What Are Your Favorite Holiday Traditions

posted by Andrea | 12/11/2012

This picture was taken LAST year on Christmas morning. 

Some of my favorite things about the holidays — specifically Christmas — are the fun family traditions I know I can always look forward to year after year.

Growing up, we had many family traditions:

  • We almost always set up the Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving.
  • My mom would make all sorts of bread and a HUGE batch of her special homemade hot chocolate mix.
  • My mom would often wrap our presents in “code” so we never knew which ones were ours — (she used a specific pattern or type of wrapping paper for each kid).
  • We always got together with all the relatives from my mom’s side of the family on Christmas Eve and then with the relatives on my Dad’s side of the family on Christmas Day.
  • We ALWAYS had ham for Christmas dinner.
  • We usually got to open one present before church on Christmas morning but then had to wait to open the rest of them until Christmas night
  • Etc. etc. etc.

And now that we have our own little family, Dave and I have started a few traditions of our own…

  • Decorating the house Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Using an advent calendar (I can’t wait until Nora is older and understands).
  • Sending out Christmas cards (I’ll be sharing our 2012 card next week).
  • Toy purging before all the Christmas gifts (not sure this is a “tradition” but I’m definitely planning to do it every year!)
  • “Ugly sweater party” with our friends — (we just had it last weekend at our house!)
  • Christmas parties with my side of the family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • Christmas parties with Dave’s side of the family on New Year’s Day.
  • Taking Nora’s picture by the Christmas tree (seriously, she was SO tiny last year!)

Two other traditions I’d like to start once Nora is a bit older:

1. Do something to give back to a person, family, or organization in need. But not just a financial donation… I want our whole family to physically do something like volunteer at a soup kitchen, or deliver gifts/ meals to a needy family. I think it’s good for them to see others who are less fortunate, and to realize that Christmas really is not about getting gifts, but rather giving them.

2. Implement a more “simplistic” gift-giving routine where we would give our children only a few gifts: 1 clothing gift, 1 educational gift, 1 experience gift, and 1 fun gift.  Not only will this make shopping and planning a lot easier, it will also help the kids to realize that Christmas isn’t all about gifts (which is really easy to forget these days!)

I know there are SO many other fun and creative holiday traditions… so today, I’d love to know:

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

They don’t have to be big or fancy and they can be traditions from your family, your work, your friends, or even from when you were a child. I’m just interested in what other people do to celebrate/remember the holiday season.

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27 comments

  1. Deb

    12/11/2012

    I had to laugh about the coded gifts. My mil did that once when my dh was growing up and then she lost the paper where she wrote down the code, so the boys got Barbies, girls got Tonka, etc……and you would have thought she would have learned, but years later after we were married, she worked at a department store and they wrapped everything for free, but again she forgot whose was whose so we opened and then guessed and exchanged, but sometimes she picks out wrong sizes, etc, so it was absolutely hilarious, still is in fact.

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  2. Jamie

    12/11/2012

    Some things that we do every year are:
    1. Advent calendar- I have little ones so I purchased one by Fischer Price that has soft fabric pieces.
    2. Christmas Cookies- I have simplified this over the years. I used to do 1 huge day of baking but then even after giving a lot away we still threw out so many. We just couldn’t eat them fast enough. So, now we each choose 1 cookie that we want that year and make 1 cookie/week over the season. We are able to share and enjoy without having to throw them out. It is also a lot less stressful doing 1 batch at a time.
    3. Cocoa, Cookies and Christmas lights. We make 1 batch of cookies in the afternoon. Then, after dinner we shower and dress the kids in Pj’s. I fill up sippie cups and sports bottles with homemade hot chocolate and we load up the car to go look at lights. If the little ones fall asleep it’s ok because the are already dressed for bed.
    4. We also pick out an ornament for each child every year. It is something special that happened over the past year. (i.e. a bike if they learned to ride or a favorite character, big brother ornament, etc) We wrap them and give them the night we decorate the Christmas tree.
    5. The Christmas Nail- This is an ornament that we purchased at our local Christian bookstore. It is a very large nail. It has the story of the nail and a poem that comes along with it. We read it together and then place the nail as out first ornament each year. It helps remind us that Christ came as a baby at Christmas time so he could grow up and die for us!

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  3. Lauren

    12/11/2012

    We have a Birthday cake for Jesus every year. It’s funny because my husband did the same thing growing up, so we do it with our kids now. We sing Happy Birthday with candles, birthday hats and all. :)

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  4. Stel

    12/11/2012

    I like the coded gifts!

    We started last year, to give a gift to charity organisations. Last year we took two names from the Christmas tree in the library and my boys helped choose gifts. This year we registered for the Santa’s Shoebox Project (www.santashoebox.co.za) that provides a spcific list of items that should fit in a shoebox. We chose two teenagers, as they are not as ppular as the little ones. Next year we’ll start collecting items throughout the year, as we know how it works now. We’ll choose two teens again, as well as two boys of he same age than mine.

    I also bake cookies with my kids and let them decorate, hang it on the tree and they eat it as fast as they can!

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  5. Jill

    12/11/2012

    Traditions are what the holidays are all about! One of the things we started with our son who is now 15 is a RACK (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) Day. We pick one day and do all sorts of things for others without them knowing it. One of my favorites was putting a dollar bill in the toy section of the dollar store and catching my son watching the little boy that found it! It was awesome! Another thing we have done is only giving 4 things to our son for Christmas: 1. Something he wants; 2. Something he needs; 3. Something he likes; and 4. Something he reads. Along the same lines you are doing – It saves time, money, etc. and allows you to really enjoy the holiday!!!

    Happy Holidays!!!

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  6. Melissa

    12/11/2012

    About mid-December we bring out a special red and green Christmas Jingle Bell collar for our dog. It’s hilarious because he really seems to love wearing it and he sounds like one of Santa’s reindeer. We usually go to my husband’s parents house on Christmas Eve and spend the night. On Christmas Eve after dinner we unwrap the lottery scratch tickets that are in our stockings (and yes, they get wrapped in gift wrap) while drinking cocoa or coffee and spend a lot of time joking about who ‘always’ wins and who doesn’t. On Christmas morning we get up and unwrap our gifts while still in our PJs and take lots of funny pictures. Later in the day we have a special dinner that my father in law prepares and just enjoy time together as a family.

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  7. Carlen

    12/11/2012

    When my brother and I were young, we got to pick out our wrapping paper and my parents wrapped our presents in our own specific paper. When we were older, my mom always used the “to/from” gift tags, but made them “from” someone who was a hint about what the gift was. For instance, one year I got a pair of leather boots and they were “from” Nancy Sinatra (who sang “These boots are made for walkin’”), and once I got a Justin Timberlake CD and it was “from” Britney Spears (back when they were the “hottest” couple).

    We also always did a Christmas Brunch in our pajamas around the tree on Christmas morning.

    A new tradition we’ve started with my daughter is spending Christmas Eve driving around the neighborhoods in my parent’s hometown looking at all the Christmas Lights. We live in a bigger city and not everyone decorates, but almost everyone in my parent’s hometown decorates.

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  8. JoAnn C.

    12/11/2012

    Decorating my 18 inch Christmas tree entirely in huge Detroit Lions ornaments. It’s a new one mom and I started a few years ago after dad died.

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  9. Marie

    12/11/2012

    Now that my children are older with jobs and such we can’t travel to be with family. But we still have our Christmas eve meal together and open presents after. Then we watch movies, eat desserts and play games/cards. I always make some sort of breakfast casserole for christmas morning and we just hangout together. Enjoy your little one while she is little and growing up because those years will just fly by.

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  10. Laura

    12/11/2012

    Love your simplistic gift giving routine. That is similar to what we do… I always like to include 1 book also. :)

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  11. Jen

    12/11/2012

    We do a few things. One much simpler gift giving routine that I wish I had started when my kiddos were younger is four gifts: something I want, something I need, something to wear, and something to read. Can’t go wrong with those!

    Stockings are also a BIG deal in our house. Each child gets 10-12 small stocking gifts and I wrap every single one of them separately–packs of gum, books of stamps, packs of tic tacs, body wash, etc. Yes, it’s work! But it’s what my mom always did for us and I have continued the tradition with our kids. We save the stocking for later on Christmas night and I think the kids look forward to the stockings more than the presents! Our daughter got married this past August and she wanted to make sure that she still got a stocking for Christmas this year! :-)

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  12. Leanne

    12/11/2012

    every year we go to Christmas Eve Service…and since our first born came home (8 years ago!), we have volunteered at our community Christmas Dinner for a few hours on 12/25 to encourage others who are lonely or hurting on that day! the boys always love it!
    This year our children are also helping with a special Christmas Service on the 23rd that our church puts on at a local nursing home! they play the piano, sing Christmas Carols, and hand out ornaments! The older people LOVE the little ones, no matter what they do! even if they are a bit “mischevious” that day!!

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  13. Audra

    12/11/2012

    Simple things make me smile. I’m not sure what you have coded with your site, but I copied idea #2 about simplistic gift giving ideas to send to my husband in an email as an idea for our children next year. I was please to find that when I pasted it, it also pasted where it originated from with a link to your site. Thanks! Saved me the time of going back and copying the link so that he could read the post himself. :)

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  14. Jen

    12/11/2012

    My baby is only 6-months old, so we’re definitely planning our new traditions we want to do once he understands.

    We plan on doing a little celebration on the feast day of St. Nicholas (December 6) – have our son choose one of his toys/books/clothes to give to those less fortunate. We’ll also read the story of St. Nick and bake cookies!

    For Christmas, we plan on giving him only 3 gifts since that’s how many Jesus got! Although this year I’m not sure if we’ll get him anything since he doesn’t know better and our relatives will be spoiling him :)

    My husband also wants to start doing something with our stockings – since we never have before. He suggested picking a “theme” each year of something to stick in each other’s stockings, like candy or something else simple.

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  15. Kristin

    12/11/2012

    My dad was in the Navy and luckily he was never deployed during Christmas, but very frequently was on duty so we would eat Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner in the officers club. I loved going aboard those aircraft carriers during holidays- Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
    My in-laws have a tradition of always eating Christmas Eve dinner at a nice restaurant in the fancy part of town. Everyone else must also enjoy that tradition because we make our dinner reservations in September.
    As for my family- I think its important for my kids to always wake up in their own beds in their own home on Christmas morning. So my tradition (more like rule) is that we do our traveling before or after and not on the day of.

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  16. Nora@ The Dollar Holllering Homemaker

    12/11/2012

    We don’t exchange Christmas gifts in my family. Everyone gets a stocking, which we open after Midnight Mass. Instead of gifts, everyone picks a charity or cause that has special meaning to them. Then we do things like volunteer at the homeless shelter together, pick up trash by the river or buy gifts for the crisis nursery. We also do a secret santa for various people in our lives. We pick a family, neighbor and give a gift anonymously.

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  17. Shelly

    12/11/2012

    One Christmas tradition that has stayed with me throughout my 38 years of life is the stocking my mom made up for me and my sister. In it was an apple, and orange, some nuts in the shell, and toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, etc. The apple, orange, and nuts (almost forgot hard candy, lol) were so we remembered how our grandparents had grown up during the depression, and how that’s all they got for christmas. My grandfather was from a more well to-do family, so he also received one toy, that was usually wooden. My grandmother was lucky if her older sisters bought her a doll… She was the youngest of a family of 16 children, so her older sisters were more like aunts to her. It always was a sober reminder of how lucky we were and are. We still do the apple and orange in the stocking, but now the nuts are in a bowl on the table for all to crack and enjoy! Also, my mother only had 3 gifts from santa, as that is what jesus received, and the gifts from her and my dad were always clothing or books.. practical gifts along that line. New shoes were the highlight! It was a good way for them to get us nice things, and also save on the budget, as we were always growing, and using clothing as a gift also supplied us with clothing for the next year until school was out!
    Love to read these traditions, and hope that every family honors their traditions, because you are not only carrying on an act or gift that always happened before, you are carrying on the memories of the lives of those before us, and it’s so important that none of us forget who we came from and what they survived so that we could be alive to enjoy christmas now!

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  18. Carrie

    12/11/2012

    I have to watch the Christmas Story every year. I love it. It’s the best Christmas movie ever.

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  19. Gayle

    12/11/2012

    We open one gift each on Christmas Eve. We all open a new pair of pajamas. That way when we wake up early Christmas morning we are all cozy as we lounge around and enjoy our cinnamon rolls and coffee or milk in the morning before we head out to the family party. Those moments are priceless! My kids are teenagers and we have done this all their lives. I cannot see it ever changing :)

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  20. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    12/11/2012

    Our extended family doesn’t get together very often but Christmas is the one time that we do. I really look forward to us all getting together and eating lunch together.

    This year we considered not making the traditional menu (which is basically a repeat of Thanksgiving). I was okay with it until last week and then I started feeling kind of sad. It seemed anticlimatic for everyone to come over for lasagna or tacos. Big deal! So I made an executive decision to stick with our traditional menu. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, we just had almost the same menu at Thanksgiving. But yes, it’s part of the tradition. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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  21. Kim

    12/11/2012

    My mom-in-law made a simple Christmas tree cookie with green icing and sprinkles as far back as the 1940′s. When she moved to Heaven many years ago, I received the cookie cutter and began to make them every year each in her memory.
    Last year, Christmas day fell on Sunday, and we had out of town company who could only come for a few hours. This included a great nephew, 9, and his sister, 7. We didn’t go to church, so for a worship time, I wrote a fun Christmas play where Mason and Karlee were TV reporters on location in Bethlehem, interviewing about six of the main Nativity people. They chose relatives to portray each character, and everyone read their part. It was fantastic and much more powerful than just reading Luke 2. We plan to repeat the play this year. (I am happy to email it to anyone who might want to use it.) Merry Christmas!

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  22. Amanda

    12/11/2012

    1. I’m part of a mom’s group. We’re all pretty blessed. The last few years we’ve adopted a family through local hospitals (usually a family who has a child who is very ill), and everyone comes together to donate and give the family a Christmas they might not otherwise be able to afford. It’s probably one of my most favorite things. This year’s family wanted a convertible car seat, a red wagon, and diapers/wipes – the parents wanted nothing. When a family is in need of the absolute basics, the things we take for granted, I can’t help but want to provide them with those things.

    2. Brunch with my parents and brother in the morning (where my mom always has Handel’s Messiah playing – growing up, she’d turn it on as soon as she came downstairs on Christmas morning), and then going to my inlaws and doing dinner with my husband’s parents and siblings and our niece and nephews. Our parents live only a few miles apart, and I love that we can spend time with everyone on Christmas Day.

    3. Because Christmas Day is so hectic, my husband and I go to Christmas Eve services, then we come home and I put our Christmas dinner in the oven, and while it is cooking, we do our gifts to each other. Our son was born the week after Christmas this past year, so this is his first Christmas. I have a special pair of PJs for him that we’ll put him in that night.

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  23. Lisa

    12/12/2012

    We have “breakfast for supper” on Christmas Eve, and we let the kids drink sparkling grape juice out of real wine glasses to make it more special. We do our immediate family gift exchange that evening. On Christmas morning, we open stockings – yes, all wrapped individually. It’s practical stuff (socks and underwear) as well as candy, earrings, etc. We head to church and then to one of our parents’ for Christmas dinner and gifts. I love that our kids know what to plan on and look forward to it every year.

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  24. Colleen

    12/12/2012

    Growing up, we would always attend Mass on Xmas eve and on the way home we would talk about driving around to look at the Christmas lights. We’d get home from church, change and then get ready to head out to look. And every year, for SOME reason my Mom at the last minute would decide not to go: getting a headache, needed to get the rolls going for the morning, too cold, etc. Well, years later we learned that THAT was when she would pull all of the gifts out of all the various hiding places she had them and assemble them in their bedroom so they could play Santa after we went to bed without creeping around the whole house! We weren’t allowed to wake our parents b/4 6am—oh that was hard. We’d get up way earlier than that, go through our stockings and then re-pack them all back up to re-open at the magical hour of 6

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  25. Rebecca

    12/12/2012

    Speaking of making a tradition to give back, here’s what we did this year:

    My son’s birthday is really close to Christmas and a) we don’t have space for tons of xmas and bday gifts in our home and b) our son really doesn’t NEED anything. So, for his birthday party I asked my friends to just bring a 5-10 dollar donation for the Compassion International child that we sponsor. (This boy shares the same birthday as our son, which we did on purpose). So while family will get to buy him gifts (they love doing this and I wouldn’t want to deprive them of the fun)- our friends get to do one less errand but still feel like they are contributing something. Plus it’s a lot less gifts to figure out where to put! My son will probably have 5 or 6 birthday gifts versus 12-15.

    I don’t know if this will work in future years when he’s old enough to realize birthday=gifts, but we figured we could try to start the habit now and hopefully he’ll understand the idea of giving to someone who isn’t as fortunate.

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  26. Rhonda

    12/14/2012

    The first Christmas that we moved into our house, our oldest child was 1-1/2. I started a tradition of of making his handprint with paint on our Christmas tree skirt. I continued this when our daughter was born. Every December, our children look forward to putting up the Christmas tree and making a handprint on the tree skirt. We have been doing this now for 12 years. It is wonderful to see how the size of their hands have changed from year to year as they have grown. Sadly, we put my son’s last handprint on this year (his side is all full), and will only fit about two more for my daughter’s. I think it is one of my most cherished Christmas decorations!

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  27. Julia

    12/14/2012

    Each year I take my children them to the decoration shop at Myer (a large department store here in Australia) and they each choose ONE decoration to buy and hang on the tree. These are stored in separate named boxes with our other Christmas decorations. When they leave home – they take their box of decorations with them to use on their own family Christmas tree.
    It is lovely to see how their tastes change over the years and they recall buying the decorations each Christmas as we put up the tree.

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