Making Christmas Traditions You Like

Photo by Aunt Owwee

In my quest to simplify our Christmas, I’m paying close attention to our traditions. I know traditions, no matter how small, go a long way to building family closeness and a sense of belonging. Plus, they’re fun!

I don’t want to dwell on the activities that aren’t important to us. Too many activitites can lead to feeling overwhelmed, but I’m not looking to ditch holiday celebrations completely. I love Christmas, and I want to enjoy the festive spirit.

I just want to make sure our family’s traditions are truly ours, and not what’s recommended by a magazine’s “must-have” list. I’m trying to let the joy of Christmas sink in, not put on an exhausting one-woman show.

I asked Doug to think of what he most liked to do at Christmas time, and I did the same. As it happened, our favorite things don’t require much planning, effort, or cleaning up.

Doug’s favorite Christmas traditions:

  1. Having a fire in the fireplace.
  2. Hanging up the ornaments.
  3. Giving presents to me and Lane.

My favorites:

  1. Singing “Happy Holiday” together when we’re driving around in the car. (It’s the song by Andy Williams, but three years into this tradition we still don’t know any of the words, so we just sing the two words “Happy Holiday” over and over. I love doing this.)
  2. Going to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve.
  3. Having stockings on Christmas morning.

We both like going out for coffee on a cold day when everyone is in a cheerful holiday mood and there are Christmas lights to see.

What didn’t make the list:

  1. Sending Christmas cards.
  2. Baking cookies (love eating them, don’t love making them).
  3. Long shopping lists.

After thinking about what we most wanted to do and identifying what we didn’t care about so much, we have an idea about how we will spend the next few weeks. It frees me up from other things that would be nice to do, but not as meaningful to us, so that this will be a more restful, satisfying Christmas season.

I’ll also being taking advantage of simple ways to get into the holiday spirit, such as lighting candles and putting on some music. It doesn’t get easier than that.

Tell us, what is your favorite Christmas tradition? When did it begin?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I think I need to develop some Christmas traditions – maybe I have some but didn’t realize it. I’ll have to think about it.

    I love how you sing the same 2 words over and over.. sweet!

    Dana @ Letters to Elijah´s last blog post..Tighter Financial belt with a FIT.

  2. I love your traditions – i can identify with really just loving the simple things like singing together and hanging decorations.
    My favourite tradition on Christmas Day is our walk – we live near Dartmoor in England i love going out for a walk on the 25th and seeing everyone else doing the same, everyone celebrating the day in a similar way. And i love the cold!
    My favourite tradition-type-thing on Boxing Day is basically just that it’s deemed ‘okay’ to lie around all day and do nothing. We normally spend almost the whole day in the living room, and last christmas i dozed the whole day away on and off, curled up on the floor about two feet away from the blazing stove ,with some wrapping paper nearby for when i felt like making thankyou cards. I’d wake every now and then and eat something delicious left over from christmas day.
    I have a series of photographs my dad took during the day, of me in that exact same position for about 10 hours while my family moved around and the daylight faded and the tree lights got brighter, lol. It was heaven.

  3. I love your post today. I get such grief from my mother because several years ago we quit doing the Christmas baking. Sure, like you said, we love eating the stuff, but it isn’t good for us, we eat too much and it’s a hassle to feel the obligation of the “we must make these treats.” It is so much nicer – and healthier to not do all that candy and cookie making. So, I think one of our favorite traditions would be the fact that we do less and eat less!

    chris´s last blog post..Any Of These Grab Ya?

  4. I do enjoy making candy and cookies for the holidays – especially a traditional Italian cookie we always make so I make time for that before Christmas gets here.

    Christmas Eve we have lentil soup, salad and dinner rolls for dinner, then we open presents and then the adults eat pie and drink coffee while the kids use up the last of their energy playing with their new presents – this means that Christmas morning, we do stockings and then have a relaxing day getting dinner prepared as a family and mid-afternoon we normally have a huge feast with a bunch of people – opening our home to the elderly, singles who can’t make it home to their families, couples with no where else to go and others who would otherwise have a solitary Christmas. We invite them all to bring something that reminds them of Christmas to add to the dinner table. We normally also do small home-made and inexpensive gifts for these people that they appreciate and cherish.

    I love our holiday traditions because the way we spend Christmas Day taught me as a child how much fun it was to be the “giver” and not the “receiver” and that meaningful gifts didn’t have to be costly gifts.

    Blessed´s last blog post..Recipe Wednesday: Apple Jelly

  5. I love picking out a Christmas tree. I love watching a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve with my husband while we snack on cheese, crackers and sausage. I love singing Christmas songs while wrapping gifts- especially the Barbra Streisand and Peter, Paul and Mary albums. I love wearing my Christmas pajamas to bed Christmas Eve. I love playing a board game with my big, loud family after Christmas dinner. I love having the tree all lit up whenever I’m at home.

    Jessica´s last blog post..Happy Birthday Woody!

  6. one of my favorite holiday traditions is heading out, super early in the morning christmas morning, and drivng out to my SIL’s house to have christmas morning with their family. it’s super early, and it’s a 1/2 hour drive, but i love that time in the car with The Monkey, getting excited for family time, the rest of the city quiet with sleep (or because kids are ripping through presents).

    i also love the idea of making presents for people. i started it a bit last year, but this year i’m going full force – have to even get some new knitting needles to make all the presents!

    robyn´s last blog post..A Sock Club For All Seasons!

  7. Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions — I love them!

    One of the special traditions for us is decorating our tree. Ever since we were married, my husband and I have made a point of buying a small ornament to commemorate special occasions or trips. After eight years of marriage, I still love pulling out the ornament that we bought on our honeymoon, the one that we picked up to celebrate our first Christmas together, and the many others that recall precious memories for us. Now that we have children, it’s fun to share the stories behind the ornaments that interest them most. They love it, too — my daughter’s favourite thing about Christmas is putting ornaments on the tree.

    Lynnita´s last blog post..A preschooler gets ready for Christmas

  8. On the first Christmas Eve that hubby and I were together (not married yet) we watched the Bing Crosby movie White Christmas. The next year my mother gave it to him (son-in-law by then) as an early Christmas gift so we could watch it again on Christmas Eve. That was 18 years ago and we still do that every Christmas Eve.
    We also attend Christmas Eve service at our church. We always have broccoli cheese soup on Christmas Eve for dinner.
    On Christmas Day, late afternoon, we go to a matinee movie. Hubby did this when he was single and in the Army stationed away from home. He enjoyed it so he asked that we do it as a couple and now we do it as a family. Again, it’s been this way for 17 years.
    We surprise our girls with a ride through town in our pajamas some evening after dinner to look at all the beautiful Christmas lights. When we return home we gather around the Christmas tree with hot chocolate.
    These are a few of my favorite things (and family traditions). To me, they are the best part of the holiday season.

    Nancy´s last blog post..A Message of Hope

  9. I love your Christmas ‘song’. When our girls were young, we would drive around looking at lights singing ” Christmas Lights, Christmas Lights” to the tune of Jingle Bells. Just those two phrases over and over again. A very happy memory for me.

    My goal is to have a more meaningful Christmas this year. After reading this article I am going to do my own poll. I want to keep the traditions that have meaning, I am more than willing to toss all the other ‘stuff’.

    Great article!

  10. We dont send Christmas Cards/Letters either!!

    We love to have chinese food on Christmas Eve … eggnog and the fireplace … decorating the tree together and then LEAVING it (even if the top half of the tree has no ornaments!)

    AND …. shopping for a new ornament for the kids. When they move out, go to college, what have you – they will take their ornament collection with them. Husb and I love to shop for their yearly ornament.

  11. This is so perfect, Rachel, because I think so often people get caught up in what they think they *should* be doing this time of year instead of finding things they enjoy and just doing those. For me, I love making (and eating) gingerbread cookies. My daughter and I are making an advent calendar because that is one tradition from growing up that I loved but have yet to implement and want to this year. We’ve always had the tradition of a Christmas eve gift – Christmas jammies for each kid. I love that and look forward to our intimate, simple gift on Christmas eve followed by sipping hot chocolate and watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Since moving, one thing I truly miss this time of year is having a wood burning stove. *sigh*´s last blog post..A Mug of Hot Chocolate Cake

  12. I love the idea of only sticking to traditions you like. My family has several traditions, like making sugar cookies with sprinkles together, opening presents on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day, and watching the Charlie Brown and Garfield Christmas specials.

    I haven’t gotten into the Christmas card thing either!!

    Sarah H.´s last blog post..Eight tips to help you survive decorating your house for Christmas this year

  13. We are a fan of traditions because they cost a lot less than gifts. I am still finding a good balance, but I think traditions are great ONLY if you really enjoy them. Not traditions that were handed down to you or that you think you have to do. This is a great reminder and an easy way to simplify.

    amy´s last blog post..Budget-Friendly Gifts for Younger Kids

  14. we have so many holiday traditions that I adore, so it’s hard to choose. It’s a toss up between the afternoon we all trek downtown to watch the light show at an old department store (the hubster used to do this as a kid, he’s done it every year now for over 30 years! Talk about tradition) and then go to lunch at Reading Terminal Market, then go see A Christmas Carol. My other favorite is when we go to cut down our tree – it’s always a blustery, cold day and we bring huge thermoses of hot cocoa. Last year, my oldest was so excited that he was *finally* old enough to be allowed to help chop the tree down. Afterwards, we go for lunch at this quaint little country inn and enjoy a huge meal and great company!

    theresa´s last blog post..Giveaway Day!

  15. I love your simple christmas idea, we are doing the same here. My favourite tradition is a family walk in a wood on Christmas Eve. Not only is it great fun there are mugs of hot chocolate when we get in and it tires the kids out nicely so they are not up to late on Xmas Eve!!!

  16. BKG and I have our own Christmas Film Festival. We started last night after E went to bed. Last night we watched Elf. We have quite a varied list: everything from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to The Nativity to Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard. It’s set during Christmas.

  17. V. Higgins says:

    We’re newlyweds so we don’t have much interms of established traditions yet but we agreed that we’ll go out every year (hopefully on our dating anniversary, which is in November) and pick out a new ornament for that year. I love decorating the tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving, coming home to all the decorations and lights makes any day better. We watch White Christmas and The Santa Clause at some point in the season and mostly just spend as much time cuddling in front of the tree as possible. :-D
    I love giving out cookies to neighbors and bringing a huge plateful to work to share the week of Christmas, but I cheat by buying the big tub of instant cookie dough from Coscto because making the dough is just way too much work for me right now :-P

  18. Great post…thanks for sharing.

    After going through a divorce in 2006/2007, I began thinking this year about some new traditions for my daughter and I. One thing I came up with was each day of December, we will both write down in a notebook one thing we’re thankful for or something that we appreciate. There are only 2 rules, we have to write at least one thing each day and can’t repeat anything.

    On Christmas Morning we are going to read each other’s and share what we’re thankful for. I plan to save the notebooks that we write in to have for future years.

    Even though life isn’t exactly happening as we thought it would, we have been blessed so much and this is just a good time to reflect on how much we really have and how truley blessed we are.

  19. My grandmother owned a candy shop in Houston for several years. Even though she had retired by the time we were born, she still filled her house with tins of homemade candy around the holidays. It was a like a treasure hunt going through the house opening all the different tins of candy. She has passed on, but I still try to keep that tradition/memory going. Of course, I don’t do it quite on the same scale as she did… but I always make 3 or 4 candies to take around for the holidays. For me, it’s not about having the candy around to eat… it’s carring on a love & talent of my Grandmother’s. And as long as it’s still fun, and I still love to cook… it will be a tradition I carry on.

    One other thing that I actually noticed today that I love about the holidays (not really a tradition)… is spending time in my living room with no lights on except for the Christmas tree. Silly thing, but this is one thing I love about the holidays.

  20. We started my favorite Christmas tradition the year we brought our first daughter home from China. We have a traditional tree in our living room with all the ornaments we’ve collected over the years. But in our TV room, we have our Chinese tree, decorated with red lights and gold beads (good luck colors in China), and Chinese-themed ornaments, many of which we have purchased on our three adoption trips. There’s a beautiful Asian angel on the top, dressed in red and gold brocade. Our girls love “their” tree!

    My husband and I, both musicians, also try to make it a point to perform in, or at least attend, a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” every Christmas season. Beautiful music, filled with the true meaning of the season.

    chinamama4´s last blog post..Chinese Children’s Music

  21. i just wanted to say (again?) how much i am loving your blog. thank you and merry simple holidays to you.

    nicola´s last blog floor

  22. What a lovely idea! I think we’ll have to sit down tonight and have that same discussion. When I was growing up, my grandmother gave each of the grandkids a different Christmas ornament every year. I love the collection I have now, and I plan to keep that tradition going with our girls. I want our holidays to be simple and full of meaning, not full of meaningless stuff. I don’t like the manic commercialism/consumerism associated with this holiday AT ALL, but I DO like the cards and the baking and the crafting that take so much time that I don’t have…but at least I know enjoy it when I buckle down and get it all done. Better get busy…

    Jennifer´s last blog post..Day 3: Make Christmas decorations.

  23. I love going out and cutting down the tree as a family & taking the hay ride and drinking cider.

    I love singing carols together

    This year I’m LOVING our Advent activities (25 days of giving)

    I love having stockings and opening gifts Christmas morning then spending the rest of the day with extended family

    I love Swedish pancakes for breakfast Christmas morning.

    I love reading and discussing the Christmas story all month.

    and this one we are going to adopt from a friend this year- picking one card out from the basket at dinner to pray for the sender. love it.

  24. I love decorating the Christmas Tree. My husband and I have quite the collection of ornaments, some wacky ones from our early marriage days, some made by relatives no longer with us, some were gifts to each other, or to commenorate events (first married Christmas, first christmas in our house, the dog) or trips. I also like that we do Christmas stockings even though we don’t have kids in the house. Santa brings us high end chocolates and nice bottles of port to sip after dinner in our stockings.

    But my favorite tradition is watching the Movie “A Christmas Story”. Some day I’m going to make a pilgramage to The Christmas Story House in Cleveland!

    Condo Blues´s last blog post..10 Easy Methods for Searching for and Buying the Perfect Gift

    • I finally got to the Christmas Story house this year after planning to for many, many years. Last year we got close, but had some logistical problems with parking/catching Lolly the Trolly, etc. that we just gave up and went home. My parents only live about an hour’s drive from Tremont (where the house is located), so it’s silly that we never made it until this year.

      I overheard someone recently talking about the house and how you can make reservations to spend Christmas Eve/Day with your family. Apparently it’s booked for years! Even though business is probably slow there during the rest of the year, I bet their winter viewings more than make up for that! (I was told there were 1300 visitors on Black Friday).

      Cindy May´s last post…My Other Talents/Hobbies/Interests…

  25. I love christmas music, a real tree with lights, playing games with the kids (sometimes all three at once)- and I’m good

  26. So am I reading this right that you might possibly NOT be sending Christmas cards this year? Because I so want freedom from Christmas cards. Can I opt out? It would be the second year in a row. Am I a bad person/friend?

  27. When we got married – fifteen years ago!!! – we made a conscious effort not to start any tradition that we didn’t want to carry on with… especially with relatives, who might want to turn one quick pop-by visit into an annual 18 course banquet…eug… and we were so right!!! Time and time again we have avoided hideous events by saying: “We like to spend Christmas together as a family – just us, you know special family time.” This usually stops extraneous invitations – and for the more persistent/persuasive types you just have to say “NO, we are not available”

    se7en´s last blog post..Saturday Spot: There is a New Button in Town.

  28. I love your blog, and this post is a great thought- and conversation-starter.

    One of the things we have realized over time (married for 13 years, boys aged 8 and 5), is that some traditions are a wonderful fit for a time and then are best abandoned when they no longer work as well, which means looking at our celebrations every year.

    Some things are constants: Christmas music, riding around to look at lights, trimming the tree together. As the boys have grown, we have added in more Advent activities.

    But other things have been let go. I used to love to send Christmas cards, writing notes in them, spending many happy November evenings doing so. Somewhere along the years it became more chore and expense. So we have let that go.

    There is so much that is good and worthwhile this time of year, we try to choose the best for us and do those things fully.

  29. Rachel, I love this post. We’ve really been trying to focus on things that are more meaningful in our home too,and it’s been very rewarding so far. We have a young daughter like you and I hope to teach her the true value in family and real meaning of the Holidays. I consider it a huge responsibility as a parent. Thanks for the great post.

    Nicki´s last blog post..A Wreath and a Tree

  30. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your comments on this post. What really stands out to me is how everyone’s favorite tradition is different! It just goes to show there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how we celebrate the holidays. Everyone’s ideas sound so wonderful.

    Megan, I think the last year I sent Christmas cards was 1995! More on that later…

  31. Isn’t it eye-opening how simple and humble our true ‘wants’ are for this time of year when you really get down to it? Here are a few of mine: re-reading favorite children’s books of Christmas, a game of hide and seek at the tree lot, a cup of peppermint coffee in the late afternoon . . .

    Julie Marr´s last blog post..

  32. Thank goodness I’m not the only person who thinks that Christmas cards don’t make the cut! I felt guilty about not starting that tradition at first, but even my mom was like, “Don’t start. Once you start, the guilt makes it it’s too hard to stop. I don’t need a card to know you care.”

    What I do enjoy is putting up the tree and opening up stockings. Christmas morning breakfast (fancy schmancy coffee and cinnamon rolls out of can) is another favorite.

    Sara at On Simplicity´s last blog post..Lower Expectations Can Sometimes Be a Good Thing

  33. I am totally with you on the simplify and do things that have meaning! It makes me happy to see so many comments about making choices about traditions and how you spend your time as a family.

    My favorite tradition is our visits from the Winter Fairies. They arrive on the first day of December to help us count down to Winter Solstice and Christmas. They leave little felt mittens with rocks, shells, acorns…each night. Our daughter is so excited to see each morning what the Fairies left. It really goes to show you that the simple things matter and can spark the imagination in the most amazing ways!

    Thank you for the thought provoking post!

    Dawn´s last blog post..Winter Fairies…

  34. One of our favorite traditions is decorating the tree. So simple yet so much a part of our holiday. We also attend a Christmas Eve service where the kids offer a gift to the Lord…a piano piece, a song, a poem…this is such a special offering. Thanks for sharing about the cards being dropped from your list, I’m so contemplating that for this year.

    Lisa Q´s last blog post..keepsakes

  35. Every Christmas from 1967 until she died in 1999, my grandmother gave each of her grandchildren an ornament with our name and the year. When I moved out of my parents’ home I brought my ornaments with me.

    Each ornament brings me pleasure when I remove the survivors from the ornament box as a rush of memories of past Christmases with my grandmother and my father flood my brain. Even departed dogs are remembered by their teethmarks in a few ornaments.

    Now my mother and I give each of my children an ornament each year, and they rave about their Christmases past.

  36. I love this. I am simplifying Christmas this year out of necessity, but I think I will end up enjoying it more.
    Usually I decorate our house to the nines, but this year I might not do anything, not even a Christmas tree. We’re travelling for Christmas, anyway. I think that by keeping my house kind of bare, I’ll appreciate all the decorations in stores and other people’s houses.

    Rachel´s last post…The Adventures of Sally

  37. I like your simple favorites.

    Happy Holiday
    Happy Holiday
    While the merry bells keep ringing
    May your every wish come true

  38. Just a few of our favorites:
    1. Christmas eve service at church.
    2. Opening presents on Christmas Eve.
    3. Stockings on Christmas morning ~ we each buy one present for each others’ stockings. (so fun)
    4. When the girls were little we did a party on Christmas eve afternoon – for their dolls. Together with their dolls we celebrated a birthday party for Jesus.