By Brittany Carlson
Last week I asked friends to tell me their favorite family Christmas traditions, and was overwhelmed by the excited responses.
It struck me that there is no single tradition that makes Christmas special for families, but the act of making time to do something sacred together—something that celebrates love.
Christmas is a celebration of love at its core. Love that shows us there is more to life than the circumstances we are in. Love that we now get to share with each other through acts of kindness, generosity and goodwill.
With that in mind, here are a few creative ways to celebrate the Christmas season with your family that you may want to adopt as a new tradition.
Give acts of service
Christmas is a great opportunity to share love with others and teach children the importance of giving.
Acts of service can be traditions too, like donating toys to children in need (Operation Christmas Child, Toys for Tots and Angel Tree are a few programs).
They can also be as simple as an unexpected act of kindness, like baking cookies for first responders or service members, something my friend Jennifer likes to do with her family around the holidays.
My friend Jericho and her family took their favorite Christmas tradition—caroling to neighbors—across the world.
“Singing Christmas carols around my grandparents’ neighborhood every Christmas Eve was my favorite event of every single year until we moved away to Kenya,” she said. “We love it so much that we transplanted the tradition to Kenya. Last year on Christmas Eve, we marched around the hospital wards and departments, singing loudly for all to hear. Everyone loved it!”
Another friend, Rachel, and her kids write down acts of service they can do for family members.
“We write gifts for Jesus – like I will be nicer to my siblings, I will do more cooking for my family with a grateful heart (because I hate cooking),” she said. “We leave it in a box on the tree and then on the entertainment center throughout the year.”
For many of my friends, certain Christmas decorations and gifts have become cherished traditions because they remind them of family members or special memories.
Growing up, Emarie received a Christmas ornament each year from her Grandparents on Christmas Eve. “I loved it because when I moved out, I had a whole bucket of ornaments to put on my tree, and I intend on doing that with my girls too,” she said.
Radhika, exchanges handwritten letters with her family and puts the notes to her children in their Christmas stockings. “As adults, we’ve found the items we keep and cherish most have been handwritten cards or pictures,” she said.
Shanelle brings out her children’s special Christmas books only in December, and wraps them so they can choose one to read each night.
Faith said she uses her children’s photo with Santa each year to fill a photo ornament. “They were pretty excited to see their old Santa pics this year and hang them on the tree,” she said.
She also buys an ornament on every vacation the family takes. “Now our tree has a symbol of all our vacation memories,” she added.
Just for fun
Some traditions are started for no other reason than they are something fun to do together! Here are some of my friends’ favorites:
“We get all dressed in matching pjs, make up hot cocoas and then go out looking at Christmas lights” -Lauren W
“To stretch out stocking fun, I put a small stocking stuffer in each night for 10 days leading up to Christmas and they [my children] get to check it each morning. Even now that they’re adults, they still love seeing what little gift will be there.” -Cindy P.
“We always chopped down our own tree from a farm and drove around to look at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music” – Brittany B
“We do a family Christmas outing. Whatever we do or wherever we go, it has to be decorated for Christmas. Some places have been Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Hershey Park, Christmas Village, Dickinson Christmas in Old New Castle, Pleasant Valley Farm Museum, Brandywine Valley River Museum.” – Jill S.
“On Christmas Eve, after the kids go to bed, we decorate the same way we do for their birthdays (streamers on their doors and balloons covering the floor outside their doors) and we hang the Happy Birthday banner” – Nikki V.
“We bake a birthday cake for Jesus!” -Emily R
“My parents always did ‘last gift.’ Usually a big one. They still do this. We would spend all day with family and playing with toys and they would always say ‘no last gift this year, you’re getting too old’ and then when we got ready for bed they would give us the last gift. And now we give them a last gift too!” – Sarah S.
My family usually has Advent first on Christmas morning, and then we open stockings, have a big breakfast together, and then open the rest of the presents. Sometimes it takes all morning to open everything, since we like to watch each person open their gifts. Then we take a walk (in the snow if we’re lucky) and play.
However, we don’t always do the same exact thing every year.
As we grow older and Christmas focuses more on our children, our traditions change. We also adjust to where we may be living at the time or who we are visiting. My point is that traditions can be added to or simplified, or even completely changed to fit your family.
Celebrate the Way You Want To!
Ultimately, the goal of traditions isn’t to create a “have-to” checklist that adds to holiday stress, but rather to do something together that brings you closer, helps you slow down, and in the case of Christmas, reminds you of the reason you celebrate- whatever that reason may be.
However you choose to celebrate this year, remember that it isn’t really what we do specifically, but how we do it—together—that matters most.
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons that are 5 and 3 years old. She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in NC.
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