Woah. Can you believe the holidays have come all the way up into our business (already!?) Like where did 2019 go ya’ll? If you’re new to this blog, there are three things you should know: I grew up with a Jewish mom, a non-practicing Christian father, and became an agnostic who nevertheless insists on putting the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving and lighting the menorah every single night (and recently lighting up the whole outside of our house in a Christmas spectacular!). Once we had kids I started looking into more ways to make this time of year feel even more...magical.
The holidays are less a religious experience for me, and more about finding ways to connect with my family, my friends, and embrace the spirit of giving both for presents, and also for charitable actions and donations. (More on that in a bit). Which, I guess, in some ways, is how religion is impacted by the holiday traditions as well so...same same?
While we’re not raising our kids in any religion we do still enjoy the feeling and fun of the holidays and love to celebrate both.
So, I’ve collected the following fun and thoughtful holiday traditions that include Christmas traditions and Hanukkah traditions. In theory, there’s something here for everyone.
I’ve compiled ideas for holiday traditions you can start with your family this year and some that you can continue every year (if that’s something you want to do).
Table of Contents
Caution About Starting Too Many Holiday Traditions
It can be super tempting to read through a list like this and find a bunch of really fun ideas that you want to do, like right now!
Slow your roll!
If you choose too many traditions, you may quickly feel overwhelmed (on top of the shopping, cooking, cleaning, hosting or attending parties, and all the other things).
Read through this list a few times. Make notes about traditions you’d like to try this year. Test it out with your family.
I like to use the phrase “holiday tradition” loosely.
As in if next year you don’t make it happen in quite the same way, so what? It doesn't change the joy or memories you create. Ultimately.
Christmas Traditions for Couples
Jessica from Mommy Comes Clean has this sweet Christmas Tree tradition she started with her hubby: A tradition my husband and I started after we got married was buying a special tree ornament to represent that year. For example, the year we got married, we bought a "J" ornament for our last name.
Christmas Traditions for Kids
Keyona from Professional Momma has this thoughtful and sweet idea: I have a post on this as well but one of the things I do is add my daughter’s handprint to the tree skirt each year.
Make Table Presents
Sasha from Life’s Carousel has this clever spin on presents that also helps the kids stay at the table for the bigger dinners: we do "table presents" for Christmas. The host (normally me) buys everyone who will be having Christmas dinner a small present.
It's normally something fun or thoughtful. It helps keep the excitement of the day going (after all the presents in the morning) and gives the kids something to amuse them at the table (our meals tend to be very long and no-one is allowed to leave early!).
Sasha, British born but now a US citizen also added this fun fact: In the USA you leave milk and cookies for Santa. In England we leave mince pies (a sweet dried fruit pie) and whiskey or brandy for Santa! I think Santa probably prefers visiting England!!!
( I’m now going to be leaving whiskey for Santa. New Tradition, check!)
Celebrate the Five Days of Christmas
RB from XXX had this awesome holiday tradition idea to share:
We do what we call the "Five Days Of Christmas." The kids have special stockings that we put dollar items or candy in for 5 days leading up to Christmas eve. So when they get up every morning they have a treat. For us, this has proven to be a good distraction for whats under the tree.
They have all their attention focused on what they are going to get in their stocking every morning.
Something They Want, Need, Wear, Read…
This idea of buying your kids only four gifts is a minimalist mom’s dream come true. The idea is that you focus on something your kids want (like that big toy they’re coveting), something they need (like an art supply refresh), something they need (PJ’s or shoes always fall into this category for us) and something to read (helllllooo new books!)
Read more about how to do this on a super tight budget around the sales here at Sugar and Soul:
Celebrate your Child’s Year With This Thoughtful Tradition
I love the idea of dedicating an ornament to summarize (as best as one can summarize an entire year) the last year of your child’s life. This is a great way to tie in the other ornament ideas too as it assigns a special meaning.
Check out more here from coffeeandcarpool.com
And another one from Coffee and carpool…
A Focus on Giving This Christmas
This article reads like it’s from my own life (the wishlist, the wanting experiences rather than things!) but the truth is for me the spirit of the holidays is a lot about giving and less about receiving and this is a spectacular way to teach this to your kids (and create a fun holiday tradition too!)
Make an Advent Calendar out of Books!
This is an incredibly clever idea that’s also practical (and great for a group too or a big family!) If you’re a teacher this could be a really fun way to have a holiday themed class activity as well.
(and have each child bring a book to share with the class!)
Make Magic Reindeer Food
This is such a fun idea (and so colorful!) and a great way to take your kids’ minds off of “HOW MANY MORE DAYS IS IT MOM!!?”
Have them help you make reindeer food with this recipe.
Set up a Tent for Your Kids
I love this idea for creating a super unique Christmas memory, by setting up a tent in your living room for your kids to sleep. If you’re like me and wait until the last night to wrap ALL OF THE PRESENTS this may not be the BEST idea but how fun it would be to wake up in your living room and just unzip the tent to see all the goodies in store for you.
Santa Marking Your Little
This idea comes from an old Irish or English tradition and I’m going to be honest, I personally will not be doing this (we try to minimize the “magic” of Santa to a bare minimum). And also knowing my kids they would be TOTALLY freaked out by the idea that Santa came into our house twice (or an elf in the case of this idea) and actually touched them in their sleep.
If, however, you think your kids would totally get into something like this - then have at it, momma!
But because I believe every family has a right to doing things their way check out this adorable tradition of Santa “marking” your child on the “good list” prior to Christmas eve.
Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt
Walking around the neighborhood that goes ALL OUT for the holidays is one of our family traditions but I love this idea to make the whole thing into a giant (and clever) scavenger hunt.
Check out more about how to plan and organize it and include a free printable!
Christmas Traditions for the Whole Family
These are a collection of sweet Christmas themed holiday traditions that the whole family can get involved in.
It’s Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas
Depending on where you live, figuring out a Christmas tradition can be a bit tricky. Particularly if you’re in a climate that has no snow or even cold weather.
C. Haislip from Joy Fit Fam knows all about this and has done a fun winter-themed spin on it to make it feel a little bit more like Christmas.
“ We normally wear shorts on Christmas. It doesn’t get very cold here in Florida.
Every year, regardless of the actual temperature outside, my MIL used to get up at like 4am, turn the air onto 65 degrees, turn all the fans on, and make hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
That was always fun. If you can’t have cold weather you can always pretend.”
Creating a Christ-Centered Mantle Piece
This beautiful Christ-centered Christmas mantel is perfect to remind your family about the reason for the season:
Collecting Ornaments for Your Kids
I love this sweet and thoughtful Christmas ornament idea from Drugstoredivas.net.
The idea of collecting ornaments for your children every year so when they move out, and they have their first Christmas tree, they have ornaments to put on them that remind them of home (it’s so special!)
Make Tamales Together
I mentioned above how our neighbors down the street make the most incredible traditional tamales (which we usually end up eating Christmas Day).
In many latino families, Christmas eve is also known as “noche bueno” and it’s a very important day to focus and be with family.
Making tamales together tends to be a staple of this experience. Tamales is the kind of recipe that can involve the whole family, especially if you’re doing them from scratch.
If you’re interested in making your own tamales check out this recipe from Modern Brown Girl:
Family Game Night Tradition:
This is on my shortlist of things to do this year. We love a game night in my family but it’s always tricky finding new games that are good for the kids and for the adults.
This sweet idea from Kidsloveboardgames.com is a way to make sure you’ve got a stockpile of games (and something fun to do once the excitement of all the new toys settles down!)
I may even make this a Christmas even tradition with our kids to open PJs, hot chocolate, and game night woot!
Elf Your Neighbor
This is a hilarious and simple idea and something the whole family can get involved in (and one of those family traditions that can be the ONLY tradition (and involve the whole neighborhood! Legit spreading the joy of the holidays!)
Check out how to elf your neighbor here at Uncommon Designs.
Other Elf on the Shelf Traditions
I’m not gonna lie. I do not have plans to ever have an elf on the shelf in our home. The added drama of moving this elf every fucking night—woah. BUT if that ship has already sailed for you (god speed)then here are some additional clever ideas to incorporate your elf on the Shelf:
Homemade Cinnamon Ornaments (What!)
These are so sweet, and also smell delicious!
Check out how to make them (as a family) here at Strength and Sunshine.
A Blended Family Tradition
This is a great idea for a blended family to make Christmas feel both special and unique and totally bring your families together.
Hanukkah Traditions for the Whole Family
Let’s transition into the Chanukah traditions for a hot sec.
As a member of a different kind of blended family we do a little bit of everything when it comes to the holidays.
I actually really enjoy celebrating Hanukkah with the boys and some years wish we never introduced Christmas (only because of all the stuff!)
In our family we bookend the 8 days.
Day one they get one “big” present. Day 8 they get the second “big” present and the in between days they get smaller trinkets (think stocking stuffer ideas) and practical things like pajamas and socks.
If you’re not Jewish and are unfamiliar with the story of Hanukkah or you’d love to find a sweet way to tell the story of Hanukkah through the medium of children’s books.
I love these books that you can get on Amazon.
I also love getting a little menorah for the boys just for them to “practice” lighting. And then there’s also the dreidels and gelt.
I may also do one “group” present of art supplies either for Hanukkah or for Christmas.
Read a New Hanukkah Book Together
Every year we try to find a new book for our boys either at the library or on Amazon to share the story of Hanukkah.
Since we’re not going to temple and having the story and experience shared via Rabbi I find this to be a sweet way to convey the story.
Here are some unique ideas for celebrating the holidays that you can use for Hanukkah!
Hanukkah Food Traditions
Hanukkah is, really, all about the food. I love involving the boys in making the food (usually with some main ingredients that includes oil) and this year adding some of the below is going onto our list of potentials:
Obviously...Make Hanukkah Latkes Together
If you’ve never made latkes or even if you have your own tried and true recipe handed down from generations there’s something that’s really fun for the kids to be involved in helping.
My boys LOVE shredding the potatoes (because we do it from scratch, it takes them forever to do it so we have to help) and they love stirring in all the additional ingredients to the batter.
If you’re in the mood for more of a DGAF recipe, check out this one using pre-shredded potatoes:
Make Rugelach Together
True story, my kids and I tried to make Christmas cookies one year and between the mess, the three times of trying batter, and the sprinkles I decided that would be my first and last attempt at making Christmas cookies with my kids.
This rugelach recipe from the Monday Box, however, is a different dessert treat I can get behind (and this recipe makes it look like it might be possible to channel my inner Great British Baking Show wishes).
Make Homemade Chocolate Coins
Nothing says Hannukah to me like chocolate gelt. (it’s so fun to play with for dreidel games! And eat. That too).
I’ve never thought to make my own but with this recipe and step by step guide, also from the Monday Box, that could be another fun Hanukkah tradition to make it a bit more special.
And if making chocolate gelt seems too intimidating, opt instead for this awesome cookie recipe also from the Monday Box :
Make Marshmallow Dreidels Together
This is an awesome recipe (and a really fun craft too) to make marshmallow dreidels together:
Make Cheese Dreidels!
This is an awesome Hanukkah themed snack perfect for hosting a seder or for having family or friends over.
Make Hanukkah Cookies Together
I love this super simple easy Hanukah cookie recipe - which is really just more of a decorating idea.. Using graham crackers and cookie icing.
Hanukkah Traditions for Kids
Because so much of the holidays focus on Christmas (and my family celebrates both) I’m collecting some great Hanukkah traditions to do with your kids.
Focusing on Kindness for Hanukkah
To start off, check out this post from Coffee and Carpools where the focus of Hanukkah is on Tikun Olam which means to repair the world through acts of kindness.
Make Hanukkah Crafts Together
Hanukkah can often be overshadowed by all the Christmas traditions floating around (and especially in my family where we celebrate both!)
Here are some sweet Hanukkah crafts that are sweet and thoughtful and sure to spice up the mood in your whole house:
Check out this star of David holiday craft you can make with your kids.
Make a DIY Hanukkah Menorah
This is such a fun idea to help your kids make their own Menorahs!
Check out more from Sugarbee crafts featuring a blogging guest from Crafteria:
Make a Votive Menorah
This is a sweet idea to make to help decorate your home but it’s also something you can involve the kids with:
Keep your Mind Open for New Original Holiday Tradition Ideas
A good blogging friend of mine shared the following story with me and while she’d like to remain anonymous I thought it was the perfect anecdote that some of the best holiday traditions can be born out of your own family lore, history, and in the case of this one, a complete misunderstanding turned family inside joke.
I love the following story because it really hits home for me how much the holidays are about making your own memories:
“ My grandma gave us an advent candle each year when we were children. She continued it when my children were born. The last advent candle she sent was the year before she moved out of her own home. She was almost blind by this stage. When it arrived, a chunk was missing from the bottom. I assumed it had been broken in transit until I heard her telling my uncle about the rock she'd ordered (are sticks of rock just a UK thing? Long sweet sticks of peppermint stuff with the name of a seaside resort written all the way through.), and how she wouldn't be ordering from that company again because when she'd tasted it, it was awful.
When we investigated her box of sweets for Christmas presents, we found the advent candles. She found it hilarious that she'd eaten a candle without noticing.
So, now, every year I buy my children an advent candle and make it look like there are tooth marks in it.
What are some of your favorite family holiday traditions? Comment below!