We love Christmas! In this article, I’m going to talk about 15 joyous and meaningful Christmas traditions that you can start with your family this holiday season.
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Christmas & Traditions
Christmas is a holiday steeped in tradition. Rooted in the religious traditions of the Christian church, the popularity of the many holiday practices surrounding Christmas have taken on a life of their own in much of the Western world.
Whether you are a Christian or not, you probably have Christmas traditions that your family practices. Gift giving, decorating evergreen trees, colorful lights, Christmas dinner, snowman sugar cookies, peppermint hot chocolate; these are traditions shared and beloved by many.
Religious practices include reading the Biblical Christmas story, giving to the poor, going to church, singing Christmas carols, lighting Advent candles, a special Christmas Eve service, manger scenes, and the star on top of the tree pointing to the newborn King and Savior.
Christmas Traditions & Meaning
As these Christmas traditions are repeated year after year, they grow in meaning and significance.
For myself, as I have grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of simple and meaningful traditions. Traditions are means by which we pass on our faith and values to our children. Traditions also help keep us rooted and centered in those very same things we value. Lastly, traditions are simply fun and enjoyable, a way to enjoy family, friends, and the many good gifts we have received.
So for something as wonderful as the birth of our Savior, what could be more important than developing meaningful and fun Christmas traditions?
Some of the traditions below are just fun ways to spend more time together as a family. Others are ideas to help Christians to celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus. Most of these are adaptable to wide range of uses with a bit of creativity.
I hope this helps you and your household to start some new joyous Christmas traditions this holiday season!
15 Meaningful Christmas Traditions to Start with Your Family
There are actually more than 15 ideas listed below, but several are variations on a theme. Some are silly activities, some are ideas to get your family invested in giving generously.
All can become a source of holiday cheer and Christmas joy as your family turns them into traditions.
1. Jesse Tree Ornaments
We’ve written about the Jesse Tree tradition here. The idea of the Jesse Tree comes from the Old Testament passage that talks about the Messiah coming forth as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” This refers to the lineage of Jesus; his “family tree.”
An ornament set like this one includes one for each of the 25 days in Advent. (Well, technically 24 plus Christmas. But you get the point.) Each ornament has an image on it which corresponds to a Scripture verse that tells the grand story of redemptive history.
Our family has done this for several years, and we all love it. In place of our regular evening family devotions, we do the Jesse Tree ornaments. Each kid takes turns finding and holding the day’s ornament, we read the passage, then hang it up on the Christmas tree. As Advent progresses and Christmas draws near, we get to hear (and see!) our great Family Story retold each year.
This is a fun one for bibliophiles. Originating in Iceland during World War II, Jólabókaflóð is Icelandic for “Christmas Book Flood.”
It’s a warm and cozy holiday tradition wherein books are gifted on Christmas Eve. Everyone unwraps their books, grabs a cup of cocoa (or jólabland, for the adults) and snuggles down in bed to read and await the dawning of Christmas. This is one of our most favoritest Christmas traditions we’ve found in recent years. Read more about it here.
3. The (Real) 12 Days of Christmas
You know the song. But did you know that the song is based on an actual Christmas tradition? Yep. The 12 Days of Christmas comes from the Christian church’s liturgical calendar.
Here are the Twelve Days of Christmas and their meanings.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
- Day 1 (Dec 25): The first day is, of course, Christmas Day. It’s the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
- Day 2 (Dec 26): St. Stephen’s Day, and also Boxing Day. Stephen was the first Christian martyr whose death is recorded in Acts chapter seven.
- Day 3 (Dec 27): St. John the Apostle. This is the author of the Gospel of John, one of Jesus’s disciples and closest friends (“the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John 21:7).
- Day 4 (Dec 28): The Feast of the Holy Innocents. This is a time to remember and honor the baby boys King Herod killed when he was trying to find the newborn Christ.
- Day 5 (Dec 29): St. Thomas Becket. Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century who was murdered on December 29, 1170 because he disputed the King’s authority over Church.
- Day 6 (Dec 30): St. Egwin of Evesham. He was a Benedictine monk known for piety and founding Evesham Abbey.
- Day 7 (Dec 31): Pope Sylvester I, an early pope from the 4th century. A later legend holds that when he healed the Emperor Constantine of leprosy, the grateful emperor led Sylvester’s horse through the streets, thus helping establish papal supremacy.
- Day 8 (Jan 1): Mary, who gave birth to Jesus.
- Day 9 (Jan 2): St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, two significant early church fathers.
- Day 10 (Jan 3): Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This feast remembers the events recounted in Luke 2:22-40, when Jesus was presented in the temple.
- Day 11 (Jan 4): St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born Catholic saint in the United States, who lived from 1774-1821.
- Day 12 (Jan 5): Epiphany Eve. This is the last day of Christmas, which anticipates Epiphany (when the wise men came and gave gifts to Jesus).
Here are some more resources on the Twelve Days of Christmas. These will give you some background history and inspiration to start your own Christmas tradition.
- The Real 12 Days of Christmas from the History blog on Christianity Today.
- Twelve Ideas for Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas from the Reformed Church of America.
- Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas – One mom tells how her family celebrates the 12 days in their own special way.
4. Family Treat Time
You probably already do something like this, but this type of simple, cheesy tradition brings cheer to your entire family. Do the same or similar thing every year, and your family with love it.
- Make & decorate sugar cookies
- Have a favorite treat + Christmas movie
- Special snacks + Christmas story time
- Create a hot chocolate bar
- Put out treats, turn up the holiday music, and decorate the tree together
5. Traditional and/or Crazy Christmas Dinner
We all know about the traditional Christmas dinner. Ham or turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, eggnog. If you don’t already do this, you should! It’s like Thanksgiving 2.0.
Perhaps a newer and more “fun” idea is the Crazy Christmas Dinner. Take the whole family shopping, and give them a small budget – say, $3-5 for littles or $10 for those in double-digits – and have them pick whatever they want. Then you go home and fix it all up and eat it by candlelight. You’ll never know how much fun your family can have with Cheez Whiz, pickled asparagus, and croissants until you try it!
More fun: 20 Best Elf on the Shelf Alternatives
6. Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes
Christmas traditions should start with giving. One great, fun, simple, and impactful way to do this is through Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
The goal is to use gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. Get your family together and get a few shoeboxes – you can order boxes through their website (many churches do this) or use your own.
Fill it up with some age-appropriate toys and send it off to Operation Christmas Child. They will deliver it to kids who may not otherwise experience the joy of Christmas gift-giving. The cool thing is that they partner with local churches and ministers to not only present the gospel when they hand out the shoe boxes, but also to mentor, help, and disciple kids throughout the rest of the year.
Related: The Interesting Origin of the Christmas Stocking Tradition
7. Boxing Day
Boxind Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas in the United Kingdom and a few countries historically connected to the UK. This is the traditional day on which the church collection boxes containing the alms for the poor were distributed.
To observe Boxing Day as a contemporary Christmas tradition, some families make a practice of saving money throughout the holiday season to give to the poor. On Boxing Day (and after the frenzied excitement of gift wrapping has subsided), your family can make a point of giving the funds to those in need.
This is a great way to “wrap up” the Christmas season in a way that puts others first. I know from my own childhood and also from experience parenting young kids that it can be hard for littles to get the focus off themselves when Christmas gifts are sitting there just begging to be opened.
Some ideas on how to give:
- Make a trip down to the local homeless shelter and personally provide a donation
- Choose a gift from Compassion International, to provide creative solutions in third-world countries with things like emergency food and water, bicycles, dental kits, chickens, goats, HIV/AIDS care, literacy classes for moms, and more.
- Samaritan’s Purse has a similar gift catalog
- For more inspiration, here is a list of 21 Ways To Be a Little More Giving This Holiday Season. Also see next point.
8. Give More Generously
There are lots of fun ways your family can make generous giving one of your Christmas traditions. Here are several ideas.
For over 25 years, our family gets together for a Christmas tea. They gather at my home, for tea and refreshments, and when we are done we fill gift bags for those in a local nursing home who have no family or visitors. The bags contain a lap robe, powder lotion, socks, a small stuffed animal, and cookies. I get the names in early December, then drop the bags off Christmas Eve day. We can’t imagine Christmas without this tradition, and the residents and staff really appreciate the gifts. (Source)
Day of Family Service
Choose a day to serve each other inside your own home. Take out the trash for your husband, encourage your children to pick up their sibling’s toys, and show appreciation for one another. (Source)
One Warm Coat
One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area! (Source)
Toys for Tots
I’m a huge fan of the Marine Corps Reserve’s annual Toys for Tots toy drive. Every year, we take Maddy to the toy store, let her pick out a gift and then have her donate it to Toys for Tots. I always like to explain to her that not every child is as fortunate as she is, so it’s important that we help to give others a nice Christmas. It also helps her to develop a sense of empathy and a heart to serve others. (Source)
9-15. More Popular Christmas Traditions
These last handful are simple, popular, and fun traditions that need little explanation. You may already do some or all of these.
- Pajamas. Kids get a set of PJs on Christmas Eve. Fun even when the kids already know what they’re getting. Cozy and fun.
- Christmas light tour. Popular on Christmas Eve. Or, to avoid the crowds, go on Christmas Eve-Eve.
- Candlelight service. Many churches celebrate the birth of Christ with a special service on Christmas Eve. Make it a tradition!
- Slumber party. Let all the kids sleep together in one room, or in front room. Many families we know still do this when their grown up kids come in to town for the holidays!
- Caroling. A classic way to spread holiday cheer through your neighborhood.
- Christmas movie. Lots of great films come out around the holidays; take the whole family to a fun movie at the theater.
- Go out to eat. Several restaurants stay open on Christmas, and many make it a tradition to go. Be sure to:
- Tip generously. Plan a $50 or more tip for the wait staff if you go to a restaurant on Christmas. Anyone who wants or needs to work on Christmas Day deserves it.
- Surprise someone. Pay for someone else’s meal at the restaurant. What a great way to spread some Christmas cheer! Be sure to tip well to boot.
Read Next: Christmas Planning Checklist