Are you a newlywed, starting to think about establishing your own family holiday traditions? Do you have little ones to whom you desire to pass along your faith values and traditions that bring you closer together as a family? Are your kids (almost) grown and you need some new ideas that fit this older stage of life? Or maybe you have an empty nest or even grandkids with whom you’d like to begin something new?
Then this list of ideas is for you! I recently surveyed some of my friends, asking them to tell me about the Christmas traditions they observe in their own families. I was truly blown away. A few even included some great photos of their experiences! Some are uncomplicated and straightforward. Others are a little more involved and require some planning. The key is they found something that was meaningful for them and would work for their particular family.
In my last blog, I discussed some important ways holiday traditions can benefit you and your family. Today, I want to offer you a fun list packed full of practical, creative suggestions – gleaned from real-life families like yours – for Christmas traditions that will appeal to your family no matter what age or stage of life you’re in!
“We don't put baby Jesus in the manger scene until Christmas Day. Before we open presents, it's tradition to go and see if He's there! And it's a reminder of what the ultimate present is.”—Ashley Haubenchild
“Instead of Elf on the Shelf, the Wise Men from our nativity set ‘travel’ around the house on their way to the manger.” – Marilyn Cole
We give three gifts to each of our children: 1) a practical gift, 2) a "fun" gift, and 3) a "Jesus Gift” that points them to Jesus and helps them in their walk with the Lord. This has proven to be beneficial in several ways:
- It helps us as parents to stay in control of our spending.
- It forces us to be thoughtful about what we want to give our kids.
- It helps keep the focus of Christmas where it should be – on Jesus and spending time together as a family.
- We don't end up with a pile of wrapping paper and a bunch of gifts that the kids will never look at again.
- There are years we can spend a little more and years that we can’t. But we still give only the three gifts and keep that tradition going. We just tailor the gifts to whatever our budget can handle, and NEVER overspend.
- It helped that we established this tradition early on because we didn't have to "scale back" as more kids arrived. – Tricia McDarius
“For years on Christmas Eve my dad has read the Christmas story to us. It is now the great grandchildren’s turn for this special tradition to continue.” – Allison Pritchard
“We bake a cake for Jesus and sing him Happy Birthday on Christmas.” – Danielle Franck
“My wife made Nativity finger puppets. On Christmas Eve, we tell the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke, and each kid gets a finger puppet to ‘perform’ the story. Then our oldest son breaks out his guitar and every kid gets to pick a Christmas carol to sing, ending with candles for everyone and 'Silent Night.' – Gary Manning
“Our nativity traditionally has figurines (collected over the years) that the children place around it, representing that all are invited to see Jesus and receive Him. One year, they had half the family room with figures pointed to the nativity, a flying superhero hanging from the ceiling, and even their large stuffed animals. They knew from a very young age: ‘Everyone is invited to Jesus Christ.' – Joyce Inouye (See photo below)
“We sing a Christ-centered Christmas carol after we pray for our Christmas dinner. This turned into a tradition of singing a worship song before dinner the other 11 months of the year!” – Darcie Hultberg
“We give everyone a candle, light it, and then my husband and I place a hand on their shoulders and pray a blessing over each person at our dinner table.” – Pam Farrel
“We have a fondue dinner by candlelight every Sunday night during the Christmas season. We also do an advent devotional and just slow down to enjoy some family time.” – Amy Hernandez
“My son and I get a ‘gift for Jesus’: an ornament signifying something significant about the year. We add Jesus to the manger on Christmas morning, sing happy birthday, open the gift, and hang the ornament before we look under the tree. – Veronica Holbrook
"Whatever night we decorated the Christmas tree, my brother and I slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor with just the colored tree lights on.” – Polly Brown
"We gathered the Christmas cards we received in a basket. Each mealtime, we picked a card and pray for that family. Then that card would be hung on the banister as decoration, as well as a reminder of the 'special' bond we have with that family!” – Marianne Barneson
“My kids’ favorite is our Shepherd's Meal on Christmas Eve. We dress up like shepherds (this was the kids add on) and eat our Biblical-themed meal outside. Then my husband reads the shepherds’ story and we imagine what it must have been like to see and hear a choir of angels. Then we finish the time heralding the appropriate carols.” – Melanie Sunukjian (See photo below)
“We make an ornament that contains a little scroll with each family member's favorite memory of that Christmas. Such sweetness and reminders of God's goodness contained in these little spheres! We make them on the day we put the decorations away. I keep a box of empty clear balls and the same parchment in the Christmas bin. We write our lists, roll up the paper and put it away until next year. One year my husband was in the hospital and my kids spent the night on Christmas Eve with friends. That year's ornament is so filled with God's tender care for our entire family. It's a holy experience just holding it in my hands! – Leanne Hansard (See photo below)
“When my boys we little, we baked cookies and brownies and walked them to the fire station down the street.” – Felicia Pierce-Bundick
“Our extended family used to draw names for gift giving. We did things like: 1) We had to make the gift, 2) We had to fill a stocking with their favorite things, 3) Theme gifts: “Picture This…” or “Time to ....,” 4)We exchanged ornaments, and 5) We adopted a family in need and took gifts to them.” – Nancy Niles
“It is a creole tradition to have Gumbo and egg nog on Christmas Eve. We also play board games and have a gift exchange. Just being together and focusing on the true meaning of the season is such a blessing.” – LaShonne Mitchell
“We gave each of our kids $10 and took them to the Dollar Store where they purchased gifts for each other! They loved the thought of giving to each other!” – Celia Griffiths
“Our adult kids pick a secret needy family and buy specific gifts for each of the kids and parents. Then they include a full feast and deliver it anonymously two days before Christmas, along with the Christmas story in some form.” – Lynda Gunderson
“I Skype with my family and open presents while talking with them since I won't be home.” – Pat Stephenson
“Gregg and I decided long ago that even when we had children, we wanted a tradition for just the two of us. It's a simple one, but ‘ours.’ After we are home from all the Christmas Eve celebrations and the kids are in bed, we offer a toast in our best crystal champagne flutes, exchange heartfelt Christmas cards, and read the Christmas Story out of the same Bible every year. We note which gospel we read each year in the cover, and keep the cards along with the Bible. We're getting older, and it got so we couldn't zip the cover shut. So now the Bible cover is full of cards, and the Bible sits on top of it..ha!” – Laurel Ten Elshof
“Our tradition now without my sweet mom here on earth to celebrate special moments and memories is to always set a place for her at the table. Sometimes we even have a mini Rosemary tree since it means 'remembrance.'” – Lisa Gillis
I am awed and inspired by the intentionality, purposefulness and profound meaning of some of these ideas. I also love that many of them are just plain fun! Personally, I find many of them very “doable” for my level of creativity and ability; perhaps you’ll identify one or two that appeal to you. Either way, I hope you’ll feel free to take these ideas and tweak them in a way that fits your unique family personality, and start building some memories!
Just remember, the goal is not for them to be ideal or to create “the Pinterest-perfect memory,” the goal is to create an atmosphere within your home that draws your family to the true meaning of Christmas and closer in heart to one another.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as a consultant to the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class on Christian perspectives on marriage and relationships. While she speaks regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling.