Christmas truly is one of the most magical times of the year. I always loved the holiday season growing up and all the family Christmas traditions we did together year after year. These are some of the fondest memories of my childhood.
Now that I am a mom of a toddler and life looks a little different, I’ve been reflecting on what it was about the holiday season that made it so special for me. And to be honest, while I’m sure I loved the presents I received I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas probably most of the years I lived at home with my parents.
What I do remember is making cookies with my mom, decorating the Christmas tree, and going to look at Christmas lights around town. It’s the Christmas Eve dinners at Grandma’s house and picking out presents for my siblings and wrapping them so tight it took forever to open gifts on Christmas morning. Those are the memories I look back on and smile about because that’s why I love Christmas.
Now that I am a mom, I want to make sure that we make family Christmas traditions with our children that they will remember and want to pass along to their kids.
So that is what’s been on my mind lately: What fun Christmas traditions will we develop with our kids? And what Christmas traditions from my own childhood to I want to make sure to pass along in my own family.
I pulled together several Christmas traditions that are dear to me as well as ones I hope my husband and I can start with our own little family as it grows over the years.
Christmas Traditions for Your Family
Matching Christmas PJs
One of our favorite Christmas traditions is getting matching Christmas pajamas to wear during the month of December. (My husband isn’t the biggest fan of this, but he puts up with it to make the kids happy.) Target or Old Navy always have great options for the entire family to match!
A lot of people give Christmas pjs as a gift on Christmas Eve to wear for the holiday (We always had out Elf Buddy give them to us), but feel free to give them earlier to wear for the entire month.
Elf on the Shelf
Elf on the Shelf is a classic for any family with kids to enjoy during the holiday season. You can start off the tradition by wrapping it up as an early Christmas gift to give to your kids. Or just read the book together to start off the Christmas season.
Kids will love coming down each morning during December (or however long your elf is with your family) and searching for each new hiding place. There are so many fun ideas on Pinterest you can steal for shenanigans. Chelsea from Life With My Littles has some awesome ideas to get you started, especially if you have young toddlers.
Even if you keep it simple and just move your elf daily, your kids are sure to enjoy this magical addition to the holiday season!
Picking Out/Cutting Down a Christmas Tree
Whether you allow Christmas décor in your home before Thanksgiving or wait until after, make an event of picking out a Christmas tree together to kick off the season!
Growing up in Oregon, my hometown alone had several different Christmas tree farms, so we made an afternoon of picking out a tree in the field and cutting it down ourselves. If this is available near you, I highly recommend it! Just dress warmly and prepare to get a little muddy.
If Christmas trees aren’t grown in your area still head to your local store and pick one out together as a family. There are so many great options to choose from to find the perfect fit for your home.
Decorate the Christmas Tree Together
Now that you have the tree, it’s time to decorate it together.
I have so many fond memories as a child opening up all the Christmas boxes my mom had stored away and unwrapping each ornament. (Most of which was wrapped in the same paper towels or tissue paper year after year!) It was always a fun family activity to bring Christmas cheer to our home.
A lot of the ornaments may end up right next to each other or at the bottom of the tree, but that’s part of the fun, right?
You can also get them a small mini tree with kid-safe ornaments for their own room!
Decorate Your Home with Holiday Decor
I’m a Saturday after Thanksgiving girl through and through. I love giving that holiday its moment, but as soon as the leftovers hit the fridge, I am ready to deck the halls!
Start a family Christmas tradition of spending an afternoon getting your home all ready for the season.
One of my favorite decorations as a kid was these holiday window stickers we put up on the front windows of the home. They are a super easy kid-friendly option to get the whole family involved and just add the extra special touch to the holiday decorations.
Visiting Christmas Lights on a Drive
Drive around to look at Christmas lights or take a walk around downtown where you live.
I always remember taking an evening or two when I was little to jump in the car and drive around all the houses that had spectacular Christmas displays. There was even one house in our neighborhood that had their display set to music through the radio.
You can also see if a local park or other business like a zoo puts together a large light display for your family to drive through. (We had a local racetrack that would put together a display for cars to drive through during the holiday season.)
This is such an easy activity to do, especially if you have babies and small children. Just turn up the Christmas tunes in your car and enjoy the lights.
Make Christmas Cookies
This is a classic Christmas tradition to do year after year. Bake all sorts of different Christmas cookies with your kids and have them help decorate. Younger kids will love helping you mix, cut out fun Christmas shapes, and put sprinkles all over the finished cookies.
If you want to make more kinds then just the traditional sugar cookies, here are some of the holiday favorites.
Put together plates of all types of cookies to deliver to your neighbors. This is a great way to spread holiday cheer with your kids while making sure only a few treats stay in your house.
Leave Cookies for Santa
Be sure to leave some of those cookies you made out for Santa on Christmas Ever along with a glass of milk. Use a special Santa plate so the jolly old fella knows that the cookies are for him.
Your kids will love waking up on Christmas morning to see that Santa has enjoyed all their hard work in the kitchen.
Make Reindeer Treats
Santa isn’t the only one hoping for treats to be left on Christmas Eve! Spend the afternoon together with your kids putting together treats for the reindeer too.
Fountain Avenue Kitchen has the perfect recipe for Magical Reindeer Food that your kids can sprinkle out on the lawn or porch before Santa comes. This Christmas tradition would also make a great gift for your kids to deliver to your neighbors.
Donate to a Giving Tree
The Christmas season is all about service and giving to others, so make sure to teach your children these important life lessons. One of the best ways to do this is to participate in a local giving tree. This is a special Christmas tree with tags to provide donations for those unable to buy Christmas gifts for their children this year.
Take your kids to a tree and have them pick out a tag with a child similar in age to them. (A lot of the trees that I’ve participated in will have a child’s age, gender, and a few of their interests on it.) Then head to the store together to pick out a gift for this child.
Check out a local church, mall, or other organization to see if they have a Giving Tree for your family to participate in.
Participate in Other Acts of Service in Your Community
There are several other ways to participate in service during the holiday season in your local community. If your children are older, take them to a food pantry or kitchen to serve those in need.
Help volunteer with a local church or faith-based organization to go caroling at a retirement home and visit with the elderly.
If located near you, check out one of the Light the World Giving Machines to donate to others around the world.
Whatever service you choose to participate in, involve your kids. Even if they are young, they will learn by your example the true meaning of Christmas and helping those who are less fortunate around them.
Decorate a Gingerbread House
This classic family Christmas tradition is a favorite in our house! Plus, now that pre-made gingerbread house kits can be found just about anywhere, this is one of the easiest activities of the season!
Making these kits with kids can be a challenge with limited supplies to go around. So, make a day out of it and take your kids to a bulk candy store to pick out some extra decorations. (If you have a WinCo near you, I highly recommend checking out their bulk candy section.) Also make some extra icing using this recipe from The Spruce Eats that way each child has their own and no one must take turns.
If you are into the DIY route homemade icing plus graham crackers is a great way to make mini houses for everyone!
There are so many fun advent calendars out there! While the standard chocolate variety is a classic, you can find an advent calendar for whatever your children are interested in. My friend had a LEGO advent calendar last year for her son and by Christmas they had a whole holiday village they had built together. So cute!
You can also DIY an advent calendar using whatever theme you’d like. Purchase a simple reusable calendar like this one and fill it with little surprises each day.
My family also had a small calendar like this one that told the story of the Nativity. This felt one is a great option for kids and doubles as a cute decoration for your house.
Buy a New Ornament for the Tree
Growing up this was one of my favorite Christmas traditions to do as a family. I remember fondly my mom would take us to the local garden center (because they had the best selection of ornaments by far!) and we’d each get to pick out whichever ornament for the tree we want.
Now looking back, some years we definitely made better choices than others and some ornaments get hidden towards the back of the tree, but the memories attached to each ornament are the best!
Even though we are all in our twenties now, we still remember this one snowflake ornament that my sister absolutely had to have and threw the biggest fit over. She was probably about five at the time, but it still makes us laugh every year!
Make DIY Christmas Ornaments
If you are crafty, make DIY Christmas ornaments with your kids. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest to try out and it’s a great activity to keep the kids busy for an afternoon.
While they may not be the prettiest ornaments, these are treasures you’ll look back on over the years on the memories made when your kids were little.
They also make great gifts for friends or family members to go with your homemade Christmas cookies.
12 Days of Christmas Service
Growing up we had a family in our neighborhood that treated us with the “12 Days of Christmas” finishing on Christmas Eve. Each day the doorbell ditched us and left a present and a note for our family. In the present each day was a piece of a Nativity set that my parents still display in their home today.
I remember as a child trying to catch them each afternoon to figure out who was leaving us the presents. And now we do this each year choosing a family in our area to bless each Christmas season.
This would be a great activity to do with your children to teach them about the true meaning of Christmas and serving others while having a little fun! And the gifts don’t have to be anything extravagant, just a fun spin on the 12 days of Christmas.
With many people owning doorbell cameras nowadays, you may have to get a little creative with how to keep your identity a secret, but that adds even more to the fun!
Christmas Family Photos
Family Christmas cards may not be as common of a Christmas tradition as they used to be, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to take a family photo during the holiday season. Chances are there is at least one even during the month of December where everyone is already getting dressed up for some event. Snap a picture of you all together so you have memories to look back on!
If you are able to Christmas is a lovely time to get professional family photos done as well! Make it a Christmas tradition you do year after year!
You can use the beautiful snowy scenery and colorful lights as a backdrop or all the wonderful Christmas decorations. You can also get the picture printed before the big day and wrap them up as presents for the grandparents and extended family.
Santa Wrapping Paper
This is more a hack for the parents than a Christmas tradition but choose a special wrapping paper just for your Santa gifts. It can be wrapping paper you like or just simply paper that has a Santa Claus on it. Either way make sure to keep this one hidden from your kids, so they don’t find out before Christmas!
My mom did this more out of easy to avoid labeling everything from Santa, but either way it’s a fun tradition!
Another bonus Santa wrapping tip: if you choose to use gift tags to label your “Santa” presents, find a neighbor to write them for you so your kids don’t figure out your secret. You’d be surprised at how young they start to figure stuff like this out!
Make a Christmas List for Santa
Does anyone remember circling or using stickers to label the Toys R’ Us catalog each year that came in the mail? (I may have just majorly aged myself). This was one of my favorite Christmas traditions to do with my sisters when I was little and give it to our parents so they could “send it to Santa” for us.
Have your kids write a letter to Santa and include some of their wishes for the Christmas season. While this can include gifts ideas for you to steal, it is also fun to include how old they are and a few fun things about them. Keep these in a safe place to look back on years down the road.
Have a Christmas Movie Marathon
Christmas movies have a special way of immediately becoming classics and are so fun to watch year after year. There are so many that you almost have to make an event out of watching all of your favorites!
Plan a Christmas movie marathon or plan to watch one each night for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some of our favorites are Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Home Alone
Make sure to break out all the fun blankets, pillows, and plenty of snacks. No Christmas movie night is complete without some hot chocolate and fun popcorn. This is an awesome Christmas tradition your kids will be begging to do year after year.
Film Christmas Morning Reactions
Seeing Christmas through the eyes of my children is one of my favorite parts of the holiday. Make sure to capture that magical moment on film as their faces light up when they see the presents under the tree.
This was one Christmas tradition at the top of my mom’s priority list that I always thought was silly growing up. She always made us wait at the top of the stairs so she could grab the camcorder and record us walking down. Now I am so glad we have those moments to look back on and remember how wonderful Christmas was as a child.
Read the Christmas Story from the Scriptures
Make sure to take the time to teach your children the true meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate the birth of Christ.
If your children are little, it may be easier for them to understand the story from a picture book. This classic telling The Christmas Story was the one I read a little kid growing up and we loved this version.
Related: The Best Christmas Books for Kids
Family Game Night
Christmas time is all about the family, so why not spend an evening playing games together! This is also a great activity to include all the extended family and the extra members you have collected over the years.
We have a few games that are classic in our family that even the littles can get in on such as Scategories, Monopoly Jr, and Uno. Throw a party with lots of treats and it is sure to be a Christmas tradition that will last even when your kids are older and have families of their own.
White Elephant Gift Exchange
Picking out gifts for family is fun, but hosting a White Elephant Gift Exchange is an absolute blast for the whole family. The whole idea behind a White Elephant party is to give each other gifts that are funny and honestly something that people probably don’t actually want.
Think a plunger, funny family photo, or a roll of toilet paper. Useful, but not exactly something you are wishing for under the tree.
Your kids will love picking out funny gifts to bring and enjoy opening them two! You could do this with just your immediate family or throw a party and invite friends or neighbors.
Why Make Christmas Tradtions with Your Family?
I think making Christmas traditions is one of the many ways we bring our families closer at a time of the year that is meant to be all about families. There is an ad on the radio right now that keeps repeating “you only have 18 summers with your kids” (it’s an ad for a local RV company) and that thought has been stuck in my head recently as I look at my toddler.
Motherhood can be challenging and sometimes it is easy to wish for the next phase to come, but our time with our children at home is short. And it is important to make the most of it. It is true that we only have so many Christmas seasons with our kids at home and so many times to enjoy the magic while they are young. So, make the most of it!
Create family Christmas traditions and memories that will last a lifetime. Because you will NEVER regret those times you spend with your kids.
Don’t forget to check out some of our other great Christmas content to enjoy the holiday season with your family this year: