Do you remember the story of The Little Match Girl?
Honestly, it’s probably the most depressing holiday story in the history of holiday stories.
It’s about an impoverished little girl whose job is to stand on the street corner to sell matches. She’s afraid to go home without selling any, because she thinks her Dad will beat her. So instead, she suffers through the cold…until she decides to light just one to try to stay warm. Once lit, she stares into the flame and has a vision of a warm feasting hall with a beautiful Christmas tree, a large roast goose, and her loving grandmother.
SPOILER ALERT: The next morning they find her frozen body in the alley, surrounded by burnt out matches.
I told you it was depressing!!
So why am I starting this article with such a Debbie-Downer opening?
- To highlight that everyone yearns to be part of something, especially during the holiday season. That’s why family Christmas traditions are so important. They knit your family tightly together, giving you common memories you will bring hints of joy when things aren’t so gloriously happy.
- To highlight that there is always someone on the outside, looking in. Not only is this a great time to create your own family Christmas traditions, it’s a great time to bring those on the “fringe” into your family, allowing them to experience the warmth and joy you are creating inside.
In an effort to stick with our Mighty Moms mantra (to be as helpful as possible), I asked the others on my team to share their own family Christmas traditions.
Brace yourself. There are a TON of awesome ideas in this article! Read slowly and savor each suggestion over a warm mug of hot chocolate.
I’m hoping you’ll come back to this article for YEARS to come, looking for new things to try. (In my experience, there are some “traditions” that never really get off the ground.) It’s never to late to add a new one!
Family Christmas Traditions:
Decorating the House
Honestly, 95% of the Christmas joy comes in the 4 weeks BEFORE Christmas. It’s the “Big Build-Up” of excitement and anticipation that makes this season so special. (Seriously. Who spends 4 weeks getting excited about Valentine’s Day? I mean besides teenage females.)
And all that anticipation starts with the big DECORATION DAY.
- Head outdoors and pick out a live tree like Karen does! (Just make sure you measure your tree space first to avoid having a “Griswold Moment!”) BTW, if you choose not to have a live tree, don’t sweat it. We tried the “live” route once…once. It’s not for everyone!
- Embrace the chaos, put on some Mannheim Steamroller, and let everyone pitch in!
- Let the kids pick out their own yearly ornament, something to signify something special to them this year. (This is the year I played t-ball! This is the year I was obsessed with Paw Patrol.) Just don’t forget to write the year and their name on the bottom with a sharpie before hanging it up. (If you need ideas for this, check out Christi’s blog here.)
- In Kim’s family, this is the perfect time to open up their first gift: A festive pair of holiday pajamas like these adorable bearly/wide awake ones.
- If you really want a pretty tree, why not set up a smaller version in their bedroom or other room to cover with homemade ornaments and other baubles to beautiful to display on the main tree?
- Don’t forget to hide your pickle ornament! In our family, the child to find the pickle ornament first on Christmas morning gets to pick out the first gift to give.
When you’re finished setting up the tree, why not treat yourself to something special? For my family, that means a plate of Kringla (recipe below) and a tasty gourmet root beer float. (It’s “gourmet” because there’s a cherry on top!)
In our family, we turn off all the lights, so the tree really shines. Then we talk about past Christmases, hopes for the future ones, and take a little time to pray for each other, thanking God for each person in the family. When finished, we sing some of our favorite Christmas carols and then bustle the kids into bed. Then Cameron and I break out the Moscato, select the Vince Guaraldi holiday station on Pandora, and snuggle into a good conversation on the couch.
For Molly’s family, it means the kids get to curl up under the tree in comfy blankets and watch a movie with popcorn and hot chocolate!
Family Christmas Traditions:
As a Christian family, we work really hard to remind our children that Christmas is more than just Santa and presents. (In case you are wondering, we do incorporate Santa into our holiday, but that he is there to help us celebrate Christ’s birthday.)
The best way (we’ve found) to keep that emphasis front-and-center in our children’s minds is to celebrate Advent. Simply stated, Advent is when Christians look forward not only to Christ’s birth (His first coming), but also reflect on what that means for His second coming.
We have an Advent Wreath (that I made from the suggestions in this book), and we practice lighting that week’s candle every night at dinner and singing the Christmas carol that corresponds with that particular calendar.
Here are other ways to practice Advent as a family:
- Let the kids take turns opening the windows on this Advent Calendar and setting up your own family’s Jesse Tree with Ann Voskamp’s The Wonder of the Greatest Gift.
- Create this simple-yet-stylish Advent Calendar during nap-time to hang in the dining room.
- My kids LOVED acting out the Christmas story that Cameron reads with this Fisher Price Nativity Set. (Our set is REALLY old. Somehow they forgot to include the 3 Wisemen, but did manage to include…wait for it…a chicken.)
- Christi and Lauren read the Christmas story from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which is an awesome tool for young kids! Or, you could shake things up and spend a little time watching the story instead.
- Add The Little Watchman to your bedtime routine and send them to sleep with thoughts about Jesus!
- For Christmas Eve, Lauren recommends having the grandparents put the kids to bed while you and your hubby slip out for a special Christmas Eve service alone.
- Karen goes to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service as a family, then retire home for a meal of Beef Tips and crock-pot potatoes.
You can find other helpful family devotions and Advent activities in any of the books below.
Family Christmas Traditions:
I’m ALL about adding magical whimsy to our family culture. This means I really love those “morning surprises” that put such glee on the faces of our children.
There are LOTS of ways to do this. Probably the most well known is the Elf on the Shelf movement. Perhaps it’s just me, though, but his face totally freaks me out. YES. YOU JUST SAW ME STEAL THAT LAST COOKIE, YOU JUDGING MONSTER.
If you’re an Elf Groupie, that’s awesome. It’s working for your family and your kids love it. Why change?
That said, if you’ve also got a weird Christmas neurosis about that elf, can I offer a few alternatives?
Holly’s Magical Mistletoe
I really love this idea. I think it’s because nothing makes my heart happier than seeing my 14-year-old give her 7-year-old sister a kiss and a hug. That’s what this little “morning surprise” is all about.
Holly the elf wasn’t exactly toy-talented, so Santa gives her the important job of delivering his magical misteltoe to homes around the world as a reminder to love and cherish each other.
Every few days (because I’m way too disorganized to do anything every day except brush my teeth) I move the mistletoe to new place to be “discovered”. (We’ve done the fridge, underwear drawer, under pillow, etc.) Of course, we have to “Taylorify” the game a bit by incorporating my favorite kisses game. *wink*
The result is a lot of giggles, kiss-smacked cheeks, and (I swear) fewer sibling fights.
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Shepherd on the Search
Another alternative idea is the Shepherd on the Search. It is very similar to Elf on the Shelf only without that “I will kill you in your sleep” vibe and with a Christian twist.
You read the book together as a family, and then hide the shepherd around the house for the kids to find in the morning. (Remember, if everyday is too much, you could always make this a weekend-only activity!)
The Good Deeds Manger
The Good Deeds Manger is a great way to encourage your kids to practice kindness. For every “good deed” they do, they get to place another piece of straw on Jesus’ manger.
Theologically, as a parent, I would probably follow up with a decision on the reason for Jesus in the first place, that we are saved by His grace, and it is His grace that empowers us to do those good deeds in the first place. (Because, honestly, left to myself I’m more likely to choose myself, and thereby end up damaging my relationships and hurting my life accidentally.)
Family Christmas Traditions:
Why not set aside a night in December to stream a holiday movie and dive into my absolute favorite gourmet popcorn? (The Zebra…it’s indescribable. I’m telling you…I didn’t know popcorn could be so amazing.)
Yes, you could watch with the kids…but then why not have your own little “Adults Only” movie time to laugh at the Griswolds? or cuddle up to While You Were Sleeping?
- While You Were Sleeping ~ Christi watches this romantic comedy every year.
- National Lampoon Christmas Vacation ~ My husband and I love watching and laughing through this movie together. In fact, I even bought this ornament to hang on our tree.
- It’s a Wonderful Life ~ Not only is this a sweet movie, it’s a great cultural education. Everyone should see it at least once!
- A Christmas Story ~ I double-dog-dare you.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ~ Another cultural classic every child should experience at least once.
- Elf ~ A family-friendly film that everyone enjoys. Plus, it will give your family tons of funny movie references to use! (My kids LOVE quoting the three food groups.)
- The Polar Express ~ This has really amazing animation (even with today’s standards) and the music is super catchy. It does have some intense periods, so if your child struggles with suspense, probably best to watch it after bedtime.
When movie night is finished…why not top it off with ANOTHER surprise!
Have everyone get ready for bed (pajamas on, etc.) and then suddenly decide…You know what? I’m not tired! Let’s go for a drive!
Yes, your little ones are going to think you’ve lost your mind, as you all pile into the car in your pajamas. (You too, Mom and Dad!)
Throw in a few non-spillable mugs of hot-chocolate and holiday cookie (or a Dunkin Donuts run) and drive around your neighborhood to ooooh and ahhhh at everyone’s Christmas lights.
If you’re not willing to bank your evening on your neighbor’s Christmas decorations, why not do a quick Google search and find local a drive-thru lights display? Here’s the one we always go to.
Family Christmas Traditions:
Picking and Wrapping Gifts
Since gifts are such a big part of Christmas, it makes sense to have some family Christmas traditions wrapped around them. (Get it? WRAPPED!! *knee slap*
Giving Your Kids the Gift of Giving
In order to keep the focus of Christmas balanced between the giving and the getting, I would highly recommend letting your kids shop for each other.
That doesn’t mean each kid gets a $30 per person budget! Start small at the Dollar Store. Toddlers are old enough to understand what the words “give a gift” means. Let them pick out gift for each member of the family, then help them wrap the gift and put it under the tree.
Here are several reasons I feel this practice is so important:
- Being generous is a good feeling. The younger your child learns that “good feeling,” the easier it will be for her to be generous again in the future.
- It helps promote goodwill between siblings. (And we really can’t have too much of that, #amiright)
- As your children get older, it gives them practice in how to pick out good gifts. For example, we’ll frequently ask...”Is this something you know Lauren would really enjoy? Or is this just something you want to give?” In other words, it helps them learn to stop and really think about the other person.
- It provides them with a great opportunity to practice gratefulness and grace when receiving a sibling gift that wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for.
Most of all, though, I’ve found that our kids are just as excited to watch family members open the gifts they picked out as they are to open their own gifts. It’s a Christmas miracle!
Stopping Arguments with Warped Wrapping
One of my favorite holiday traditions is to code the Christmas gifts.
Every year I come up with a silly code that only I know to label all the gifts. Here are a few of the “codes” I’ve used in the past.
- Random numbers…with the last number being their birth order.
- Some random cartoon character, with a child’s “symbol” at the end. (Star, heart, cross, etc.)
- A Christmas word with a random number attached. (Then I write the kid’s initials teeny-tiny on the back hidden in the wrapping paper.)
Why do I do this? Firstly, it’s fun. The kids will spend HOURS trying to break my code. 🙂
Secondly, I put the ka-bosh on any comparisons. The last thing I want to do is get annoyed that my kids are making “piles” to see who got the biggest box, or the most gifts, etc. That’s the fastest way for mom’s inner Grinch to be released.
Katie shared the idea of having a very specific wrapping paper for each child’s gifts. Then, Christmas morning, the answer of who’s whose is revealed on a special note, written on that child’s wrapping paper, at the bottom of their Christmas stocking!
Family Christmas Traditions:
Diving Into Christmas Stories
Since we are a huge fan of reading here at Mighty Moms, I couldn’t write a post about family Christmas traditions without mentioning BOOKS!! 🙂
A Month Of New Books!
When my kids were little, I would wrap up 24 Christmas books and the girls would open one per day for us to read before bed. Of course, you don’t have to do it all 24 days, you could easily adapt that for the last week before Christmas.
Also, don’t feel like you have to OWN all those books! I would go to the library and stock up, then every year “treat myself” to a new holiday book for the kids to open on Christmas Eve.
It doesn’t matter how old my kids are, every year when we break out the decorations they spend at least an hour pouring over all the Christmas books they had forgotten we owned. It’s like a free yearly surprise!
Here are my favorite holiday books to add to your own collection.
- Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
- Bear Stays Up for Christmas
- The Polar Express
- How to Catch an Elf
- Christmas in the Manger
- M is for Manger
Christmas Audiobooks: Your Voice’s Best Friend
I used to read to the kids in the car as we traveled over the holidays. Honestly, though, I discovered something. I HATED IT. Not only would my voice would putter out WAY before the kids were ready to be done, but my neck would start killing me around the second chapter.
It was either shout louder or turn my body in the front seat so they could hear me better…neither which was enjoyable. So I stopped reading in the car…and then felt immediately guilty for the amount of electronic time happening behind me.
Then I discovered the solution I should have (honestly) figured out years ago: audiobooks!
If you haven’t discovered the magic of Audible, now’s the time. Get a free audio book every month for you and the kids! It’s amazing how much laundry you can get folded when they’ve got something to listen to! Audiobooks are another great way to extend your child’s afternoon quiet time. *wink*
They get to listen to a story while they color in the car, and I get to rest my voice and avoid neck surgery. Win win!
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever ~ I swear, this book gets funnier every year we listen to it. 🙂
- A Christmas Carol ~ Anything read by Tim Curry is going to be awesome.
- The Snow Queen ~ Another story created by Hans Christian Anderson. (I promise this one isn’t as depressing as The Little Match Girl!)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas ~ The story itself is rather short, so this audio version includes a three other holiday poems by Dr. Seuss that are very rarely seen in print.
I hate to beat a dead reindeer here, but this is the best time of year to try Audible. Not only can you try it for FREE for 30-days, they will give you two audiobooks for free. (One on the way to Grandma & Grandpa’s…one for the car ride back!)
Family Christmas Traditions:
Connecting in the Kitchen
There’s something magical about making cookies as a family at Christmas.
Maybe that’s because I adamantly refuse to make cookies with the kids the rest of the year.
I know, I know. I’m the worst. But we have a small kitchen…and the CHAOS! *sigh* I do, however, generously allow my teenager to make cookies without me…as long as she cleans up the kitchen afterwards. Does that count?
What Should You Bake?
Feel like you need some sweet inspiration?
- The women in Christi’s family gather every year (sometimes after Christmas, actually) to make this Bohemian Braided Egg Bread.
- Lauren’s kitchen churns out a delicious cookie called Banket.
- Kim breaks out a sturdy sugar cookie recipe with a Alton’s easy how-to on royal icing for an afternoon of decorating.
- If baking sounds too exhausting, why not buy a Gingerbread House Kit and jump straight to the fun part?
My family? We make something called Kringla. Every person I’ve ever given these cookies to has asked me for the recipe. I think that’s because they look very unassuming. There’s no frosting. No sprinkles.
It looks too simple to be delicious.
But let me tell you. They are ahhhhh-mazing.
The Heartwarming True Story of the Cookie that Could
Last year I had to call AAA because one of the kids left a light on in the van. Again. (Remember this story?)
Since I was right in the middle of making our yearly triple-batch of Kringla, I offered two of my cookies to him as a parting gift.
About 5 minutes later I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number. Against my better judgement, my overwhelming curiosity took over and I actually answered it.
“Excuse me, but is this Mrs. Taylor?”
“Yes…can I help you?” Somewhat suspiciously, because I’m thinking now that (in the words of Gob Bluth) I had just made a big mistake.
“This is Bill…I just jumped your car…Honestly, that was the most amazing cookie I’ve ever had. If I gave you my email address, could you forward me the recipe?”
Absolutely, I could. And you know what else I can do? I can share that recipe with you. Right now. In this beautiful graphic Lauren created:
Honestly, I wish I could take the credit for this recipe, but I really should direct your applause to my mother.
This was one of the first family Christmas traditions she started for us…and it still lives on. (Now in Bill’s family, and perhaps yours!)
Family Christmas Traditions:
Caring for Others in Need
Another way to help our kids remember that Christmas is more than “getting more stuff,” is to add the gift of compassion under the Christmas tree.
- Sign up for Operation Christmas Child earlier in the year to pack a shoebox full of toys and goodies for needy children around the world.
- Pick a needy family in your church or community, and then go shopping for them as a family. Then, Christmas Eve, be sneaky! Either ask someone else to deliver the gifts anonymously, or leave them on their doorstep, ring the doorbell and HIDE! Slip away like a Christmas ninja.
- Molly’s family will go out for breakfast at a locally owned diner and then leave a bigger-than-normal tip and try to sneak out before it gets noticed.
- Christi and I also get Compassion International’s yearly shopping catalog. Together as a family, we go through it and “shop” for goats, or healthy drinking water, or medicines, or other needed items in 3rd World Countries. Go here to shop their online catalog or get on their mailing list.
Family Christmas Traditions:
The Big Day Arrives!
These are awesome family Christmas traditions to get prepared for the special day… but what things can you do when the day actually arrives?
In our family, we are all about making the day last as long as possible. The girls have made a solemn pact to not go downstairs and see what “Santa” has brought until they are all awake and ready to go downstairs together.
It’s really neat to hear them giggling together and trying to be “quiet” and sneak downstairs early.
- We have a “present opening chair” (throne?) that sits in the center of the room. You can’t open a gift unless you are sitting in the chair.
- In Lauren’s family, they actually sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to each person opening a gift!
- Lauren, Elizabeth, and I all make our kids take turns opening gifts, so that each person can enjoy all the attention as they open each gift. Plus, with all the hubbub that goes into the holiday, it seems a shame to see it become “over” so quickly. Drag that sucker out!
- Make something special for breakfast! Either a pre-made breakfast casserole or Christi’s recommended easy Christmas Tree Cinnamon Rolls.
- Not cooking is a Christmas gift we can give ourselves. For me, that means making my “feast” the day or two before. In Katie’s family, it’s an army of crock-pot soups to choose from (with family board games as dessert).
- Make the day a Silly Pajama Day. No making beds. No getting dressed.
No brushing teeth.
- Elizabeth always makes sure there’s always at least ONE movie under the tree, so the kids can watch while Mom and Dad take a nap in the afternoon!
- In Christy’s family, they have a tradition of the kids waiting at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning, while the parents go down first and call up “Uh oh! Are you SURE you were good this year?” *commence begging insistence of angelic behavior*
- Chelsea serves cupcakes for dinner’s dessert while everyone sings Happy Birthday to Jesus.
Family Christmas Traditions
Building Strong Ties
All these family Christmas traditions have something very important in common. They tie your family together. They provide “inside jokes” and “knowing nods” that bind hearts forever.
When your kids are older and they have the perspective that only maturity can provide, they will look back and realize how grateful they were for this season at home.
So pick a few of these ideas and start building your own family Christmas traditions!
Know someone who might enjoy these suggestions? Do me a favor and share this with other parents on Facebook!
Have You Read These Yet?
- The 12 Days of Ugly Christmas Sweaters
- Heather’s Favorite Holiday Pinterest Fails of All Time
- Santa Agrees: The 15 Most Adorable Christmas Dresses Ever
- A Simple DIY Advent Calendar You Can Make During Naptime
- Dear Homemaker: Use these 70 Life-Hacks to Steal More Time
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Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at MightyMoms.club and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She’s a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, has been a featured parenting expert writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, Cafe Mom, and others. If it’s 2am and you’re desperate to read SOMETHING, check out her deepest darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn’t be allowed to blog.