I am so excited to start some family Christmas traditions with my toddler this year. Up until now, she has been a little too young to have an understanding of the Christmas spirit (let’s be real – she’s still a little young)!
Christmas can be one of the most magical times of the year. It can be very difficult to know how best to celebrate the season with your kids.
Christmas can get so convoluted if you let it. Greeting cards and a mad rush on that one special toy; traffic and shopping and expectations. Don’t forget aisles and aisles of candy and decorations cramming every store to the brink.
Take some time to cultivate respect and nurture with rituals born of love within your own branch of the tree. Otherwise you risk sending your children into the world wondering just what it’s all for.
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Act of Kindness
Holiday Light Show
Sub For Santa
North Pole Breakfast
Four Gift Rhyme
Should I Have Family Christmas Traditions?
The brain says your child will not remember these years, and that anything you do is more for yourself. The heart doesn’t care, and it shouldn’t!
Early actions and activities have paramount effects on your little’s development, so really you should just enjoy these adorable family Christmas traditions.
Even if the little one doesn’t remember the specific year, they will have feelings that endure into their remembered years. You, on the other hand, will carry the memory forever.
Bear in mind that I was raised in a predominantly Christian society. As such, my traditions are of Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas (or even if you do), consider absorbing this great article about Hanukkah or this explanation and step-by-step recommendations regarding Kwanzaa.
What Family Christmas Traditions Should I Start?
Did your family have family Christmas traditions growing up? Are there things that your parents always did, which have become an expectation? I ask hypothetically, but I really would love to hear from you. Take some time to read my suggested traditions and share your Christmas family traditions below.
It goes without saying, but those family Christmas traditions began somewhere. Someone in your lineage chose to do a thing a certain way to pour their familial joy into a symbolic gesture. Maybe it was your parents or their parents, or even some distance ancestor.
Good news! You’re the parent now! You have an open ticket to forge new paths and make new rituals that will forever resound in your children’s lives.
CHRISTMAS FAMILY TRADITIONS THROUGH THE MONTH OF DECEMBER
Several activities happen anywhere from right after Thanksgiving to right up until the big day. The timing will vary based on your schedule and your needs.
How and when you take advantage of these opportunities can even be part of the tradition.
ELF ON THE SHELF
Everyone has heard of the Elf on the Shelf. It’s an adorable family Christmas tradition, but honestly I still feel a little iffy about it.
Something about the elf reminds me of my grandmother’s creepy porcelian dolls that would stare at me from above my dresser when I was trying to sleep.
Next year our oldest will be old enough to start this family Christmas tradition, so I guess we will see.
Here is a post full of Elf on the Shelf activities and printables for you.
Choosing a tree is a great time to arm your young child with the power of choice.
Nothing makes a child more excited (or compliant!) as helping them see that their boundaries include decision making.
Giving your child (especially if they’re a toddler) choices might not always be best. This is most true in times of transition (you can find out more about that in my article regarding eliminating toddler tantrums).
Bundle up and take a stroll through the tree farm or the sales lot. Explain the good things about each tree (understanding that a toddler will pick every tree they look at).
Once you’ve arrived at a decision, let your child point the attendant to the tree that will be coming home with you.
Take some time to warm up by the heater and sip some hot chocolate together. Remind them how good a choice they made.
Compliments can be given in the moment and frequently throughout the season.
This family Christmas tradition lets your little grow up thinking of the tree as theirs. This instills a lot of ownership in the season.
ACT OF KINDNESS
Challenge every member in your family to do one act of kindness daily throughout the month of December.
Talk about them over dinner every night. You can keep these acts of kindness in a memory book somewhere to give to your child someday.
In our home, decorating is not just a chore that happens after the Thanksgiving garbage goes out to the curb. My husband is lucky if he even gets a nap after Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m so excited for Christmas that the decorating begins immediately, if not before!
Involve your whole family in all the Christmas decorating that they can handle. For younger children can help in almost any decorating activity, barring glass ornaments and ladders of course.
- Show your child how to hang lights and garlands.
- Give them a chance to place the ornaments on the tree or string the tinsel from the branches.
- Hold them up while they place the star or angel on that highest bow.
Among all the family Christmas traditions, this is by far one of the most lasting and enduring.
Play some music and serve hot chocolate, hot cider, or some warm wassail. Sing, dance, and watch the snow through the windows if you’re lucky enough to have it.
Your child will grow up remembering this task turned tradition with fondness and anticipation.
I randomly found that there are businesses that sell personalized ornaments out there. With many of these companies (hint–you can find them on eBay or Amazon) you have at least a few different options.
Many of them allow for personalization of the year, names, and characters. I found an adorable family of elves that I may need to grab this year.
Use an advent calendar with chocolate or small gifts or a Christmas chain of construction paper decked with holly and strands of popcorn. Make every day an event by taking the time to count down together.
Take it a step further by making each night a small celebration or devotion, complete with refreshments and discussion. Sit as a family and talk about your day. Explain what you learned about Christmas today or share what you’re most excited for tomorrow.
Red Ted Art has some of my FAVORITE crafts, and she has a post that includes tons of Advent calendar ideas!
HOLIDAY LIGHT SHOW
Most cities (at least in my area) have some sort of Christmas light show. If your city does not put on a Christmas light show, scout out the neighborhoods and find out who has the best yard decorations.
Bundle up, grab some hot chocolate, and go enjoy the lights.
I LOVE Christmas lights, so we usually go to at least a few different places every year. My toddler is finally old enough to appreciate Christmas lights so I am excited to see her reaction this year.
Few things warm the heart so well as seeing your child deliver a plate of cookies to your neighbor. Select a few charming treats from your favorite cookbook and make them together. Take them around just before it gets too cold to be outside.
Don’t be afraid to let your child crack the eggs or pour the flour and milk (although I’d definitely recommend measuring in advance). Remember, they are only treats, and the failures are just as fun as the successes.
Also, be sure to make a little extra so your little can sample the bounty.
If you’ve put any practice into it, your child may be able to put on quite a show with some small prompting. If not, let them learn by doing. Pick a few of your favorite simple Christmas songs and take the show on the road.
Make this family Christmas tradition a dress-up occasion, and dress for the weather. Take a wagon if you have it, as carrying a child while singing can be more taxing than you’d think.
MAKE CHRISTMAS CARDS
Making your own Christmas cards is a great family Christmas tradition. Even if your child is young, they can still be handed a piece of paper and some crayons to scribble with.
Cards are really sentimental for some people, and these people will appreciate a card made by your child more than a conventional gift.
Related: Christmas Crafts for Toddlers
Keep your child’s Dear Santa letters. When your child graduates high school you can give them this pile along with other mementos you have kept from their childhood.
SEASONAL FAMILY CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
There are always opportunities to give. A younger child may not be particularly able or welcome to performing charity work in most formal settings. Take some time to call around, though.
If there aren’t typical options like volunteering at a soup kitchen, consider something that can be done at home. Otherwise, find an opportunity to serve others under less structured conditions.
CHOOSE A FAMILY IN NEED FROM A LOCAL PROGRAM
United Way and the Salvation Army sponsor programs through which you can provide for an individual child or a family of children. Last year my husband and I adopted a pair of girls whose parents were attending college. They were unable to provide for their children’s Christmas needs due to the cost of tuition.
Providing support for this family was easily one of the most satisfying experiences of our year. While our littles were too little to contribute or appreciate it, I have no doubt they will be thrilled with this year’s chance to contribute.
Programs vary by region, but a quick online search should help you identify programs in your area.
VISIT A RETIREMENT HOME
Most elderly individuals who live in retirement homes still have a family, and they’ll no doubt receive a visit or two through the holiday season.
Some, however, have no one and may not even notice the absence. Even those who do will have significantly more days alone than with visitors.
If your child has the language for it, teach them to ask questions. Share a little of yourself as well, even if it’s outside your comfort zone.
GIVE AWAY OLD TOYS
Help your child identify toys that he or she may not play with as often. Pack a few bags full to give to a local charity or organized donation center.
Your little one may not have the chance to see the full benefit of this, but there is value in sacrifice. Help them understand that they are sharing these toys with other little boys and girls who are less fortunate. The spirit of the gesture will settle in.
This is one of the most meaningful family Christmas traditions you can start.
Have each member of your family write a memorable event down on a small piece of paper. Pick up a plastic ornament that can be opened and put the family’s folded memories inside. Revisit it next Christmas and make a new one.
Related: Meaningful Keepsake Ornaments To Make With Your Child
NORTH POLE BREAKFAST
This is a great family Christmas tradition to kick off the beginning of the holiday season. Take the first Saturday of December and have a Christmas-themed day.
Decorate for Christmas, eat Christmas food, and dress up like characters from Christmas town (assuming your child is young enough to enjoy this!)
FAMILY CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITIONS
All these activities will set the stage for the great event, but nothing beats the night before Christmas. It’s the stuff of songs and stories.
Christmas Eve traditions will surely be the most memorable. The anticipation and mystery give Christmas Eve a lasting impression second to none.
This is one of the classic family Christmas traditions that dates back to the days when mom knitted or sewed a new pair of night clothes for the whole family. Unless you’re particularly crafty, I’d probably skip the homespun.
There are hundreds of options to suit all tastes. The more festive, the better. Be sure to wrap them up so that your child gets the excitement of opening them.
BURN A YULE LOG & LET YOUR CHILD LIGHT CANDLES FROM IT
Unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time in Europe during the holidays, you might only have heard glancing references to this. I’ve always been strangely captivated by the idea.
A yule log is a thick piece of firewood that sits in your hearth or nearby throughout the season. On Christmas, you light the log and turn off all the lights. The youngest person present lights a pair of candles from the flame (with help, of course).
You may then spend the evening together in the resulting candle- and fire-light.
I’m not sure what it is about the idea of this ceremonial piece of firewood. It warms my heart to know the yule log is there all season, soaking up my holiday cheer so it can keep us warm on Christmas Eve.
ONE GIFT EACH
Let your family all open one gift on Christmas Eve. This is a great way to prime the pump and keep your child excited and still pacified. If he or she understands the concept of gifts, it can be hard to keep them eager and patient.
Be strategic about your gift. Consider something your little can enjoy while spending time with the family. It could also be a book or a particularly cushy blanket they can take to bed.
WATCH A SPECIAL MOVIE
This family Christmas tradition works best if you pick something you can watch year after year. If you don’t want to watch the same movie every year, pick something with a Christmas theme.
Growing up with my grandparents – we watched Scrooged. Every single year.
Although it’s definitely not one of my favorite movies, it will always hold a special place in my heart, as I watched it every year with my grandparents growing up.
OPEN ONE FAMILY GIFT
This is one of our family Christmas traditions. Wrap one large gift that has the making of a movie night in it. Include a movie, some popcorn, a large blanket, a book, and some treats.
I love this because you can have something the entire family can enjoy together.
FAMILY CHRISTMAS DAY TRADITIONS
Sometimes the holiday can entail so much build-up that it is hard to feel like Christmas Day is as great as it should be. Make the day special for all the right reasons, and your child will grow up understanding that the day is worth the wait.
OPEN PRESENTS IN ORDER
Carefully craft the order in which your child will open his or her presents. This can be strategic to ensure that you’re saving the best for last.
1 WANT, 2 NEED, 3 WEAR, 4 READ
We have included this in our family Christmas traditions. I decided early on that I wanted my child to get one thing they want, two things they need, three things to wear and four things to read. I adapted this from something I read online. I thought it was incredibly cute.
Most sources suggest only one of each item, but I feel the balance of gifts doesn’t really matter. It’s a great philosophy to keep your children reading and focused on practical gifts.
ALL DAY JAMMIES
Where your pajamas all day! Christmas is a day to relax and enjoy, and younger kids will have fun feeling like they are “breaking” the rules a little.
Even if you go out – Christmas is one of those holidays where it’s excusable to have fun. This would be a fun family Christmas tradition to start.
VISIT THE RIGHT HOUSEHOLDS FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
There is a lot of social pressure to see many branches of the family, at least in our household. Sometimes to the mechanics of visitation become more important than the day itself, and that takes a heavy toll.
Decide in advance how many visits you’re willing to make (if any). Structure your time throughout the holidays to ensure that you spread the love around.
Save plenty of time for your own family Christmas traditions and aren’t overtaxing your little’s patience.
Optimally, I’d recommend you keep visits to a maximum of two or three, one of which should be in your home. As a young family, you’ll probably have two givens—the grandmas and grandpas.
If you’re lucky enough to have amiable in-laws, try inviting all four over at the same time.
Don’t feel pressure to visit if you don’t have a good relationship. It can be hard to say no, but the moment that little one popped out, you became the boss.
Don’t let anyone capitalize on your time or the rob you of the sweet moments at risk for your child.
MAKE AN EVENT OF FAMILY DINNER
A table groaning with delicious food is my husband’s favorite things about Christmas. Learn what everyone likes best and dial Christmas dinner down to an art crafted entirely of love. For this family Christmas tradition:
- Tell stories or share your gratitude as you eat
- Reflect upon the season, play music in the background
- Set place settings specific to each individual
- Leave a spot open for Tiny Tim or Scrooge or even Rudolph.
- Fill the table with small mischief and large mystery.
- Maybe even save a round of presents for dessert.
Make of dinner a celebration in every sense of the word. Culture an attitude of joy, put a pin in discipline or dietary considerations. Sing as you serve and make laughter a vital component of the food service.
Afterward, sit and read from Dickens or sing songs by candlelight. Fill in the corners with sweets and share relentlessly. If you take nothing else from these traditions, find a way to make dinner special. Your children will live for the day and remember how to celebrate in seasons to come.
FAMILY CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS RECAP
Regardless of how you celebrate your Christmas this year, remember that the most important thing is to enjoy your time with family. It’s very easy to get caught up in the pressures of the gifts, dinner, and mechanics of it all (I struggle with this!)
Think about it. We are teaching our kids what the world is about. Do you want them to experience the same stress and worry that you are feeling?
Cut yourself a break. Remember that the technicalities of the holiday season don’t need to be perfect. What will make or break your holiday (short of burning the house down) is your attitude.
Did you like these family Christmas traditions? I would love to hear about a memorable Christmas you have had in the comment section below.
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