It’s December! I don’t know about you, but I can hardly believe it! I absolutely love the holidays. They are so full of excitement and wonder for my kids, and tradition and meaning for me and my husband. I’m excited to share some of our favorite Christmas traditions to kick off this beautiful time of year.
Some of these ideas are just for fun – things we all enjoy and look forward to throughout the year, and others are ideas that have added a lot of meaning to our celebration of Jesus’s birth. I’d love to hear what your traditions are too, so please drop them in the comments below!
Meaningful Christmas traditions
The Christmas Book.
Growing up, my family always read from our Christmas Book every night from December 1st – 24th. Basically, the Christmas Book was a binder full of songs, scriptures and short Christmas stories for each day of the month. My mom printed them out on red, green, and white paper and slid them all into plastic page protectors. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of sitting around the Christmas tree, reading the stories aloud.
When my husband and I were expecting our first baby, my mom made us our own Christmas Book. I was so touched. We have used it now for fourteen years. While I’ve updated some of the stories and rearranged the order, it is such a dear tradition to gather our five kids each night in December. Sure, it means the kids get to bed later than normal, but passing this favorite Christmas tradition down to my own children is worth every extra minute.
The Jesse Tree.
Aside from our two big Christmas trees, we set up a table top tree in our school room. This little tree is decorated with only 24 ornaments – one for each day of December up to Christmas. Each ornament is a symbol from the Bible that foretells or details the life of Jesus.
It is all based on this lovely book, The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith. It contains a short daily devotional that centers around the ornament for that day. As an added bonus, there are separate devotions for adults and children. My kids and I have learned so much about the Old and New Testament symbols for Jesus. We love reviewing them every year.
I don’t think I’d have come up with this tradition on my own, but four years ago I was invited to join a group of women in a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. Twenty-four women participated. Each committed to making 24 copies of the ornament for the day we picked. (We actually had more women join the group, so some of us partnered up. We ended up making 30 ornaments so everyone could have a complete set for all 24 days.) At the end of November, we had an ornament exchange party. At the party, we presented the ornaments we’d crafted, traded them with each other, and returned home with a full set of 24 different ornaments for our Jesse Trees.
This is one of our favorite Christmas traditions because it gives us a wonderful image of Jesus everyday. I also love reminiscing about each of the women who participated in the ornament exchange. Placing their ornaments on my tree reminds me of the power of friendship and the influence of faith-filled mothers.
The Service Jingle Bell.
We keep a large jingle bell on a short red ribbon and call it our service bell. When someone in the family finds the service bell on his or her pillow, that means that someone in the family has done a small act of anonymous service for him. Just like a chain letter, the person who receives the bell is expected to perform a small service for another person in the family.
I love receiving the service bell on my pillow! Often the person who put it there will gladly share about the service they did. Helping our kids to focusing on serving each other in our family has created some very sweet moments at Christmastime! The service jingle bell is the simplest of our favorite Christmas traditions, but it makes a big impact.
Before we open gifts on Christmas morning, we spend some time reviewing the first Christmas story of baby Jesus with our kids. If we have a three or four year old child, we often record him or her retelling the story with the help of our Little People manger scene.
After the children’s retelling of Jesus’s birth we read the account found in Luke 2 in the New Testament. Incorporating this special tradition has helped our Christmas morning to feel a little more focused on the true meaning of Christmas.
Homemade Christmas ornaments.
Every year, we choose an ornament to make for grandparents, teachers and friends. I keep a Pinterest board full of ornament ideas, which you can check out here. I really try to let my kids do most of the work, so it helps to choose something simple. Some of my favorite ornament gifts have been little jingle bell wreaths, beaded candy canes, and painted craft stick Christmas trees.
I usually keep one or two of these special ornaments every year for our own family Christmas tree. It has been a favorite Christmas tradition to get these out and reflect on how much our children have grown through the course of the year.
Whether through our church or on our own, we purchase gifts for a less-fortunate family each year. In recent years, we’ve invited our kids to help us select and wrap the gifts for the children. My oldest boys are 14 and 11, so they really enjoy carrying the box of gifts to the door of the family’s home, ringing the doorbell, and running like mad for our car waiting down the street so we can make our getaway.
Now that my kids are old enough to earn an allowance, they start saving their money around Halloween so they can purchase Christmas gifts for each other. Often they will pool their money to purchase a small gift for each of their siblings. I love to see them working together to select the perfect presents for each other.
They help wrap the gifts they’ve purchased and excitedly place them under the Christmas tree! When Christmas morning arrives, they are certainly giddy to open their own gifts, but they love seeing their brothers and sisters open the presents they’ve bought for each other. This favorite Christmas tradition has helped them to learn the joy of giving, rather than only focus on receiving.
Fun Christmas traditions
The local college in our town has a lovely Christmas lights display, and there are several neighborhoods that are known for their beautiful Christmas lights. We love to climb into the van in our pajamas, bring along some hot chocolate, listen to Christmas music and drive around town looking at the lights.
Elf on the Shelf.
Does your family have an elf? Zacky the Elf has been coming to our home for 8 years now. While some parents really get into creating elf antics, we are pretty simple. My husband and I just put a reminder alarm on our phones to remind us to move our elf from place to place every night. The kids absolutely love finding him in his new location every day! And just like the book suggests, I have found most of them whispering their Christmas wishes to him at least a few times during the Christmas season.
Christmas Eve buffet.
One of my very favorite Christmas traditions is our Christmas Eve buffet. Rather than our typical sit-down dinner, we have a buffet with healthy finger foods and set out all of our Christmas goodies. Favorites for our buffet include homemade pizza bread, crab dip and veggies, and a charcuterie board, and lots and lots of Christmas cookies. After the kids pile their plates high, we sit in the living room and watch The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. This is actually a fairly accurate retelling of the classic from Charles Dickens. Watching this together brings a sense of togetherness and also helps to bring those Christmas Eve crazies down a notch!
In all honesty, I’ve never baked my own gingerbread. But I am a huge fan of little gingerbread house kits like these! This one comes with 4 little houses to build and decorate, so it is very easy to divide up the houses amongst my kids. I highly recommend assembling the house the day before you plan to decorate, so the frosting will have time to set and the houses will be as strong as possible for the kids to handle. While the kits often come with candy to use for decorating, we also supplement with candy we set aside after Halloween, as I shared in this post here.
Local holiday events.
Regardless of the size of your community, there may be some wonderful Christmas events that could become treasured traditions for your family. Our small town hosts a Santa House in one of the historic homes downtown. My younger kids love to go here every year to watch a little Christmas play, meet Mrs. Claus in her kitchen, and have story time with Santa. In the past, we’ve participated in our City Lights parade in November, and gone to see the local ballet theatre’s performance of The Nutcracker.
This year we ventured a bit farther abroad to enjoy some larger Christmas events in Oklahoma City. We loved ice skating at the Devon Ice Rink, snow tubing at Winter Fest, and taking in the light and music show Illuminations at Myriad Botanical Gardens. We took full advantage of the free weekend trolley in Bricktown and enjoyed the festive holiday spirit at the tree lighting ceremony. The Santa at Bass Pro Shop’s Winter Wonderland was a delight, as well as the Christmas workshop for kids. With a one-night hotel stay, we felt this was a wonderful way to ring in the Christmas season and create some new favorite Christmas traditions.
Christmas bulletin board.
For homeschool in December, I put together a very simple bulletin board with a large Christmas tree cutout and lots of paper ornaments. Each of the ornaments has a small activity to do that day, such as singing a particular carol or Christmas song or reading a fun Christmas book. Each school day, my kids pull off a few ornaments and we do the activities suggested. This year some of our games include playing Christmas Tree I Spy; Stocking, Stocking, Ornament (a Christmas version of Duck, Duck, Goose); and Ornament Hot and Cold. I switch out a few of the activities from year to year. This year, my kids had a lot of great ideas to contribute. We are all looking forward to getting started!
What are some our your favorite Christmas traditions? Do you decorate sugar cookies with your kids every year? Do you give your kids matching Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve or go caroling as a family? I’d love to hear about your traditions in the comments below!