Holiday Traditions That Add Meaning, Not Clutter

Keeping 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 our 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 Holiday Traditions

The 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 and 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. Here is a list of our favorite Christmas books.


Leave out treats for delivery people with this FREE PRINTABLE

My kids love restocking the treat and drink bucket each day and is a fun way to show your kids how easy it is to serve. GET IT HERE!


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.


December 1 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.


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.


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, egg nog 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.).



Martin Family Polar Express

This 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 Christmas Cards

This has been my favorite 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 and it is a way for me to remember friends from the many places we’ve lived.


I 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.


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.


Neighbor Gifts

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.


Cookie Exchange

I have hosted my cookie exchange for over 10 years now and it is my favorite. I invite neighborhood friends. 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, since I am obsessed with cookies, a way to taste a lot of different and delicious treats without the work of preparing them all.


See Christmas Lights

Whether it is at Christmas in Color or other light displays, we set aside one night to go see a special light display.


Local Christmas Displays

Elves at Gardner Village, Candy windows downtown, Grand America gingerbread house. These 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 snowglobes, sewing stockings, ornaments, or a simple paint project, we have fun creating.


Write a Santa Letter

In recent years, my kids leave their letters 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.



See Santa

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.


Light the World, Daily Devotional

There are so many great ideas out there, but coming together as a family each night for a quick Christmas devotional helps us to remember the real meaning of the season.


Candles at Dinner

Our Christmas centerpiece has candles on it and we light them each night during dinner which makes it feel special.


Christmas Eve

We have a number of Christmas eve traditions, some include:

-Eat a special dinner

-Read from the bible and act out the nativity

-White elephant gift exchange

-Play 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.

-Leave cookies for Santa and Reindeer food for the reindeer

-Track Santa on a Santa tracking app. We use ‘Where is Santa?”


Shop for Sibling Gifts

We spend one night 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 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.


Christmas 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 and not on things. Let me know which traditions you try!





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