What do you look forward to the most as it relates to the holidays? As a child, you may have looked forward to getting gifts more than anything else. Now that you’re an adult, you may be even more eager to spend time with your friends and loved ones over the holidays.
If you take a moment to reflect on holiday seasons gone by, you may realize that it’s your family holiday traditions that have made you look forward to spending time with your loved ones so much these days. While you can keep those warm and fuzzy feelings going by continuing your existing traditions, you can intensify your feelings and ignite similar ones in others by establishing new Christmas traditions this year.
What are some holiday traditions that you may want to incorporate into the season? As you’re about to find out, there is plenty for you to choose from.
Make Adventure a Regular Thing
We suggest you make completing a family adventure a new tradition. Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition includes more than 50 adventures you can do with your whole family. Whether you’re playing host or traveling to a relative’s place for the holidays, your family can do one or more of our challenges no matter where you end up.
The challenges in our family adventure book bring people closer together as they work to complete their assigned tasks as a team. To start your group adventure, simply scratch off your chosen challenge and prepare to share some belly laughs that would make Santa jealous!
Send Physical Christmas Cards
In today’s digital age, it’s easy to overlook or undervalue the sentimentality of sending physical cards that acknowledge a special event like the arrival of Christmas day. Even if you don’t send another piece of snail mail all year, you may want to make sending holiday cards a familial tradition this year.
Don’t settle for sending a generic, printed summary of everything that happened this year in the fold of a Hallmark card. Instead, make DIY cards with your immediate family members that are highly personalized. Handwrite the custom message you want to send to each recipient. Have each member of your family sign every card you make. Sending handmade, personalized cards can make the season more magical for your family and everyone who gets one of your Christmas cards.
Show Off the Holiday Cards You Receive
Do you typically receive a lot of Christmas cards? Whether you normally get a handful of cards or your mailbox is usually inundated with cards, make showing them off a tradition instead of shoving them in a drawer. When the people who sent the cards to you stop by, it will warm their hearts with holiday spirit to see that their cards meant enough to you for you to have them on display for all to see.
One of the new traditions you may want to start this year is the celebration of Sinterklaas. Often referred to as Saint Nicholas Day, Sinterklaas is celebrated on December 5th every year. In the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas is when “Sint” leaves a small gift of some sort in children’s shoes. The gifts Sint leaves are often disguised as something they’re not.
As it relates to your holiday celebration, look at Sinterklaas as a potentially hysterical prelude to Christmas. You can incorporate a Secret Santa arrangement into your St. Nicholas Day celebration by assigning one gift-giver to a single recipient until everyone is covered. Just be sure that recipients don’t know who their gift-givers are.
Encourage gift-givers to disguise their gifts in creative ways, telling them that the more outrageous their packaging is, the better. If someone is struggling to think of a fun way to disguise a gift, give the person a list of ideas, such as:
- Putting the gift in a cake and covering the resulting hole with icing
- Hiding the present in a bowl of cooled oatmeal
- Concealing a tiny gift in an oversized box filled with recyclable packing materials
- Covering the gift with slime in a gift-wrapped plastic container
Once everyone has opened their presents, have your family members take turns guessing who their Secret Santa was. Ask each person to explain why they chose the relative they did. You may find everyone’s responses, particularly their explanations, to be both surprising and wildly funny.
Countdown to Christmas Morning with a DIY Advent Calendar
The anticipation of the holiday’s arrival is one of the countless things that make the Christmas season so special. You can use that anticipation to make the season even more memorable by making a DIY advent calendar your family can use to countdown to Christmas.
To make a family advent calendar, get 25 boxes and fill each one with some goodies. If the boxes aren’t decorative, wrap each one in some holiday gift wrap. Label the boxes with the relevant date, from December 1st through the 25th, and stack them on a table where they won’t get knocked over. Reserve a special time every evening for your kids to open that day’s box. Take pictures as your children unwrap each box so you can create a collage or a photo book at the end of the season.
Host a Holiday Movie Night
If you want to spend time with your extended family but fear you may need a little bit of downtime while you entertain them, consider hosting a holiday movie night. Watching Christmas movies will enable you to spend time with your family while giving you a reason to remain planted in your seat. To avoid having to cater to your family, make sure you put out snacks and beverages before you dim the lights to start the first seasonal film.
Can’t think of any movies your entire family will enjoy? Consider the following Christmas movies as they’ve entertained generations of viewers for years:
- The Santa Claus
- A Christmas Story
- Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
- Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original version from 1966)
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
- It’s a Wonderful Life
There are so many classic Christmas movies, hosting a movie night will be a long-standing tradition before you’ll have to repeat a flick. When you finally do run out of new-to-you Christmas classics, you can always find new holiday-themed films by navigating to the Hallmark channel.
Spread Some Holiday Spirit with the Elf on the Shelf
While you may already use the Elf of the Shelf with your own family, you can use the mischievous toy to infuse some humor throughout your extended family, too. Is your mother-in-law making a vanilla cake? Have one of the kids distract her, set up the elf on the counter with a bottle of green or red food coloring, and put a few drops in the bowl before your mother-in-law returns. Imagine her reaction when she sees what that rascal of an elf did! Make sure you get the whole thing on video for future laughs.
Does your uncle love pecans? Order a fake canister of nuts that’s really filled with something that will spring out when the jar is opened. Wrap the canister and set the present next to your relative’s favorite chair with a note explaining that it’s an early Christmas gift he’s to open today. Sit the elf on top of the present with his legs crossed and arms extended with glee. Get your camera ready so you can capture your uncle’s hilarious reaction when he opens the container of “pecans.”
To avoid being a victim of one of the elf’s pranks, make sure you stow your Elf on the Shelf in a secret place no one else knows about. You don’t want to be pranked by your own toy, after all…or do you?
Take a Field Trip to a Tree Farm
Did you settle for an artificial Christmas tree last year? While a pre-lit artificial tree is convenient for many, there’s nothing like having a fresh, live Christmas tree to put gifts under. With that in mind, why don’t you take a field trip to a tree farm with your whole family?
If your family consists of several households, your brood may end up returning home with more than one tree. To make sure you can get all the trees home, consider traveling to the tree farm in a caravan, or if your vehicle is rated to tow, bring a trailer along to haul the trees to their respective homes.
Depending on the farm you choose to visit, you might be able to cut down your own tree. If you haven’t been to your chosen farm before, call ahead to see if you need to bring a handsaw to cut down the tree you want to get.
Make Decorating Your Christmas Tree an Event
In many homes, the Christmas tree is the focal point of a lot of activities. From opening presents on Christmas morning, to taking family pictures, and more, the tree is the place to be for various and sundry things.
With the tree being the equivalent of Grand Central Station for holiday activities, we encourage you to make a big deal out of decorating it. Set up a crafting table where kids can make handmade Christmas decorations. Encourage the kids to make a new decoration every year and have them sign or initial the backs of their creations. As time goes by, you’ll be amazed by the size of your custom-made ornament collection and the kids will enjoy seeing what they made in prior years as they grow up.
Invite family members to help you decorate the tree. Get more adults involved by telling everyone that each non-designated driver will need to take a shot of peppermint schnapps or eggnog every time a certain relative hangs an ornament.
Blast some Christmas music in the background. Serve “reindeer food” that your guests can eat with their hands, so you won’t have to spend hours cleaning up when your decorating event draws to an end. What are some reindeer foods that you can serve? Corn fritters and mini apple tarts are just two ideas.
Sing Christmas Carols
Christmastime is the time of year to give your vocal cords a workout by singing Christmas carols. Whether your family gathers around the piano and sings together at home or you hit the streets as a group to sing carols house to house, spreading some Christmas cheer through song is a fun way to make the spirits of others feel light or lighter at least.
Is your entire family tone deaf? While we doubt that’s the case, you can find other ways to entertain your neighbors with some Christmas tunes. For example, you can make a playlist of songs and go door to door mouthing the lyrics while the music and lyrics emanate from a mobile device. To make things even more enjoyable for onlookers, give the kids some toy instruments and have them pretend to play them or get everyone to play the air guitar to the delight of your neighbors.
Just like Christmas is a great time of year to belt out some holiday tunes, it’s also a wonderful time to give back to your community in some way. If people are in need in your area, consider making a donation of non-perishable goods to a food bank. You can get all your relatives involved by asking them to make a contribution to a box you have set up in the hall that you’ll eventually take to the food bank or ask them to visit the facility with you to make a direct donation.
Will a local soup kitchen or shelter serve a holiday meal to the less fortunate? Maybe your family can volunteer to serve or prepare the food.
What are some other ways you can give back during the holiday season? Here are a few ideas:
- Have the kids make DIY Christmas ornaments and drop them off at a senior center or an assisted living facility
- Pull out your favorite cookie recipe, bake cookies, pick up a gallon of milk and drop them all off at your local police station or firehouse
- Offer to hang holiday lights for an ailing neighbor, and let the person know your family will be back to take the lights down after Christmas or New Year’s Day, whichever they prefer
- Gather old towels and blankets and drop them off at an animal shelter or rescue
- Collect a few dollars from each one of your adult family members and use the pooled funds to sponsor a zoo animal
- Dress up as Santa and have your relatives dress as elves, and visit a homeless shelter to entertain the kids
You don’t need to do the same charitable activity year after year to make giving back one of your family’s Christmas traditions. The key is simply to do something, anything, kind and giving of yourself to someone else during the Christmas season. Being generous with time and resources will be a family legacy you and your relatives will be proud to establish and keep going.
It’s particularly rewarding when you see the members of an up-and-coming generation of family members adopting a charitable mindset by following your example. When you get children involved with charitable acts at an early age, it greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll keep up the act of giving throughout their adult lives.
Bake Christmas Cookies with the Kids
Any time of year is the right time to indulge in some yummy cookies, but a strong case can be made for Christmas being the best time of all for cookies. Think about it. If Christmas wasn’t the best time for cookies, why do so many people leave cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve?
Don’t settle for store-bought cookies at Christmastime. Instead, enlist the kids to help you make some Christmas cookies. If your kids, nieces, and nephews are old enough, divide them into small groups and have each group make a different type of sweet treat. Are the kids too young to make separate batches on their own or did too few of them show up this year to make groups? If so, make one giant batch of cookies altogether.
Whether you’re using one cookie recipe or several of them, it’s likely you’ll need to bake the resulting treats in waves. As you bake cookies and let them cool, have the kids decorate some paper lunch bags with holiday-themed images. Once the cookies cool entirely, instruct the kids to put a few in each sack. As the sacks are filled, tie them with some string or twine.
After the bags are done, you can lead a veritable parade of your mini-me relatives around town to hand out cookies to your neighbors. Of course, you’ll want to leave a reserve of goodies behind so you and your relatives can enjoy some delectable cookies, too.
Slurp Some Homemade Hot Chocolate
What’s better than freshly baked holiday cookies? A pairing of cookies with some homemade hot cocoa, of course!
If you’ve never made homemade hot chocolate before, there’s no reason to worry because it’s a breeze to whip or whisk together. The ingredients you’ll need to get together include:
- Four cups whole or two percent milk
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips or one standard-sized, nut-less Hershey’s bar chopped up
To make the cocoa, combine the milk, cocoa powder, and sugar in a pot. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat. Whisk the mixture over the heat, but do not let it come to a boil. When the mixture is warm, add the chocolate and whisk non-stop until the chocolate melts. After the chocolate distributes itself evenly throughout your original mixture, take the pot off the heat and serve the hot chocolate immediately.
A lot of people will add a shot of vanilla and/or some marshmallows to their drink, but you can get even more creative. To take your hot cocoa to the next level, make trying a new ingredient in your base mixture or a few of them one of your annual holiday traditions. Some ingredients you may want to try out include:
- Buttered rum
- Cayenne pepper and cinnamon
- Malted milk powder
- Dark chocolate and maple syrup
- Peanut butter and whipped cream
If you really want to shake things up, consider using white chocolate and cream instead of semisweet chips and milk to make your hot cocoa. If you pair the new drink with peppermint candy canes, the result will be one of the best gifts you’ve ever given to your taste buds.
Take a Tour to See Holiday Decorations
Christmas decorations can vary widely from one house to the next. To see how other people decorated their homes for the holidays, take your family on a walking tour of the neighborhood. If your neighbors tend to avoid decorating, pile your relatives into the car and go for a drive so you can cover more ground.
Do you have to drive a considerable distance to get to a neighboring town? You can keep everyone entertained by playing some Christmas music. Alternatively, you can play a game that will keep kids of all ages entertained. I Spy is a good game to play during the Christmas season because there are so many things on display that you won’t see during other parts of the year. For that reason, you may want to play a holiday-themed version of the classic game.
Plan to Make an Item on an Older Relative’s Bucket List a Reality
Does your family have an aging patriarch or matriarch in your family tree? Has that person always wanted to do something, but was always too concerned with caring for the family to make their dream come true? If so, why don’t you conspire with your other younger relatives and make the plans required for your older relative to check off one of the things on their bucket list?
The great thing about doing this is that it’s a repeatable tradition. Every member of your family will be a year older by your next holiday celebration, so “new” older relatives will always be working their way through the ranks.
You don’t have to reserve this sort of thing for your older relatives, by the way. It’s possible to make a chosen relative’s dream come true for the holiday regardless of the person’s age.
After you do this once, you’ll find it’s hard to stop because realizing someone else’s dream is often just as fulfilling and satisfying for the giver as it is for the receiver. With that in mind, we hope you have a big family!
Construct a Gingerbread House
Even if your family Christmas celebration will only involve adults, we still recommend you all work together to construct a gingerbread house. Open the bar and have everyone take a seat around the construction table with the adult beverage of their choice. Encourage everyone to uncork their creativity as you team up to put the house together just like you uncorked the wine.
To ensure your family’s finished house is truly unique, order a separate gingerbread house kit for each individual who’ll participate in the construction process. Kits are readily available on Amazon, so ordering them is a cinch. Just remember, the kits don’t necessarily have to be all the same.
With everyone having their own kit to add to the shared construction project, your family can put together a monster, multi-level edible house while you share some laughs. If that’s your plan, put a board down before the build starts so you can move the house to another location when your team is done working its magic. Just make sure the board is strong enough to support the weight of your sweet structure once it’s done.
Enjoy a Family Reading
No, we’re not talking about a psychic reading or a tarot card reading. What we’re suggesting is that you make a reading of a Christmas tale one of your new traditions. You can designate one relative to read the story every year or you can alternate readers from one year to the next. If you don’t want to pick someone, put the names of all eligible readers in a hat and have one of the kids pull out the name of the person who’ll read the story to the rest of the family.
Christmas Eve is normally a wonderful time for the reading of a Christmas story. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore is a popular choice for holiday storytimes, although it’s better known by a portion of its first line, which reads “’twas the night before Christmas.”
If you’ve heard “A Visit from St. Nicholas” a time too many, you may want to consider an alternative read-aloud story, such as:
- “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen
- “Home for Christmas” by Jan Brett
- “The Reindeer Wish” by Lori Evert
- “How Far to Bethlehem?” by Norah Lofts
- “The Birds of Bethlehem” by Tomie DePaola
- “Santa’s Favorite Story” by Hisako Aoki
- “The Smallest Gift of Christmas” by Peter H. Reynolds
Arrange a Sibling- or Cousin-Only Sleepover
Now that you’re an adult, you probably don’t sleep with your siblings or cousins anymore. Well, the holidays are a fantastic time to make up for lost time by arranging a cousin- or sibling-only sleepover.
Get matching PJs for everyone who’ll participate in the sleepover. Take plenty of goofy pictures of everyone in their ridiculously funny PJs. Play games like Pictionary or classic board games like Monopoly or Sorry! Find some cheesy movies from your childhood and have them on standby so you and your relatives can watch them as bedtime, or in this case, sleeping bag time approaches.
Since decades may have passed since you planned your last sleepover, we need to tell you that times have changed. Now that you’re all adults, you can stock the bar without being afraid that your parents will find your stash of forbidden contraband. Although, you might still have to worry about that if your parents enjoy the same adult beverages and they plan to stop by before your sleepover kicks off.
Hold a Kid-Friendly Sleepover
If your holiday celebration includes a bunch of kids who don’t get to see each other regularly, you can bring all of them together for a kid-friendly sleepover. While you don’t have to schedule every minute of the sleepover, you should make sure there are plenty of age-appropriate activities for the kids to do.
Teenagers may enjoy some screen time during a video game session with their similarly aged relatives. Younger children may want to go outside to build a snowman or woman while they pretend they’re at the North Pole. All attendees will eventually want to eat, so it’s wise to plan for a big meal ahead of time.
Cook a Family Meal for Christmas Day
Preparing a holiday meal as a family is one of the Christmas traditions that a lot of people look forward to every year. Even if you’re not a professional chef like Gordon Ramsey, you can still playfully aggravate your relatives by pretending to bark corrective instructions at them when you’re really telling them the opposite of what they should be doing.
The confusion that will result along with the pushback will be entertaining for all, until your mom starts waving her wooden spoon in your direction. That’s about the time you should stop barking and start chopping the nearest vegetable.
Rubbing elbows with relatives in the kitchen is a cool way to get kids involved with the meal prep. It’s also a great way to pass down cooking methods and recipes from one generation to the next. If you’ve never had an interest in cooking, send your kids into the kitchen to cook with your mom or dad so their secrets won’t go unknown just because the cooking bug skipped your generation.
Do you have new family members who are joining in on the fun this year? Invite them into the kitchen to be a part of the fun- and laugh-filled melee. By doing so, you may pick up some new culinary skills and learn about different cuisines and cultural traditions.
Whether you’re making breakfast on Christmas morning or your family is preparing a feast for the latter part of Christmas day, you can make lasting memories by cooking with your relatives. Soak up every moment along with anything you spill in the kitchen and take plenty of pictures you can share with your co-cooks later in the day.
Before the meal is served, take a few minutes to hang some Christmas lights above the dining table. Decorate the table with some pine cones and festive décor. When everyone is seated and the food is on the table, take a few pictures before anyone dives into the food. As you reflect on holidays gone by, you’ll be glad you did.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best traditions are those that suit you best. Tried and true family holiday traditions include tree decorating, gingerbread house building, caroling, Elf on the Shelf, and special Christmas meals.
There are many family holiday traditions perfect for children and the young at heart! Start a holiday movie night with homemade hot cocoa, then send the kiddos off to bed with a favorite festive tale.