15 Warm, Fuzzy Holiday Traditions You’ll Want to Start This Year
Go beyond traditional cookie plates and gift exchanges and create special traditions your whole family will remember (and laugh about) all year long.
Fuzzy socks and warm pajamas are the definitions of warm and fuzzy, so turn it into a cozy Christmas Eve tradition, like the Medau family, of Houston, Texas. “We started by doing the ‘open one gift on Christmas eve’ tradition but I made it our own. Instead of letting the kids choose a gift from under the tree, I give them a gift basket that includes PJs, movies, snacks, and their favorite drink. Then we all put on our Christmas jammies, turn on a movie, and snuggle on the couch together. It’s such a fun, low-stress way to enjoy Christmas Eve,” says mom Amanda. Here’s the history behind some of our favorite Christmas traditions.
Adopt a charity
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One of the best parts of the holiday season is how it encourages us to look outward. To help those less fortunate and make someone else’s season a little brighter, the Patnode family, of Lakeville, Minnesota, established a giving tradition that’s been going on for three generations. “Every December, my parents give each grandchild a set amount of money that they are to do something charitable with, and on Christmas Day they each say how they chose to use that money,” mom Tracy says. “The best part is the kids chose very different charities every year, and learning about each one has helped us really feel a part of our community and see the needs around us. My kids’ favorites (so far) include a charity that puts on birthday parties for kids when their families have fallen on hard times, a shelter for women and children, Feed My Starving Children (a group that prepares and ships meals to third-world countries), an organization that supplies people with clothing for job interviews, a mitten tree at our church, the food shelf in my daughter’s high school, and an adopt-a-family program. It’s been such a blessing for our whole family.” (Need some ideas? Try these nine service ideas are perfect for families.)
Make a memory jar
You don’t have to wait for the holidays to start a holiday tradition! Keeping the joy going all year long adds to the anticipation of the end-of-year celebration. “My husband and I do a Hanukkah jar,” explains Ken Seifert, of Denver, Colorado. “We put slips of paper in the jar throughout the year with a particular message. It can be a simple happy note, an expression of love, or a memory of a particular event or a really good day we had together. During Hanukkah, we pull out the jar and read all the slips together. It is so wonderful to remember some of the fun and auspicious moments we shared throughout the year, and it helps us remember how much we have to be grateful for.” Here’s how gratitude can improve your life.
Try some new foods
Holiday dinners don’t have to be just a ham and potatoes affair. In fact, the “weirder” the food the better, says the Sarbin family, of Westminster, Colorado. “I grew up in Mexico and we always had a mystery dinner,” says mom Amanda. “My dad would dress up as ‘Don Lupe’ and my mom would make a menu with funny names for the food. We could each ‘order’ four courses and it was hilarious trying to pick something based on the silly names. For instance, ‘Barbie bracelets’ could be Cheerios and ‘mermaid hair’ could be spaghetti, but we never knew in advance what it was. So we could end up with jello, a napkin, carrots and a cracker or something equally crazy. I have continued this tradition with my own family but now I do themed mystery dinners. We have done Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Godfather, and this year we are doing Pixar. It’s one of my favorite memories of growing up.” Here are some other Christmas traditions from around the world you’ll want to steal.
Branch out beyond Christmas day
There’s more to the holidays than just the traditional dates, like Christmas or the eight nights of Hanukkah, and many cultures around the world have other dates worth celebrating. The Mosca family of New York honors their European heritage by celebrating St. Nicholas day every December 6. “My parents always gave us stockings on St. Nicholas Day with an orange, walnuts, and mittens in them,” explains mom Alison. “My sisters and I have continued this tradition with our own kids but we’ve added candy, socks, lip balm, and maybe a gift card in the stockings.”
Countdown the days in a new way
Little kids need a way to count down every exciting day until Christmas (otherwise they will drive you nuts with the “How much longer?!” questions), but you’ve got more options than a store-bought advent calendar. When the kids in the Elton family, of Landenberg, Pennsylvania, were tiny, mom Robin started a tradition that would not only help them track the days but that also kept them occupied and entertained. “Every year, I wrap 24 Christmas books and movies and we open one each day in December and watch or read together,” mom Robin says. “When they were little I’d hide them every night to make a game out of it but even though they’re older now they still love the tradition.” Still love the advent calendar? Try making one of these simple, DIY advent calendars to help you count down the days.
Incorporate your favorite hobbies
Not all holiday traditions have to be about Santa, reindeer, dreidels, or gifts. In fact, one of the best ways to celebrate with family is to use something that is uniquely special to your crew. For the Lefaves, of Astoria, New York, that thing is sports. “My husband and I are huge fans of different sports teams,” explains Samantha. “In baseball, it’s the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox, and in football, it’s the New England Patriots vs the Buffalo Bills. We have Christmas ornaments of each team, and every year, whoever’s team did the best that season gets to put their ornament on the tree first, and the loser’s ornament has to be on a lower branch.”
Celebrate lesser-known aspects of your cultural heritage
When it comes to celebrating the big day, for many Hispanic families that falls on December 24th, known as Nochebuena. This is when they gather as a family, enjoy their holiday feast and open gifts. “I’m Latina so Christmas is really the day before for us,” explains Kasandra Raux. “It starts by staying up late and going to Christmas Eve mass at our Catholic church. Then we go home and open presents. Now that I have a toddler, we still do that (as best as we can with a little one). To make it even more special for her I give her a special box with pajamas and a little toy or book just for the day before.” Not up for midnight mass? Try one of these 14 powerful Christmas traditions from around the globe.
Set up some family hilarity
Santa isn’t always the staid, old man with a beard and a naughty list—in some homes that twinkle in his eye is just as mischievous as it is merry. “Growing up, Santa would set up a booby trap so we couldn’t see our gifts before 6 a.m.,” says Sarah Gore, of Denver, Colorado. “It could go down a couple different ways: Some years we could break through the trap successfully without waking our parents and get our gifts early, but if we set off the trap and woke our parents we’d have to wait until 7 a.m.—torture for a kid! As we got older we decided to just bust through the wall of pots and pans, motion-detecting lights, and sound machines to reveal all the goodies Santa had left. It was so much fun.” Bonus: Keeping your sense of humor will help you avoid the stress and enjoy the holidays even more.
Remember something hard you went through together
Some of the most beautiful holiday traditions come from less-than-happy circumstances, turning that moment around but also creating a beloved family story. “Every year my extended family reads the Christmas story from the Bible while sitting on the stairs. At this point, there are 35 of us, so it feels a little crowded but we still do it to remember one Christmas 28 years ago,” recounts Dayna Brown, of Seattle, Washington. “We were building a new house and had planned to move in before Christmas but it wasn’t finished yet and we were all disappointed. So our parents surprised us with a Christmas party at the new house anyhow. There was no furniture or even electricity but we had so much fun. Then, when it was time to sit down to read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible, we all sat on the staircase as we had no couch or chairs. We took turns reading by candlelight. It was so special that we recreate it every year although minus the candles. Real candles were too much of a hazard; I think all of us have burned our hair at some point.” Love a good happy ending? Check out these miraculous happy endings that will inspire you all year.