It’s a toss-up who is more excited for Christmas and the holidays in our house – the kids or me!
But – and I hate to admit this – getting to this point has taken a little bit of effort because I had to shake the bah-humbugs.
When I started noticing the Christmas toy commercials and stores being overtaken with lit trees in mid-October (or the craft supply store that was decked to the nines with Christmas décor in July), it all felt a bit… empty.
And then just last month, I went on a cleaning spree and hauled away a car-load full of toys to the local donation center after the kids went to bed – and they didn’t even notice!
After that, I put my foot down and swore off bringing any more toys or clutter into our home. But then, I remembered, the holidays aren’t about toys or the number of presents under the tree.
What makes the holidays magical, are the traditions and experiences that I share with my family. December is about filling my kid’s cups with time spent together as a family.
The magic of what December should be based on the intangible.
What my kids – and your kids – will remember long after another toy has been broken, lost or left discarded in the back of the closet are the traditions we live and breathe each Christmas season.
Here is a list of super fun and unique holiday traditions to carry on with your own family.
NOTE: At the bottom of the post is a downloadable version of the 30 Holiday Traditions if you want to skip ahead.
GET IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT WITH THE RIGHT TUNES
The week after Thanksgiving is a significant time in our house. It’s when I unearth all the Christmas decorations from storage and play loud and funny music from Sesame Street Christmas to the Trans Siberian Orchestra, and the Classics… maybe even a Mariah Carey tune or two.
My dancing may resemble Elaine from Seinfeld, but fortunately no one notices when the holiday spirit is in full effect!
TRIM THE TREE & DECORATE TOGETHER
Pick one day and go wild with the tree and decorating your house. The best way to have fun is to let go of having the perfect looking HGTV inspired home and involve your kids in decorating.
I let the kids hang all the ornaments which means the top half of the tree is mostly empty but, oh well. Inevitably all the ornaments will get moved around daily anyways. They can also arrange the tiny town pieces however they want and love hanging the stockings by the fireplace.
I may still handle decorating the mantle and hard to reach places, but they delight in the fun of decorating for the holidays and I don’t want to boss them around and tell them where everything goes, otherwise I rob them of their excitement and start to the holiday season.
Decorating the tree may be everyone’s favorite part of the holidays, but each year their memorable moment is when I take them to a nearby store so they can pick out a new ornament to add to their collection.
Their grandma also sends them a personalized ornament every year so each child has their own special box and collection of ornaments they are excited to rediscover and hang year after year. When they are older and have a tree or family of their ow, they’ll all have a small collection they started in childhood.
UNIQUE TREE TOPPER
Last year, when it came time to finishing the tree and putting on the tree topper, the kids had a different direction from our traditional peace Dove.
This fella, the mighty Allosaurus became the new tree topper after the kids had watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and decided that our tree needed someone to protect their gifts from the Grinch.
Do you have anything fun and unique in your house to top the tree?
Our kids have always had matching pajamas and at first I thought this was a silly tradition, but over the years I’ve loved looking back on the pictures of them matching and seeing how much joy it gave them.
Since that first year, we’ve added pajamas for Mom and Dad and while I don’t dare wear them out of the house, the amount of happiness it brings the kids that Mom and Dad are dressed in the same outfits as them, is always (always) worth it.
Quick Buying Tip: I like to buy a size up so each kid will be able to (generally) wear the same pair two Christmases in a row. After the holidays if you can find a size or two bigger in the same style and they’re on sale, snatch them up for future holidays so you don’t have to buy a new set every year!
We use the pre-build Gingerbread houses because they’re ultra-sturdy (and I’m no crafty Momma), but I know friends use graham crackers that construct just as well.
Let your kids each pick out small packs of colorful and different candy as well as small items from around the house such as LEGOS, cars, toys, animals and other things you have lying around the house for a personal touch!
BAKING & MORE BAKING
Let your kids pick out one type of cookie or food item you can make together – candy cane cookies, homemade caramel, brownies, etc. and spend a few hours baking one-on-one. Once everything is done, we put some of the goodies in a Tupperware container with a nice note and bring it to a neighbor or teacher at school.
I love spending time with the kids baking but watching them get excited to do something nice for another person is the true reward. This is part of our 20 Simple Acts of Kindness if you wanted to check it out.
We also have a tradition of getting together with my college girlfriends and their kids to decorate sugar cookies. Everyone brings different toppings and I provide the pre-baked cookies in a variety of cookie cutter shapes. All the kids leave with a plate full of sugar-loaded and colorful cookie assortment.
DRIVE AROUND TO SEE THE LIGHTS
Plan on an early dinner and then pack the kids in the car with blankets to drive around and check out all the decorated houses in your neighborhood. Depending on where you live, check with your local news station to see if there is a featured map or group of houses that puts on extravagant light displays.
ONE SPECIAL OUTING
Do you have a local attraction that you attend every year?
For us it’s Denver Zoo that puts on an event called “Zoo Lights” where we walk around the entire zoo and each area is decorated in different themed display of overhead, stationary and types of lights. We bring hot chocolate and snacks and push them in the stroller or wagon. They are always in awe about the amazing light displays!
Do you have a zoo, botanic gardens, special train ride, city lighting extravaganza or attraction that you can make a tradition of attending year after year? Oftentimes if you buy early or through a grocery store you can find discounted tickets.
LET SIBLINGS SHOP TOO
Teaching kids to be generous towards other people can be a tough lesson – especially when you’re in the toy aisle of a store and they aren’t shopping for themselves.
Each year, my husband and I will take one child one-on-one and give them a small budget to buy one present for each sibling. When we get home, they also wrap and label the gift and put it under the tree. The excitement that they have when their brother/sister opens the gift from them is priceless.
SECRET SANTA FOR LARGE FAMILIES
If you have a larger family, with three or more kids, consider doing a Secret Santa gift exchange. Have each child draw a name and buy one present for the person they chose. When it comes time to unwrapping, it’s a fun guessing game to find out who gifted what to whom.
ADULTS’ GIFT EXCHANGE
My husband’s family has this wonderful tradition of all getting together on Christmas Eve and after dinner, the adults gather around to do a $20 gift exchange. Each person that participates brings a wrapped $20 gift.
Every person receives a number, from 1 to 20 (depending on how many people play) and whoever has the number 1 goes first.
This person will pick a gift from the pile and unwrap it. The next person, position 2, can either choose to steal the first gift and the 1st person would then open a new gift or they can choose to open their own gift. This continues until the last person has gone. You always like to be a higher number in the game so you can survey all the gifts that have been unwrapped.
It’s also fun to a do a while elephant with the adults!
SLEDDING & SNOWMAN BUILDING
If you live in colder climates and have snow in the month of December like we do, head outdoors to do some sort of activity (all bundled up) as a family. Skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or building a snowman is a great family activity.
COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS
Whether you start an advent calendar, fill envelopes for each day leading up to the 25th, or create a paper chain with your kids, having a countdown to Christmas builds the excitement and will get your kids jumping out of bed easier than other times of the year.
KIND & ENCOURAGING CHRISTMAS NOTES
I love leaving little notes for my kids in their lunchboxes, on their nightstands when they wake up, or taped to a spot they’ll see. This year I created 40 Holiday Notes Filled with Kindness, and 40 Elf on the Shelf Notes that are about kindness, positive attributes and behavior.
You can print he holiday themed ones, a holiday blank template, Elf on the Shelf Notes or blank Elf on the Shelf notes to fill out on your own. Here is the post if you want to check it out and download the templates.
MAGIC REINDEER FOOD
This is a simple craft – you can make it with your kids, for your kids or it’s also great as classroom gifts for friends. It requires ingredients you probably already have in your home, printing off the note card and attaching it to the small bag of Reindeer Food and then sprinkling it outside and on your lawn on Christmas Eve.
MOM & DAD DATE NIGHT TO BUY GIFTS
Since the holidays are about spending time together and connecting – this also means date night for Mom and Dad. But our date night in December has a little bit of a twist! After we go to dinner and then grab coffee, we’ll head to a local toy store or bookstore to pick out a present or two for each kid as well as stocking stuffers.
I love the ease of shopping online, but there is something much more magical to be able to touch and hold an item that you’re buying for your kids.
Never is there a better time than to get in your PJs (or matching Christmas Pajamas), make a pile of pillows and blankets and plop down to watch Christmas Movies together. The classics and new movies alike are always appropriate during the holiday season.
CHRISTMAS BOOK COLLECTION
Each year, I take the kids to a thrift shop to buy a couple new Christmas books to add to our collection. (Because books are expensive!) We have about 12 right now and each night I read one of the books to the kids before bed. You can never read The Night Before Christmas too many times, in my opinion.
DON’T FORGET YOUR FURRY FRIENDS
Don’t overlook the furry friends in your home when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Bake dog treats, take the kids to the dollar store or the pet store to buy a gift or two, fill stockings for the pooches and make sure you get a picture or two of them dressed in reindeer antlers or a holiday sweater – or just in a family picture.
Let your kids lead the charge in sharing love and practicing kindness towards your pets.
GIVING BACK TO OTHERS
Teaching kids to have an attitude of gratitude starts at home, and never more than during the holidays is it ever present. Involve your kids in a simple act of giving back and caring for others whether its baking cookies for a neighbor, buying an extra gift at the store and dropping it in a donation box, donating canned goods to the local food bank or even adopting a family for the holidays and buying gifts for them.
The holidays are about kindness and charity, so be sure you show your kids about being charitable and extending a hand to help others too!
SANTA BOOT PRINT
My kids are five and they’ve been asking for “clues” (thanks Scooby Do) that Santa has visited our house. This year, it’s already on my list to add Santa Boot Prints around the fireplace and tree as evidence he visited the house.
Super Simple Method: Using a pair of your boots, sprinkle flour around the outside edges for several boot footprints around your fireplace, the tree, front or back doors, etc. The kids will be so excited when they see them in the morning!
SALT DOUGH ORNAMENTS & HANDPRINTS
There are a million different handprint crafts on Pinterest from a Santa, a Christmas Tree to a Reindeer! Pick one and spend an hour getting messy in paint to create artwork. These are also great to do on a canvas to hang as decorations, and for grandparent and parent gifts.
Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
FRIEND / COUSIN OUTING IN PLACE OF GIFTS
Instead of buying close friends or cousins a gift, see if you can get your families together for an outing. Can you go sledding, rock climbing, to a jumping gym, painting pottery, an attraction or event together? The experience of everyone being together and having fun will go a lot further than any toy or gift will.
GO ON A FAMILY WALK TOGETHER
On Christmas Morning after breakfast, in the afternoon or after dinner… bundle everyone up and head outdoors to enjoy the fresh air and a family walk together. Now is a great time to reminisce about the previous year and all that everyone is grateful for. Talk about the family traditions that you enjoyed the best and what you might want to add to next year’s festivities.
HOT CHOCOLATE BAR
During December, I like to keep a Hot Chocolate bar on the counter to make the kids a sweet and warm treat after dinner, when they come in from outside or after school. I stock the bar with mini marshmallows, peppermint sticks and candy canes to add a little extra yum.
DEAR SANTA LETTERS
Is there anything better than having little kids put into words a personal note to Santa? This is a keepsake for the baby book and will be great to look back on down the road. Here is a DEAR SANTA LETTER you can print and use.
The best part? If you postmark by December 15th, you can send the letter to Santa and have it returned with a North Pole Postmark from Santa to your house. Here are the instructions.
CREATE A WISH LIST
Since we’re focused on experiences this year and cutting back on gifts, we have four items on the kid’s wish lists this year. One thing they WANT, one thing they NEED, one thing to READ and one thing to WEAR.
Download the WISH LIST template to print out and use.
With only four items to write down, this forces kids to take the time to think about what is most important and special to them. This is also a fantastic way to help grandparents and family limit their buying also!
CAMP OUT UNDER THE TREE
OK, so maybe you’re not directly under the Christmas Tree, but the premise is camping together as a family near the Christmas Tree and lights. It’s magical to fall asleep talking about the holidays and meaningful traditions you and your family keep, while dozing off under the twinkling lights.
LET SIBLINGS SLEEP IN THE SAME ROOM
Every year, we let the kids – just this one night, because otherwise we’d all never sleep – put their matching pajamas on and sleep in the same room. Usually they pull out their sleeping bags and line up all their stuffed animals on the floor, but they go to bed excited and wake up equally excited for Christmas morning – together.
What other family traditions do you have?