Starting Family Christmas Traditions with Kids

fresh christmas tree inside an apartment

When I look back on my childhood, Christmas memories are what pop into my head. And really good ones. There is something so nostalgic yet so new when the holiday season rolls around. There are the classic movies and songs along with the excitement of discovering what Christmas truly means to you and your family.

Now that I have a family of my own, I find myself looking for ideas on how to start family traditions with my husband and daughter. I want to start the kind of traditions that my daughter will be excited to share with her children.

Your first step it to think back. Sometimes way back. Think of some happy moments you had when you were a child during Christmas time. Was it getting to try on a new pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve? Or leaving a glass of milk and cookies for Santa? Maybe it was just watching your dad lug the Christmas tree on the roof of the car. If you remembered those moments, chances are that’s a great place to start creating traditions for your family.

Now if you don’t have any family traditions that you did consistently, but maybe you did once, you can use those as ideas and make it an annual tradition for you and your children.

jamestown railroad station and train

My favorite Christmas memory is when my parents took my sister, brother and I to Mendecino in Northern California. We stayed in a rustic cabin. We road the black steam engine train. We pressed copper pennies for 51 cents. But the best part was when my parents hid all of our presents in the cabin. We had a Christmas present treasure hunt! I remember finding a gift in the oven. It was such a special Christmas for me.

Do you think your children might enjoy an annual Christmas present treasure hunt?

If you are looking for a new and unique Christmas tradition idea for you and your family, take a look below and get ready to create lasting Christmas memories with your children (some of these ideas were inspired by our very own Family Sponge community).


child hanging christmas tree ornaments

Christmas Prepping…

  1. Elf on the Shelf: Start the Elf on the Shelf tradition. Name your elf, and do your best to hide the elf each night for your child to discover in the morning.
  2. Christmas Tree Farm: Visit a Christmas Tree farm and cut down your own fresh tree. Make it a whole day event and have your child help decorate the tree. Let your child put the star on top of the tree.
  3. Make Ornaments: Make your own easy DIY ornaments to hang on the tree with your child.
  4. Advent Calendar: Celebrate Advent with a wreath and book countdown. Wrap your children’s holiday books (you can also find some great used ones at the library too), and have your child unwrap one book each night for bedtime.
  5. Craft Party: Host a crafting party at your home to get into the holiday spirit and invite friends over to help make hand-made ornaments, decorations, and cards.
  6. Ice Skate: Make a day trip to have lunch and go ice skating.
  7. Neighborhood Lights: Drive around to see neighborhood lights and turn up the Christmas tunes, or bundle up and walk through a neighborhood of lights.
  8. Donate: Make more room in your home to avoid adding clutter. Have your child select some of their toys, books and clothes to donate to Good Will. Let them make room for new gifts, while donating their toys to children in need.
  9. Give: Have your child help select brand new toys to give to toy drives. Drop a few dollars and loose change in a Salvation Army red kettle. Model giving so your child understands the true meaning of Christmas.
  10. Santa Picture: Take a picture with Santa. Feel free to join your child in the photo for a family photo op.
  11. Holiday Cards: Send holiday photo postcards to your friends and family and save a tree.
  12. Serve Crab: Have a Crabby Christmas party and feast on some fresh crab. We attended a crab feed this year, and we look forward to our friends doing this again next year (it’s crab season y’all)! Want to get extra crabby? Add the White Elephant game to the party.
  13. Adopt a Family: A family you know may be struggling and could use some extra holiday cheer. Deliver a box filled with presents to their home anonymously.
  14. Dance Party: Blast the holiday tunes and dance around the Christmas Tree (my 4 year old daughter started this tonight, and it just warmed my heart to groove to some Christmas songs with so much joy).
  15. Hot Cocoa: Make hot chocolate from scratch (with whipped cream and a candy cane to stir), snuggle on the couch with blankets and watch Christmas movies.

miracle on 34th street christmas movie classic

My Favorite Christmas Movies

A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Christmas Story

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas


Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

It’s a Wonderful Life

Miracle on 34th Street

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Original Television Christmas Classics

Christmas Eve Traditions

  1. Bake and Drink: Make some sweet treats and warm beverages.
  2. Gingerbread Houses: Have all of the ingredients out on the table and let the kids go to town. Get really Martha Stewart like and make ingredients from scratch, or… Trader Joe’s has $7 gingerbread house kits!
  3. Listen to Classic Stories: Sit around the Christmas Tree and listen to an audio version of The Night Before Christmas. Reading the book is a must too.
  4. Santa and Reindeer Food: Bake cookies for Santa Claus and leave on a plate with a glass of milk, a sweet note and reindeer food (carrots and celery are great sleigh fuel).
  5. Christmas Songs: Sing Christmas Carols with a guitar or piano (it’s fun to print some sheets out with song lyrics). I have appointed my husband to learn some guitar chords and lead the family. I think a Santa hat is in order.
  6. Reindeer Magic: Mix dry oats and glitter together. Sprinkle outside to light the way for Santa and his reindeer to see your house from the sky and land safely.
  7. No Fireplace Back-Up Plan: Leave a magic key for santa under your doormat if you do not have a chimney. My daughter and just found a random key, added a tiny bell, a Lego key chain and a string to hang on the door knob.

If you are staying up until midnight...

  1. Church: Attend your local Midnight Mass.
  2. Games: Play an annual board game (like the Left Right game or Monopoly – I have the Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition)
  3. Gifts: Open up one present at midnight. Pajamas are a popular Christmas Eve gift. Another one I like is giving your kids an ornament that represents something they did that year (you could even date it). Then when your children are older, you can give them a box of their ornaments to put on their own tree.
  4. Talk and Share: After opening one gift, talk about the past year and what you hope to do as a family in the new year.
  5. Celebrate: Bake a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus (don’t forget the candles).


Christmas Day Traditions

Leave hints that Santa was here

  • leave a few uneaten cookie pieces on the plate along with a little cookie crumb trail
  • take a few bites out of the reindeer food
  • leave snowy (flour) foot prints on the floor
  • decorate the tree after the children are asleep and watch their eyes light up (a train around the tree is a nice touch)
  • stuff those stockings
  • leave a special present on the foot of your child’s bed
  1. Bible Story: Read the Christmas Story from the Book of Matthew.
  2. Santa’s Helper: Designate a Santa’s helper each year to find and distribute each gift. Let them wear a Santa hat too.
  3. Exchange Homemade Gifts: Agree to make gifts from the heart. You can make homemade coupons that offer activities to spend time together, make a mix CD, share a favorite recipe with ingredients included – cookie in a jar rocks.
  4. Cardboard Box Supplies: Have materials on-hand to play with all of the boxes that your child will inevitably find more interesting than a shiny new toy (tape, scissors, markers).
  5. Brunch: Enjoy a Christmas brunch at home or save yourself extra clean-up and go out to eat.
  6. Support Local Firehouses: Deliver baked goods to the firefighters who have to work on Christmas day.
  7. Take Pictures: Don’t forget to capture the moments and take pictures by the tree (everyone in their new pj’s).

Fun Websites to Visit With Your Kids

Portable North Pole

  • Santa Video: Create a personalized video that will share a special message to your child from Santa Claus!
  • Santa Letterbox: Bring a stamped letter to Macy’s addressed to Santa at the North Pole, and drop it into Santa’s special letterbox. Macy’s will count them up, and for every letter received, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Visit the site to create a letter to print online.
  • Santa Tracking: On Christmas Eve the NORAD Santa Tracking site is awesome! You won’t want to escape your screen as you see which city Santa is in at that very moment.

Remember that your children will cherish the traditions that focus on family time. Time is the best gift you can give your child. Mix up your old traditions with some new ones. But remember to slow down. Choose a few traditions that allow you to be present, move at your own pace and fully engaged with your loved ones. I triple dog dear you to focus more on love and less on gifts.

Speak your mind…

Do you and your family do any of the traditions above? We want to hear about it! Have a tradition that we did not list? Go ahead and tell us about it!

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3 Responses to Starting Family Christmas Traditions with Kids

  1. Popo Joy December 23, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Hooray for traditions, old and new!!!

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