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The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Traditions for Families

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Anyone will tell you that I L-O-V-E Christmas! Some would even go so far as to say I’m obsessed. If you call writing lists in July, listening to Christmas songs in September, and have a full holiday-themed calendar from November to the New Year, then yes I’m obsessed. My family has tons of Christmas traditions, does yours? I would LOVE to hear about them! My husband’s birthday usually lands around Thanksgiving and the only thing he asks for every year is to NOT start any Christmas festivities until after his birthday. Not only do I save a present {ha!} but I use his birthday weekend to prep for a few of my favorite Christmas traditions including the arrival of our elves, our North Pole-themed breakfast, and getting everything ready for our tree. Here’s a complete least of over 20 of my favorite Christmas traditions.


Christmas Traditions for Families

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20 Christmas Traditions for your Family

Christmas traditions start early in this family but the best part about Christmas traditions is that they are all about you and your family! Remember I LOVE Christmas – borderline obsessed so I go ALL OUT but that doesn’t mean you have to. The holidays can be very stressful so do what is fun for you and your family. Think of this list as suggestions not as a list of must-dos. Christmas is a time for family, fun, and faith. Find what that means to your family and go with it!

Fun and Silly Christmas Traditions

In our family, we are all about having fun and being silly. During the holiday season, we take the fun to a whole new level and let’s not even talk about silly. My family lives to be silly and guess who is the silliest of them all? Yep, my husband. A BIG kid at heart. Blend my love for Christmas traditions with his silliness and you have a recipe for F-U-N!

Elf on the Shelf We love our elves Rigsby and Pixie and they are a HUGE part of our Christmas traditions. They come to visit from the North Pole on December 1st every year. If they arrive on a weekend they come with a full breakfast from the North Pole including snowman doughnuts, chocolate milk and more. If they arrive during the week they are waiting for the kids to get home from school with Gingerbread houses {another favorite Christmas tradition} ready to decorate. I know some families find the Elf on the Shelf overwhelming. To be honest I hated our Elf the first year – I forgot to move him more than I actually moved him. Now I only do something “major” 2-3 times a week. The other days I just move them. I do try – keyword try to plan our big scenes for nights the kids were exceptionally good that day. I cannot stress this enough – do what makes you happy. Christmas traditions are all about adding magic to the holiday season. If the Elf on the Shelf stresses you out find a different tradition for your family to enjoy

RELATED: The Best Elf on the Shelf Accessories

Games – Every year I try to introduce a new holiday-themed game as part of our Christmas traditions. Tyler was 2.5 when we first started playing Rudolph Monopoly. We love playing Christmas charades, it’s a family favorite! This year I’m going out of my comfort zone and introducing Bamboozled: The Christmas Edition. Are you at all familiar with Jellybelly’s Beanbozzled game? You’ve been warned, it’s disgusting. My son LOVES it so we push through but it’s downright gross! Amazon has a TON of oddly flavored candy canes so for the holiday version, I’m going to mix the candy canes together in a bowl with delicious tasting for a night of grossness. Although gross, I know we will laugh ourselves silly and my Tyler will be in his glory with pickle and bacon flavored candy canes. Oh, the things we do for our kids! Bleh.


Dance Parties – My family hasn’t met a song we don’t love dancing to and Christmas music is no exception. Music is a big part of our Christmas traditions. The Christmas music starts on December 1st and goes all month long. My kids love playing freeze dance and the Christmas Classics make for great freeze dance mix. Pro Tip: Dance like no one is watching. Have fun and let loose. Your kids will LOVE dancing with you.

Advent Calendars and Christmas Countdowns

Advent Calendars – When I was a kid one of my favorite Christmas traditions was opening the small boxes on my Advent calendar to reveal a fun treat. The Christmas tradition now continues with my family. Each one of my kids gets an Advent Calendar from their Elf when they arrive. Some years went big with Tsum Tsum themed, LEGO themed or hot wheels themed. Last year my son wanted a simple candy one he found at a local store. There are lots of alternatives to candy filled advent calendars.



24 Days of Christmas Books My personal favorite Christmas tradition! I have now been doing this since Tyler’s first Christmas and he is now seven. Do I buy 24 NEW Christmas books every year? Umm, no! I rewrap our favorites! My kids love it. I add a few newbies each year including activity books, a newly released Christmas book, or one I had my eye on in years past. Every night before bed we unwrap one and read it. This Christmas tradition is even more meaningful now that Tyler can read. Watching him read to his younger sister under the twinkling lights is one of my favorite sights.

RELATED POST: 24 Classic Christmas Stories to Read to Your Family

12 Days of Christmas – For the 12 days leading up to Christmas we have a gift box filled with family-centered activities. Some of the activities include baking cookies, go see the lights, watch a Christmas movie, Christmas dance party, homemade pizza night, make Christmas cards, etc.. This is such a fun Christmas tradition because it can be completely personalized to what your family loves to do the most!


All About Santa

Letters to Santa – This is the Christmas tradition that kicks off our season. Our family dedicates one morning to make a list for Santa. We like to use fun paper for Santa. Once we complete our list we decorate envelopes and send them off to Santa! I’m surprising my kids with this set when Rigsby and Pixie come to visit Elf on the Shelf Letters to Santa

Santa’s Magical Key – The songs and stories have us believe Santa comes down the chimney to leave presents. That’s all fine and good except when you live in a NYC apartment – hahaha! Santa’s Magical Key to the rescue! Every year on Christmas Eve we go outside to leave Reindeer dust (glitter) and to hang Santa’s Magical Key so he can get into our house! A wonderful and fun Christmas tradition.

Santa’s FootprintsAll you need is one can of fake snow which you can find on Amazon, Target or Walmart. More of a DIY- mix an equal part flour and glitter. Have your husband put on a pair of boots, sprinkle the mixture on the floor, and have him walk through it – VIOLA! Santa’s footprints! A magical Christmas tradition.

Crafts and Baking

Christmas Crafts – Making Christmas crafts with my kids is one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Each year I fill my walls with the crafts made over the years and it fills my mind with beautiful memories. Here are some of my favorite Christmas crafts:


Christmas Baking – Every year my Mom makes dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies to give out as presents to our friends and neighbors. In our home we continued this tradition but in a more simple way. Once a week during the month of December we make a simple Christmas cookie recipe for our family to share. One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is to make and decorate cookies for Santa.


Giving Back

Donating to a Family or Charity– This Christmas tradition is incredibly important to both my husband and I. We both grew up knowing and understanding the importance of giving back. Each year we “adopt” a family from our parish and help make their Christmas a little bit brighter. In addition, my children make “Santa bags” which are bags of their used toys they wish to donate to those less fortunate. In our house, Santa does not bring new toys unless you help someone in need. This helps teach children the importance of helping others. As my son gets older giving back has now become second nature to him.



Christmas Ornaments – Every year I get my two children a new Christmas ornament for their tree. Growing up I had my own small Christmas tree in my room {my Christmas obsession is obviously genetic} and received a new ornament to put on my tree every year. This is one Christmas tradition I knew I would always continue. When I purchase a new ornament for my children I try to get something that makes sense for that particular year of their life such as Babies 1st Christmas. Some of my favorites include John Cena when Tyler went through his wrestling phase or a can of play dough for my craft obsessed Simone. My plan is to give each of them a box full of the Christmas ornaments they collected over the years when they move out on their own. Hopefully they get the same feeling of nostalgia I do when putting their ornaments on their own trees.

Trimming the Tree– Easily one of my favorite Christmas traditions – hmmm I’m sensing a pattern, are you? In our house we have a massive 7.5 foot Christmas tree that’s as wide as it is tall. An entire day is set aside for our annual decorating day. We start with a delicious themed breakfast and everyone is given a bin of ornaments to unwrap – the kids get all the shatter proof ones. The Christmas music is on blast with intermittent dance breaks throughout the day. Everyone has a sugar rush from an overload of hot chocolate and candy canes. It’s a day everyone in our family looks forward to each year.  Once all is said and done we unwrap our first Countdown to Christmas book and read it by the Christmas lights


Christmas Movies

Movie Marathons – Friday night family nights always include Christmas movies during the season. It’s one of my kids’ favorite Christmas Traditions. In order to avoid a fit I put the titles of our favorites on red and green popsicle sticks and store them in a cute container. When there is time to watch a movie the kids alternate picking a stick from the jar. We all snuggle up and watch together. Normally we make popcorn or another special treat to enjoy while we watch. What’s your families favorite Christmas movie? Let me know in the comments – we are always looking for new suggestions. Last year we were THRILLED Netflix had so many choices we never watched before – we were on Christmas movie overload!

RELATED: 10 Best Christmas Movies for Families



Local Traditions

Christmas on 5th Ave – If you are planning to come to NYC at Christmas, Rockefeller Center is not to be missed. The tree gets more beautiful with each passing year. Directly across the street at Saks Fifth Avenue is an evening light show that will take your breath away. Rock Center is surrounded by experiences for kids of all ages – the LEGO store, NBC experience, American Girl and soon to be the new location for FAO Schwartz. A short walk down 49th street and you are at Radio City Music Hall, the home of the world famous Rockettes and the Christmas Spectacular. We took Simone to see it for the first time last year and she’s been talking about going back all year.long! She even wants to be a Rockette when she gets older. She almost has the kicks down! There is so much to see and do in NYC at Christmas that even as locals we haven’t been able to do it all. It’s truly magical and a bucket list item for sure!





Dyker Heights Christmas Lights – Fun fact – we are only one neighborhood over from this yearly spectacle of lights. Going to see the lights in Dyker Heights has been a Christmas tradition in my family since I was in diapers. It’s so close that we try to go a few times a year to be sure we see it all. It’s a great treat for after homework and before bedtime. A few years ago a tour company started that takes you through the neighborhood by bus to see the gorgeous Christmas displays. It’s a must see!


Do you love your local Christmas events? We LOVE to travel at the holidays. Where should we visit? Let me know in the comments.


Christmas Eve

Christmas pajamas Every year my family gets a matching set of Christmas pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve. Once we are all dressed we head outside to throw our Reindeer food and leave out Santa’s Magical Key. Before bed, we gather up in our new jams and read the Night Before Christmas before heading off to sleep.

One present – It was torture as a kid to wait until Christmas morning to open presents. We allow everyone to open one gift each on Christmas Eve. It’s usually a family game or something we can use on Christmas Eve together. Simple, nothing fancy.   Side note: I created this ultimate toy guide

Christmas is meant to be a magical time of year filled with wonder and excitement. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you do to prepare for Christmas just as long as it makes you and your family happy.




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