Some Favourite Christmas Family Traditions

The holiday season is in full swing, but it’s about more than partying and shopping for gifts.  Many of us have fond memories of Christmas traditions.  From decorating the Christmas tree to leaving cookies for Santa, Christmas traditions offer some great ways to enjoy the season with family and friends.

Christmas lights

Here are some of the fun Christmas traditions my family has enjoyed over the years.

  1.  The gift catalogue

Do you remember pouring through the Sears Christmas Wish Book?  My kids would circle the toys they wanted and add them to their “Dear Santa – I’ve been soooo good this year” letter.  Or they’d cut out the pictures and leave them strategically around the house.  It’s too bad that this is one tradition that has to be seriously modified for the future.

  2.  Count down with an Advent calendar

My Grandma used to make Advent calendars for us each year,  but there are lots of versions you can buy.  Our fun was receiving a tiny present or treat each day of December to count down the days.

One of my sons decided to get a head start one year by hiding in the closet and eating every little chocolate in the calendar all at one time.

  3.  Driving around looking at Christmas lights

Enjoying outdoor Christmas light displays is a great way to get into the spirit.  I remember doing this with my parents and my kids liked it too.  We’d drive around and look at all the specially constructed light displays put up by the city or various communities and the beautifully lit-up houses.

It was fun to find that neighbourhood that had the most notorious, creative, over-the-top decorations. 

  4.  Oh! Christmas tree

It wasn’t Christmas in our home until we picked out our tree.  Unfortunately, the day we chose to get our tree always seemed to be the coldest day of the year.  Bundled up in our parkas, toques and mitts with scarfs wrapped around out faces we could barely see the frozen trees to pick out the perfect one.  Instead we pointed to a likely one and strapped it to the roof rack of our station wagon.  It wasn’t until it thawed out at home that we’d notice a major lack of branches on one side.  Sometimes I could cover it up with some artful garland draping, but other times we had no choice but to turn the offending side into the corner.

(When faced with this problem my dad would sometimes drill holes in the trunk and glue in branches to simulate a perfect symmetry.)

When I was growing up, my dad used to put up the Christmas tree lights, but my husband’s mother did all the decorating.  When we had our first couple’s tree, we were both waiting for the other to get a move on and string the lights already, so we could start trimming.

We make an afternoon of decorating the tree: dig out the boxes of ornaments, put on some favourite Christmas tunes and indulge in festive treats.  We’re all set for the holidays after we finally put the angel on the treetop.

They wouldn’t admit it, but my kids always looked for the ornaments they had made in school and I kept every lump of dough, egg carton bell and pipe cleaner candy cane to hang on the tree each year.

  5.  Cookie bake-off   

There’s nothing more delicious than a fresh batch of Christmas cookies.  My mother loved baking and Christmas was her time to shine with her delicious and festive cookies.  I carry on that tradition in my own home.  After Halloween I dust off the old recipe books and hand-written cards and plan out the baking schedule.  The kids liked to decorate the gingerbread men and sugar cookies and they always had to find the “ugly” one to sample.

Related:  10 Tips to Save Money on Your Holiday Groceries

I take some treats to the neighbours, library, bank and local fire station to say thank you.

  6.  Build a gingerbread house

My mom started this tradition and I carried it on with my family.  We all worked together to design and build the prettiest, yummiest gingerbread house possible. 

They were originally made from scratch but then it was easier to totally cheat and get a Gingerbread House kit from the store. Either way, they are a lot of fun to decorate with your kids.

  7.  Christmas Eve finger food

With people arriving at all different times, instead of making a meal we have a finger food dinner.  We dust off the Christmas dinnerware and pop some frozen appetizers into the oven along with tiny meatballs and sausage rolls.  A crackers and cheese tray, a vegetable platter and dip for some nutrition, and a big dessert spread rounds out the feast.

We chow down on finger food and eggnog while watching a classic Christmas movie or two.

  8.  Enjoying Chrismas dinner

When I was growing up, it was traditional to have huge family Christmas get togethers at my parents’ house with all the aunts, uncles and cousins.

That tradition continued when our children were young.  We had the big family dinner on Christmas Eve with all my in-laws and spent Christmas Day with my own extended family.  We had double turkey dinners and whole carloads of presents to take home.

One thing I liked about that was everyone was dressed up nicely in their Christmas best.  It made the gathering feel extra special and the kids looked so cute in their velvet and tafetta.

My parents moved to the Okanagan, other family members gradually started moving away to other cities and provinces and the big holiday gatherings had fewer and fewer guests until my husband and I were sitting across the table from each other with an 18-pound turkey between us. 

9.  Open one present

My brother and I were allowed to open one present before we went to Midnight Mass.  This is a tradition with a lot of families.

Related:  Grandparents and Holiday Gifts

Instead of that, my kids got to open their stockings when they got up (excruciatingly early) on Christmas morning.  They could play with a couple of small toys and get their sugar fix with a Purdy’s chocolate Santa.

This gave us a blessed few extra minutes to sleep in.

The bottom line

Traditions are what make the holidays special and memorable, whether they have been handed down through the generations or started brand new.

Do you look back at Christmases past with some nostalgia while enjoying Christmas present?

What are your favourite Christmas memories?

How have your Christmas traditions changed over the years?

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