As December approaches, I find myself sitting down and planning ahead for this Christmas Season. There have been years when Christmas flew by and the memories were minimal, so this year I’m hoping in being more purposeful in slowing down. I’ve had a few Sunday morning hallway conversations with other young moms on this topic and the conclusion seems to be the same, I need ideas! So, where do we turn? We decided to turn to the older women of our church and ask them to share what they have done with their families. Therefore, without further ado, here are some ideas for Christmas traditions that you may want to adopt for your family.
Mary Phillips has been married to Matthew Phillips for 31 years. They have 3 grown children, Mallory, Marissa and Mason.
Family holiday traditions bring about a connection of love, laughter, enjoying one another, spending time together and the beauty of them are the memories that last a lifetime and many times are handed down to the next generation. Many times the “traditions” evolve almost accidentally or spontaneously so you keep doing them every year because of the unique bond it brings to your family alone. They can be anything from watching the same movie every year together, or always getting crazy socks for a present, or taking photos in a certain pose… family traditions are love in the making in a way that honors and glorifies God.
Cookies: Decorated sugar cookies with neighbor’s names on them, also made fudge, caramels, bread, and granola. We made goodie bags for neighbors, put them in a wagon and our whole family, including the dog, would walk to each neighbor house, sing Christmas carols at their doorstep, and give them the goody bag gift.
Poems: Matthew’s family would always write a poem (or riddle) on the gift so the receiver would have to read the poem out-loud, guess what the gift was, then open it.
Gifts: For years my siblings and their kids would pick names (2 months before Christmas) and send a funny gift to each other. No other gifts were allowed.
Puzzles: My father always led the tradition of our family putting together a huge puzzle. It would be set-up on a card table with chairs around it and the entire Christmas to New Years week we family members would work on it and talk with each other various times day and night. Great memories!
Cake for Jesus: When I was growing up, my mother always made Jesus a birthday cake.
Pajamas: Many years we would buy matching pajamas for the entire family and wear them the entire Christmas Eve evening.
Bev Gearo has been married to Joe Gearo for 32 years. They have 4 grown children, Seth, Joy, Joel and Paul.
Joe and I were not raised in Christian homes and the focus was on self with getting. So during the Christmas season we wanted to do our best to turn the focus of Christmas on Jesus and His birth, the gift of God He was to us, as well as loving others.
Advent Wreath: Every night (as we could), we had an Advent wreath with candles. Each week leading up to Christmas we’d light a new candle, adding to the first ones that were lit. On Christmas Eve we would light all of the candles including the center candle. At the end of Advent, Christmas Eve, our dining room was bright! When Advent started, we would light a candle, have Bible reading, prayer and singing. This is also when we’d discuss the family we would want to bless with food, pick the names out of the hat for gifts, decide when we would sleep under the tree, etc. We started our advent wreath tradition when Seth was two and a half and Joy was just born. The wreath would be our dining room table centerpiece for the time of Advent. Having it at the table ensured that everyone sat in their chairs during this time. We had ground rules we would review each year such as: No touching the wreath and no blowing out of the candles until we were done. As they got older, we would allow them to light a candle.
Advent Reading: When the children were in bed, Joe would read Jotham’s Journey Advent books.
Christmas Tree: About one week before Christmas, we’d sleep around the Christmas tree as a family (Paul’s favorite).
Secret Friend: Also about a week before Christmas, we’d put our names in a hat and pick a name of a family member. For one week before Christmas you were to be extra kind to the person you picked. Then on Christmas Eve or morning you revealed your person.
Acts of Kindness: To keep the focus on others, we’d all buy different food items, put them in a box and secretly put them on the doorstep of someone in our church who was in need.
Cake for Jesus: We would have a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Day.
Gifts: Joe and I wanted so much to instill in our children Christ because there was so much distraction to self with getting. We even went slow on Christmas morning, each person giving their gift to their sibling and all watching and appreciating the gift – just as Jesus was a gift to us.
Ornament: Each year I gave an ornament to each child. It either represented what happened that year (graduation, vacation, etc.) or an ornament with a verse.
Jill Wragg has been married to Marc Wragg for 20 years. They have 6 children still at home, Dan, Sarah, Lizzy, Jacob, Leah and Gabe.
Most of these ideas aren’t spiritual, but traditions can cement our hearts together and are what make our family unique in the world. Traditions give constancy to children in a crazy world!
Tree and Ornaments: On whichever night we get our tree we like to take along candy canes to eat. While we put up the decorations we have a Christmas movie playing. We have a second fake tree now with just the ornaments I’ve collected every year for each child. I went with blown glass (we’re up to 76!) but I wish I would have picked a theme for each child and found something unique each year. For example; child one: stars, child two: nativities, child three: bells, etc. the children will receive their ornaments when they move out or get married.
Advent Reading: We’ve always read an advent book. Our nights during December always seem so full, so we read it in the morning! I highly recommend the series by Arnold Ytreeide for ages 5 and up (be warned they are action/adventure!). When I was a kid there weren’t a lot of Advent books around, so my mom read the Christmas story aloud from the Bible every night! That is a great idea as well.
Countdown Calendar: When my oldest was just a toddler I found an Advent calendar where each day you open up a door and find a wooden piece of the nativity story inside to hang on the Bethlehem background. We would do the little readings for each character as we opened and hung it. With six kids we now have a rotation list on the fridge each year with the December birthday child always getting to open the little door on Dec. 23!
Nativities: We have several Nativity sets we have collected through the years. Toddlers love the Little People nativity set that even plays Away In A Manger when you press the angel on the stable! One year I invested in the Playmobil sets for the kids to enjoy! We also have a stuffed set that was a pre-printed pattern at the fabric store. I cut it out, sewed it up and stuffed it with fluff. This set sits under our tree each year! The kids enjoy the different nativity toys as we get them out each year after Thanksgiving.
Gingerbread Houses: This is a serious tradition in our family! Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my sister-in-law and I take turns driving 3 hours across the state to each other for our kids to make gingerbread houses. You can buy a box kit but we actually make the gingerbread ourselves and assemble the houses now on either foil lined cardboard or charger plates. We collect candy at after Christmas sales, use fall festival leftovers and any special requests of the kids: like pretzel twists, mini candy canes, giant dots or reindeer candy corn! I have a strict “no-eating the houses” rule that my youngest child has tested more than any of the others!
Lights: Every year we take at least one night to drive around and look at lights. In our current town there is a house with a whole acre of designs to walk around and look at! We love to meet several families there and walk around together! If it’s actually cool we will bring along hot cocoa and when the kids were little we may have given them little train tickets like the Polar Express. We also decorate our own house with festive lights and if possible, hang cheap strands of lights inside the kids’ rooms!
Ice Cream and Music: It’s not Christmas if you don’t have some Peppermint Stick ice cream this time of year and carols must be playing at every single opportunity. In our family though, we don’t have strict dates for Christmas songs. We enjoy them well into February and then restart around June. Why not celebrate the Savior’s birth year round?
Pajamas and the Cats: Every Christmas Eve, although we pretend it can’t be counted on, the kids always get Christmas pajamas as their gift. As a child my mom would sign our gifts, not just from “Dad and Mom” but from “Jesus” or use the cats names. So every year our cats now give our kids their Pajamas. We sure love to joke about Jack and Domino shopping at Target!
Jam and Cookies: Years ago I started making homemade jam! I enjoy giving a homemade gift to family and friends as a little token of my affection. As well, we’ve always made cookies of all sorts during the season and now I especially like doing fancy decorating with frostings on sugar cookies. I have one friend whose mom used to make magic bars. I make those every Christmas for her now as a remembrance of her mom’s traditions.
Gifts: There are a lot of gifts with 6 kids in the house! For the children we have them each pick a name of a sibling and they only have to buy for that sibling (though often they are more generous.). I used to pay for this as well, but now my kids find gifts for each other at the kids church club Christmas store and purchase the gifts with fake money they’ve earned reciting verses. It’s a win-win. Sometimes I help a child “choose” a name if they’ve already found a special gift for a certain sibling and we try to make sure they get a different sibling from year to year. I have also been known to take my kids to the Dollar Store and have them pick out gifts for daddy and mommy and grandparents. Also, to help minimize an abundance of toys, we like to use this phrase to guide their wishlists and our purchases: Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear, Something to read.
Christmas Eve and Morning: We always go to our church’s candlelight service on Christmas Eve, then come home and open our (surprise!) pajamas and our one gift from our sibling (to focus on it!). On Christmas morning I always have their Christmas plates set out on the clean counter with a mug and cocoa and a nice breakfast planned for after the gift opening. Baked French toast or monkey bread and bacon. Also, the children are allowed to quietly open their stockings before we get up. This gives us more sleep and then a time to focus on the little treasures tucked inside. I like to wrap almost everything inside the stocking to make it last longer!
Tradition Fails: I’ve tried a lot of Pinterest ideas out there throughout the years. Some we’ve kept and some just didn’t work FOR US. I’ve tried wrapping all the Christmas books and they open one a day…but then some great ones barely got a week or less for us to enjoy. I tried making a little “event a day” advent calendar…that one wore me out. It’s ok to try new things but not continue them.
Unplanned Traditions: I remember one year as child making a little house shape out of some cardboard laying around on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, I unwrapped my creation and it had cookie cutters inside! Every year after that I always got a cookie cutter for Christmas. Sometimes the most fun traditions are the ones that find you! Maybe you’ll discover you love going to the beach on Christmas Day or everyone really loves stringing popcorn for garland! Be flexible and see what fun the Lord may have in store for your family!
We would love to hear your Christmas Traditions! Please share them in the comments below.