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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.

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Get snuggly

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.

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Adopt a charity

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Take the holiday celebration to those who can’t get out themselves

If Grandma can’t come to Christmas, consider bringing Christmas to Grandma! This was the solution the Calvin family, of Saskatchewan, Canada, settled on. “Growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan was special in a lot of ways but one of my favorite traditions was visiting my grandmother, who lived in a nursing home 45 minutes away,” says mom Rosalie Davis. My family would have a big Christmas meal midday. Then we would load up all the leftovers and head over to the nursing home to celebrate with my grandmother. My aunts, uncles, and cousins would meet us there. We would visit, set up a meal somewhere and have a great time. It was a very small town nursing home, with fewer than a dozen beds, and we made sure everyone who wanted a good Christmas meal got one.” Caring for an elderly relative? Take our crash course on what’s most important.

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Take a tour of the local lights

When it comes to appreciating the sights, tastes, and sounds of the holidays, why stop at your own front door—especially if you have creative neighbors and family members. “As a kid, every year, my family did a Christmas Caravan,” says Meghann Anderson-Russell, of Tampa, Florida. “It all started when my grandmother wanted to see everyone’s houses decorated for Christmas. I have a big, close family and everyone decided they wanted to come along. So we would load everyone—10 adults and at least 12 kids—up in my grandmother’s RV and then drive to see everyone’s house. There were five houses in all and each stop would feature that family’s famous holiday treats, and we would ooh and aah over the decorated tree. It was a full day event and so much fun. The tradition evolved and continued into adulthood.” These are the best small towns for Christmas lights.

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Recreate a favorite recipe

Festive recipes are often handed down for generations and may take days to prepare. “Every Christmas morning we have chocolate and biscuits. It’s similar to the southern classic biscuits and gravy, only the gravy is a thick chocolate. It’s the most amazing thing ever. My mom grew up in the south and my great grandma would make her special recipe every Christmas. She wrote it down and passed it on to my grandma, who passed it on to my mom, who has given it to me. It makes it that much more special to me,” explains Ivie Coesens, of Rexburg, Idaho. But that’s not the only food tradition she loves. “We also get homemade jerky in our stockings every year. One year my dad decided he wanted to try his hand making jerky so he got a food dehydrator and went to work. It turned out great so he divided it up and put some in each of our stockings. We loved it so much it became an annual tradition. So now I associate the smell of jerky with Christmas morning!” Don’t have a culinary-gifted grandma? Try one of these  Christmas appetizer recipes and no one will be the wiser.

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Honor loved ones who have passed

Think this holiday tradition sounds a little odd? Chances are there is a beautifully meaningful story behind it. Such is the case for the Svestka family’s annual Christmas Eve Santa “cookie” plate… that has no cookies. “When my husband’s grandparents were raising their young family they had very little money,” says mom Jeni. “What they did have, they spent on gifts for the children but that meant they had to get creative to wrap them. So their ‘wrapping paper’ was made up of whatever they could find laying around. To honor that memory, every year we leave a plate of newspaper, masking tape, markers, and scissors out for Santa instead of cookies and milk. Then the next morning the kids discover that Santa has wrapped all their gifts with the newspaper. The kids love it and get to fondly remember Doug’s grandparents.”

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Make meaningful goals

While presents and food are fun, many families use their holiday traditions to honor the deeper meaning of the season. For the Carriveau family of Westminster, Colorado, this means making a “Gift to the Savior” box. “Every year each person in my family chooses a gift we can offer to the Savior, not just at Christmas but all year long,” explains mom Shelli. “I hand out pieces of paper and we write something like ‘read a scripture a day,’ ‘not fight with my sister,’ ‘smile at a stranger,’ ‘do a random act of kindness,’ or ‘listen to my parents’—anything that would show love the way Christ would. Then the following year we pull out the box and read our own papers to ourselves to see how we did. It is a private moment of reflection that helps us remember the reason for the season.” Here are 13 other traditions to help you remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.