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Whether you’re a “take down Halloween and throw up the Christmas tree” type of person, or a “wait until Thanksgiving is done” individual, there are few things more joyous than the holiday season. Add in some unforgettable Christmas traditions for kids, and you’re sure to make the most of this special time of year!
As a child (and, let’s be honest, still as an adult), I longed for the days of pine-scented trees and Mariah Carey’s iconic Christmas song floating through my house.
The holidays come with whimsical magic you don’t usually find during other times of the year. What’s always made the season even more special for me, though, were the holiday traditions in my family.
Annual traditions can be whatever you want them to be.
Whether you do something as simple as looking at Christmas lights or a more elaborate activity like that darn Elf on the Shelf, your children will love having something to look forward to every time December rolls around.
So, if you’re a new parent looking to start some yearly Christmas traditions or want to add to what you already do, keep reading to learn more about some of our favorite options during the yuletide season.
Holiday Crafts You’ll Treasure for Years to Come
Whether you create a new project each year or create something that becomes an annual decoration, these Christmas crafts for kids are fun additions to any holiday to-do list.
1. DIY Christmas Ornaments for Babies and Kids
I always look forward to receiving sweet handmade ornaments our kiddos make at school. There’s nothing quite like having a good, sentimental cry when you put them up on the tree year after year.
Don’t have a little one in school? No worries! Pinterest has tons of cute ideas you can easily do at home.
2. Make Reindeer Food for Christmas Eve
Whether you do this the night before Santa’s big ride or earlier in the season, making reindeer food is always an exciting Christmas activity for kids.
All you have to do is mix together oats, sprinkles, and glitter (feel free to skip the glitter if you’re not into having it all over your yard). Then, you’ll sprinkle your “reindeer food” on the front lawn on Christmas Eve to help the reindeer find their way to your home.
3. Footprint Christmas Crafts for Babies and Toddlers
One of my friends had the brilliant idea to create Christmas decorations featuring her kids’ feet. Not only do these types of projects commemorate tiny baby tootsies, but they also make lovely holiday decor you can use in the future.
4. Holiday Activity Kits
If you want an easy holiday craft for kids, check out local stores like Target, Michaels, or Dollar Tree. They usually have fun, pre-made kits that most kids love!
5. Write a Letter to Santa
You might not think of a Santa Claus letter as a craft, but it all comes down to how much glitter, paint, and stickers you’re willing to let your little one utilize!
Instead of just handing over a piece of notebook paper, you could always create a pretty Santa letter to help your children earn extra brownie points with the big guy.
6. Plan a Homemade Gift Exchange with Your Family Members
A friend of mine told me about this tradition her son came up with, and it’s one of my new favorite options for kids and families!
As a part of their gift exchange on Christmas morning, each family member gets a secret Santa for whom they have to make a homemade gift. While the family still shops for each other, too, my friend said these DIY presents usually end up being the highlight of their Christmas mornings.
Multi-Cultural Holiday Traditions to Teach Little Ones About
Not every culture celebrates Christmas, and the holiday season is the perfect time to explore other traditions around the world with your children. See below for some fun and popular options!
1. Read Books About How Other Cultures Celebrate the Holidays
When I was younger, I loved learning about how other cultures celebrated the holidays. One of my favorite ways to do this was by reading books about them.
Whether you purchase a small collection of multicultural holiday books for kids to read each year, or plan an annual trip to the library to stock up on reading material, this would be a great holiday tradition for families.
2. Plan a Visit from the Icelandic Yule Lads
As traditions go, the Yule Lads are a fun, and possibly stinky, event in Iceland. Back in the day (the 1700s), people believed that if kids put a shoe by the window sill on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, 13 different holiday fellows would place a small treat or rotten potato in the shoe, depending on whether they were good or “bad.”
While rotten potatoes seem to be a thing of the past, this could be a silly new tradition to try with your kids to teach them about Icelandic culture.
3. Watch the Winter Solstice Sunrise/Sunset Over Stonehenge
Each year for generations, thousands of people in England have traveled to Stonehenge during Winter Solstice to watch the sunrise, or sometimes sunset, over the historic landmark.
If you’d like to enjoy this tradition, there’s no need to book a flight to England (unless you want to, of course). Instead, you can join a live web stream to participate in this annual holiday event.
4. Play Dreidel to Celebrate Hanukkah
Playing the dreidel game is a classic and famous tradition for the Jewish community during Hanukkah. Whether you and your little ones celebrate Hanukkah, however, giving the game a try will result in an evening of fun.
Pair playing dreidel with a great book about Hanukkah, and you’ve got a great evening of learning, too!
5. Host a Kwanzaa Feast with Traditional African Dishes
I believe there’s no better way to learn about other traditions than through food (or maybe I just really like tasting new dishes).
If you’re interested in teaching your kids about Kwanzaa, why not indulge in a traditional African feast?
6. Hide a German Christmas Pickle in Your Tree
This is a Christmas tradition for children that our family participates in every year: the German Christmas pickle.
Yes, it does sound a little strange, but I promise it’s fun!
All you have to do is buy a pickle ornament (yep, that’s right!) and hide it somewhere good on your tree.
Then, whichever of your children finds it first wins a small prize.
Selfless Acts of Christmas Joy
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and forget about the thousands of less fortunate members of our community who won’t have the same experience. That’s why random acts of kindness during Christmas are one of my favorite seasonal traditions!
1. Adopt a Family for Christmas Through a Local Charity
Most of us will walk by several charity trees in local stores and public places throughout the holidays. If you want to start a meaningful Christmas tradition for your family, why not offer to adopt one of the families?
The families participating in these programs don’t always have the means to celebrate the holidays. By adopting one through organizations like Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army Angel Trees, your family can help make all of their yuletide dreams come true.
You can also look for locally-based organizations that offer similar programs.
2. Make a Toy Donation to Local Charity Drives
You might notice large collection boxes posted near the registers when you’re out shopping during the holiday season. These are usually toy donation programs where you can buy a toy in the store and donate it to needy children.
Have your kids pick out a special toy for a child their own age and talk about what it means to help others during the holiday season.
3. Send Homemade Christmas Cards
Do you have some crafty kiddos who love to flex their artistic muscles? Why not have them make homemade Christmas cards for people who might not usually get any?
There are many options, such as mailing them to deployed troops through organizations like USASOA or sending them to local nursing home residents who might not have many family members or visitors to spend the holidays with.
4. Do Volunteer Work with Your Family
From toy drives to a local food bank, most areas have ample opportunities for family volunteer work around Christmas time. Websites like VolunteerMatch.Org can help you locate options.
5. Invite Someone Over for Christmas Dinner
Do you know someone who doesn’t normally have family or friends to spend the holidays with? If so, you could make it a tradition to include them in your festivities.
6. Adopt a “Grandparent”
Lately, my social media is littered with opportunities to “Adopt a Grandparent” during the holiday season.
You and your family can be matched with nursing home residents who are alone during Christmas through different programs and organizations. You can visit them, send gifts, invite them to dinner, or mail a card to help boost their holiday spirit.
7. Go Caroling
Now listen, I know some people don’t like Christmas music (insanity, I tell you), but for many of us, there’s nothing quite like a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells” to put us in the holiday mood.
When I was younger, some friends and I would walk around the neighborhood caroling. We saw firsthand how much other people enjoyed this simple gesture of holiday charm. So, if you’re looking for a fun family Christmas tradition, warm up those vocal cords and sing your hearts out!
As Buddy the Elf would say: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”
Snacks and Food Traditions During the Christmas Season
Candy canes, sugar cookies, and hot cocoa–these are just three of the amazing treats readily available during the season. The wide variety of incredible holiday snack possibilities is one reason anything food-related is sure to be some of the best Christmas traditions on your family’s holiday bucket list.
1. Build a Gingerbread House
Whether you buy a pre-made kit or gather graham crackers, icing, and candies to do your own thing, gingerbread houses are a Christmas season classic!
2. Spend a Day Decorating Christmas Cookies
Chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar – oh my! So many Christmas cookie options and so little time; that’s why you might as well make a cookie decorating marathon a part of your yearly holiday tradition schedule.
If you’re an avid baker, you’ll find plenty of fantastic from-scratch cookie recipes online. If you’re looking for an easier option, you can always buy pre-baked sugar cookies and let your kids have a blast adding icing, sprinkles, and other edible decorations.
3. Make Christmas Candy
We can’t just single out cookies, though. There’s also an abundance of Christmas candy recipes you’ll want to try out, like peppermint bark, fudge, and buckeyes.
A friend of mine lovingly remembers sitting in the Christmas services at church and eating her father’s homemade cinnamon candy. Something as small as a holiday treat can become a memorable event that your family will carry with them for years to come.
4. Plan a Hot Chocolate Bar for Your Family and/or Friends
Our family traditions always include hot chocolate and movie nights during the holiday season. If you want to give your cocoa an upgrade, however, you can always host a hot chocolate bar!
Make a big batch of your favorite hot chocolate recipe and set out various toppings, syrups, or even adult-friendly beverages. Some ideas include:
- Meringue Cookies
- Wafer Cookies
- Chocolate Chips
- Crushed Peppermint
You could also add some hot chocolate bombs to the table for a unique treat. These are adorable and fun for kids (and adults, too!).
5. Host a Cookie Exchange
Are you tired of the same old cookie recipes?
You can host an annual cookie exchange with family and friends where everyone brings their favorite cookies and recipe cards so they can be recreated at home.
Clothing-Related Christmas Traditions for Families
With an abundance of party invitations and photo opportunities at your disposal during Christmas, why not make your clothing choices a part of the family traditions, too?
1. Buy Matching Christmas Pajamas
Recently, a friend and I were talking about matching family Christmas PJs. Her oldest child is in 4th grade, and holiday jammies have been a part of their traditions since he was born.
Whether you want a classic Christmas tartan pattern or the Grinch’s face covering your PJs, there are plenty of choices on the market.
Bonus: I asked this friend if she keeps all of her jammies. She said yes and intends to make them into a quilt for each child to have once they’re out on their own – so stinking cute!
2. Don an Ugly Sweater at Some Point
Any excuse for an ugly Christmas sweater is good enough for me. Throw a party, rock them in family photos, or put one on for a trip to the grocery store–picking out a new ugly sweater each season is a guaranteed good time.
3. Go Shopping for New Christmas Outfits
During the past couple of years, we’ve made it a new tradition to let our girls pick out a new dress for the holiday season.
While we started this by shopping for their Christmas performance at school, it’s become an excuse to let them buy the frilliest, girliest frock they can find.
Holiday Activities and Events for December
Below you will find some of the most popular activities and local events many families try to do each year around the holidays.
1. Elf on the Shelf
I was dead set against that damn Elf on the Shelf.
Then, one infamous day, our girls were at their cousins’ house and saw that they had one and started asking why they got an elf, but we didn’t.
Hello, mom guilt.
I rushed home, placed an order, and waited for that stinking doll to arrive. And now, Angel the Elf is a part of our yearly Christmas traditions for the kids.
Elf on the Shelf might not be a parent favorite, but here’s the thing – kids love it.
So, if you’re looking for a cute holiday tradition for your little ones, this might be a fantastic option.
2. Go See “The Nutcracker” or Another Holiday Play
I still remember yearly field trips to see “The Nutcracker” when I was in school. Now that I’m older, I long for the days when our kids are old enough to sit through the show and appreciate the story.
Whether you see The Nutcracker or some other type of Christmas production, going to plays and shows around the holidays is a fun annual event.
3. Watch Christmas Movies
This one seems obvious to me, but it demands a mention: watching an extensive list of holiday movies is one of the best Christmas traditions you can start. Our family has a list of films we must watch each holiday season.
Some of our favorites include:
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- Home Alone (I and II)
- The Santa Claus
- A Christmas Story
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
4. Drive Around and Look at Christmas Lights
My sister has a tradition with her kiddos where they throw on PJs, grab a hot chocolate, and drive around to look at Christmas lights each holiday season. While you don’t have to do this exact thing, a tour of lights around your town is a magical experience your children will love.
Don’t feel like driving? No problem! Another friend told me that her family loves taking a light stroll through their neighborhood.
5. Treat Your Kids to a Surprise “Pajama Ride”
This one is a fun family Christmas tradition that we’ll be starting this year!
A friend told me that once every holiday season, they get their kids in pajamas, put them to bed, and then a few minutes later, they yell out, “Pajama Ride!” Then they get the kids back up and surprise them with a spontaneous Christmas activity, like watching a movie or looking at Christmas lights.
Kids will love the surprise element and the fact that they get to stay up past their bedtime for a night!
6. Buy Advent Calendars
Each year, our Elf on the Shelf brings our girls their seasonal advent calendars. These are an excellent way to count down the days to Christmas if you celebrate the advent season.
7. Visit a Live Nativity Scene
Not every area has a live nativity scene, but if you’re lucky enough to be in one that does, these are a beautiful way to celebrate the Christmas season if you celebrate the religious side of the holiday.
8. Travel to See a Famous Christmas Tree
Does your family love to travel? If so, pay close attention to this one!
I was talking to a friend, and her family started a new tradition where each year, they travel to see a famous Christmas tree–so far, they’ve done New York and Washington D.C.
As someone with a serious travel bug, I’m trying to figure out how to talk my husband into doing this!
9. Read Christmas Books Before Bed
I’m a self-proclaimed bookworm, so Christmas books play a significant role in our annual holiday traditions.
I’ve even seen families up the tradition ante by wrapping 25 holiday books and letting their kids unwrap one every night before bed – kind of like a literary advent calendar! Another friend said they pick an advent book with 24 sections for each night of the season.
10. Make a Christmas Playlist with Your Favorite Songs
Open up Spotify and create a family Christmas playlist you can rock out to during your holiday adventures like putting up the tree or taking a drive to see the lights.
11. Put Together a Holiday Season Bucket List
Over the summer, my girls and I put together a bucket list of activities that they wanted to do before school started again in the fall. We had so much fun with it that we decided to do it again for the Christmas season.
You can even purchase printable holiday bucket lists for families on Etsy if you’re stumped for ideas.
12. Hold a Family Game Night
Put on that Christmas playlist and munch on some holiday treats while you have fun with a family game night. You could play traditional board games or purchase a holiday-themed alternative, like this Grinch card game.
Another cool idea is to work on a family puzzle throughout the season. A friend told me that her family starts a 1500-piece puzzle in early December and challenges themselves to finish it by Christmas.
13. Attend a Local Christmas Event or Festival
Something I love about the holiday season is the number of fun community events that take place. Pull up calendars for local schools, parks, churches, and more to find exciting activities for your family.
14. Build a Snowman
If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with snow, why not build Frosty once every Christmas season?
15. Visit Santa Clause
While researching local events, remember to figure out when and where Santa Clause will be. Most kids count down the moments until they can share their holiday wishlists with Santa.
If you can’t see Santa in person, remember that sending letters to the North Pole is also an option!
16. Take Family Christmas Photos
So, this might not be the most enjoyable Christmas tradition for kids and families, but it is common. If you’re interested in updated family photos, it can be fun to take them around the holidays. Many photographers even offer themed mini-shoots.
17. Send Out Christmas Cards to Family and Friends
Now that you’ve taken those gorgeous family photos, what will you do with them? Send out photo Christmas cards, of course!
Fun and Memorable Christmas Eve Traditions for Your Family
Once you’ve made it through most of the holiday season, the fun doesn’t end. Christmas Eve traditions are usually some of the best!
1. Open Up Christmas Eve Boxes
Each year, my husband and I put together a Christmas Eve box for our girls. These include new pajamas, hot chocolate, candy, and more.
If you’re interested in this, you can customize the boxes however you’d like. You could make a movie night box, an ornament box (we received a new ornament each year as kids), a cookie decorating kit – whatever floats your family’s boat!
2. Put Out Cookies and Milk for Santa
It’s hard work delivering presents to every kid in the world. While you’re helping your littles get ready for Christmas Day, why not suggest they put out cookies and milk for Santa, too?
And don’t forget some carrots for the reindeer or the reindeer food we mentioned earlier!
3. Prepare a Yummy Breakfast to Bake on Christmas Morning
Christmas morning can get a little crazy with all of the Santa fun and present opening. Making breakfast for the family is sometimes the last thing you want to deal with.
Instead of rushing around the kitchen on the big day, you could make it a tradition to put together a casserole or homemade cinnamon buns on Christmas Eve. That way, you can pop it in the oven after you wake up and forget about it!
4. Put Out a Santa Key
Not every house has a fireplace for Santa to come down. If this sounds familiar, you should invest in a Santa Key you can put out each Christmas Eve.
5. Have a Special Christmas Eve Dinner
Whether you go all-out and have a Feast of the Seven Fishes or order a pizza, it can be fun to recreate the same Christmas Eve meal year after year. In our family, for example, it’s somehow become a family holiday tradition to eat wings the night before Christmas!
6. Attend Christmas Eve Church Service
For many religious families, Christmas Eve services are a non-negotiable holiday tradition. This is an excellent way to bring your loved ones together and reflect on the meaning of Christmas.
What Christmas Traditions for Kids Do You Remember from Childhood?
Christmas traditions for families are not a necessity. They do, however, create memorable experiences that your little ones will carry with them into adulthood.
I can still remember the things my family did each year and treasure the memories of those moments. In fact, I’ve continued doing many of them with our children!
Don’t feel pressed to do everything on this list, though.
If you want to start new holiday traditions for your children, pick out a few you find appealing and go from there. Trust me, whether you do two of these things or 20, your kiddos won’t forget them anytime soon!
Are there any Christmas traditions for kids that you did as a child? What other things does your family do during the holidays?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.