5 awesome family traditions your family can start

What are your favorite childhood holiday memories? For me, they are the family traditions that persisted year after year: driving around to look at Christmas lights, acting out the nativity story with sheets as costumes, and building gingerbread creations. Some of our traditions were poignant, some delicious, and some downright ridiculous. All of these experiences, however, brought me closer to my family, helped define my character and values, and gave me priceless memories.

Traditions don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Here are five simple traditions your family can start this year to have a more fun and meaningful holiday season:

1. A tradition of giving

The holidays, especially for kids, tend to focus around what we get for Christmas. While all the receiving is fun, having a tradition of giving is a good reminder of how much we already have ourselves. One of my favorite traditions as a little girl was picking out an ornament from the Salvation Army’s star tree at Christmastime and getting to buy a gift for a less-fortunate child.

There are many other ways your family can make giving a tradition, too. Consider doing the twelve days of Christmas for a different individual or family each year, make and deliver gifts to your neighbors (especially elderly or single friends who may not have a lot of family around), or go serve a meal at a homeless shelter.

2. A tradition of food

So many of my family’s holiday traditions center around food. I have a rich heritage with many Russian and German dishes that my parents have passed down to their children. Food is a great way to enjoy time together and to pass on a piece of family history. A great Christmas tradition would be to look through your old family recipes (or ask a family member to share one with you), and make something together that is meaningful to you. I loved learning how to make traditional German stollen from my Oma several years ago. Last year, I made it with my sister, and it was a great way to remember our grandmother and keep our family’s heritage alive.

Another way to do a food tradition is to have the same food for a specific meal each year. Our family growing up always had cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast. Mom would make the dough the night before and let them raise in the fridge overnight, then she’d bake them while we opened presents and by the time we were done, breakfast was ready. Paired with some fresh oranges from our backyard trees, it was a great meal. If cinnamon rolls aren’t your thing, here are 15 more ideas for fun and easy Christmas breakfasts.

3. A tradition of stories

This year, I have started a book advent calendar with my boys. Each night, we read a new Christmas story. Some we own, and some we get from the library. Reading a book every night is already a tradition for us, but it’s special to read these Christmas stories and enjoy the holidays together. If you want to do your own book advent (it’s never too late to start), you can get ideas for books here and printable tags here.

If a new book every day seems like too much, try just having a Christmas story night. Set aside part of an evening where everyone gets in their jammies early, snuggle on the couch together and read as many stories as everyone’s attention span allows. Even for families with older kids, this can be fun. I loved listening to my dad read Christmas stories from his big leather chair. Here are twenty famous stories for older readers.

4. A tradition of fun

Not all traditions have to have deep life-lessons attached. Having some simple, silly fun together is a great way to build family relationships and make lasting memories.

Our family has a random tradition of piling up all the wrapping paper after presents are opened and jump in it like it’s a pile of fall leaves. We throw wadded up balls of paper at each other, toss tissue paper in the air like confetti, and dive underneath to be buried in a pile of shiny paper. It’s a goofy tradition that we all love and have now passed on to our own kids.

Here are some other purely fun traditions:

5. A tradition of music

Christmas isn’t Christmas without some great music. I have great memories of gathering with my family around our piano and singing Christmas carols together on Sunday evenings in December. My oldest sister played the piano and the rest of us split into four-part harmony (benefits of a large family). We would work our way through various Christmas song books until our voices got tired or Mom offered dessert. It was a great way to bring the spirit of the season into our home.

Even if you don’t have mad piano skills (I don’t), make it a tradition to play Christmas music. You could even do some old-fashioned caroling to your neighbors or at a care facility.

Make some memories

The holidays get busy, and sometimes it’s hard to make time for our traditions, but remember the advice of Caroline Kennedy: “It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.”

They don’t have to be big or extravagant. Choose a few simple traditions this year that you think your family will enjoy, and see what great memories you can create.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

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