Looking for some family Christmas traditions to start with your kids? My two have now reached the grand age of 3 and 4 and Christmas is definitely something that they “get”. My eldest can’t wait for “Santa Christmas” to come and deliver another yellow crane (six hundred and forty-eighty-nine meters bigger than his other yellow crane) and is very concerned how he’s going to get here because of “the virus” (first-world problems…).
Christmas tradition number one – you have to write this stuff down, even better, record your little kids saying these things….they are just too adorable and, I don’t know about you, but my mommy brain seems here to stay…
Ok, so I’m getting ahead of things… a bit of organization and planning is necessary for some of these family Christmas traditions, so kudos to you if you’re reading this in November, not on December 20th (as I was last year).
Most are old Christmas traditions we’ve carried on from, mmm, forever. Passed down from generation to generation, traditions that have stuck like glue. With, a
tinsel tinsy bit of adaptation here and there (sorry, Christmas on the brain…).
There are a handful of fairly unique traditions (I think) and a few sanity-saving ones (for sure). Because Christmas can get stressful (right?) and that is the opposite of what anyone wants.
First of all, what classifies a “good” family Christmas tradition to start? Well, this is my take – if you’re thinking along the same lines then you’ve come to the right place.
Picking and choosing family Christmas traditions
Memorable Christmas traditions are really the name of the game. They also need to be fun and add anticipation but without adding chaos and any kind of kid/mom/dad/entire family burnout.
So the clue was actually in the title – don’t try and do them all or it all, whatever “it” is. Pick and choose and keep it simple.
With that in mind, make sure you have some traditions on the list that incorporate the whole family to help minimize and share the load when it comes to the many Christmas chores; they aren’t called “family” Christmas traditions for nothing. If the little ones can get involved and help, then help they will!
Finally, let’s not forget what Christmas is all about and include some meaningful Christmas traditions. We are not super religious but teaching your little kids the story of Christmas and intertwining some of that message into those traditions has to be there. An emphasis on giving as well as receiving.
(These family Christmas traditions are mostly based on the those I grew up with, back home in the UK. So some of these are old British Christmas traditions that might be completely alien to all you US folk out there… let me know in the comments if have no clue what I’m on about!)
Family Christmas traditions to start thinking about in November
In the past, I’ve refused to think about Christmas until December – but there are a couple of things worth doing in November, so that some of the December festivities actually happen…
#1 Do better than a store-bought candy-filled advent calendar
The old-fashioned advent calendars with little windows, with a picture and Christmas message are now a rarity, it would seem; you have to plan ahead here. I’m not a total Christmas scrooge, nor anti-sugar, but the chocolate advent calendars are just the ugliest things ever….
Another plan is to DIY your very own advent calendar to use year after year. Then you can add toys or treats to each day – I’d love to try this! But, as ever, I’m probably a little over-ambitious of both how much time I have and my ability…
Better plan? Buy one you can reuse. My parents bought a Christmas advent calendar quilt at a market last year. There’s a little pocket for each day which my parents filled with gold chocolate coins. (A little too accessible to a nosy 2 and 3-year-old but I’m sure this year they will find a little more restraint.)
#2 Christmas countdown paperchains
This one is more for little kids, who have such a poor concept of time… and numbers (hence my 4-year-olds obsession with very long and meaningless numbers right now…)
Paperchains are very easy to make with little kids, so this is a lovely early Christmas activity in itself. So put together a 25 loop paperchain (just loop and stick these ready to stick paper chain strips) and number the loops 1 to 25. Each loop of the paperchain represents a day in December. 1st December, you rip off the loop marked 1 and so on… sure you get the idea.
Great for your preschooler learning numbers and might stop the endless “how long until Christmas” questions. (Wishgul thinking, perhaps.)
#3 Plan your own Christmas countdown with an activity for every day leading up to Christmas
Just kidding. That’s hectic. No, no and no.
Make, bake, create family Christmas traditions
If you’re a lover of all things homemade and your little ones need to be kept out of mischief, then these Christmas traditions kill two birds with one stone…
Lots of these make wonderful homemade gifts (handy for one of the more meaningful Christmas traditions coming up).
#4 “Make” some Christmas ice-cream
(The ” ” because you are just flavoring vanilla ice-cream rather than making…)
I love mince pies and Christmas cake but, most kids? Not so much…. What they do love though: ice-cream. So Christmas ice-cream is a winner.
This is an even easier version of a Christmas pudding ice-cream bombe, (a fool-proof and easy alternative to Christmas pudding). The kids loved it last year. (Then again, that could well mean they don’t like it this year, you know, kids being kids)
Christmas spiced ice-cream:
- 2l tub of store-bought vanilla ice-cream, a little softened
- 1 packet ginger biscuits (around 200g), crumbled
- nuts & dried fruit chopped (walnuts and cranberries are particularly good for Christmas), a few handfuls/to taste (omit if your kids don’t like)
- 2 teaspoons of mixed spice
Mix and freeze.
Then try not to eat all at once!
#5 Bake Christmas cookies or cupcakes
Baking with little ones can be quite something so I’m not afraid to admit I don’t do it that often, but at Christmas, it’s kind of a must.
Some of my fondest memories from any trip to my Granny’s around Christmas are of baking; the sugary, buttery stickiness over every counter, never successfully sneaking a proper mouthful of cookie dough and then the waft of cinnamon coming from the oven… a rather magical and very memorable Christmas tradition I’m keen for my two to enjoy.
Another one you can keep as simple as necessary. I.e. skip the baking altogether if your toddler or preschooler is anything like the one below (it’s hilarious, a must watch). Rather decorate some store-bought cookies or cupcakes with icing or sprinkles and have done with it!
When you’re kids are older or have a little more self-control in the kitchen, here’s a no-fail but simple cookie recipe you can use with some Christmas cookie cutters (I have these pretty snowflake ones).
Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous why not try these look fun, delicious but not overly complicated:
- candy cane and pinwheel sugar cookies
- almond snowballs
- white chocolate confetti Christmas cookies
- chocolate graham crackers
- peppermint rice krispie balls
- peanut butter Rudolf reindeer cookies
- kid-friendly gingerbread recipe
#6 Make some Christmas cards with your kids
Making Christmas cards is a fun festive activity for kids of all ages who will then love giving them to doting grandparents, aunts and uncles.
These paint chip Christmas cards, are my favorite from the ones we did last year – perfect for little ones as young as 2, they really are that easy. For something a tiny bit more involved, try this snowman Christmas card.
#7 Make a Christmas decoration or ornament for the tree
My parents get out the decorations that my brother and I made when we were in primary school, every. single. year. I have no idea how they’ve survived – Santa has lost a foot but is otherwise is in goods shape. I used to cringe, but now I have my own kids, I am definitely carrying on this Christmas tradition (sorry kids).
So far we’ve made these salt dough Christmas tree ornaments (pictured above) and these spaghetti tree ornaments. I’m not sure what we’ll be making this year, but definitely something from this list of easy Christmas decorations – there are some really cute ones!
Or, if your kids enjoyed making paper chains (as per Christmas tradition #2) make more to hang around the house. You can easily make your own with old wrapping paper, newspaper, colored or decorated construction paper. Or pick up a packet of these festive paper chains or similar.
#8 Make an easy gift box for those tree ornaments, cookies or other homemade gifts
Okay, this is the last making one on the list, promise… These gift boxes are really easy to make (honestly, one takes less than 10 minutes) and kids of all ages can get involved. My youngest wasn’t even 2 when I first started making them at Christmas. She and her 3 year old brother decorated the supercute foot and handprint gift box above.
Perfect for all those homemade goodies. Or just for your little ones to play with, while you make more… Mine loved packing their Duplo into theirs last year.)
Family Christmas traditions that become great keepsakes
#9 The obligatory letter to Santa (that you keep rather than post)
This can be a lot of fun for little ones who have probably started talking about their list in October (only mine?!). If they can’t write ask them to draw what they want for Christmas, just remember to make a note of what that scribble represents!
You can even whip up a special post-box for Santa to collect from (ours was just an empty box with a rectangle cut out of it which was then “decorated” with paint, crayons and stickers – not picture-worthy, but they loved it).
Make a pretence of posting those letters and then keep them for years to come…
Alternatively, this is a sweet and simple idea from The Gifted Gabber to put your little ones Christmas list in a clear bauble and hang it on the tree every year.
#10 Letter to each of your kids
I read about this one recently right here and it’s now the family Christmas tradition I’m most excited to start this year. You write a letter to each of your kids with highlights from their past year and tell them how much fun you’ve had with them and how lucky you are to have them in your life.
Then hang this letter from the tree and read it together with your kids on Christmas day. If you keep this tradition up, you can put previous Christmas Day letters in a special box under the tree and read them year after year.
Isn’t that the cutest? Time to make some extra small Christmas gift boxes to hang on the tree for this one.
#11 Family handprint portrait
There are some stunning handprint crafts online but I’m more a fan of simple (plus I know my limitations…). Everyone in the family paint one of their hands, each choosing different colors, print onto paper, date and frame. Done.
To take the faff out of finding paint, paper and a frame, this customizable family handprint keepsake kit has everything you need.
Other family Christmas traditions for over the holiday period
#12 Sing & listen to some old-school Christmas carols
There are way too many tacky Christmas songs out there – so this one may be an old Christmas tradition that’s dying out, but I hope not.
Singing or listening to some classic carols or hymns is a must-do family Christmas tradition. Simply tune into ClassicFM over the holiday season or hunt down some classics on youtube.
This one is sung by a church choir, simply stunning:
This one has lyrics so you can sing along.
If your kids love to sing, why not get them to learn a Christmas carol to sing to the family over the holidays sometime. My nieces used to love doing this and I have a feeling my daughter might want to give this a go this Christmas or next.
#13 Visit a Christmas market
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without visiting a Christmas market, mulled wine in hand. And if you’ve never tried mulled wine, this in itself needs to be a new Christmas tradition!
Anyway, back to the Chrismas markets… These are quite the thing in the UK, perfect for last-minute gifts, and to just get into the Christmas spirit. If you’re not familiar with the concept, picture little wooden huts, an ice-rink, lots of cheese and chocolate sellers as well as other handmade and boutique-type gifts. And the highlight? A tented bar with open fire for hot chocolate, mulled wine, mulled cider plus all the regular drinks.
#14 Go to the pantomime
This is probably a rare and unique Christmas tradition if you’re not British, but for me as a child, this was probably the most magical of traditions.
Fairy godmothers, sequined costumes, giant beanstalks, flying carpets… an incredible stage production of an old-fashioned fairy tale with singing, dancing and a lot of silliness plus plenty of interaction between audience and cast.
Your kids will be wowed! And if it’s a really good one, so will you (there’s plenty of adult humor thrown in, that goes right over the heads of little ones, to keep everyone amused).
Pantomimes are a very British thing but I hear these are making their way around the world, slowly but surely. If you see one about, you have to go give it a go.
(In case you’re wondering, it’s not mimed, there is a script – this article from British Theatre titled “Explaining pantomimes to Americans” will fill you in a bit more if you’re still none the wiser as to what I’m on about.)
Did I feel a little silly going with my parents in my 20’s and 30’s? Absolutely! But, this is another, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the pantomime – a sure sign of a good family Christmas tradition. Probably one of the most memorable Christmas traditions too – my 4-year-old has already asked which story it is this year. (Sadly, I have a feeling COVID might put this tradition on hold this year…)
#15 Christmas pancakes for breakfast
You could do these on Christmas Day, but honestly, I think there’s enough to do without adding more tasks to the list. So for us, this is just an as-and-when I have time/have all the ingredients type of deal…
It’s simply pancakes, squirty cream, cherries, strawberries or raspberries for Santa’s hat and chocolate chips or more fruit for nose and eyes. So pretty healthy too! If you’re struggling on the fresh fruit front for his hat, a triangle of bread with red jam works just as well.
Meaningful Christmas traditions that remind the whole family what Christmas is all about
#16 Pack up some old toys and gift them to someone in need
This one really is double-duty. With your kids, go through their toys and ask them to pick out toys they no longer play with that they’re happy to give away.
You get to declutter, before new toys arrive.
Then go through the process of finding a family in need that would appreciate them or donate them to a charity shop, children’s home or orphanage.
#17 Gifts for postman, garbage collector etc
There are lots of people we rely on heavily to keep our towns, cities, villages etc clean and tidy and in an orderly fashion. And doing so often means carrying on come rain, wind or shine, whatever the season. Often we don’t even see these hard-working souls let alone know their names.
So gifts for the postman, garbage collector and milkman is a meaningful Christmas tradition we try and keep up with. It’s a lovely way to say thank you as well as help them enjoy the festive season, even if they’ve drawn the short straw to work right through the holidays…
My parents always go the beer route with their postman and garbage collector but I tend to go with some of our Christmas baking efforts and a kid-made Christmas card. This seems to go down well, but even if they feed the cookies to the dog, it’s the thought that counts, right?
#18 Read some Christmas stories
This can be a new book or an old one – just something Christmassy that has some of the gist of the story of Christmas in it. If you have a little one anything like mine, there will be a billion questions asked allowing you to fill in all the gaps (if you know what they are…)
Check out this list of 25 Christmas books for little learners from Pocket Full of Preschool for some recommendations.
You could even do this without a book, long as you have a few props. My mother-in-law is very good at telling the story of the birth of Jesus and the three wise men with her vintage tree decorations – my two absolutely love it!
Christmas eve traditions that all the family will love
#19 Unwrap two essential Christmas eve presents
These can be just for the kids or all of you…
Firstly, some new jammies – I don’t normally go for Christmas ones as then it feels odd to wear them the rest of the year and I’m not a fan of waste so Christmas just becomes the time when everyone gets new jammies (and I hope they last until next year!)
Secondly, a personalized mug complete with a sachet of hot chocolate powder and marshmallows. Basically, it’s a DIY and personalized hot chocolate gift set (my two love anything with their name on right now).
You can easily create a personalized mug like this and add a sachet of hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Or here’s a gift set you can personalize with your child’s name.
#20 Watch a Christmas movie or two (in the Christmas jammies with that mug of hot chocolate)
Watching Christmas movies is probably an age-old Christmas tradition and for good reason. So unwrap those jammies and snuggle up altogether as a family, hot chocolate in hand, and watch some Christmas classics.
We are (thankfully) mostly past the stage of only watching cartoons but even so, these old classics are streets ahead of the modern animated stuff:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
- Frosty The Snowman
- Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer
- Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
- The Little Drummer Boy
As for modern stuff with characters your kids may already know, Curious George and Peppa Pig have some Christmas episodes that are very watchable for all the family (and not too cringe-worthy).
For older kids, here are some more Christmas classics that I’m sure my two will enjoy in a few years time:
- Disney: A Christmas Carol (animated but very much for older kids as it’s a little scary in places)
- Miracle on 34th Street
- The Polar Express
For some reason, we always ended up watching other old movies together at Christmas, so to me, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang remind me of Christmas. I think that’s the beauty of a memorable and magical family Christmas tradition – it’s not even the movie that’s important, it’s the fact that you’re all together, enjoying the holidays as a family.
#21 Leave out refreshments for Santa, not forgetting his reindeer
Another old Christmas tradition that is never going to die out any time soon… Growing up we left out sherry and mince pies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer.
Don’t forget to actually eat, drink and be merry before the morning – can’t imagine anyone would, but anything can happen when you’re in that last-minute present wrapping and stocking preparation stage.
A more modern Christmas tradition I’ve seen is to add some snowy Santa footprints (by sprinkling flour over your feet while wearing big boots) and sprinkle “reindeer food” (trail mix or similar) in the garden. A fun new addition to an old Christmas tradition we may have to try this year.
Christmas morning traditions for families
If you have young kids you probably know that routine is important. Don’t let it all go to pot on Christmas day. That’s just a recipe for meltdowns… hence, we have a few Christmas morning traditions that aren’t all “fun” or all that Christmassy but are there to ensure the rest of the day is.
#22 Have breakfast and thrash out the order of the day
Regardless of stuffing the entire candy contents of their stockings down their throats before 7am, eating some “proper” food at some point in the morning has to be non-negotiable.
Depending on how early the kids wake and how frantic they are, we are quite strict on opening stockings after some breakfast or, if they’ve got up very early, no tree presents before breakfast.
During breakfast, we have a quick rundown of what is happening when; this setting of expectations is so helpful for little kids. For husbands too, for that matter.
This way you can rope in some help for chopping potatoes, laying the table, stocking the fridge with cold beverages etc… little jobs that someone other than mom can do.
Less jobs for you and more likelihood things will happen when you want them.
So, this Christmas breakfast and planning session might be a little bit of a unique Christmas tradition. But well worth a try as it could make or break your Christmas day!
#23 DON’T open all the presents in the morning
Instead, pace the present opening.
From chatting to friends, this may be another unique Christmas tradition, but, trust me on this, this one is good.
It prevents a huge anticlimax when all the presents are opened and it’s, mmm, not even 9am…then there’s chaos and confusion with so many presents all over the place: what to play with first? Which toy does this part even belong to? As for remembering who gave your kids what… impossible!
We don’t have strict rules on exactly when and how many presents can be opened but generally we let the kids open a few presents throughout the morning and then let them open the rest when we open ours, altogether in the afternoon (more on that later).
#24 Take a Christmas walk (aka exercise the kids)
Another sanity-saving family Christmas tradition in our house, that definitely falls under the sanity-saving umbrella.
Let the kids burn off some energy and get some fresh air before you settle in for the eating and drinking marathon that’ll probably take up the rest of the day…This also distracts the kids a little bit from wanting to opening too many presents too soon…
Family Christmas traditions for The Big Day
#25 Dress up for Christmas dinner – silly or serious
This can be in a favorite dress, new sparkly shoes or a cute (or cringe-worthy) Christmas jumper – long as the kids look like they’ve made an effort (and my daughter’s hair has been brushed – no easy feat) I’m good with that.
The past few years we’ve Christmassed (?) with my parents and I’ve bought them a cheap and very silly Mr and Mrs Claus outfit to wear for Christmas lunch.
A funny family Christmas tradition in the making, perhaps?!
(I was kind to my mom and didn’t include her picture – she really does look rather rediculous.)
#26 Christmas crackers at Christmas dinner – PLUS you gotta wear those hats
I’m not sure if it’s a British thing to pull crackers at the table – altogether in a circle if my dad is involved, which he always is – but this always marks the start of Christmas lunch at our house.
Then there’s obligatory swapping of terrible jokes and the wearing of “the hat”.
No hat, no food.
#27 Open presents together by the tree – kids become Santa’s little helpers and deliver the gifts
Hopefully, the kids will have a few presents left under the tree to open with the rest of the family. We let the kids take it in turns to hand out the presents – when they were just 2 and 3 they had great fun loading them into their wooden trolley and delivering them one by one (not recommended for fragile presents though!)
This means they don’t only focus on opening their own presents plus they love watching family open presents they made or helped pick out for them so it really adds to the day.
#28 Take a family photo – with everyone in it
This is such an obvious and old Christmas tradition but is on the list to avoid forgetting! For a more modern spin, take some video clips throughout the day.
Family Christmas traditions for after the big day
#29 Thank you letters
I used to find this such a drag but it’s so important. This is more for older kids but this year my eldest can dictate to me and “sign” it.
#30 Make Christmas gift tags out of old Christmas cards
If you’ve ever wondered what to do with all those Christmas cards, then look no further. A pair of these pinking shears or similar and a hole punch is all you need. Cut a shape out of the front of the card, around the Christmas tree or angels etc, punch a hole and then store for next year.
Then, just with the addition of some nice twine, you’re all stocked up on gift tags for next Christmas.
Wrapping up (haha) all those family Christmas traditions…
I hope you found some memorable, meaningful and, perhaps, unique Christmas traditions to try this year with your family. It’s hard to pick a favorite; there are so many old traditions I’ve carried on from my childhood that, without, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas.
But, like everything else, it’s not all about the doing, let alone the giving or all the receiving. It’s the people you’re with that makes anything and everything special. Christmas is all about family and as long as you’re enjoying time altogether, that’s all that really matters.
Maybe a final family Christmas tradition should be to promise each other not to overcomplicate things!