your own. You could select one small present for your kids to open to get them excited for the next day (or let them chose from the selection under the tree!), or make a whole “Christmas Eve Box” with matching jammies and other treats. However you decide to do it, the excitement level with be on overdrive!
Track Santa: Track Santa’s progress as he delivers presents around the world via NORAD, or try this one from Google.
Sing the 12 Days of Christmas: Write down all of the 12 days on small scraps on paper starting with “a Partridge in a Pear Tree” and ending with “12 Drummers Drumming”. Put them in a hat and let each family member choose a piece (or 2+ depending on how many people you have). Whatever verse they select is the part they’ll sing of the song. Everyone joins in to sing the opening “on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” – this always makes for good festive fun!
Make Reindeer Food: A simple mix of oats + sprinkles is all it takes to lure Santa’s reindeer to your house. Have your kids toss it on your front yard so they’ll have a tasty treat waiting for them on Christmas Eve.
Read “The Night Before Christmas”: The night would not be complete without a reading of this classic!
Wear Holiday Pajamas: Matching or not, wear your most festive holiday PJs to bed so you’re ready for Christmas morning the next day.
Take Christmas Eve Off: Order Chinese food or get pizza delivered. There’s enough going on with Santa’s arrival and prepping for the big meal the next day, so take the night off of cooking. Everyone will be in a better mood as a result.
Leave Santa a Late-Night Snack: Prep a plate of cookies and a tall drink of milk for Santa, and don’t forget the carrots for Rudolf!
Do a Family Video Interview: Ask each family member the same question(s) every year and record their responses. You’ll end up with an amazing compilation of memories. Some questions we ask: “What’s your favorite memory from this year?”, “What was on your Christmas list”, “Do you think you’re on the naughty list or nice list…why?”.
Play Your Favorite Board Games: Have a family game night with your favorite board games. Sweeten the deal by saying the winner gets to open the first present!
Leave Footprints From Santa: Use a pair of boots and sprinkle icing sugar on the floor around them to make it look like “snowy” boot prints leading from the chimney to the tree and/or stocking. Your kids will be in awe!
CHRISTMAS DAY TRADITIONS
Leave a Small Present On Their Bed: Ask Santa to leave a small present on (or below) their bed that they can open as soon as they wake up. This will buy you a little extra time in the morning, especially if it’s an easy-to-to-do-themselves type gift like an activity pack or coloring book.
Make an Annual Contest: The last kid that wakes up on Christmas morning gets to open the first present! Genius.
The Big Present Reveal: Hide your child’s biggest or most-wanted present and make clues for them to find it…or bring it out once all the others have been opened with a big final “ta-da!”.
AFTER CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
Write Thank You Notes: Manners matter! Sit down and write thank you cards with your kids. A handwritten note is always appreciated, and is a great way to teach your kids gratitude after a season of giving.
We’ve put all of these incredible ideas on one page to create a free printable that will make it easy for you to hang and serve as a reminder of all of the traditions you can start (or keep going) this holiday season. To grab it, simply enter your email into the box below:
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We hope this list has sparked ideas for your own family traditions. Whatever you decide, repeating them every year will create amazing holiday memories that will last a lifetime.
Do you have your own Christmas family traditions? Share them in the comments below.
Thanks again to our sponsor, Stonyfield, for making yogurt and smoothies packed with probiotics and vitamins to keep our families nourished and healthy over the busy holiday season.
I think you have a winner with this list. Too bad my grand children are college age. I missed out on so much fun.