The holidays are such a wonderful time of year to spend with your family. Sharing memories of building gingerbread houses together, sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace, and putting ornaments on the Christmas tree are just what this season is made for. Now that your family is growing, it’s the perfect time to create new holiday traditions or continue ones passed down from generations.
These traditions create lifelong happy memories and can even help your children gain a deeper understanding of who they are. Since many are tied into cultural or religious beliefs, rituals help generations stay connected by sharing family values and stories. Psychologists believe family traditions also enhance a child’s self-esteem and improve their overall well-being by giving them a sense of belonging.
Start by thinking about your own holiday memories or family activities you already enjoy together. All it takes is a little repetition year after year to give your family a new tradition they’ll treasure each holiday season. Here are some creative ideas of holiday traditions the whole family will enjoy. Best of all, most of these meaningful moments can be shared from the comfort of your own home and they don’t cost much either.
Photo Credit: Gustavo Fring, Pexels
Set the Holiday Mood
Out of all our senses, smell is most tied to our memories. Create happy holiday flashbacks by tapping into this mood-boosting sense. Fill a pot with a few inches of water, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, orange peels, cloves, and a pinch of nutmeg. Let it simmer low on the stovetop while you’re home throughout the day. The distinct seasonal aroma will fill your home and forever remind you of the holidays.
While you’re at it, create another tradition by putting together a family holiday playlist. Add classics like “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and “White Christmas” mixed with modern hits like “Santa Tell Me,” “Mistletoe,” and “Oh Santa,” and more of you and your kid’s favorite songs.
Celebrate the Past Year
Being pregnant or Mama to a newborn, this year is one to remember. Create a family holiday tradition of recapping the past months together. Collaborate using everyone’s photos (sonograms count too!) to design an annual photo calendar, family album, or chronicled video of the year’s favorite moments and milestones. Keep them on a designated shelf so you can flip through yearly highlights together later on.
Photo Credit: Any Lane, Pexels
“Say Cheese” in Matching Holiday Pajamas
So, it might be cheesy, but we’re big fans of matching holiday family jammies. Use this as an opportunity to snap an on-theme family photo. From infants to toddlers, parents, grandparents, and pets, there are many options for matching pajamas so the entire family can look festive while staying comfortable. You can even give the pajamas to each family member beforehand as a gift too.
Read Bedtime Holiday Stories
Whether you hit the local library just in time for the holidays or stock up on new festive titles at the bookstore, the holidays are a great time to get your bedtime stories on trend with the season. Check out books like How to Catch an Elf, Let’s Celebrate: Special Days Around the World, The Polar Express, Meet the Latkes, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Or stick with a classic and read The Night Before Christmas; turn this into a family tradition and make it an annual reading before the big holiday.
Countdown to the Holidays
Get in the holiday spirit with a countdown to the big celebration. While this is typically done with an advent calendar around Christmas time, feel free to incorporate the idea however it suits your family. Create a pocket for each day of the month and fill it with encouraging notes, tiny toys, stickers, button pins, candy, or activity ideas. Tick off the days to build excitement or do a post-holiday countdown into the new year with a “12 Days of Christmas” version instead.
Photo Credit: PNW Production, Pexels
Time for Some Holiday Cookies
Set up a kitchen helper tower for your toddler and let them join in the fun of baking holiday cookies. You can even buy a tiny whisk, apron, and chef’s hat if you really want them to get into it. Follow an old family recipe or grab a new one to whip up batches of your favorites like ginger snaps, shortbread, mint chocolate chip, or eggnog cookies.
Then spread holiday cheer to your neighbors by delivering cookies to family, friends, teachers, doctors, or your local fire or police department. You might even want to leave some out on the stoop for delivery drivers who are hustling during the holiday season.
Tour Neighborhood Light Displays
Love seeing giant ornaments, animatronic reindeers, lit-up Santas, menorahs, and more? This next idea is for you. Create a self-guided tour of the best holiday light displays near you. Every town has at least one house known for going all out with their holiday decorations; you just need to ask around to find them.
Load everyone into the car, turn up your favorite holiday tunes, and circle the neighborhood for the best front yard displays. Turn it into a game, score the house decorations on a scale of 1 to 5, and choose your family’s favorite.
Photo Credit: Cottonbro, Pexels
Write Letters to Santa
Ever since Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon of Santa opening mail back in 1871, kids have been writing letters to the North Pole. This age-old tradition is just as popular today, but of course, there are new digital ways to reach Santa now too. Apps like Portable North Pole, Message from Santa, and Catch a Character let kids do everything from getting a voicemail from Santa to sending him a video message or capturing a photo of him in your home.
If pen and paper are still your preference, check out the United States Postal Service “Operation Santa” program. Santa will answer your child’s letter and send the response back with a fancy North Pole postmark. You can also sponsor another kid by answering their Santa letter or sending them a gift to spread some holiday cheer.
Host a Holiday Movie Marathon
There is something about classic holiday flicks that we can’t get enough of. It doesn’t matter if we watch the same ones every year; somehow, they never get old. Whether you love a Miracle of 34th Street or are more into Elf, The Grinch, or Home Alone, we won’t judge.
Pack your family into the living room and have them pick out their favorite festive films. Then binge them all at once or host weekly theme nights coordinated with snacks, decorations, and outfits that tie back to the movie.
Photo Credit: Cottonbro, Pexels
Build Gingerbread Houses
Have a bit of a sweet tooth? You’ll love building gingerbread houses as a family. There are tons of kit options out there filled with everything you need, so it’s a super easy activity to set up. Choose from classic gingerbread sets to Oreo, pretzel, or Sweet Tart & Nerds candy-filled houses. Each family member can build separate ones with scenes like the main house, treehouse, and doghouse, or work together on an extravagant candy design.
This is an excellent way to teach little ones about structural integrity (hint: layer frosting on thick and let it set). It also serves as a creative outlet to personalize their gingerbread house with different sweets. Just keep an eye on them to make sure all the candy isn’t eaten before making it into the design.
Let Santa Leave a Trail
Let your little ones revel in the magic of Christmas and Santa with these family traditions. Track Santa’s route on the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)’s Santa Tracker app or website starting on Christmas Eve. Then leave out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa too.
After the kids go to sleep, have Santa leave behind a trail of his presence. Grab some baby powder or flour and stomp boot footprints throughout the house. Sip a glass of milk and take some big bites from the cookies. If you have a fireplace, leave a trail of gifts from there to the tree to really drive it home.
Photo Credit: Cottonbro, Pexels
Get Crafty for the Holidays
Holiday crafts are a great way to keep your kids entertained while creating family keepsakes like handmade ornaments. There are plenty of DIYs to follow, from paper snowflakes, popcorn garlands, and pinecone ornaments to personalized stockings or pasta menorahs. Pick your favorites and host a family “Crafternoon” filled with holiday cheer, hot cocoa, and classic tunes.
Enjoy a Family Brunch
Sleep in Christmas morning and get everyone together early afternoon for one last celebration: family brunch. Have everyone pitch in cooking eggs, fresh toast, home fries, and more. Serve alongside yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit, jams, and scones for a tasty meal the whole family will enjoy. Grab some hot chocolate for the kids and mimosa for the adults, then get ready to unwrap presents on a full belly.
Donate to Those In-Need
Giving back is a great family tradition to start around the holiday season. Consider sponsoring a child through a Giving Tree or nonprofit like Toys for Tots to purchase a gift off of their wish list and bring a smile to a stranger’s face.
During this time of year, children’s schools and other community organizations also collect clothing and nonperishable food. Take a family shopping trip to buy gifts for those in need or sort through household items together and donate canned goods, coats, and more to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Photo Credit: @lindydawn__
Pick Out & Decorate the Tree Together
This last idea is the most popular family tradition of all. There’s something special about heading to the tree farm and letting kids pick out a live Christmas tree. Most places stocked with beautiful trees also offer sleigh rides and other kid-friendly activities on-site for lots more family fun.
Take the tree home, then spend the rest of the day decorating it together as a family with string lights, garlands, and ornaments. Just be careful with any breakable heirloom ornaments; place those securely out-of-reach or elsewhere on a mantle where they aren’t at risk of breaking. Proudly display handmade craft ornaments and this year’s “The Best Gifts Don’t Come Under a Tree” ornament from The Belly Bundle.