20 Best Christmas Traditions Your Family
Will Cherish for Decades
There are so many ways to celebrate the holiday season that don't involve gift giving. Think: decorating the Christmas tree, decorating your home, and watching Christmas movies, for starters. While all of these Christmas activities are surefire ways to get you and your family into the holiday spirit, there are other Christmas traditions that can often be overlooked. With all of the hustle and bustle around the most wonderful time of the year, you may forget about fun activities like cookie baking, crafting, and making ornaments.
To help you remember the best Christmas traditions to try (and perhaps incorporate into your December every year), we've rounded some of our favorites right here. Whether you choose to do one, a few, or all of these yuletide rituals, you can't beat the memories you'll be making with your family that you'll cherish for years to come. From small activities like listening to Christmas music to bigger ones, like picking out your Christmas tree, the following traditions will always be timeless. So while you're counting down to the big day, start making memories with these classic Christmas traditions.
Look at Christmas lights
Christmas is not only the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also the most colorful, due to all of the massive Christmas light displays in the neighborhood. Take advantage of that by driving around and looking at the beautifully lit-up houses or drive-through attractions with your family.
Have a Secret Santa gift exchange
If you can't wait until Christmas to open gifts, lots of families will take part in a Secret Santa gift exchange too. Just throw everyone's name in a hat and have each person pick a recipient to give a silly, cheap gift to. Remember: No switching allowed!
Buy an Elf on the Shelf
Not all traditions have to date years back. The Elf on the Shelf is a fairly recent addition to many households across the country. The Elf keeps track of your children's behavior, and reports back to Santa if they're being naughty or nice—all while being caught in a new room or pose every day. (You can even buy them outfits too!)
Pick out a Christmas tree
It truly isn't Christmas in your home until you've picked out your tree. Sure, putting it up and decorating it is important (and seriously fun to do), but we think you should make the most of your time at the Christmas tree farm if activities are offered. Take photos, drink hot chocolate and eat cookies, and go on a carriage ride.
Make a gingerbread house
There's a reason this tradition has been around for centuries: Gingerbread houses are so much fun to decorate. You can buy your own kit or start from scratch, but either way, you and your kids will enjoy being allowed to play with their food.
Count down with an advent calendar
The very first advent calendar was produced by Gerhard Lang way back in the early 1900s, according to Mental Floss, and it's been a holiday staple ever since. If you don't already own one, or if you've never used one before, try DIYing your own this year and turning it into a memorable Christmas activity. Your kids will have fun creating their own calendar—and of course, receiving a treat each day of December!
Listen to classic Christmas music
You don't have to own a record player to listen to all the holiday hits from Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. The best part about this activity is everyone will know the words to the music—even your kids—so all can join in and sing along.
Plan a cookie exchange
There's nothing more delicious than a fresh batch of Christmas cookies. Knock on your neighbors' doors and invite everyone face-to-face—with nearly everyone communicating through a cell phone, a personal request will make your friends feel oh-so-welcome. Then, get baking! For the kids, whip up some sugar cookies that will be super fun to decorate. And for the adults, try a decadent thumbprint recipe that everyone will be talking about.
Get your craft on
Christmas has become so commercial, it's easy to forget the real reason for the season. This year, try DIYing almost everything. Start with the festive decor, then take on your ornaments. Next up are the Christmas cards, and of course, a welcoming wreath! You could even give homemade presents for some truly thoughtful gifts. Everything you make will be extra special (and you'll save some money in the process).
Watch quintessential Christmas movies
Your kids are probably excited to see the new Grinch, but before you head to the theater, take a weekend to watch some of the most classic Christmas movies. Some of our favorites are: It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn, and A Christmas Carole. We also suggest Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, of course!
Use cash only
Our grandparents didn't go into debt over the holidays; they had a budget and stuck to it out of sheer necessity. "Spending with cash makes it more real. When it's gone, it's gone," says Elizabeth Revenko, a certified financial planning professional with Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco. "It also gives you a moment to stop and think about what you're buying, which makes spending more focused." If you shop online, use a prepaid card to stay within your limits (or make a promise to yourself not to go over your budget no matter what!).
Bake from scratch
Dust off the old recipe books or cards and try your hand at Bubbie's latkes, Bubka's potica, or Gammie's famous 7-Up cake. Your efforts don't have to be perfect, but this simple act pays homage to your loved ones, especially those who are now gone. If you don't have a recipe that's been handed down through the family, check out our favorite Christmas desserts and Christmas cookies to find one that seems close to what you remember as a kid.
Mail holiday cards
Even in the age of social media and instant updates, real honest-to-goodness cards are a way to reconnect with family and friends far and near. "It's still an American custom that's special," says Lizzie Post, cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. "It's the one time a year we send and receive good wishes in the mail. Nothing else compares." Photo cards, postcards, or Year in Review letters are all fine; just keep them positive and factual without bragging.
Decorate with what you have
Grandma used what she had to deck the halls. "Look around your yard and house to find natural elements to dress up your home," says Rakes. "Many natural items are prettier anyhow, and they're fresh and free." Collect pine cones and make a wreath, or arrange in glass apothecary jars. Cut greenery and tuck into simple white pitchers. String cranberries and popcorn for the tree. Dress up branches with glitter paint, then place in vases or line the mantel.
Spend time together
"That's what we'll remember years from now, not what you gave or received as gifts," says Rakes. Bake cookies with your kids. Plan a family game night. Attend services at a house of worship. Go caroling. Drive around to look at Christmas lights. Make ornaments. Arrange a potluck New Year's party with friends. The point is to interact and be present in the moment with your family and friends, not with your smartphone or tablet.
Our grandparents used their talents to create gifts. "But you don't have to be crafty," says Rakes. "Homemade goodies such as cookies and breads are always welcome, but you can make plenty of other easy gifts." Layer your favorite cookie recipe ingredients in a Mason jar, and attach baking instructions. Package homemade seasoning chili or taco mixes, or make your own vanilla extract. Download a free inspirational quote and frame it. Put together a themed gift basket such as movie night.
"When you look at old photos of our parents and grandparents, you see that everyone is dressed nicely at big holiday gatherings," says Post. Sure, you want to be comfy in your PJs on Christmas morning. But kids—and actually, most adults—don't have that many dress-up events to attend these days. "Everything is super-casual. But sometimes it's okay to make your gathering a dress-up occasion so that it feels special and different," says Post.
Write thank you notes
Your grandma would tell you that nice manners still matter. Sit down and write a real thank you note this holiday season, whether you're thanking someone for a lovely party or a thoughtful gift. "They're always appropriate and relevant," says Post. "And handwritten reigns supreme."
Part of the joy of the season is reminiscing about what makes your family unique. Ask your parents and grandparents about their holiday customs growing up or what they received as gifts when they were kids. Celebrate what makes you family, especially the silly or quirky traditions. "We have a mouse head ornament that has a long history in our family," says Revenko. "Sharing stories, traditions, and values defines your family and is a great gift to each other that doesn't cost a cent."
Give back to others
Our grandparents shared what they had with neighbors when times were tough. Think about what matters to you and your family and share what you can to reflect your beliefs, says Revenko. Your gifts don't necessarily have to be monetary. Collect coats for homeless shelters. Help an elderly neighbor put up her tree. Send care packages to military members who are deployed away from home this year. Invite someone who's single and may not have family nearby to your own holiday dinner.
Source: Country Living