Chances are your most cherished holiday memories are all based on Christmas traditions: baking gingerbread cookies with your grandma, going ice skating with your siblings, or cuddling up with your parents while they read your favorite Christmas book at bedtime. If you have a new or growing family, or you’ve ever wondered how others celebrate during the holidays, just know there are countless Christmas traditions you can make your own.
If you didn’t grow up doing much for Christmas, it could be time to consider the classics: ice skating, walking through a neighborhood with light displays, or just marathoning a few must-see movies. Or, if you want to reimagine your usual Christmas routine, you could find inspiration from Christmas traditions around the world (like eating fast food for Christmas Eve dinner — so easy).
Christmas traditions for new families
When you have a baby, it’s time to start some new Christmas traditions you know will bring a little magic into their lives for years to come. Sharing your favorite things, like your most beloved holiday and all the activities in includes, is one of the biggest joys of parenting. That could mean passing down family Christmas traditions you’ve done your whole life, or finding something new to honor your little one specifically.
- Give your child a new ornament each year. The first year’s can be a baby’s first Christmas ornament, and each year following, could be something to symbolize a special interest or memory. When they move out, they’ll have their own sentimental collection to decorate their own tree.
- Take a family holiday photo, and recreate it annually. Like those viral photos where grownup siblings recreate childhood pictures, you can take your photo in the same place using the same props every Christmas, and watch how your family changed year to year.
- Choose a Christmas Eve bedtime story you can revisit every December. The Night Before Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, or The Polar Express. There are so many children’s Christmas books to pick from, and breaking them out to enjoy every Dec. 24 will make for a cherished Christmas tradition.
- Wear matching Christmas pajamas. Bonus points if you all have footies.
- Visit a Christmas tree farm. It’s a fun tradition to start shopping for your tree and cutting it down together, and it’s a great way to get out of the house and take your baby on a stroller ride.
- Watch your favorite Christmas movie. There are so many Christmas movies streaming on any given platform, and you can catch classics like the Grinch on TV all month long.
- Go see Santa. Maybe it will end in tears, maybe it won’t. You will get great pictures either way.
- Make a Christmas Eve box. It should include new, festive PJs, a book to read before bed, and cookie decorating supplies to bake for Santa. This year’s may be a simple version, but if it sparks joy, why not start?
Classic Christmas traditions
You don’t have to think of brand new Christmas traditions or reinvent the classics to make them feel special. There’s a reason generations of kids have sweated over the wording of their letters to Santa. These traditions have added magic to many a child’s Christmastime, and could easily make the cut into your family’s Christmas traditions too.
- Go ice skating. Trying to learn together (and falling and laughing) will make wonderful memories, and after a year or two, you’ll be zipping around the rink.
- Try an advent calendar. You can buy one ready to go, or make your own so you can choose the advent calendar activities your kid will like best.
- Start a Christmas collection. Whether it’s nutcrackers, gag ornaments, or Christmas village sets, you’ll enjoy finding them together and adding new ones each year.
- Write a letter to Santa. Use festive stationary and lets your kids decorate the letter and envelope, then drop them off together.
- Walk or drive around to see the lights. Bring special snacks in the car and vote on your favorite displays.
- Open a single present on Christmas Eve. Nothing like a little pre-Christmas excitement, right?
- Build a gingerbread house. After a few years, you’ll be able to look back at photos of your past houses and see some major improvement in your skills.
- Donate food, time, or toys. The holiday season is the perfect time to teach your kids about giving, and to walk the walk. You could work a shift at the nearest soup kitchen, collect canned goods for your local food bank, or give toys they no longer use to children in need.
- Make homemade hot chocolate. A Swiss Miss packet has a certain nostalgia, but getting really into melting the chocolate and topping it with crushed peppermints or caramel drizzle feels extra special.
- Bake cookies for Santa. This Christmas tradition is so classic it almost feels built in to the holiday, but deciding when on Christmas Eve you bake them, and what kind of cookies to make for Santa, are unique to each family.
Christmas traditions from around the world that you can adopt
Every country has its own version of Santa, take on the traditional Christmas Eve menu, and must-see sights around the holidays. Want to pull inspiration from Christmas traditions around the world? These options stand out:
- Celebrate Nochebuena. For many Filipino, Hispanic, and Latinx families, Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is a bigger deal than Christmas itself. There’s a huge feast, lots of coquito, and dancing and games through the night.
- Go to the beach. In Australia, stopping by the beach for a swim is a Christmas tradition, with some even dressing up as Santa in board shorts. This Christmas tradition sounds like a good excuse to spend Christmas on an island paradise next year.
- Leave a small gift from Sinterklaas. This Dutch Christmas tradition includes a big feast and exchanging of gifts on Dec. 5 (though in other parts of Europe, it happens on Dec. 6). For your family, maybe Santa drops off something small on the 5th to get your kids excited for what’s to come.
- Prepare the Feast of the Seven Fishes. An Italian-American tradition, this meal includes seven types of seafood, and is served for dinner on Christmas Eve.
- Visit a Christmas market. What began in the middle ages in Germany as a winter meat market of sorts has evolved into worldwide markets selling seasonal treats, crafts, and decorations. There’s probably one in a city near you.
- Give each family member a book on Christmas Eve. In Iceland, every person in the house gets a new book of their choosing for Christmas Eve and spends the night reading.
- Eat KFC. That’s right — in Japan, millions of people flock to Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas Eve dinner. If you’re not ready to hit the drive-thru, maybe you could try serving homemade fried chicken instead of ham or turkey.
Which Christmas traditions will you start with your family? Whether it’s ice skating, movie marathons, or a trip to the beach, your family will look forward to your tradition each year.