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Christmas Family Traditions

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Christmas family traditions are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season! Our traditions are something the whole family not only expects but looks forward to!

Christmas family traditions

Growing up, my family was fairly poor in terms of money but rich in terms of family traditions and experiences! My mom made everything special and fun, and I’ve tried to do the same with my own kids (which is why I rely on money-saving DIY projects like my ping pong ball Christmas lights!)

Some of them take some tweaking to figure out what will work with your own kids. What are there interests and what will get them excited? They don’t have to be complicated or add more stress to the busy season! Some of the things you’re most likely doing anyways… but there are ways to make it more fun!

For the most part, the Christmas traditions that I’ve introduced over our 17 years as a family have a been a hit! They’ve been things that my kids remember, talk about during other times of the year and are glad to call me on if I forget it one year!

Here are some of our favorite that we think would work for most families. Remember, these ideas don’t have to be done exactly as we do. Feel free to modify them for your family and schedules, and create your own Christmas family bucket list!

It’s more important to keep it fun and light-hearted than it is to stress over making it just perfect.

Family Christmas Traditions


Advent Calendars

I can’t imagine any other way to start a discussion on Christmas traditions, then to talk about Advent Calendars. I know a lot of families skip a homemade advent calendar because they seem like a hassle. But I swear to you, they are one of my kids very, very favorite parts of the holiday season. We’ve often done activity advent calendars, and recently upgraded to a random act of kindness advent calendar. I have also made themed advent calendars for school parties, like this Grinch Advent Calendar


Growing up, there were 6 kids in my family and my mom made us each an individual Advent calendar every year. Remember, money was tight, so she’d cut up cereal boxes to look like stockings or a Christmas tree and attach the candy to it. Or one year she turned cereal boxes into 3D gingerbread houses, taped all the candy together and we pulled it out of the chimney one piece at a time.

These are some of my favorite memories, and even when I left for college, she was still sending me my homemade  Advent Calendars! My kids now wait with the same anticipation that I used to wait for mine.

Advent Calendar pouches

We’ve added to ours a bit and I also include activities with their piece of candy. Some of the activities are purely in the holiday spirit- watch a Christmas movie, bake a treat, etc. Others are more in the giving spirit- leave a treat for the mailman, give flowers to someone in the store parking lot, etc. 

If you’d rather skip the handmade part, and just purchase one, your memories will be just as special! Promise! I love the look of this wooden Advent calendar. Plus it doubles as decorations and would be such a neat keepsake to eventually pass down to grandkids!

Holiday Book Advent

We don’t actually call this an Advent, but I wasn’t sure how else to title it! It could absolutely be used as one, though, if you’re trying to get away from the traditional candy route.

Over the years, we were either given or bought some quick-read holiday books. Rather than just put them out in a basket where everyone ignored them for the whole month, I tried to make it a little more fun.

I wrapped each book individually and placed them in a basket under the tree. I didn’t even bother numbering them. I just let them take turns picking a book each night to unwrap and then read together before bed.

Christmas gifts

Even as my kids have gotten older, we still read a lot of these same books together. I don’t wrap them anymore now that they’re teenagers, but that’s really just me being lazy about it!

Our favorites are A Charlie Brown Christmas, Llama Llama Holiday Drama, Bear Stays up for Christmas and our very favorite from my childhood and from my kids’ is The Sweet Smell of Christmas! This book basket would be perfect because it’s short enough to slide under the tree! Plus it’s a neutral enough color that you could use it year-round!

Time Capsule Ornament

I buy blank ornaments each year after Christmas when they go on sale for us to use the following year for our time capsule ornaments.

There is probably a fancier way to do this, but I try to keep things simple so I don’t stress myself out. I really just cut cardstock into strips and we write our favorite memories from the year on them. Don’t forget to make one yourself too, or for a nice Christmas neighbor gift!

I used to just include a strip that also had that person’s name and the year. Since I started using my Cricut, I now quick cut out their name and year in vinyl and put it on the outside of the ornament.

The time capsule ornament is one of my favorite Christmas crafts, but I also love other crafts, like my paper doily Christmas tree window decoration!

Christmas Light Show

We try to find at least one spot near us that has a light show set to music. We’re fortunate that there is a private residence in our town that puts on a spectacular show each year. We also have a few businesses that do the same.

If you haven’t been to one, I highly recommend it! You just pull up in your car, set the radio to the station on their sign and watch the lights dance in time to the music.

We usually go in our pajamas and I make some hot chocolate and cookies to take along with us. The kids love it and we usually have a sing along in the car. All the ones near us are either free or an optional donation.

We also love to visit a new town each year to see their light displays! This year we chose Frederick, MD to visit and loved seeing a parade of novelty boats in their creek that were all lit up! You can see more about the holiday activities in Frederick HERE.

Christmas lights boats Carroll Creek Frederick MD

Christmas Movies

Now I realize this isn’t a tradition or holiday activity that is special to our family. Tons of families out there are watching their Christmas movies during December. For the most part, we just watch them and move on with our evening too.

But I try to pick 2 or 3 movies during the month that I make a special dinner for. Sometimes we’ll do a snack dinner with nothing but appetizers (hello, cheese tray!!).

how to build bread meat cheese tray vertical

My kids’ favorite (even as teens) is the night we watch Elf! I can’t bring myself to make spaghetti with candy toppings and maple syrup, so we do our version. I’ll usually make a big breakfast dinner with either waffles or French toast and put tons of toppings out (mini marshmallows, Oreo crumbs, powdered sugar glaze, candy, etc.).

Buddy the Elf made breakfast for his new dad, so we keep in the same theme when we’re watching the movie!

Christmas Picnic

The first night we put our Christmas tree up, we set up a picnic and eat dinner under it!

I don’t really worry about making anything special. In fact, if anything, I go REALLY simple with the dinner since we’re pre-occupied with decorating the tree!

But the simple act of spreading a blanket on the floor in front of the tree, can make even hot dogs and chips seem like a special dinner! Little things like that are the memories your kids will be telling their kids about years down the road!


Homemade Gifts

For the past 5 years or so, my extended family has done a homemade gift exchange. My siblings, all the spouses and my parents all exchange names. Then all our kids (the cousins) exchange names with each other to see who they will be making a homemade gift for.

Emma's homemade gift for Philip

I’ve had sooo many people say that they love our homemade gift exchange but could never do it with their family because it’s too much stress.  And, honestly, you’re right. It can be stressful. In fact, this year we had a little discussion in the family trying to reign it in.

Some of the gifts were getting to be a little involved (think bookshelves, chairs, blanket ladders and more). But they don’t have to be that involved! They really don’t!

TV bench before it's stained

Last year my sister made my husband a week’s worth of his favorite lunch- individual containers of frozen chicken tortilla soup and ranch pretzels! It really doesn’t have to be detailed and stressful!

homemade caramel butter grenadine edible gifts

But it truly is one of our favorite traditions and I love looking around my house at the everything my family has made me! And it’s the perfect way for us to show our quirky sense of humor!

Christmas Songs

Christmas traditions can be incredibly simple! One of my favorite memories from growing up was traveling to all the grandparents’ houses on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

There were 8 people in my family and we would take turns during the drive picking Christmas songs. The whole family would join in and we would have a giant sing along for the entire ride. It is so simple and stress-free, but we all still talk about it 20 years later!

In fact, there were even years after some of us had moved out and gotten married, that it was discussed who would ride with which family so they could have a sing-along! And we still remember which person always picked which song… every single year!

Christmas Pajamas

Again, soooo simple, but still something my kids look forward to! I wrap them and place them on their bed before our Christmas Eve party. As soon as the party is over, they know they’ll have their first present to unwrap!

It also serves a little bit of a selfish purpose in that I know I’ll like what they’re wearing for Christmas morning pictures! I don’t get to choose many of their clothes anymore now that they’re teens, but on Christmas morning, they will be wearing their new pajamas!

Gifts for Neighbors

We still love to make Christmas cookies, or sweet treats like my easy microwave caramels, but we also like to mix it up a little! Some years we deliver these Christmas muffin gifts and always get a few chuckles with our gift tags! 



What are your Holiday Traditions?

I’d love to hear how your family celebrates the holidays! I think it’s so neat how traditions get started and how much they can vary from family to family! The best part, though, is when you see someone’s eyes light up as they describe their special family memories!

Holiday Traditions to start with your kids