In this article: 21 family holiday traditions to start with your kids for a magical Christmas full of memories!
Christmas is a magical time for all of us. And I think the biggest reason for this is the memories we all associate with the holidays.
We all have memories of going to Grandmas, decorating the tree, baking cookies, Christmas morning- or a million other holiday traditions.
As parents it’s our job to continue holiday traditions, and make new ones for our kids. Here are 21 ideas and activities to help you build new family holiday traditions!
21 Holiday Traditions to Create a Memorable Christmas for the Kids
Cut Your Own Tree
If there is ONE Christmas tradition my kids just can’t live without, it’s cutting down our own Christmas tree.
With the exception of 2 years we have gone to the Cut-Your-Own Christmas tree farm every year for the past 18 years. It’s something my kids look forward to every single year and they can’t wait.
It’s a family tradition I know will last and be passed down to my grandchildren when the time comes.
Plus, it’s always great to support your local farms!
Read a Christmas Book Every Night
This is a super fun holiday tradition that kids get really excited about. Here’s how it works.
Go to the library (or raid your own bookshelves) and gather 24 Christmas or holiday picture books. You should do this BEFORE December 1st.
Wrap them up individually and set them in a basket, or around the tree. Every night your kids can choose one “present” to open and read before bedtime.
Don’t forget to make Christmas Eve’s book The Night Before Christmas!
Making Decorated Christmas Cookies
Making cookies is a generational holiday tradition for me. I have pictures of me as a toddler painting icing onto cut out sugar cookies and it’s something we’ve done every year since I became a mother.
Your kids will love breaking out the Christmas and holiday themed cookie cutters and helping to roll the dough.
And even the littlest kids can help decorate!
Here are 2 of my favorite rolled cookie recipes for making decorated cookies:
Picking Out Ornaments
Another fun holiday tradition is to allow each person to get a new ornament for the tree each year. With 6 kids, you can imagine our tree gets pretty full, but the kids love the tradition of placing their OWN ornaments on the Christmas tree each year.
And the best thing about this holiday tradition? Once your kids are all grown up and ready to move out on their own, they have their own collection of nice, sentimental ornaments to fill their Christmas tree in their first home on their own!
It can also be a fun Christmas tradition to buy a family ornament each year. One with your family name and the year inscribed on it!
Making Christmas Ornaments
While buying ornaments is great, when you have kids, homemade ornaments are just so sweet!
Make it a point to make your own Christmas ornament every year with the kids. There are tons of options to choose from…
- Salt dough ornaments
- Beaded candy canes
- Blown egg ornaments
- Apple cinnamon ornaments
And those are just a few ideas! Plus homemade ornaments make great gifts for the kids to give!
Make an Advent or Countdown Calendar
There’s nothing better to build the anticipation of Christmas then an Advent or countdown calendar. There’s just something fun and magical about opening a little door, taking a piece off a chain, or moving your person one day closer to Christmas.
This is another generational holiday tradition in my home. When I was young we made this felt Christmas calendar. It was decorated with glitter and little felt houses, numbered from 1-23. And then on the top was a large church-like house…with the number 24 on it. Then we had little felt people- one for each member of the family.
Every morning we woke up and the first thing we did was move to the next house.
When my kids were little I just had to recreate the same experience for my kids- that’s how strong the memories from that tradition are for me. So together we made our own version of this calendar- felt, glitter, little houses, and people to move up to the big house on Christmas eve.
Related Reading: 9 Fun Advent Calendar Ideas
Take a Ride to See Christmas Lights
Yet another magical part of the holiday season is the lights. My kids loves riding in the car and pointing out all of the houses lit up with holiday lights. And it’s a super fun thing to add into your family traditions around the holidays.
You can take a trip to a show or town that is known it’s lights, but I prefer to take a special night time drive through a neighborhood that is known for it’s house displays.
Write a Letter to Santa
This is a great holiday for the younger kids. And one that older kids can help younger siblings with. What’s even more fun is that the postal service no sends a response back!
Need Santa’s address?? You can read the USPS’s instructions on how to mail a letter to Santa and how to get a REAL response!
New Holiday Pajamas
This holiday tradition is great fun for families. And it has a ton of beneficial aspects.
First, it makes Christmas morning pictures look great! Everyone looks festive and matching!
Second, new PJs makes for an easy option for those who allow their kids to open one present on Christmas eve.
Third, we all know kids grown fast, new PJs insure they have a new set that fits this winter.
I love making the PJs Christmas or winter themed, but not matching, but many families get a pair of matching pajamas for everyone- even mom and dad!
My kids even have created their own tradition of not changing out of their Christmas PJs at all on Christmas morning!
Make Holiday Gifts
I love this holiday tradition because it helps kids see that Christmas isn’t all about what they get- that it’s about giving. It also helps teach kids that you don’t have to BUY something for it to be meaningful or nice.
Set aside a day each holiday season to craft, paint, or otherwise make gifts. Make gifts for each other, for grandparents, for aunts and uncles, or friends.
Some of my personal favorite homemade gift ideas are:
- Baking mixes in a jar
- Framed kid’s art (the Dollar Tree has $1 frames that are perfect)
- Baked goods
- Homemade clay or wood crafts
Make Special Christmas Treats to Give Away
Along the same lines of making gifts, a family tradition of making edible Christmas treats is fun and helps create the atmosphere of giving.
We’ve made cookies, dipped pretzels, breads, cakes, fudge….or you can click here to get 7 Christmas Treats that are perfect for making with the kids.
You can give these to family and friends, but also think of others in your life. Such as:
- Your mail carrier
- Medical professionals
Basically anyone in your life you’d like to say “Thank You” to and spread a little cheer.
Buy Your Siblings a Gift
Another family Christmas tradition is to take the kids out shopping for their siblings. This is a lot of fun and most kids take the task very seriously, carefully picking out a special gift they know their brother or sister will love.
In our house, our kids use their own money and we encourage them to stick around the $5 mark. Usually they get each other food (or junk food). As they’ve gotten older they are more independent with the process, whispering to each other, pooling their money to get something another sibling really wants.
This is another tradition that helps encourage kids to see the holidays with a spirit of giving.
Related Reading: 39 Christmas Countdown Activities for a Memorable Christmas
Have a Christmas Themed Movie Night
We have a standing family tradition of Pizza movie night every Sunday night in our home. But around the start of December we make a switch to having Christmas movie night instead.
Some holiday movie favorites to choose from:
- Ernest Saves Christmas
- The Santa Clause
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- Home Alone
- The Polar Express
Make Your Own Christmas Cards
Sending Christmas cards is getting to be a lost art, but it’s definitely something we should all add into our holiday traditions. Instead of just sending a printed photo card, why not make your own holiday cards with the kids.
You can use construction paper, card stock, or even premade blank cards.
Then have them cut, glue, glitter, paint– anything they want! And send them out to all their friends and family this Christmas!
A Special Christmas Morning Breakfast (or Lunch)
You may already have a standing Christmas dinner planned with family, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a tradition of a special breakfast or lunch on Christmas morning.
Maybe something like a special breakfast casserole, french toast, fresh cinnamon rolls, or anything else that is festive and out of the ordinary!
Take an Annual Family Portrait
This is one of my favorite holiday traditions. Every year in December we take a new family portrait. It’s not fancy- just my tripod and camera but it’s usually the only portrait we take all year long that has everyone in it.
And sometimes it’s the only photo with ME in it (I need to work on that!)
So get dressed up, find a nice backdrop, pose your family and take a family picture. You’ll cherish them once everyone is all grown up!
Want to keep your kids occupied and entertained for a long time? Let them Elf themselves!
This fun app as been around for years, and it never gets old. My kid start watching for the site to become active even before Thanksgiving.
How it works is you upload pictures of your kids and then the website puts your faces on their dancing elves set to all sorts of funny music!
Give it a try: Elf Yourself
Make a Gingerbread House
What’s more fun than a house made of cookies and candy? If you don’t already, add making a gingerbread house to your list of things to do during the holiday season.
You can buy a Gingerbread kit- that comes with cookies, candy, and icing. Or you can make your own.
All you need is:
Go to Your Local Christmas Parade
Get out an support your local community, have some fun, and meet your neighbors! Most town and cities have annual holiday parades, so look them up starting in November and mark your calendar to go out and cheer the parading groups on!
My boys loves our small town holiday parade when they were little, mostly because it was full of fire trucks, police cars, and tractors. Plus they threw candy!
Go to a Christmas Concert or Play
When I was in school we took a field trip to see A Christmas Carol (the play) every year. We also went to the Symphony orchestra to hear the classical Christmas songs as well.
Another fun outing is to go see the Nutcracker Ballet. I remember getting dressed up with my mom and my best friend every year to drive to Washington DC and see the Nutcracker. Those memories are strong and I want my kids to have just as strong memories from our own traditions.
Plus, the Arts is being replaced by TV or YouTube. Make sure your kids have experience viewing the arts! Take them to museums, ballets, concerts, and plays!
Keep Everything Hidden
I know…one of the fun things about presents is being able to shake them and guess what’s inside. BUT you know what’s even more magical on Christmas morning?
Coming in to see a once empty Christmas tree surrounded by stockings and gifts.
Our holiday tradition is to keep all of our gifts hidden away until Christmas morning. Before bed my kids bring down the gifts they bought for each other. And then once they are asleep we bring out our gifts and fill the stockings.
My kids are very strict with each other- making sure that NO one comes downstairs during the night and spoils the surprise. A couple of years we’ve even hung sheets on the doorways so no one can see in before we officially start Christmas morning.
And there you have it 21 fun, family, holiday traditions to help make Christmas time even more magical and memorable. Once you start making yearly family traditions you’ll often find that your kids will start creating their own out of these.
They may insist on reading the same book. Watching the same movie. Doing the same activity. These are signs that you are making memories. Memories your kids will take into their adult lives and build upon with their own kids.