Holiday Traditions That Add Meaning, Not Clutter
Keep Christmas About Traditions + Experiences, Not Things.
In the Martin home, we are a little tradition obsessed. I know each family has its own list of traditions; some are long and some are simple. Because I get asked all the time about some of the things we do to celebrate, I am sharing a list of things we do in our home. I hope this helps give you inspiration!
There are some years when we simplify and don’t do any big activities that require money and planning, and there are some years when those activities add to the magic of the season and not our stress levels. Use this list however you like. Also, if you haven’t signed up to receive our Holiday Checklist yet, here is a link to a checklist that helps me keep track of all the most important things to manage during the holiday season.
Sentimental Christmas Traditions
Bring in the Christmas elf with an extra tradition.
We, like so many families, have an elf tradition in our home. A number of years ago, I decided to have our elf bring us ideas each day of simple ways we could serve others. I printed and laminated cards that could be re-used, and I am so excited that I can now share it with you. Here is a FREE PRINTABLE of all the simple service ideas you can invite your family to do during the holiday season.
Wrap Christmas books, then unwrap a few each night in December.
I wrap all our Christmas books in November, and we love the experience of rediscovering our favorite Christmas books. It doesn’t require buying anything new and adds to the holiday magic on the daily.
Leave treats for delivery people that come to your house.
My kids love restocking the treat and drink bucket each day during the holiday season. It's a a fun way to show your kids how easy it is to serve. Get the FREE PRINTABLE HERE!
Get matching Christmas PJs.
We get matching PJs each year, and I give them to my family the night we decorate the Christmas tree. I love that we get to wear them all season long.
Throw a December 1st party.
I wrap advent calendars (Trader Joes are usually my favorite, and they now sell one for dogs too). Our elf, Eugene, arrives to usher in the official season as well. The details of what we do each year change, but it usually involves reading Christmas books, drinking hot chocolate, and talking about our plans for the upcoming month. This year, we are using this darling kit from Holiday Hack to add some fun to what our elf does without any extra work on my part.
Decorate gingerbread houses.
We always do a family party where the kids get to decorate, but this year I am hosting a couples party so the adults can have some fun too. I love that Costco now sells pre-assembled kits, but good old graham cracker gingerbread houses can also be a lot of fun.
Create a holiday tradition bucket list.
Each year we write a Christmas bucket list and hang it up for all to see. I love this printable bucket list from Etsy and have used it for the past few years. On it, I include all the things we already have on our calendar, our traditions, treats we only make in December (caramels, eggnog shakes, ginger cookies, cranberry tea, almond cake, sugar cookies, frog eye salad, etc.) and the Christmas movies we want to make sure to watch as a family (Elf, Home Alone, Prep and Landing, A Muppet Christmas Carol, etc.).
Have a family Polar Express.
This holiday tradition is one of my favorites. My husband and I prep by making popcorn and hot chocolate and putting them in to-go bags and cups. I also hide a Polar Express ticket under each of their beds. Once they are in bed, I use a train whistle to announce the Martin Family Polar Express. The kids turn in their tickets and jump in the car where they are given their hot chocolate and popcorn. We then drive around to see Christmas lights.
Send out Christmas cards.
Sending Christmas cards to others has been my favorite holiday tradition for my entire adult life. I know it can be a time-consuming tradition, but keeping an updated list of addresses that can be easily printed on labels and having a stamp with our address has helped streamline the process. I always try to find the best deals on cards. This Christmas tradition is a great way for me to remember friends from the many places we’ve lived.
I also like to keep old family Christmas cards in a book on our coffee table during the holidays and display Christmas cards we receive from friends and family using ribbons and clothespins.
Give for the 12 days of Christmas.
Each year we choose one or two families who are in need or could use a little extra love and take them a small gift or treat every night for the twelve nights before Christmas. My kids love doing this ‘secret service,’ and it helps us focus on others as we near the ‘big day’ where it is easy to become consumed with getting more than giving.
Give out gifts to neighbors.
We love to give something simple to our neighborhood friends each year. It usually takes a couple of nights of driving around but is a fun way to show the people around us that we love and appreciate them.
Host a cookie exchange.
I have hosted my cookie exchange for over 10 years now, and it is still my favorite Christmas tradition. I invite neighborhood friends, and everyone brings a few dozen cookies. We sample small pieces of the cookies and eat appetizers. We vote on the most creative, most beautiful, most delicious, and best all-around. The winners get a little prize. And each person leaves with an assortment of cookies equal in number to those they came with. I provide the to-go boxes, and it is a super fun night. And, if you are obsessed with cookies (like I am) this is a great way to taste a lot of different and delicious treats without the work of preparing them all.
See some Christmas lights.
Whether it is at Christmas in Color or other light displays around town, we set aside one night in December to go see a special light display.
Visit local Christmas displays.
This is a fun holiday tradition to get your family out of the house. Elves at Gardner Village, Candy Windows downtown, and Grand America gingerbread house are a few of our favorites in the Salt Lake area, and they are all free. I know there are others, but these are our favorites.
Make a Christmas craft.
We love crafting and always try to make something each season. Whether it is snow globes, stockings, ornaments, or a simple paint project, we have fun creating together during the holidays.
Write a letter to Santa.
In recent years, my kids leave their letters to Santa with the elf. It’s a tradition that most people share, but one I love and have my kids do early. Also, it commits them to their wish list so there are no last-minute changes.
Go see Santa Claus.
There are many ways to do this, and I’m grateful we have always been able to make this happen without paying for it. Our family has a Santa party each year where Santa comes and brings each child a gift.
Have a Light the World daily devotional.
There are so many great meaningful Christmas traditions out there, but coming together as a family each night for a quick Christmas devotional helps us remember the real meaning of the season.
Light candles at dinner.
Our Christmas centerpiece has candles on it, and we light them each night during dinner, which makes the season feel special.
Try these Christmas Eve ideas.
We have a number of Christmas Eve traditions, including:
Eating a special dinner.
Reading from the Bible and acting out the nativity.
Doing a white elephant gift exchange.
Playing the wrapping game where we unwrap a box of candy cane Joe Joes using oven mitts. One person rolls dice while the other tries to unwrap. Once doubles are rolled, the turn moves to the next people in the circle.
Leaving cookies for Santa and reindeer food for the reindeer.
Tracking Santa on a Santa tracking app. We use ‘Where is Santa?".
Shop for sibling gifts.
We spend one night during the holiday season and take all the kids to Target where they shop for each of their siblings. They spend their own money and have fun making the decisions and hiding the gifts from each other.
Go to a holiday concert or Christmas play.
This Christmas tradition changes for us every year, but seeing the Nutcracker, a Christmas Carol, Peter Brienhold (my favorite local singer), going to the symphony, or supporting a friend in a play, is one of my favorite things to do during the season.
Have a simple Christmas Day dinner.
I like to make sure that Christmas Day food is delicious but easy to prep. After a month of working hard to create memories for my family, I really just want to sit back and enjoy the magic of Christmas. We eat overnight cinnamon rolls and little smokies for breakfast and Raclette for dinner. We drag out gift opening as long as possible by making each person take turns and then spend the rest of the day playing games and enjoying our new gifts.
Have you adopted any of these traditions? I love them for the emphasis that they put on togetherness during the holidays and not on things. Let me know which traditions you end up trying!
Jen is the founder of Reset Your Nest, a Professional Home Organizing business in Utah (Salt Lake City, Park City, Ogden, Logan, Utah County, and St. George), California (Bay Area, Los Gatos, Hillsborough, Atherton, San Jose), Denver, CO, and Phoenix, AZ. She loves creating order and systems out of chaos. Her specialty is finding a way to continue the aesthetic of any home to every cupboard and drawer. She shares her tips and tricks on Instagram @reset_your_nest.