Updated: Jan 10
Every tradition has to start somewhere. Whether you have a family that has a lot of holiday routines — favorite dinner recipes to make, cookies to bake, songs to sing and ornaments to put on the tree — or you're group with just a few, cherished traditions, it's always fun to try something new. And, if it's a rousing success, you can add it into the rotation for next year, and look forward to doing it again for the next 12 months. Looking back, it's not really the gifts that families remember most, but the Christmas traditions they do year after year that make the biggest impressions.
Many people fondly recall their most cherished holiday memories. If you're looking for inspiration, feel free to take these ideas, put your family's twist on them and start using them in your own annual celebrations. From counting down the days before Santa's arrival — Christmas advent calendar, anyone? — to converting the tree to a New Year tree, these ideas are packed with good cheer that'll last the whole holiday season.
Here are some ideas that we have found that you will either fondly remember, or want to start adding a new tradition or two.
Create a Countdown Routine
Sure, you can buy an advent calendar based on your kids' favorite activities and watch with joy as they get a new goodie each day. But it's even more fun to make your own. "Each year we fill an advent calendar for my son with tiny toys, sweets and notes promising trips to his favorite bakery," says Jacquelyn Rodgers. Try this: Fill 24 bags, boxes or drawers with love notes, candy, small toys or ideas for good deeds they can do that day to spread good cheer. Or, keep special ornaments aside in a box and add a new one to the tree each morning!
Make the Tree Special
When it comes time to trim the tree, find a way to commemorate a milestone or memory from the past year. "One of my favorite holiday traditions is adding to our ornament collection," says Jeanine Hays. "In the past, ornaments have been from a place we'd traveled or a gift from a dear friend. This year we are adding Black Panther to our tree. Each year your tree reveals a little bit more about your family and your heritage." Making handmade ornaments together is another way to sneak some bonding time into a busy time of year.
Celebrate Sinterklaas in Early December
Sinterklaas, also known as Saint Nicholas Day, is celebrated on December 5, when "Sint" traditionally leaves a small gift, sweet or poem in the shoes of Dutch children. Gifts are often elaborately disguised as other objects. Why not add a Dutch tradition, and together we celebrate Sinterklaas? You can have a lot of fun with this tradition!
Host a Christmas or Favourites Movie Marathon
In December, have every person in the family pick a favorite, then either take a weekend to binge them all, or watch one a week leading up to Christmas. You can even design a bingo card to keep track of movie tropes.
Go Caroling (or Host a Sing-Along at Home)
There are so many good Christmas songs, and you only get one season in which to play them over and over and over again. (Unless you're one of those people — the kind that listens to holiday music year-round.) Print out some lyrics, fire up a playlist and get ready to belt out your favorites. (Bonus: This is definitely something you can do over Zoom with far-flung relatives.)
Look for Decked Halls Before or on Christmas Eve
Take a stroll, or go for a drive, and check out all the decorations. If there are a lot of decorations in your neighborhood it helps to move around a bit before you settle in for the big Christmas Eve feast. You can even sing some of your favourite Christmas songs as you walk along the street.
Teach your Children & Grandchildren About Giving Back
"My boys are young, but I've already started incorporating the Santa Sack tradition into our Christmas," says Siobhan Alvarez. "Each year our children pick out toys they own but don't play with anymore to give to other children as extra presents when Santa visits them, placing them in a special sack waiting for Santa under the Christmas tree. It teaches them that the best part of Christmas is not receiving gifts, but given them to others, especially those in need."
Read Aloud to Hasten Santa's Arrival
Whether it's The Polar Express or the Fezziwig scene from A Christmas Carol, or other favourite Christmas stories, pick a passage that'll get sugarplums dancing in everybody's heads, and mark or dog-ear the pages for a yearly re-read.
Wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater
Some people really get into the spirit of Christmas Sweaters. You leave it in the back of the closet all year long, waiting for its day in the spotlight. Now it's time to bust out your tackiest fashions and wear them with traditional pride (and possibly a Santa hat).
Set Gift-Giving Rules
Whether you do a Yankee Swap, Secret Santa or some other type of gag gift grab bag, when it comes time to give presents to your extended family, the wackier the rules, the better. Some do their own spin on a white elephant where half bring gag gifts and the other half brings nice gifts.
Some want to stretch out the the gift giving time to make the excitement last longer. There is a Santa picked and an Elf picked. The Santa pulls out gifts from under the tree making sure that everyone gets a turn, and hands it over to the Elf to give to the receiver. Everyone watches with anticipation as the gift is opened. it gets passed around so that everyone can have a good look at the gift. Then it's the next person's turn.
Come up with your own rules!
Play a Game Together Until Late at Night
Organize a marathon of your favorite board games, or DIY holiday twists on classic games like Pin the Nose on the Rudolph. Keep a running tally of who in the family is most victorious, and that person is Champion of Christmas ... until next year.
After Boxing Day, Switch Your Tree to a New Years Tree
Even if you don't officially convert your tree into a New Year Tree — replacing the Christmas ornaments with ones meant to ring in the new — you can still keep one eye on December 31. Get prepare for resolutions, the ceremonial eating of 12 grapes (which some cultures do, one for every month, for luck) and chasing the old year out the door or window.
Let Everyone Open One Present on Christmas Eve
A great tradition where often family members open up a pair of new pajamas. There are other Christmas Eve Gift opening traditions that you can create to match up to your family and friends.
There are so many more traditions to be had, or added to your own. If you have a family Christmas tradition that you would like to share with everyone, share it in a comment.