What are your holiday traditions? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & EverydaysIn the comments of my post asking about peoples' Thanksgiving traditions, Rose suggested I ask the same question about the holidays, but with time enough to put some ideas into practice this year. Great idea…I'm glad other folks enjoy hearing about others' holiday rituals as much as I do.

It so happens that my son and I were just discussing holiday traditions. We celebrate Hanukkah, and we lit the first candle last night. He reminded me that last year, we got sidetracked and forgot to light a few candles during the eight nights of Hanukkah. It still bothered him. Yes, he has a memory like a steel trap. But it reminded me just how important this tradition is to him.

It's reasonable to assume that our plugged-in kids no longer appreciate simple traditions and family rituals. Why sing carols when they're on continuous stream via Pandora or iTunes? Who wants to play dreidel or string popcorn when there's an XBox to be played?

Surprise: our kids! They care! The little things we do each year mean so much to kids…more than we realize.

The presents? Most of them are forgotten in a few months. The decorations, the special foods and treats, the music, the spiritual rituals, the little holiday things unique to your family…those traditions are what memories are made of.

A few of our holiday traditions:

  • Light the candles during each night of Hanukkah
  • Decorate (I've amassed quite a collection of snowflake ornaments)
  • Walk around our neighborhood looking at lights and peoples' Christmas trees
  • Eat latkes (potato pancakes) with applesauce and sour cream
  • Gelt (chocolate coins) for the kids on the first night of Hanukkah

One tradition that's all my own: I hit the streets on the morning of December 26 searching for half-price snowflake ornaments to add to my collection. What can I say? I may not celebrate Christmas, but I'm a sucker for those ornaments.

What are your family's holiday and New Year traditions?

More: Hacks for Christmas and Hanukkah


  1. Robyn says

    Love the ornament idea. We buy a silver bell for our tree every year. We imagine when we’re older, we’ll have a tree full of silver bells.

  2. Holly says

    1. Write/send Christmas cards.
    2. Decorate inside and put up lights outside.
    3. Usually I play Christmas carols all month. (I LOVE carols – have an unbelievably huge collection.)
    4. Decorate a gingerbread house with my son.
    5. Bake breads and/or cookies for friends/neighbors.
    6. We go walk through two local areas known for Christmas lights – public park and a particular neighborhood.
    7. Travel, with out-of-town family celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. After my kid is loaded in the car, I sneak back into the house and quickly fill his stocking at our house, and put one wrapped present in the fireplace, which we’ll discover when we get home. He also has a stocking at Grandpa’s. :)

    We don’t have any NY traditions. :)

  3. says

    We do a fun advent activity with hiding an elf doll, the last two years documented here:

    We get the kids an ornament for the tree each year.
    We deliver gifts to the neighbors.
    We use a playmobil or lego advent calendar.
    We participate in our swedish heritage society’s Lucia program.
    We watch my daughter’s Christmas dance recital.
    We memorize Luke 2:10-11 every December.
    We decorate a gingerbread house.
    We watch our fave Christmas movies.
    We write letters to Santa (sometimes Santa writes back).
    Last year we started a new tradition of watching a dvd of ‘The Snowman’ on Christmas eve. Mellows out the hyper.

  4. Megan Sneary says

    * We decorate the house, inside and out.
    * We do at least one Lego Advent calendar.
    * We pick three charities to donate to, longtime winners are the local animal shelter, the Senior Angel tree from the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots.
    * We buy ornaments for each kid every year that relate to something important to them that year. Also- when pets join our family or leave (die) they get a commemorative ornament.
    * I started a new tradition as a way to honor my family’s German tradition of a Christmas Eve celebration. We have a “Favorites” dinner where everyone in the immediate family (and very close friends) is invited and I make whatever their favorite dish is that year. It’s a mishmash of a meal but we’ve (surprisingly) never had an all dessert meal! It’s a great way to still celebrate with something fun and yet not ruin Christmas morning or day traditions!

  5. Rose says

    Thanks for humoring my request! I am dutifully taking notes for things my family might enjoy to do on an annual basis. I definitely want to do something that involves making an ornament with my daughter every year. We’ve already made a gingerbread house. She’s only two, so a lot of this is still about MY memories, but soon they will become hers too.

  6. AmyS says

    Every year, I create a Kids 20__ photo book using an online service with photos from throughout the year and order copies to give grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc (and I do a collage card to send to friends).

    We aren’t religious so we talk about the season in terms of it being the darkest, coldest part of the year and the traditions of candles, light, food. We have have lights on the house and on a tree inside.

    We tell the story of Hanukkah and eat latkes and play dreidel with chocolate gelt.

    On Solstice, we acknowledge the shortest day and the returning of the sun (yay!) by not turning on any lights all day (except in the bathroom…) — it really shows why people might have wanted to have some festivals at this time of year! We give the kids gifts that day and make sun shaped sugar cookies (and other shapes, too) as a family and take them to neighbors. Sometimes we manage to have a mini bonfire in the firepit but rain can spoil that.

    Then we do christmas eve, with the annual reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and christmas with our families and Santa brings the kids a gift and fills stockings. It’s nice to have the presents spread over a few days!

    We also listen to christmas music from Thanksgiving to christmas.

  7. says

    I love hearing about these ideas! I grew up in a decidedly non-Jewish neighborhood, so my family’s Hanukkah traditions were modest compared to the community-wide celebration of Christmas. Hence my love of Christmas trees, ornaments, and even holiday music.

    I love that there is room during the holidays for everyone to participate no matter what level or stripe of religious observance, nationality, or income level. Much of what we’re talking about here costs very little (or nothing).

  8. says

    That sounds beautiful, Robyn. We don’t have a tree, but we do have picture molding hanging right beneath the ceiling of our living- and dining rooms. So far one of my LR walls has snowflakes hanging along its length. My goal is to fill both rooms. Should take me at least 15 years.

  9. says

    Whenever we travel, we get a Christmas ornament for our tree. Last night when we got them all out to decorate, we had a great time remembering stories from our various trips, spanning our entire marriage. It’s one of my favorite rituals.

  10. says

    We put a medium amount lights on our house and nearly every evening we take a detour in the car to look at more extravagant lighted houses.

    We light the Hanukkah candles and my stepmom sends an amazing box of Hanukkah gifts/activities. I will have to blog about it this week.

    On Christmas eve, we open new jammies. On Christmas morning, our stockings are each on a chair or corner of the couch, overflowing with unwrapped things. Gifts under the tree are wrapped. With the latest trend in gifting non-tangibles, the envelopes are stuck in the tree. (Non tangibles are weekends away, tickets to a play, swimming lessons, etc.)

  11. says

    We put out our shoes on the evening of the 5th of December for Sinterklaas to put gold coins in if we’ve been good – or fill with coal if we’ve been naughty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas

    Decorating the tree on December the 1st is another tradition.

    My husbands family have always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, the last 3 years they had to move to Boxing Day due to scheduling conflicts. But this year much to the relief of all the adults it is going back to Christmas Eve. My 7yo is devastated about this as her memories of Christmas are celebrating it on Boxing Day.

  12. says

    Hi Asha! Long time no see or hear or nothing! How are you doing? From the looks of things – just grrrrrr-88888! Way to go! Hope you still remember me! It would be good to hear from you!

    Tom McGuire (still at Extension after all these years!)

  13. Sonia Acharya says

    We always light candles, make latkes at least once, have gelt, always do presents every night, have some Hanukah lights (very tasteful little string of menorahs), play dreidl, make paper menorahs to hang around the room with little aluminum foil flames, and have these goofy little Hanukah menorahs with velcro candles that I don’t like but the kids love just because it is one of the things we do. And we try to have or go to one Hanukah party every year and hang with as many Jewish kids our age as we can because we don’t know that many and it’s nice to share the celebration and feel like we’re not the only kids on the block celebrating.

  14. says

    Every year on Christmas Eve, the whole family has dinner at my parents’ house. Ever since I was a kid, we’ve had chocolate pudding (instant!) for dessert after Christmas Eve dinner. And hidden in one of the little dishes of pudding, there is a nut. Whoever finds a nut in his/her chocolate pudding gets to open a present on Christmas Eve! (Now, wouldn’t you know it, after all these years, none of the grown-ups have ever once gotten a nut?!)

  15. says

    Years ago we’d procrastinated about decorating the tree before our holiday party for so long that only the tree’s lights were up before guests started arriving. We left the ornaments in the cedar chest they’re stored in and asked each guest to grab a few and help us decorate – as if we meant to do it that way! It was such a huge hit that it’s become the norm now. We dont’ have a party every year but still only decorate halfway so the kids and guests can drag out the decorating over many days.

    This morning, on the radio, I learned that it goes along with something about Feng Shui, if you’re into that. Supposedly it leaves your guest’s “positive energy” in your house to bring you good luck and more positive things to come. Not sure I buy that but it’s been a lot of fun for us.

    Also, long before the kids, and now with them, we watch Christmas specials together. Nobody is allowed to watch them on their own. It’s the rules. You have to drink hot chocolate while they’re on too. Not sure how that will fly as the kids get older but it’ll at least be good memories that perhaps they’ll share with their own kids in the future.

    We bake cookies and set them out for Santa and also leave carrots for the reindeer who always somehow make it down the chimney with Santa. They always seem to leave a mess, carrot bits on the floor, half eaten cookies on the hearth. Such messy eaters! Older ones freak out the little ones by eating the half-eaten mess with “Santa germs” and “reindeer slobber” on them.

    We always have the pillsbury cinnamon bun things with icing on Christmas morning. They’re not even that good, but they’re forbidden all year by this unwritten rule they’re for after presents are opened and the smell is intoxicating. This goes back to my childhood and have continued it. My daughter, 3, was shocked over the summer to see them in the grocery store at the wrong time of year.

  16. Lisa R says

    We make a gingerbread house. I stubbornly refuse to buy a kit, and am not really even that good at making roll-out type cookies, so it ends up being a crude creation stuck together with way too much royal icing. But decorating it is the highlight of the Christmas season for us.

  17. says

    We don’t have kids now, but it started with my stepson who is now an adult but I hope to continue it with our kids. Since the husband had him every other year either Christmas eve day to Christmas morning or Christmas morning on, and through his teen years was pretty much able to choose for himself, we have for more than 10years now gone to my BIL for Christmas eve dinner and , on the way home we go look at Christmas lights all over the place and then when we get hone from that we open all the presents. When we have kids I imagine loading the kids in the car while the husband delivers Santee gifts or paying a neighbor to do it for us while we are out. I really love opening presents the night before because then we get to sleep in on Christmas day and it is so relaxed and we just enjoy the day for what it is.

  18. cindy says

    I let my daughters pick out their own new ornament at the store every year. This is a pretty new tradition – we just started it last year (my daughters are 5 now). Another new tradition is taking them to see The Nutcracker ballet. Last year was their first time, and we’re going to see it again on Saturday! I LOVE The Nutcracker, and I only got to see it a handful of times as a kid. They are super excited about getting dressed up and going to the ballet; they’ve been counting down the days all week.

    We go to a candlelight service at our church at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. We sing a lot of carols and light candles at the end – it’s beautiful. Afterward, we go visit some neighborhoods that are all decked out with lights. We’re usually traveling on Christmas Day, so Christmas Eve is our own little family time.

  19. Courtney says

    Decorate tree
    Watch Elf
    Listen to Christmas music
    Watch Christmas Vacation and (original) Grinch on Christmas Eve
    tamales and mexican food on Christmas Eve (may change now that he midwest in laws are in town)
    cookie and treat baking with my friends
    first year we have an “event” advent calendar
    make some sort of treats with the kid
    family photo shoot for mailed cards
    visit santa and get photo
    starting this year: write letter to santa
    photo calendar – this year did art calendar
    zoo lights
    starting this year: waffles on christmas morning (or if with my sister in law the same bad Pillsbury cinnamon rolls mentioned above)
    new years eve: champagne and watch when Harry Met Sally
    this year: new year’s day run
    new years day: black eyed peas and cornbread for good luck

  20. genie says

    We live in Texas and this year, it’s very dry and fairly warm… So, we’re having a Solstice campfire in our soon to be made campfire ring near our house. We live out in the woods and have a couple of acres, so this will work for us. Christmas day is spent with hubbies family, so we’ve claimed Solstice as our own. I want to figure out other traditions to go along with it, our daughter is only 2, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot out there for this sort of day. We’re trying to figure out when Santa will come… will her stocking appear (by elves perhaps?) out near the campfire the night of Solstice or the morning of or…? We want to open gifts at the fire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows and … Christmas music playing in the background, too. We have a Christmas tree up and she currently loves snowmen…

    I’d love some more ideas on this!

  21. says

    Love the Solstice Tradition of not turning on the lights all day – that rocks! We’re traveling on the 21st this year, but will have to start that one next year.

    We do an advent calendar every year – a wood one with little doors that I bought years ago from Hold Everything. The kids get trinkets or treats in it every morning of December – it really helps with getting out of bed when it’s so dark! We also do a kindness chain – one of those paper chains, with everyone’s name on it. Each morning someone chooses a link from the chain and then does a special act of kindness for the person whose name is on their link.

  22. marci says

    as a child, we visited the neighborhood ‘widder women’ for a few hours on christmas eve. seeing miss ruth and miss myra and miss dot (yes, i’m southern) was a nice thing to do & killed quite a bit of that horrible anticipation time.

  23. says

    Hi Genie!
    We are in SoCal and have been doing annual solstice bonfires for years now. It has become a really nice gathering for family and friends. One tradition that we like is making a Yule Log. We decorate an actual log with melted candles and chunks of nature (pine cones, leaves, etc) and then we burn it in the fire on the solstice. We also try to save a little scrap from each year’s log to stick onto next year’s log. We don’t do presents there, it’s too cold and smoky outside, but cooking food on the fire is nice. Hope you have a wonderful solstice celebration!

  24. says

    I remember reading a story once about a woman’s tree tradition. Prior to having children she had this image in her mind of going out to cut down their own tree every year, and this whole elaborate set-up.

    After her baby was born, for one reason or another they didn’t do this for three years running. They were sick, or busy, or there were other disasters putting off tree-buying. So for three years running her husband ended up sneaking out on Christmas morning with the baby (and then the toddler) to get the tree.

    It was the third year when she finally realized – hey! She had a tree tradition! The early morning, let’s sneak out and surprise Mommy with a tree tradition! It wasn’t the one she had planned for, but it worked for them.