24 answers

Special Holiday Traditions

Hi Mommies,

With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up I have started thinking about special family traditions for our family. My husband and I have a little boy who will be 20 months in December and I think now would be a great time to start some traditions.

What kind of traditions do you all have that always bring you happy memories about your childhood, or that you have established for your own family and love? Please keep in mind that we are a secular family (NOT religious) and we celebrate Christmas only in the spirit of family togetherness. I grew up Catholic, so we still do the tree and all that. Do you make things together? Have special games, songs, do charity work, etc.? Any and all stories or traditions that make you smile or feel warm and fuzzy are welcome.

Thanks in advance Moms,


Edited to Add: Please respect my religious beliefs. If you disagree please vent to someone else. Don't judge and don't put your two cents in here. Please only respond if you would like to answer my specific question. Thank you Moms.

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I have 2 boys, 6 & 3 yrs old. I started baking gingerbread & sugar cookies with my oldest when he was a year old! I started him in the high chair with his own dough & a plastic cookie cutter. Now we bake cookies for all the holidays together. This is the one tradition I started that stands out in my mind.

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One thing i have done since i was 10 or so was to write myself a note about the previous year. Who were my friends, what was important to me.. etc. It is so funny to read them the following year. I have started doing this for each of the kids. I have put together a set list of questions.. like.. who is your best friend.. what do you like to do the most....

When they can't answer i answer for them. As they get bigger they answer.

it is really neat

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Growing up my family had a small bell on the tree and my 3 siblings and I would take turns ringing it before we went to bed on Christmas Eve to let Santa know where we were. Now that I have two children, I have kept that going with them.

Something else that I have done with my children that they have loved growing up is I had bought this book - "A Story A Day Until Christmas" It has wonderful stories in it. Some are long and some are short, some spiritual and some not. I used to read it to them right before bed all snuggled up. When they were old enough to read, we took turns reading the stories. They are memories I won't ever forget.

I hope you find what works for you and your family.

Our favorites are apple picking, pumpkin picking and Christmas tree shopping (we go to Jone's Tree Farm in Shelton and cut down our own).
E. K.


I have 2 boys, 6 & 3 yrs old. I started baking gingerbread & sugar cookies with my oldest when he was a year old! I started him in the high chair with his own dough & a plastic cookie cutter. Now we bake cookies for all the holidays together. This is the one tradition I started that stands out in my mind.

Hi Kat,
My husband and I still need to come up with a Christmas plan ourselves, but Thanksgiving we have down. On Thanksgiving morning I get up early and make homemade donuts, my husband brews coffee and we have an open house for folks who are either driving by on their way to their Thanksgiving dinner or for people who are staying home. It started many years ago when we lived near 2 major highways. Now we are more of a destination but the tradition continues. It's a great lighthearted thing to do, there's no holiday pressure to it, eveyone is happy when they get here and when they leave and we often get to see folks we miss during the year. After donuts wraps up at about noon, we either have dinner with friends and/or family here or travel to their house.
Good luck, I'd love to know what you come up with.

We have my daughter make a ornament for the tree. She loves it and every year we put it on the tree we talk about how much fun we had making it. I still have some of mine and i am 37. So i tell her about the one's I have made. We some times put a picture on the back so we can see how much she has grown in a year. Good luck.

Love this thread! Holidays are all about togetherness and traditions.

We have many for Christmas. For Thanksgiving, we are still working on something more than the traditional "say something you are thankful about."

1. Books -- I have a huge collection of holiday books collected over the years that I pack up the rest of the year. You could start by just buying one or two books a year until you have a bunch. I take the box out at Thanksgiving and we read one story a night until Christmas.

2. Ornaments -- I do this for my own children as well as all my nieces and nephews. It is one of everyone's favorite things. I pick out an ornament (my own kids help pick out theirs and their cousins) that has something to do with that year and get their name and the year put on it. I take pictures of my kids ones to keep in an album when they get them. I try really hard to make sure it has importance to that year -- this year my son's is a horse because he started horseback riding. My favorite is the year I found the "Braces Off" ornament for my niece when she got her braces taken off. I also always buy an ornament for the family when we are on vacation to commemorate where we went that year. The kids love unpacking and hanging their ornaments and telling the stories.

3. Gingerbread house -- every Christmas Eve my mom decorates gingerbread houses with all the grandkids.

4. Christmas breakfast -- growing up my mom always made a traditional Christmas bread for breakfast Christmas morning. I didn't like it but it was still a neat tradition. Now I do it with Cinnamon rolls. Something easy to enjoy while opening presents.

5. Reindeer food -- oatmeal and glitter in a sandwich baggie. Go out and sprinkle in the snow. We usually add a couple carrots too and then my husband goes and breaks them off so only little pieces are left behind.

6. Cookies and Milk for Santa

I'm sure I will think of more later! Going to print some of these ones from others too. Great ideas!


THANKSGIVING--We gather at Nana's home for a Thanksgiving dinner around 2PM. Since we're the only ones who don't live right in town, we always stay overnight there and help get the turkey in the oven early in the morning. We help with all of the fixings, while my SIL brings a squash side dish, and my other SIL brings the coveted chocolate pie. EVERYONE loves the chocolate pie(s). (Last year we had it at our house and only half of everyone came. I guess the break in tradition was too much for people.)

CHRISTMAS--A week or two into December, the three of us go out to cut our own tree. We then spend the afternoon, decorating the tree, setting up creche scenes and Advent calendars (catching up on the dates we've missed), along with decorations throughout the living room, while listening to lots of Christmas music (Alvin and the Chipmunks, international Christmas music, classical, hammer dulcimer, goofy and serious). When the tree is up, then the next couple of weeks are spent baking cookies.

I used to bake a bunch of different cookies. Now it's down to just Cream Cheese Cookies, which I've been told is the only recipe I ever need to bake in our house at Christmastime. : ) They're our favorite cookie partly because of the process. You bake them, then when they are cooled, you dip them in melted chocolate. Then we eat a bunch, wrap plates as gifts, and inevitably bake more because too many have already been eaten or given away.

We also pick some gifts from a Giving Tree (at church, but lots of businesses and non-profits have them, too). We buy the needed items and bring them back at the designated time to be distributed.

I grew up with us always opening the gifts on Christmas Eve evening. I don't know if that was because my dad was a pastor and had Christmas day services or because we are of German heritage. I've been told it is the latter.

With six kids, the youngest distributed the gifts to everyone (with help if needed). Then we started opening them from youngest to oldest, or oldest to youngest, one gift at a time. That allowed us to savor the gifts along the way. On Christmas day, we each got a small stocking filled with pencils, erasers, and other fun little stuff. (But it all had to fit in the small stockings my mom had made...nothing extravagant.) It was delightful, exciting, and simple, leaving many fond memories. We never traveled to family because they were a day's travel away. It was always just my immediate family which I loved.

For supper we always had beef stroganoff on wild rice and peas, along with a plateful of all sorts of different Christmas cookies we had made over the past few weeks. The stroganoff was my favorite meal of the year. My mom rarely fixed it otherwise. She also put a little tomato soup in it to give it a nice warm color (instead of what other people call stroganoff...gray : P)

My husband grew up with gift opening happening on Christmas day. And then his parents would have a smorgasbord of food for relatives who passed through for visits throughout the day. Santa always left stuff, along with gifts from mom and dad. The gift opening was a free-for-all, everyone opening gifts at the same time with lots of laughter.

Our own family tradition is a blend of both of our childhood traditions. We have a special dinner at home with just the three of us on Christmas Eve. We open all of the gifts from my family that are under the tree that evening...one at a time. And we play with them as the spirit moves--sometimes right away, sometimes after all are opened--or read them if they are books.

We leave a plate of cookies and milk, with a note, for Santa. After our son has gone to bed, Santa arrives, eats all the goodies, and leaves a thank you note to our son.

The next morning, we open our stockings filled with chocolate kisses, mini Dove bars, Reese's peanut butter cups, a new roll of tape, fun-shaped sticky notes, a new pen (or pencil or one of those cool erasers that are the length of a pen), some little toy or something special (CD, earrings, etc.), and a clementine at the toe. The exact content sometimes varies but the basics are always there.

After we've had a mellow morning and cooked a nice breakfast, we leave late-morning for Nana's house. In Nana's living room, gifts are distributed for those who are there and gift cards/money envelopes are pulled from the tree branches. Then presents are all opened at once, Santa's gifts and all. As other relatives arrive throughout the day, more gifts are opened and lots of food is eaten.

The great thing about this pattern is that we both get our own tradition to savor and our son gets his new blended version, the best of both.


We get a tree together as a family and pull out the Christmas music for the first time to play while we decorate the tree together. Afterwards we always make some Christmas cookies together.

On Christmas eve everyone gets to open one gift but never one of the "big" gifts.

We also "adopt" a child through one of the local charities. They have choices up on a tree in the mall. You pick a child and buy a gift or two to bring back to the mall location. This helps teach the kids about helping others who are in need during the holiday.

When my kids were younger, we put out cookies for Santa and also "reindeer" food out front. One of our friends gave us a baggy of crushed up candy canes with a note saying it was for the reindeers and to sprinkle it out in front of the house. We took up the tradition for awhile and sprinkled the candy cane crumbles in the snow out front. I live in an area where we pretty much always have snow so it was easy to go out later and cover it up. Each Christmas morning the kids would go out and check to be certain the reindeers found their food.

Whatever works with your family will certainly become a fond memory for all of you! Good luck and enjoy the holidays.

In our house there is always new pj's on Christmas eve. This started with my grandmother doing it for my mother, then my mother with us and now me with mine!Another tradition is a new ornament is bought every year for each of my kids and the date is put on it then they put it on the tree...now that I have a 25 and a 23 year old they have their ornaments for their trees since they are living in their own apartments now. Just a nice way to get their collection started. I even sent ornaments that they made all thru grade school.Just a few ideas hope they help!


Every year my husband makes Christmas cookies with our daughters. They pick the kind out together and make on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning we get up and open gifts! Our oldest looks forward to seeing what the animals got in their stockings too. She thinks it is hysterical that santa even gets them something :) On Christmas morning we have pancakes, bacon the whole nine yards.

Whatever you decide to do it will be great for your family! Enjoy the holidays!

Hi! I love the holidays with the kids - there are so many fun activities that it is hard to chose what to write about, but my favorites (that can be used with tots) are:

The whole family goes to a 'cut your own' tree farm the day after Thanksgiving & we chose & cut our own tree. My kids & I love looking at all of the pictures from year to year & my son brought a pretend saw with him when he was little, so he could 'help dad'.
I also love to get the kids handprints on pottery - you can get the craft yourself or go to a pottery shop - the kids have fun painting the plate, tile or decoration & then seeing it displayed at home, plus you end up with some fun keepsakes. Also The Mill Stores sell wooden holiday decorations that the kids will paint & I will display.
My kids also decorate place cards for the Thanksgiving & Christmas table.
There is also Santa's Land in VT that is a fun place to go to for little ones.
Have fun & hope you get a lot of fun ideas!

i love holiday traditions, in my family we sing songs of xmas but in spanish, its so nice to be around them, because we dont get to see each other as much as we'd like. also at 12 midnight we let the little ones open up one present each. its so fun seeing them so excited about opening them up and seeing whats inside.

We also do the "Christmas PJs" - the kids open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it's always matching pajamas. They wear them to bed that night (so I've removed the tags and washed them in advance).

We also leave a plate of cookies, a glass of milk (and a carrot for Rudolph), as well as a thank you note for Santa. This year I'm going to take my daughter (age 5) to a "paint your own pottery" place to create our Santa plate and cup.

On Christmas morning, the rule is "no presents until Mom and Dad have their coffee"! I usually make cinnamon rolls or something we can pick at until we have brunch with our extended family. Santa leaves the kids' stockings on their beds, so they can play with them before waking mom and dad up.

In our house we open ONE gift at a time; we can all enjoy seeing others open their gifts, the kids don't feel so overwhelmed, and we often end up opening gifts until 3 in the afternoon.

One thing I would recommend with a little guy: allow him to PLAY with his gifts if he wants to! He may fixate on one thing, and not want to open other gifts right away...so what! Enjoy your day together and savor every moment.


One thing that might be so fun because your little boy is 20 months old. I did this all the time when mine were little. We would go out side at night or even look out the window at the sky and look for Santa!(airplanes) Just the look on their faces will bring so much joy. We always decorate the tree together and make cookies. We play Christmas music and when the time is right we open one special gift. Now that my family is older....NOTHING HAS CHANGED!!! I can still see them sneak a peek out the window, so funny! Every Christmas morning since they were little I have always made hot Cinnamon buns, hot chocolate.....they know they are home with the smell of them cooking in the oven. I still watch Frosty the snowman, The little drummer boy, Rudolf , The Christmas story.
Thanksgiving is special here also. Everyone helps by making a dish to share. We all have a small short note to share also. We tell our family what we are thankful for. Now, everyone takes off after desert and drinks. By that time I need to rest!

I love this time of year, so festive! I hope you can take some of what the Moms have said and incorporate it into your special day!


I've always bought Christmas pajamas for everyone. I always wrap them and place them under the tree. Then Christmas Eve night everyone gathers around and gets to open their new pajamas and wear them to bed that night. I buy for anyone who's spending Christmas with us. Everyone looks nice for pictures in the morning! I always buy a Christmas themed book each year, so we've now built up a little collection. Then each night the week of Christmas we read all the stories.

I come from a very large family and so does my husband. What I did to make things special for ourselves and our kids was that no one was allowed to go out on Christmas day. I would get up early Christmas morning (still do) make a very special breakfast (something that I would normally not make like crepes or kiche) and we would all sit at the table eat and talk and get updated on the goings on. Then after breakfast we would all go to the living room sit side by side on the couch and I would hand out presents and take pictures. Every moment of the day was documented in pictures. Around 3 or 4 o'clock friends were allowed to come and visit and partake of a very large ecclectic dinner (something for everyone). Later we would sit down find a movie we all wanted to watch (didn't have to be a holiday movie) and we would all sit back and watch movies or listen to music or play board games. I sound like we don't do this anymore, but we do to a lesser extent because now our kids have their own families and trying to make traditions of their own. Christmas Eve is always spent with my mom, brothers and sisters and extended family on my side. New Years is my husband's family. I hope this helps you in some way. My kids still love the special breakfast and everything else about our tradition and they are all in their mid thirties.

Hi K.
How are you planning to explain your non religious celebration of CHRISTnas to your child? Why would you celebrate Christ's birth if you are not relegious? Doesn't make sense to me and your child will probably get pretty cxonfused. Why celebrate the day at all?
;oanne H

My grandmother has a tablecloth that only goes on the table between Thanksgiving and Christmas and all family and friends that come to the house for the first time during that season get to sign the tablecloth. Children get to trace their hand. All signatures and hands are then embroidered in a different color each year. She has been doing this since 1952. And it's fun to look at and even more fun to show children your handprint. I really need to get mine started.


we buy as a family, a new ornament for our tree (if you have one!).. it represents something from the year we've done.. this year, it was one from Storyland... anything that we did as a family.. also, when I was young, and I've done this (as well as my sisters) we've continued the "open one gift on xmas eve "- and it's always new pajamas. My kids look forward to this so much. My mom has always made a certain cookie we love, but are a pain to make so no one ever does them except on xmas, so that's our xmas breakfast! good luck, it's easy to start a tradition, just keep it simple and it'll happen

One thing I like to do is those sponsor-a-child's Christmas/holiday (social services, I believe, teams up with large corporations to have people provide gifts to needy children whose parents cannot give them anything at holiday time; or perhaps they have no parents). The kids make a very short list of things they need or want. In many cases it's heart-breaking that their lists consist of things like warm winter coat, hats, gloves, warm pajamas, and then a toy or two (they do give specifics of toys, then sizes, etc.). I try to select a child close to my son's age and take my son with me to select the gifts with me so he learns the spirit of giving as well as how very fortunate he is. He wraps the gifts with me too.

I see you're a student; your university probably does something similar through the student body government or similar. If not, I'm sure any large company would be happy to let you participate in their program.

I really love doing it! Giving means so much when you know people really need it. I hope my son learns the valuable lessons.

We host Thanksgiving for the rest of the family and do the usual turkey thing. I like to entertain. We watch the classic White Christmas on Thanksgiving night. That's a tradition from my husband's family and just so fun. Once Thanksgiving is over I start decorating the house for Christmas.

Christmas we stay home and have a nice breakfast, fire and open presents and relax and have a nice meal later in the day.

We cut down our Christmas tree (I always did that with my family and want to continue), or at least look for a tree at the farm and if we don't find a good one buy a pre cut one. We decorate it together.

I make a whole bunch of cookies in the weeks before Christmas(like 15 or 20 varieties) as that was my grandmother's thing and I have taken it over. Totally does not fit in with my healthy whole food living but it brings a lot of joy to my relatives.

DD is only 3 so too young to really participate but we hope to be able to adopt a family every year to buy their gifts.

Another fun thing that I got from my husband's family sounds weird but is fun. DD is too young but DH and I do it. Rather than signing the gift from yourself you make it from someone else who is a clue to what the gift is and you try to guess. DH's family gets really creative with it.

We are in a similar situation with our little one.

Based on some past experiences, I'm thinking about trying to find things that will engage our son's senses -- sight, sound, taste, touch, etc., and on spending time with loved ones. Time with family and food have always been pretty central for us, so I think we'll add in some outdoorsy activities and some kind of charity and call that the holidays.

For example, one beloved childhood memory I share with friends is that our church group went on a winter retreat when we were just past toddler age. We only did it that one year, but all of us fondly remember being dragged through the forest on moonlit sled rides.

This same church group went caroling each year and made sure to visit shut-ins and nursing homes in addition to church members' homes to try and spread the cheer. We kids always hated the smell of the nursing homes but they loved us there and our parents made up for it afterwards with hot chocolate.

Julklapp is a fun tradition I read about in a book as a kid. I don't remember where it came from (Norway? Sweden?). All I remember is that one was supposed to wrap up gifts in unlikely-looking packages and chuck them at unsuspecting friends from doorways, yelling Julklapp! Mostly I'm not into consumerism and the whole gift thing, but I will say that it was awfully fun throwing (soft, squishy) presents at my brother and best friend when they weren't looking and yelling Julklapp!

And we do want our son to understand the basics about religious holidays, so we'll be building in those things over the years. (Probably starting with oversimplistic things like advent calendars and menorahs and moving on from there.)

Whatever you end up doing, enjoy!

one thing that we started with our boys (ages 3, 1 1/2) last year was the elf on the shelf...not religious, just a cute little elf with a story, the elf moves every night to a new spot and the kids have a ball trying to find where he is...it's also a good way to get the kids to behave cause we'll be saying "careful, marley's (our elf's name) watching!!) it's such a fun time of year for kids...

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