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We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet but I’m already thinking CHRISTMAS TIME –
Specifically, I’ve been thinking lately about Christmas traditions. I think it’s because I know this year I’ll have JUST given birth to my first baby, and Christmas will be… different.
In an exciting way! (Ok, also in a scary way.) It’s easy for me to jump ahead of myself here, and start thinking about December. It’s sort of like… the start of my “new life” is coming, and the first thing that will happen in my “new life” will be Christmas.
Plus I just love Christmas and look forward to it for months anyway. I’m not allowing myself any sort of great expectations for our first Christmas with a baby… I imagine in reality it will be a very quiet Christmas, with us at home a lot and trying to get some sleep whenever possible. (I don’t even know if I’ll do too much decorating – because what goes up must come down. And I’m sure I won’t be feeling up to un-decorating a whole house just a few weeks postpartum.)
(Speaking of preparing for Christmas, check out this clutter free Christmas Gift Guide for Toddlers – Teens here!)
But anyhow, Christmas traditions have been on my mind. What sort of Christmas traditions will we develop as a new family – likely not this year… but over the coming years? And what Christmas traditions can we steal from our own childhoods? And which current traditions will we be able to carry on with this year?
My family has awesome (in my opinion) Christmas traditions – very few had to be “put away” when my sister and I actually moved out. And with the coming of pinterest into my life, there are a few that I absolutely plan on doing with my kids – what would you add to the following list?
(PS I’ve checked out a bunch of other “Christmas traditions” lists on Pinterest, and I think you’ll find some totally unique suggestions here!)
Memory making Christmas traditions (to start this year):
Decorate the house on Dec 1st
I love having the whole month of December to enjoy the decorations. And growing up I loved that there was never a question of WHEN we would decorate. We always got the tree up and all the lights on as soon as December hits. To this day on Dec 1st, I blast the carols, drink the wine, and deck the halls.
Special advent calendars
It doesn’t have to be the standard chocolate variety, but my goodness I have reservations about the 25 book variety – unless you plan on buying them all second hand and donating them after! (25 books coming into my house in one month?! NO thank you. If your kids are a little older, I think it would be fun to have each family member decorate their own re-usable advent calendar (like this one) – that way you can go with the standard edible stuff and throw in the odd little toy or special treat (maybe for the Christmas eve drawer?). For the really little people, an activity advent calendar like this one (from amazon) might be the best way to go.
Ditch gifts all together and take a vacation instead
You could even SAVE money by forgoing the trimmings and jumping on a plane to Disneyland (if you do that, make sure you grab discount Disney tickets), or maybe spending a quiet week on a beach in Hawaii is more up your alley? Memories you’ll make will last far far longer than legos you buy, and YOU’LL actually enjoy the break too! (You could still get the little people something fun to open from the dollar store!)
Make a family holiday bucket list at the beginning of the month
On December 1st, sit everyone down and let each person pick one thing they’d like to do (as a family) in December. It could be skating, going for a drive to see the lights, building a snowman, baking cookies – whatever they want! Then try to pick dates and schedule the activities so everything on your “holiday bucket list” gets checked off.
Fill shoeboxes with treasures for less fortunate kids
Take the whole family shopping for shoebox supplies and teach your kids that Christmas is not ALL about getting. (If you’ve never looked into filling shoeboxes before you can get more information on this awesome opportunity to bless kids here.)
Make a gingerbread house
This is never as much fun when you have to do all the baking of the gingerbread house pieces… but after they came out with pre-baked gingerbread houses, we did one every year. (Tip: we found we never ate the house anyhow, because after sitting out for three weeks the cookie part is pretty gross. Try to find the kits on clearance right after Christmas and save them in the freezer for next year – save a LOT of money!)
Christmas tree ornament
Pick out one new tree ornament, and add to your growing collection of “special” ornaments. Or better yet, MAKE a tree ornament every year. You could make salt dough hand prints and paint them (these will be precious forever), cut a ring off the bottom of your tree and date it, or dip pine cones in glitter!
Have a family slumber party
Everyone’s allowed to stay up late and build forts in the living room! (OR have them build forts in mom and dad’s room – this way mom and dad still get to sleep in their bed, but it’s still a party.) Read Christmas stories and drink hot chocolate. Talk about all the wonderful things that happened throughout the year – and write them in a special journal that you can add to every year. Or make pretty paper chains – this one is new to me since I married a Brit, but I LOVE them. (Threading popcorn for garland might be fun too!)
Christmas movie night
For as long as I can remember, we’ve had family movie night (sometime during the week that is Christmas week) and my family always watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. With popcorn and hot chocolate, and when we were older, slightly stronger hot chocolate. We still do to this day! On whatever day my family gets to celebrate together, we still sit down and watch Christmas Vacation. Our husbands roll their eyes, but it’s one we aren’t giving up.
(I have to say here, we had a from-TV-recorded VHS when I was a kid and the station had made it a little more “family friendly” when it aired in the 80s. When we finally bought a DVD of it about ten years ago, we were pretty shocked by the language. I don’t recommend Christmas Vacation for families with small kids – unless you can get an edited version. But there are TONS of other great Christmas movies that aren’t so um… grown-up sounding.) This is maybe the simplest of all Christmas traditions on the list, but I think it’s my favorite.
Family game night
Just like movie night, this is one my family never misses out on… even though we’re all gown up and married. We just take all the new people we’ve collected (and made) back to mom and dad’s for game night, and I can’t wait to do this with my own kids! Our hands down favorite (now that we’re adults) is Settlers of Catan. It’s a litttttle bit like risk, but 23 times more awesome. Settler’s is too involved for the really little people; it might be fun to invest in something festive like Rudolph Monopoly and play it every year. (Our favorite when we were too little for settler’s was probably yahtzee or Uno.)
(Maybe this just seems like Christmas to me because we did it for the first time at Christmas. And then it became another important thing on our Christmas traditions list!) It’s so out of the ordinary, and so much fun. Now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t wait to do it this year. A new fondue pot will be on my shopping list, since last year we found more than one would have been good.
(Bonus: If you are ordering anything from amazon, get a 3$ Virtual Visa code for downloading the ShopTracker app (you just need to have an amazon account to “qualify”) and you can repeat this every 30 days – that’s 36$/ year for 2 minutes per month! Then you can use the Virtual Visa towards your purchases.)
Garage sale gift exchange
Hear me out on this one – it’s another one of our favorite Christmas traditions. It’s better done in large groups, at an extended family Christmas or party with a good number of friends. We know it’s coming all year long, and the longer you have to plan for it the better – because you can find the “best” gifts that way. (Bonus: these gifts tend to be dirt cheap.)
Related: How to Have a fun FRUGAL Christmas
We play it like a standard gift exchange – where everyone “playing” brings one gift, is assigned a number and then as numbers get drawn out of a hat you get to choose a gift from the pile. The first person opens a gift, the second person can either take that gift or open a NEW gift. The third person can choose from either open gift, or can open another gift. If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s open gift (just not the one that was stolen from you) or you can open a new gift. Each time a new gift is open, that’s the end of that “round” and the next number is drawn. (We play that a gift is “frozen” – no longer available for stealing – after you have had it 3 times. But we were finding that no one really needed any of the very generic gifts you bring to a party like that, we were playing just to play, not to get the gifts. So we started calling it the garage sale gift exchange – meaning anything goes. Bring whatever you want to get out of your house. ANYTHING. Whatever you end up with you have to take home.
(I got a half eaten box of liquor chocolates one year. Last year I got an antique breast pump (cira 1900 perhaps) that a neighbor lady found in an old cabin they were bulldozing. Serious. We literally laughed until we cried.) If you get something particularly terrible, keep if for next year and make someone else take it home.
After the kids go to bed – have “just you guys” Christmas traditions
So I’m already planning how to adapt this one – can you tell? My British hubby watches a girly movie (by choice) once per year – and that movie is Love Actually and it’s at Christmas time. We drink wine and turn on the Christmas lights and cuddle up. (And then I try to sneak in watching The Holiday too, if it’s not too late! We bought both of these on DVD because they are non-negotiable Christmas watching.) Your “just you guys” tradition can be super simple, but it’s important to focus on each other once in a while.
Christmas eve candle light service
It’s so easy to forget that Christmas is all actually about the fact the Christ came here for us, to be with us, to save us. This is something I will do with my kids, every year. Take the time out in the busy Christmas season to focus on Jesus, and thank Him.
Christmas eve gift box
My parents always chose one little gift that we were allowed to open on Christmas eve, after Church, and I always looked forward to that SO MUCH! I love love love the idea of a Christmas Eve gift that’s just one gift for the whole family – like a family movie night – since I do also like the idea of keeping Christmas clutter free. Your Christmas eve box could include a movie, matching family pajamas (my favorite pajamas in the whole world are Lazy One pjs – I would do a whole family set of these…), and snacks.
Christmas morning music and hot chocolate
No one ever made us “eat a healthy breakfast” on Christmas morning – it was straight to the gifts, with hot chocolate and Christmas music. Almost always Elvis.
Christmas morning family photo
Everyone in their jammies, with their hair crazy, surrounded by wrapping paper. We set the camera on self timer. These are some of my favorite photos to look back on.
Special “santa” wrapping paper
My mom had this massive roll of gorgeous holographic wrapping paper (that she kept hidden for literally YEARS) and every Christmas morning there was one more gift there than there had been the night before, wrapped in the special paper that only santa used. (I still remember finding that paper years later and thinking it was so fun that she had thought to do that.)
Want, need, wear, & read gifts
This isn’t something that we did growing up, but it’s absolutely something I would like to do with my kids! I really want to keep Christmas from getting too materialistic (and I hate the idea of cluttering the house up SO badly). I love the idea of gifting everyone with something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
Christmas crackers at dinner – YOU MUST WEAR THE HAT
Also new to me since I married a Brit! But it’s alot of fun… and I buy the crackers after Christmas every year and put them in storage with the wrapping paper for the next year. (I get them for 75-80% off generally, so it’s a pretty cheap tradition.) Just in case you didn’t get any last year – there are some pretty affordable ones available on amazon.
Boxing day appetizer dinner
I know I keep saying “this is my favorite tradition”, but I can’t actually pick one! After the busy and rushing (and cooking) of Christmas, we (my mom, my sister and I) love to do next to NO cooking on boxing day. We buy a heap of finger food type appetizers, and do an appetizer only dinner. (Our husbands ALSO roll their eyes at this. We’ve told them that if they feel like cooking a second massive dinner, they should feel free!)
I think making a point of Christmas traditions is one of the most “on purpose” things we can do for our families – making the time to enjoy the holidays together is something you will NEVER regret.