Christmas is no ordinary time of year. It intoxicates our senses; the air smells of pine and sugar. The days are filled with music and stories. The soft, warm sleeves on our arms and thick mittens on our hands and hat on our head triggers our mind to think cozy thoughts despite the biting cold. Our taste buds crave cocoa and peppermint. Our children’s eyes glow with the sparkle of twinkle lights reflecting in them. And our hearts yearn for something…something more…something transcendent…something that seems just beyond our reach yet simultaneously living inside us. The “Christmas spirit”…or rather, The Spirit of Christmas. Christ incarnate. Immanuel. God with us.
What is it about the season that ignites this joy in you? Is it the first time you hear a Christmas song on the radio? A special cookie recipe that’s been passed down through the generations of your family? Is it a particular movie or book that just has to be read every year? A trip you take? Or a favorite party you host?
Traditions are the stitches that hold a family culture together. They are woven throughout our year, throughout generations, creating a masterpiece over time. They can be simple and they can change. New ones can be added and old ones fall away. Traditions of the Christmas season are unique to each of our families.
Today I’d like to share some of our favorite family Christmas traditions. This post contains affiliate links that don’t change your purchase price at all but provide me with a little bit of a “thank you” from Amazon. Thank you in advance for your support!
You are welcome to borrow these traditions for your own family if you’d like. Remember these have been built over time and change slightly depending on our season of life. This is not a checklist to accomplish in December or a formula to ensure a happy holiday; these are just a few ideas that may inspire you and yours to create your own memories.
And keep in mind – these all look prettier on paper. Be patient if things don’t go smoothly, especially when you’re adding a new tradition. Many times in our home there are big messes to clean up, people interrupt while I’m reading, we miss reading entirely, or I forget to hide the Elf…again (see #4 ;)). But faithfulness is what counts and we keep moving forward. Just like mansions are built brick by brick, traditions are built moment by moment, year after year, and no one really remembers the little hiccups along the way.
Now in no particular order, here are ten of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions!
For the four Sunday nights before Christmas, we celebrate advent by turning off all the lights in the house and lighting a candle (or two, three, four, or five depending on the night). This is the guide we’re following this year. We’re not strict about the color of candles (this year it’s white and one red) but we always read a verse and sing a song together. Okay, so there are some who shall not be named who prefer to hum or speak the last word of the line or stay respectfully silent. We all worship in our own way. It is a time to practice reverence and there is something almost magical about sitting in dark stillness with only the gentle glow of candlelight.
As for a countdown until Christmas, my husband’s grandmother quilted us a gorgeous wall hanging of the nativity. Each day we add a donkey or sheep or star, or another minor player until the last three nights when we add Joseph, Mary, and finally, Jesus.
2. Christmas Book Countdown
Some people have called this the “12 Days of Christmas Books” but we could never keep it at twelve! We start the day after Thanksgiving. I wrap up all of our Christmas picture books and add a few new ones. This was my mom’s idea for us to do and she even was gracious enough to finance some of the new books ;). You can even wrap up library books, just be sure to label them with an “L” so you remember which ones they are and sway the decision-maker away from late fines.
The kids take turns choosing which book we’ll read that day at lunch. Since we always read a picture book at lunch, this is a natural time of the day for us to do this but you can do it whatever time works best for your family. If the book we choose has a movie adaptation on our favorites list (see #6), we will watch the film that night.
For a complete list of Christmas book recommendations, download your free copy of the “Around the Year Booklist for the Well-Read Child.”
3. Samaritan’s Purse
Each year, we pack a shoebox and buy a few gifts for families in need. The gift catalog usually comes the same week as the sales papers do so it’s wonderful to see each child not only circling gifts they want for themselves but bantering over which gifts we’re going to give away. Every year, the Lord uses this tradition as an opportunity to open our eyes to needs all over the world and to remind us how a little bit goes such a long way. It is humbling for a kid who really wants a new video game to see how much another child really wants a goat, or honeybees, or of course, some special toys of their own. It is wonderful to wrap up the shoebox and know that although we may never meet the recipient this side of heaven, we have put a smile on a child’s face on the other side of the world. I’m so grateful for honorable organizations like Samaritan’s Purse.
4. Elf on the Shelf
In true “outside the box” fashion, we don’t follow the rules at all on this one. We don’t tell the kids that the elf is Santa’s spy and he doesn’t have to sit upon the mantel out of their reach. We started the EOTS tradition simply to give a fun thing for them to look forward to in the morning. I hide our elf in different places and sometimes he brings gifts, like a board game to play together that day or a little treat to eat. “Hyde” gets into scrapes some days or plays harmless tricks. Some of the kid’s favorites are when he ties up other stuffed animals with Christmas ribbon and convinces toy soldiers to hold them hostage or the time I wrapped plastic wrap over the toilet seat and let Hyde “float” on toilet water. He climbs the Christmas tree, reads stacks of books, and over the last few years have collected a little entourage of stuffed animals he travels with around our home. He shows up on December 1, brings a lot of fun for the month, and leaves us Christmas night.
5. A Christmas Carol
We read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens together as a family on weeknights. We sit in the living room together with the fireplace going and the Christmas tree all lit up. Some nights we add cocoa or cookies or tea. We take turns reading, sharing three copies of the book between the six of us. When we finish, we watch our favorite film adaptation, Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009) and The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) which tells the story of Dicken’s masterpiece.
6. The Nutcracker
We listen to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece and Maestro Classic’s version (Jim Weiss reads it!), read the book, and watch the ballet preferably live or on video. Every year we buy a new nutcracker doll to display on our mantel. We’ve got everything from a traditional nutcracker doll, to a baker, a snow queen, and even Santa Yoda. If you’re going to do the Christmas book countdown, you could kick off the nutcracker tradition the day you pick the book.
7. Movie Nights…and Days
We’re big movie fans and we get pretty liberal about allowing movie nights during December (which are usually reserved for the weekend). Since our workload is lighter this time of year, our movie nights even spill into daylight hours, especially when the weather is bad. Here are some (in no particular order) that we look forward to year after year:
* It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
* Buck Denver Asks: Why Do We Call it Christmas? (2011)
* The Little Drummer Boy
* Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
* Frosty the Snowman (1969)
* Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
* The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
* Elf (2003)
* Home Alone (1990)
* Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
* Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
* The Polar Express (2004)
* How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)
* A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
* How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
* The Grinch (2018)
* The Nativity Story (2006)
* Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
* One Magic Christmas (1985)
* Arthur Christmas (2011)
* Noelle (2020 – a new favorite available on Disney plus)
* Scrooged (1988 – for mature audiences)
* National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989 – for mature audiences)
8. Candy Cane Reindeers
Inspired by a craft I did as a girl scout decades ago, I buy up a bunch of candy canes, google eyes, pipe cleaners, and little pom-poms. One afternoon in early December we get the hot glue gun fired up and transform those candy canes into reindeer. If you’re doing the Christmas book countdown and The Legend of the Candy Cane is in your stack, that could be your prompt to do this craft that afternoon!
Once the reindeer are ready, we store them in mason jars. I keep one jar in the car and one near the front door. When we see our UPS, FedEx, Mailman, or have a visitor we don’t have a gift for, we can give them a candy cane reindeer. The stash in the car is for people at church, random acts of kindness, and the Target or Kroger pick up workers that we love so much.
9. Christmas Tea
When the boys were younger, we had a lot of helpers – babysitters, therapy volunteers, friends of mine who would do light errands for me, and neighbors who were always loaning me sticks of butter or cups of sugar. I wanted to do something special to thank them for always being there for us so we put on a “Christmas tea.” I baked a few treats and made tea and cocoa. Each guest received a little gift and one year my kids even put on a bit of a variety show – one played the piano, one read an excerpt from A Christmas Carol, one sang a song, and the other played host serving the guests. It was so much fun that we decided to keep it going. Though the guest list and entertainment changes, we still look forward to showing our gratitude every year.
You can adapt this to any group; a group of friends, a bookclub, neighbors, your children’s friends, or even a mom’s night out for your homeschool group. With Covid this year, things may look different, but with some tweaks, we still plan to find a way to enjoy this tradition. And no matter what, we will enjoy our favorite holiday tea.
10. Galaxy of Lights
When we first moved to Alabama one of the biggest shocks to the system was having no traditions in place. My husband and I both come from decent-sized families and Christmas was always a very busy time. The year before we moved we attended seven parties in one week! So when the prospect of a totally empty Christmas Eve confronted us, we decided to make a new tradition. The local botanical garden puts out a huge light display that you can drive through so every December 24, we put on PJs, pour cocoa into to-go cups, and drive through the galaxy of lights. We look forward to it every year.
This post has been included by Twinkl among their top picks for their favorite Christmas traditions
What are some of your favorite family Christmas traditions? How do traditions make the season more special?