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30 Best Christmas Traditions to Start with Your Family This Year

Go above and beyond by participating in these special Christmas traditions your whole family will remember (and laugh about) all year long.

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family opening presents on christmas morning

Meaningful Christmas traditions that help us celebrate the most wonderful time of the year

Christmas is a time of year where people gather with loved ones, exchange gifts, and eat delicious food to celebrate a meaningful season. Establishing Christmas traditions (including Christmas Eve traditions) helps us bond with our loved ones and gives us plenty of activities to do with them during this valuable time. Plus, establishing these traditions gives everyone plenty to look forward to as the holiday season draws near.

If you’re looking for more Christmas traditions to establish with your family, look at this list for inspiration. These range from traditional activities that incorporate Christmas symbols to unique family traditions others have participated in for years. Read on to get inspired and make this Christmas season the best one yet! Then, read up on how to celebrate the holidays, based on your zodiac sign.

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family writing letters to santa near the christmas tree at home
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Write letters to Santa

Get your children in the Christmas spirit by having them write to St. Nick himself. You can even arrange it so that Santa writes back to your kids (thanks to some help from the USPS).
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felt homemade Ginger-man Christmas Tree Ornament
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Make your own Christmas ornaments

Make this Christmas memorable by creating your own Christmas ornaments with your family. Grab the supplies, put on some fun Christmas music, and let the Christmas crafting begin! Here are some great ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments to help you get started.

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family in christmas pajamas snuggling on the couch at home
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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.

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Jar of Coins for Charity Against Christmas Lights Background
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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.

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Family decoating sugar cookies together
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Bake holiday treats

Who doesn’t love some sweet treats around the holidays? Take your holiday baking to the next level by baking not only delicious Christmas cookies, but other holiday desserts like pecan pie, fudge, and yule log cake. Make your kids laugh while you bake with these hilarious Christmas jokes for kids.

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young girl holding paper snowflakes
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Make your own Christmas decorations

This is a great tradition if you want to create sentimental decorations (and save some money on Christmas decorations). Creating DIY Christmas decorations with loved ones around the holidays does three great things: spend time with those you care about, create lovely decorations for your tree and home, and create a stockpile of treasured memories to look back on. Make sure to steer clear of the rising Christmas tree prices during peak times and save up during the holidays.

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family watching christmas movies on projector at home
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Have a Christmas movie marathon

Snuggle up on the couch with some cozy blankets and let the streaming begin. A great Christmas tradition to start is to have a movie marathon filled with your favorite holiday flicks. Don’t forget the popcorn!

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family carrying christmas tree
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Cut down your own Christmas tree

If you’re looking for a tradition to kick off the holiday season, taking the family to cut down a Christmas tree is a great option. Not only will it save some money( find out- how much are real Christmas trees) but it is also a great activity to spend time with your loved ones during the holidays. Everyone can have a say in which tree to get, which will make decorating it that much better. After you bring it home, browse through some Christmas tree ideas for decoration inspiration.

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family memory jar
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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.”

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Girls enjoying plum cake with dinner together with family on Christmas Eve in a house decorated with Christmas tree and string lights
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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.” Speaking of food, here are some Christmas appetizer recipes everyone will love.

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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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elf of the shelf on mantle in home
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Get an Elf on the Shelf

This is a fun Christmas tradition to start if you have young kids at home. Get an Elf on the Shelf and move it around each day leading up to Christmas, telling kids that the elf is reporting their naughty or nice behavior to Santa. Kids and adults alike will have a blast with it! Add some laughter to your Christmas traditions with these hilarious Christmas jokesChristmas puns, and Christmas memes.

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three people talking at Ugly sweater party
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Host an ugly sweater party

There are plenty of Christmas themes to choose from, but there’s nothing like a good ugly sweater party. Invite your loved ones over to celebrate the holidays with plenty of laughs.

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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.”

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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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woman holding microphone near christmas tree during holiday party
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Have a Christmas karaoke night

Sure, you could go Christmas caroling…or, you could do a fun alternative and have a Christmas karaoke night at home. Put on some of the best Christmas songs and sing your festive hearts out!

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Marching band in parade, Seattle, Washington
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Watch a Christmas parade

Christmas brings the community together in celebration. One of those celebrations could be a local parade. If your area hosts one, bring the whole family to watch and enjoy!

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holy bible in christmas setting
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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.” Speaking of traditions and culture, here is where the tradition of the Christmas pickle really came from.

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Children Coming Down The Stairs On Christmas Morning
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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 of 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.”

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close up of family holding hands
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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.”

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Helping an Elderly Woman Decorate her Christmas Tree
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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.”

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Handmade Advent Calendar Made From Toilet Paper Rolls And Carton. Sustainable Christmas, Zero Waste,
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Countdown to Christmas with advent calendars

The countdown to Christmas can seem to last forever. Make the time go by a little faster by having your family count down the days with fun advent calendars. Getting something each day, whether it’s a nice saying or a small chocolate, can help the time fly by. This is one of the best Christmas traditions for families

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christmas card envelopes wrapped in burlap string next to christmas tree
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Send out Christmas cards

Let your family and friends know you’re thinking of them this Christmas by sending them meaningful Christmas cards. If you’re in need of some, check out these free printable Christmas cards everyone will love.

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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.”

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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!”

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young girl opening christmas present next to christmas tree at home
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Open a present early

This is a great Christmas Eve tradition to start. Have each person open one gift early so they can experience some early Christmas joy!

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Multi Generation Family Playing Game Of Charades As They Celebrate Christmas At Home Together
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Have a Christmas game night

There are plenty of fun Christmas games to play. Gather the family together around the holidays and have a series of family game nights to see which one is the family favorite.

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Gift wrapped with newspaper
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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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young woman writing down goals during the holidays
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Make meaningful goals

While presents and food are fun, many families use their Christmas 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.”

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family sharing memories on christmas
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Share Christmas memories

There’s nothing like sharing memories with your loved ones around the holidays. Start a tradition of sharing your favorite Christmas memories to connect with your loved ones and share a few holiday laughs together. ‘Tis the season to reminisce!

Next, read up on how to celebrate the holidays with your pets and have a paws-itively good time.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.
Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is a former editor for Reader’s Digest who covered entertainment, trivia and history. When she’s not working you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true-crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout the Finger Lakes.