Christmas is a magical time for creating memories with family. It’s easy to get caught up in buying gifts and all the associated materialism that comes with the holidays, but you don’t need to do a lot or spend a lot of money to have a meaningful and memorable holiday season. Take a look at these 35 fun family Christmas traditions that you can start this year.
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1 | Make a gingerbread house
Making a gingerbread house is always on my holiday to-do list. My family didn’t make gingerbread houses when I was growing up, so I make it a point to do it now.
Every year I purchase a kit (less than $10 at Trader Joe’s) and make it with some of the children in my family. It provides us with hours of fun including prep time, making it, taking pictures, and showing other family members.
2 | Make a variety of drinks
Christmas drinks aren’t only for adults. Adults have their eggnog and spiced drinks, while children have tasty drinks too. Take a look at these ones:
Add some s’mores or cookies to your drinks for a full snack.
3 | Visit holiday lanes
Does your area have a holiday lane? Some cities and towns have homes on certain streets that are fully decorated for viewers.
Bundle up and grab some cocoa for a drive through them in the evening hours to see how beautiful they look lit up. I’m always impressed with how creative those people are.
4 | Host a movie marathon
One of my absolute favorite traditions is watching my favorite Christmas movies between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Each year I make a list of the movies I have to watch. On my list every year are
I grab a cup of hot cocoa and settle in for a dose of Christmas spirit.
5 | Make homemade ornaments
The family can spend hours making ornaments to hang on the tree or around the house. You’ll never get bored if you love crafts. There are so many ornaments available to create. These are a few of my favorites:
6 | Make homemade gifts
Homemade gifts are a great alternative to shopping at retail stores. You can make many thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts like a batch of cookies or hot cocoa mix in a jar.
My favorite homemade gift that I receive every year is a bag of trail mix with seaweed seasoning on it.
Not sure what to make? These are a few examples of unique homemade gifts.
7 | Decorate the house
Go ahead and spend an afternoon or evening taking out all your decorations and putting them into place. Make this budget-friendly by using Christmas decorations from past years, free things found in nature like pine cones, or displaying the holiday cards you receive as they arrive.
8 | Host a baked goods exchange party
Everyone has a favorite baked good at the holiday. I can’t resist these pecan sandies. Host a baked goods exchange party to spend time with your loved ones while trying out each other’s treats.
9 | Visit people and deliver your baked goods
The holidays are the perfect time to visit those who are important to you. We don’t always have enough time to visit people for as long or as frequently as we’d like during the year.
The holidays are a good time to make that effort. Not only will people love your thoughtful visit, but when you bring them baked goods, it saves you from eating all of them yourself.
10 | Pick out a tree together
Picking out a tree is an exciting tradition for the whole family to start the Christmas season. The smell of a fresh tree is heavenly!
I’ll admit though that we had a fake tree in my house while growing up. We saved a lot of money by reusing that tree each year, and I loved it all the same.
11 | Decorate the tree together
You can spend hours putting up and decorating the tree. Every year, my mom took out all the ornaments and let me go wild on the tree. The best part was reminiscing about each ornament as we put it up.
12 | Attend a tree lighting ceremony
Tree lighting ceremonies are fun but usually a quick event. To keep the holiday spirit going throughout the evening, try pairing it with another activity like ice skating, baking cookies, or a community Christmas show.
13 | Visit storefronts for their window displays
Holiday window displays can be entertaining too. Every holiday season, Macy’s and the SPCA put adoptable kittens and puppies in the storefront windows. You can purchase pictures with Santa Paws and cuddle experiences with the animals.
An online search of your city or town may show a similar holiday event. This activity can be pretty short so I like to pair it up with a tree lighting ceremony or something else on the list.
14 | Watch the Nutcracker or a Christmas show
Many schools, dance studios, and theaters host Christmas shows such as a Nativity play, the Nutcracker ballet, or A Christmas Carol. You might inspire a child to be in the show next year!
15 | Volunteer at a soup kitchen or pantry
Volunteer at a soup kitchen or pantry to give to others during the season. It doesn’t cost anything but a few hours of time. It’s also fun to meet other volunteers and be part of your community.
16 | Put together a box of goods for seniors in your community
Senior citizens are susceptible to isolation and loneliness during the year. The holidays can make that feeling worse.
Team up with a local organization like Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly or call a nearby senior home to see how you can help.
Many seniors would benefit from a box of practical gifts like socks, nail clippers, postage stamps, and bath soap. It doesn’t take much to put together a box and deliver it, and it could make someone’s day.
17 | Write holiday letters and cards
This is a fun activity even for those who don’t know how to write yet. Children can draw or make holiday cards and crafts to send to their friends and family members.
Your friends and family will likely appreciate that you thought of them enough to share a personal note with them this holiday. Don’t forget that letter to Santa too!
18 | Listen to Christmas music while wrapping presents
Every year as a child, I would turn on the radio one evening before Christmas and help my mom wrap all the presents. We would sing along to the songs as we decided which wrapping paper and bow went with each gift. If you have children, this is a fun way to engage them in Christmas preparations while teaching them how to wrap presents.
19 | Have an ugly Christmas sweater get-together
The ugly Christmas sweater trend hasn’t died down. In fact, every year the designs get more and more unattractive and ridiculous.
Gather friends and family for an ugly sweater Christmas party of your own. The children can get into the fun by decorating an old sweater with Christmas ribbons, stickers, pompoms, and other small toys and items.
There’s always the thrift store for vintage Christmas styles too. I bought a cute Christmas vest at a second-hand store over 5 years ago and still wear it every Christmas.
20 | Keep and Advent calendar
Advent calendars come in many forms nowadays. You can purchase them at a store or online or even have your children make their own.
- A printable calendar village
- 25 Christmas favor boxes
- Santa’s workshop fabric calendar
If your family doesn’t keep an Advent calendar, how about another tradition to mark each of the 24 days before Christmas?
I read of one family that wraps 24 books and opens one each night. They can be Christmas books or not. Twenty-four books may sound pricey, but here’s how to get children’s books for less:
- Visit the thrift store. Thrift stores have an ever-rotating selection of books as donations come in.
- Visit the library book shop. These books can also be deeply discounted.
- Book swaps. You might have a Little Free Library in your area.
- Garage sales. Parents of school-age children often have lots of books to sell.
- Friends and neighbors. Ask for books that aren’t being read anymore or to exchange some books.
Another option is to make a paper chain. Cut red and green paper into 24 strips, then glue the ends of each while linking them together to make the chain.
You can use the chain as decoration around the house or on the tree. Tear off one each day leading up to Christmas.
21 | Join in on Elf on the Shelf
Elf on the Shelf is another fun activity for the days leading up to Christmas. You place an elf in different locations around the house, moving it each night while the kids are sleeping. The elf watches the kids all day and reports back to Santa how they’ve been behaving.
If the original way doesn’t work for your family, try implementing an alternative. The kindness elf keeps an eye out for the kind acts they do each day. Or the gratitude elf brings a note about what he or she is grateful for each morning. The children can add to the list every day.
22 | Open one gift on Christmas Eve
When I was a child, my mom let each of us open one gift on Christmas Eve. We had to wait until Christmas day to open the rest. . We’d inspect the packages under the tree for days picking out which one we wanted to open first. It was exciting to open one gift early and a good exercise in restraint to wait to open the rest.
23 | Wear matching pajamas
One of the cutest traditions I’ve seen in recent years is families wearing matching pajamas on Christmas morning. I want this to become a new tradition in my family, but neither my husband nor the dog is willing to do it.
You can find matching pajamas from many companies now including Hanna Andersson and even Amazon and Target.
24 | Record Christmas activities every year
The days go by so fast that the activities leading up to Christmas and Christmas day can feel like a blur afterward. Record the activities and Christmas day if your family will let you. Even recording a few minutes of action or some commentary is will capture the moments and emotions around them for memory’s sake.
If you’re handy with editing, put together a montage of the season’s events and send it to the grandparents or play it next year. You won’t regret having those memories recorded for all time.
25 | Christmas scavenger hunt
There are several ways to go about a scavenger hunt. If the weather is bad outside and you have to stay in, have the children search for Christmas-themed items around the house. You can make the hunt more elaborate by giving riddles and clues to items and seeing what they find.
You can have an outdoor scavenger hunt walking around your neighborhood or driving through a holiday lane pointing out what you see, things like:
- A nativity scene
- Christmas lights
- And more
26 | Make a new Christmas dish
Try out a new Christmas dish. Keep it for next year if you like it or try another new one next year if you don’t.
The children in my family love Jello. This year I’ll be making this beautiful berry terrine for them. I know they’ll love it!
Another similar dish is this triple-layer Christmas Jello made with marshmallows, pineapple, and cream cheese. Yum!
27 | Learn about Christmas traditions around the world
Highlight a new country or foreign tradition each night of December leading up to Christmas. Children can learn the names and locations of other countries and recognize the traditions of others like:
- Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines
- Placing shoes by the window in Iceland
- Eating porridge on Christmas morning and finding the almond in Finland
28 | Hang Christmas stockings
You probably already hang Christmas stockings each year, but it’s still a good time taking out the stockings, looking at them, reminiscing about last year, and hanging them up.
My family has more stockings than people since we’ve collected stockings over the years. Each year we look them over and each of us picks out which one we want to use that year.
Another alternative is to buy plain red stockings and have the children decorate them:
- Write names with glue and glitter
- Glue on felt shapes like Christmas trees and snowflakes
- Glue or sew on buttons as snowballs
- Tie on candy canes
29 | Go ice skating
It doesn’t snow where I live, so we only go ice skating in the winter when the holiday rinks open for the season. Have fun skating and then warm up after with hot cocoa and laugh about what you learned or the falls!
30 | Attend Christmas Eve service
Many churches hold special services on Christmas Eve. You don’t have to be a member of their congregation or religious to attend.
Some services are geared towards families, making them particularly special for children. The church across the street from where I used to live had an early evening service where the children acted out the Christmas story complete with live animals and Christmas carols. We were able to pet the animals after the service.
Ask around in your community where something like that may be hosted.
31 | Add pets to your Christmas list
Pets are part of the family and love to feel loved too. Children can make gifts or pick out gifts to give the family pets on Christmas morning. Last year my dog got the most presents of anyone in the family!
32 | Have Christmas brunch
Make your Christmas brunch just as memorable with traditional bites likes casseroles and bread pudding. Or try out one of these breakfast ideas for kids.
33 | Play Christmas games
Every year my family plays Christmas games after dinner. One year we had to name the title and finish the lyrics of Christmas songs. In another year, we practiced the most popular pop songs of the year with their movements to perform like the song “Cups” from the movie Pitch Perfect. It wasn’t Christmas-themed but still lots of fun.
Recruit a family member to be in charge of coming up with games for the children, adults, or both.
34 | Learn new Christmas carols
Are there Christmas carols that you or your children don’t know? Print out the lyrics and play them on YouTube to learn them. The more songs you know, the better you’ll be at joining in on singing at Christmas parties.
35 | Make New Year’s resolutions
Do you like setting goals for yourself or want your children to learn how to set goals? Try making New Year’s resolutions.
They don’t have to be the un-fun kind or last all year. They can be the fun kind too, like spending more quality time with your family or trying a new recipe each week for a month.
It’s exciting to imagine where you’ll be and what you will have accomplished in a few months or a year’s time. Dream big and let those dreams take you into the new year.
I hope you have an enjoyable Christmas season making fun memories with your family!
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?