Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday and the season leading up to it can be even better than the actual day with so many festive things to do! So today I am sharing my favorite Christmas traditions, and I hope you find an idea that you can try this season with your family!
1. Christmas music on the way home from Thanksgiving
In my family, this Christmas tradition marks the official start of the Christmas season! As soon as everyone is stuffed with turkey and pie and ready to head home after Thanksgiving dinner, we all pile in the car and play Christmas music all the way home.
I love that this is such a clear signal that the Christmas season has begun. It just didn’t feel like Christmas until I heard N’sync’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” blasting in the car! If you grew up in the 90’s like me and don’t own this album, get it now.
2. Cutting down the Christmas tree
This one was my absolute favorite of my family’s traditions growing up. Every year we would all get bundled up, pack up candy canes, thermos hot chocolate, Christmas CDs, and cookies and head up to the mountains to cut down our Christmas tree! Now this Christmas tradition is certainly limited to where you live because you may not have a Christmas tree farm nearby, but you can always do the same picking out a tree at a particularly festive Christmas tree lot near you.
We would trek all around the acres of the farm hunting for the perfect tree and it was always a badge of honor when you were the one to find it. The trees were never quite as perfect as the ones you get at the lots, but that made it even more memorable. There was something so unique and special about finding “the one”, cutting it down, and bringing it home.
We have photos each year of us going out to the Christmas tree farm and cutting down the tree, and I love looking at all the photos over the years as we have grown up. We all love reminiscing about what made each year special. Like the year it was pouring rain, the year we saw Steve Young, or the year my mom made us all wear matching homemade Santa sweatshirts before we were young enough to know better. We still give her a hard time for that one 😉
3. Eggnog and peppermint ice cream
These two tastes are so tied to Christmas for me. Every year, we all have eggnog as we decorate the Christmas tree. While I’m not a big fan of eggnog, I always have to have it as part of the Christmas tradition. Then, as we got older, the tradition evolved to spiked eggnog.
Eggnog in hand, we all gather around and put on the ornaments. We tend to buy an ornament on each family trip or for special memories, so it is fun to reminisce as we decorate.
The other must-have festive food item that is a longstanding Christmas tradition in my family, is peppermint ice cream. It looks and tastes like Christmas. There is nothing better than a warm Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven with a scoop of peppermint ice cream. We always buy it a soon as it gets into the stores because it is so popular you have to get it while it lasts!
4. Christmas pickle tradition
This Christmas tradition was one we adopted it when my brother and I got a little bit older. This Christmas pickle is a tradition that originated in Germany (read about it here), but we created our own spin on it.
Basically, from when we first put up the tree, we would trade off hiding the pickle ornament somewhere on the tree. The other person then hunts and hunts until they find it and then they hide it themselves. Then, come Christmas morning, whoever last hid the pickle is the winner!
You may think that a glittery pickle ornament would be easy to find (I did too), but I was amazed at how tough it was! We still brag about our particularly creative hiding spots and kept a running tally of who won this Christmas tradition each year. Want to adopt this tradition, buy a pickle ornament of your own here.
5. Christmas light drives
This is such a simple Christmas tradition, which I think is one of the reasons I love it so much! During random nights of the Christmas season, one of my parents would declare it was time for a Christmas light drive.
Now the requirements for a Christmas light drive are simple. You must put on your pajamas (Christmas themed is preferable), grab a candy cane, hot chocolate, and a blanket, and meet everyone in the car. Then, we would drive around the neighborhood hunting for the best lights we could find.
We developed a route over the years of where to find the best ones like the “Christmas Extravaganza” house or the one with the willow tree lit up with thousands of lights. One of my recent favorites was a grouping of 4 houses that had banned together to create three GIANT (I am talking massive) reindeer and Santa’s sled at the end.
6. Advent calendars
To this day, my mom still gives my brother and I an advent calendars after Thanksgiving each year. Every year is something different. We loved the Playmobile ones when we were younger that created a whole Christmas scene. They are a cute, festive Christmas tradition to count down the days!
7. Neighborhood cookie exchange
When we were growing up, we lived on a great street with lots of kids around the same age so the families became very close. So each year, our street had a Christmas tradition of having a neighborhood cookie exchange.
What is a cookie exchange you ask? Well, instead of baking twelve different types of cookies, each family just bakes a ton of their favorite Christmas cookie type. Then, everyone comes together for a party where we exchange (and eat) cookies with all the other neighbors. So, while you left with one type of cookie, you come home with a tin of all kinds of assorted cookies!
This is such a great Christmas tradition you can easily start in your own neighborhood!
8. Street trees
While we are on the subject of neighborhood Christmas traditions, we also had one other great tradition in the area I grew up: Christmas street trees. They aren’t full-size Christmas trees, but more like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Each year, one of the houses would organize the tradition by collecting money and buying all the trees for the rest of the houses. Then, we would go down to pick it up and put it up in our front yard like everyone else.
Then, as you look down from the end of the street driving by at night, you see a whole line of these cute little Christmas trees lined up in everyone’s front yards. It is a great Christmas tradition that, again, brings the whole neighborhood together.
9. Gingerbread houses
Bring on the gum drops, Twizzlers, and M&M’s! Gingerbread houses are a timeless Christmas tradition that I always look forward to! There are so many ways to celebrate. If you are more ambitious you can bake the whole thing from scratch.
Or, if you want something a bit more convenient, you can buy a kit with the walls and roof pieces ready to assemble. As a seasoned veteran, I will say that I always recommend buying your own candy though because the kits just don’t have the top of the line materials you are going to need 😉
Recently, we have been doing Gingerbread house competitions where we each decorate our own and then there is a judging by an unbiased family member as to who is the ultimate builder. Or, some years we would make one altogether. You don’t have to be limited to a traditional house either. I think my favorite year ever as a horse-obsessed little girl was when we made a Gingerbread reindeer stable complete with hay made out of shredded wheat!
10. Present clues
This Christmas tradition is one that we just recently adopted from my husband’s family! I love that as families merge together, so do their traditions.
So this is how it works: when you are wrapping up your present and adding your “To” and “From” tag. You must also write a clue about what is inside. Then, come Christmas morning, each person reads the clue and tries to guess what is inside. It is a fun way to make unwrapping presents like a group game, and draws it out a bit so you can enjoy it for even longer!
11. Santa wrapping paper
Back when we believed in Santa, my mom would always wrap all our gifts from him in different wrapping paper that she would not put out with the rest. This is such a little thing, but it made the gifts seem so much more special!
12. Christmas poppers & crowns
Each Christmas dinner, my family has a Christmas tradition of setting the plates with a Christmas crackers. Then, after dinner, you pop them! Inside there is a little trinket, a really corny joke, and a colored paper crown.
Everyone has to wear their crown, and we all sit around playing with each other’s little gifts. It is the perfect end to my favorite season!
Hope you enjoyed some of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions! What are some of yours? Please share in the comments below.