There’s no doubt that new Christmas traditions for families can make the holiday more memorable.
We all know this has been a crazy year – but hopefully ending it with a wonderful holiday season full of special Christmas traditions for families – can make us all feel better about 2020.
Don’t you just love Christmastime?
It’s so full of excitement and wonder for our kids. The Christmas traditions fill it with meaning for us as adults.
According to an article in Psychology Today, our holiday traditions play an important role in helping us to feel centered and organized as a family during what can be a crazy holiday season.
I’m excited to share some of our favorite family Christmas traditions to kick off this beautiful time of year.
Some of these ideas are just for fun – things you can enjoy and look forward to throughout the year.
And others are Christmas traditions that can add additional meaning to your celebration of Jesus’s birth.
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Meaningful Christmas traditions for families
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The Christmas book
Basically, the Christmas Book is a simple binder full of songs, scriptures and short Christmas stories for each day of the month.
It isn’t hard to assemble, but it does take some time. I’m putting together a collection of 10 Christmas stories to get you started – so pin this article and come back soon to get them!
Growing up, my family of origin always read from our Christmas Book every night from December 1st – 24th.
My mom printed the stories and carols out on red, green, and white paper and slid them all into plastic page protectors.
Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of sitting around the Christmas tree, reading the stories aloud – even when my siblings and I were all teenagers.
When my husband and I were expecting our first baby, my mom made us our own Christmas Book. I was so touched.
We’ve used it now for fourteen years. While I’ve updated some of the stories and rearranged the order, it is such a dear tradition to gather our five kids each night in December.
Sure, it means the kids get to bed a bit later than normal, but passing this Christmas tradition for families down to my own kids is worth every extra minute.
The Jesse tree
This special family Christmas tradition is based on this lovely book, The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith.
It contains a short daily Christmas devotional that centers around a particular symbol of Jesus. (There are separate devotions for adults and children to make it extra adaptable!) Each symbol is paired with an ornament to hang on your Christmas tree.
The book begins on December 1st and has one devotional every day until Christmas.
We like to keep our Jesse tree ornaments on a small Christmas tree like this instead of adding them to our larger trees.
This little tree is decorated with only 24 ornaments – one for each day of December up to Christmas.
My kids and I have learned so much about the Old and New Testament symbols for Jesus, and we love reviewing them every year.
Consider a Jesse tree swap
Because coming up with twenty-four ornaments to represent each of the symbols can be time consuming, I recommend inviting some friends or extended family members for an ornament exchange.
I did this five years ago with a group of twenty-four women at our military base in Okinawa. Each of us committed to making 24 copies of the ornament for the day we picked.
At the end of November, we had an ornament exchange party. At the party, we presented the ornaments we’d crafted, traded them with each other, and returned home with a full set of 24 different ornaments for our Jesse Trees.
This is one of our favorite Christmas traditions because it gives us a wonderful image of Jesus everyday.
I also love reminiscing about each of the women who participated in the ornament exchange. Placing their ornaments on our Jesse tree reminds me of these amazing faith-filled mamas I’m blessed to know.
The service jingle bell
This is such a simple and fun Christmas tradition for families!
All you need is a large jingle bell and a ribbon.
This is how it works at our house:
When someone in the family finds the service bell on his or her pillow, that means that someone in the family has done a small act of anonymous service for him.
Just like a chain letter, the person who receives the bell is expected to perform a small service for another person in the family within two days’ time.
I love receiving the service bell on my pillow!
Often the person who put it there will gladly share about the service they did.
This simple tradition can help your kids to focusing on serving each other in the family and can create some very sweet moments at Christmastime!
The service jingle bell is the simplest of our favorite Christmas traditions, but it makes a big impact. Give it a try!
A great opportunity for creating Christmas traditions for families is on Christmas morning.
You may want to have a special Christmas devotional before your kids open their gifts.
Or maybe you could let them open their stockings first, followed by a devotional, and then the rest of the Christmas presents.
Here’s what we do at our house:
Before we open gifts on Christmas morning, we spend some time reviewing the first Christmas story of baby Jesus with our kids. (If we have a three or four year old child, we often record him or her retelling the story with the help of our Little People manger nativity scene.)
After the children’s retelling of Jesus’s birth we read the account found in Luke 2 in the New Testament.
Incorporating this special tradition has helped our Christmas morning to feel a little more focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
Homemade Christmas ornaments
Having your kids make homemade Christmas ornaments every year is a wonderful family Christmas tradition.
You can then give these ornaments as gifts to grandparents, teachers, coaches, and friends.
Be sure to choose something simple. You want your kids’ work to shine through so there is extra meaning to the gift.
Some of our favorite ornament gifts have been little jingle bell wreaths, beaded candy canes, and painted craft stick Christmas trees.
I high recommend keeping one or two of these special ornaments every year for your own family Christmas tree.
It has been a favorite Christmas tradition for our family to get these ornaments out every year and reflect on how much our children have grown since the ornament was made.
If you have any extra funds in December, you may want to consider serving as a Secret Santa for another family who may have less.
You can find opportunities for this with your local Salvation Army, your church, or with different community outreach programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs.
If your kids are over the age of five or six, you can definitely explain what you’re doing and invite them to help you pick out gifts or wrap them with you.
If you have teenagers, they can really get involved – by either donating some of their own money to the gifts or by carrying the box of gifts to the door of the family’s home, ringing the doorbell, and running like mad for the car!
Whether or not you give your kids allowance or chore money, you can have them buy or make gifts for their siblings every year.
It can be very sweet to watch your kids thoughtfully consider what they can give to their sibling at this special time of year.
Now that my kids are old enough to earn an allowance, they start saving their money around Halloween so they can purchase Christmas gifts for each other.
Often they will pool their money to purchase a small gift for each of their siblings.
They work together to wrap the gifts they’ve purchased and excitedly place them under the Christmas tree!
When Christmas morning arrives, they are absolutely giddy to open their own gifts, but they also love seeing their brothers and sisters open the presents they’ve bought for each other.
This favorite Christmas tradition for families can help your kids learn the joy of giving, rather than only focusing on receiving.
Fun Christmas traditions for families
While creating meaningful traditions for your family is a worthy endeavor, it’s also important to have some lighter family Christmas traditions too.
Look at or visit Christmas lights together
This is probably the simplest Christmas tradition for families you can think of – and yet, it is so much fun.
All you need to do is put the kids in the car in the evening, turn on some Christmas music and drive around your town to look at the different Christmas lights displays.
There may be an area in your city or town that is well known for its festivity. You may consider asking in local Facebook groups where the best places to see lots of lights in your area.
In our town, the local college has a lovely Christmas lights display, and there are several neighborhoods that are known for their beautiful Christmas lights.
Our kids love to climb into our van in their pajamas, bringing along some hot chocolate too.
Elf on the Shelf
It seems that you either love the Elf on the Shelf as a parent – or you don’t!
As explained in his accompanying storybook, the Elf on the Shelf is a little red elf who comes to watch your kids’ behavior from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Every night he reports back to Santa and shows up in a new location in your house the next morning.
Some parents love going all in with their Elf and stage funny antics for him or her, such as setting the elf next to a bowl of cereal with a pretend fishing rod or having the elf write a message on the mirror with shaving cream.
And then there are other parents who simply move the elf from place to place around their home every night.
(P.S. I was always a boring elf mom – until this year! Check out these 35 Easy Last Minute Elf on the Shelf Ideas Your Kids Will Love!)
The bottom line is this: your kids will LOVE the Elf on the Shelf, but it does mean that you have to move your elf every. single. night from Thanksgiving to Christmas or your kids will be devastated.
So set an alarm on your phone and don’t forget, okay?!
I’m thinking with this dud of a year, we may have him perform a few funny antics to increase the holiday cheer in our home.
Christmas Eve buffet
Many families have Christmas Eve traditions.
From wearing new Christmas pajamas, opening one gift each, or setting out cookies and milk for Santa, Christmas Eve is a very exciting night for kids!
At our house, we have a fun Christmas Eve buffet. Rather than our typical sit-down dinner, we have a buffet with healthy finger foods and set out all of our Christmas goodies.
Favorites for our buffet include homemade pizza bread, crab dip and veggies, a charcuterie board, and lots and lots of Christmas cookies.
After the kids pile their plates high, we sit in the living room and watch The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
This is actually one of the most accurate retellings of the classic Christmas books by Charles Dickens. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!
Make or decorate gingerbread houses
Making and/or decorating gingerbread houses is another fun Christmas tradition for families!
This may sound like a daunting task, but it is really do-able with a great little gingerbread house kit like this!
This one comes with 4 little houses to build and decorate, so it is very easy to divide up the houses amongst your kids.
One important note: you definitely want to assemble the house the day before you plan to decorate, so the frosting will have time to set. This way the houses will be as strong as possible for the kids to handle.
While the kits often come with some candy to use for decorating, it’s a good idea to have some extra on hand!
One of my favorite holiday hacks is to use leftover Halloween candy for your Christmas gingerbread houses – makes me feel efficient and earth-friendly!
Attend local holiday events
While many things may be cancelled this year due to the worldwide pandemic, there may be some fun local Christmas events to attend as a family.
Regardless of the size of your community, there may be some wonderful Christmas events that could become treasured traditions for your family.
Our small town hosts a Santa House in one of the historic homes downtown. My younger kids love to go here every year to watch a little Christmas play, meet Mrs. Claus in her kitchen, and have story time with Santa.
In the past, we’ve participated in our City Lights parade in November, and gone to see the local ballet theatre’s performance of The Nutcracker.
Last year we ventured a bit farther from home then usual to enjoy some larger Christmas events in Oklahoma City.
If you live in a very small or remote location, you may consider a mini vacation for a night or two. In 2019, we took a short trip to Oklahoma City.
We loved ice skating at the Devon Ice Rink, snow tubing at Winter Fest, and taking in the light and music show Illuminations at Myriad Botanical Gardens. We took full advantage of the free weekend trolley in Bricktown and enjoyed the festive holiday spirit at the tree lighting ceremony.
With an easy one-night hotel stay, we felt this was a wonderful way to ring in the Christmas season and create some new favorite Christmas traditions for families.
Christmas bulletin board
Putting together a Christmas tree bulletin may sound like a lot of work, but it is really a simple and fun family Christmas traditions.
Depending on the size of your board, you may need several sheets of green cardstock to cut out a Christmas tree shape.
Then using a 2-inch circle paper punch, cut out at least 24 “ornaments.”
On the back of each ornament, write a fun Christmas activity. Some ideas could be:
- singing a favorite Christmas song
- reading a beloved Christmas book (for our list of the 21 best Christmas books, read this article!)
- doing a simple Christmas craft
- playing a fun Christmas game such as Christmas Tree I Spy; Stocking, Stocking, Ornament (a Christmas version of Duck, Duck, Goose); or Ornament Hot and Cold
I recommend switch out a few of the activities from year to year to keep it fun and interesting.
You may also ask your kids to contribute ideas for activities to include.
Final thoughts on favorite Christmas traditions for families:
I hope you’ve gotten lots of great ideas for family Christmas traditions to try at your house!
Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, and I know you want to make it special for your kids.
Even if some traditions don’t turn out exactly as you envision, that is okay! The intent behind your actions will shine through to your kids.
Even though 2020 has undoubtedly been a tough year for all of us, I hope you have many successes helping it to end a happily as possible this Christmas!