Plan Ahead for Christmas Traditions

Viewing Christmas Lights! One of our traditions.Image via Wikimedia Commons

Many people have heard by now that the common-sense advice ‘Money won’t buy you happiness’ has been backed up by science. Hand in hand with this goes the finding that experiences have more of an effect on happiness than possessions. So, if you’re looking to make the Christmas season special for your family – especially if you’re short on cash – doing things together is more likely to create those happy, lasting memories than having a bigger pile of presents under the tree than last year’s.

I am a huge fan of Christmas traditions. I seem to have a problem incorporating them into our Christmas now that I’m the mom, though. I think that the days go by so fast that I don’t even notice we’re running out of December until the week before Christmas! I think that going through and writing down everything I’ve done or would like to do to make it a special season might encourage me to work a few more into our schedule, or be sure (ahead of time, again) that we can get supplies for them.

My family had a TON of Christmas traditions when I was a child. Many of them weren’t “official” or scheduled events, but you could bet that every December would find us:

  • Spontaneously Singing Christmas Songs. My siblings and I were enthusiastic ensemble singers. This apparently got so bad that we were restricted from singing even a single round of Rudolph before the Friday after Thanksgiving.
  • Making Gingerbread Cookies. We weren’t about to miss a chance to pull out Mom’s spectacular cookie cutter collection.
  • Making Gingerbread Houses. This did NOT happen every year, due to the increased level of difficulty, but we did it sometimes.
  • Christmas Caroling. Occasionally.
  • Baking Goodies for Friends and Neighbors. Cookies, candy, and banana bread, if it could be baked we made it.
  • Driving Around to See Other People’s Christmas Lights. Always.
  • Visiting a Professional Christmas Light Display. If there’s a nice one nearby. Usually this was a driving activity, but here it’s a nice pleasant outdoor walk!
  • Drinking Hot Chocolate. Lots of it. With marshmallows and peppermint sticks dipped in chocolate.
  • Playing in the Snow. Preferably followed by the hot chocolate.
  • Making Snow Ice Cream. If the weather cooperated. We had to wait for the second snow and then put a bowl out to catch it. Mom mixed the snow with cream, vanilla, and sugar. Snow ice cream has a texture and a flavor unlike any other ice cream ever.
  • Decorating the Christmas Tree Together. The youngest child got to put the angel on top.
  • Singing Carols Together by the Light of the Tree. After the tree was decorated, we’d turn out all the lights and sing carols by Christmas lights until everyone had had a turn to pick their favorite.
  • Sleeping Under the Christmas Tree. We were allowed to ‘camp out’ in the living room one night (NOT Christmas Eve). The lights shining through the tree branches make beautiful patterns on the ceiling.
  • Putting up the Nativity Together. Mom and Dad had a list of scriptures they read that went along with it, and we had to guess which piece went with the verse so we could add it. Even the stable and the straw had verses! We never put baby Jesus in the manger, though. He wouldn’t make his appearance until we woke up Christmas morning.
  • Eating Shepherd’s Pie for Dinner Christmas Eve.
  • Making Haystacks on Christmas Eve. Just chow mein noodles and melted chocolate for us!
  • Reading the Christmas Story Before Bed. Every Christmas Eve without fail.
  • ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Mom read it to us just before we went upstairs.
  • Waking Mom and Dad Singing. First of all, we weren’t allowed any of that ‘get up at 4 am for presents’ nonsense. Beginning at 8 o’clock, we started singing Christmas songs to wake up our parents. (From outside their bedroom door.) They wouldn’t come out until we sang Mom’s favorite carol (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”), but we weren’t allowed to sing that one first, either. And that reminds me, another tradition was…
  • Performing Stealthy Stocking Reconnaissance. I almost didn’t include this one, but I’m pretty sure that my parents knew about it. Just because we couldn’t go down to get our presents earlier than 8 o’clock doesn’t mean we weren’t awake. Sneaking down squeaky wooden stairs in the pale light of false dawn, trying not to wake parents by making a noise or turning on a light just trying to see (as much as you could see, like I said it was pretty dark) what was in the stockings – it was a thrill. Usually we sent one scout to survey the contents, but sometimes a second or even a third person would go downstairs in turns to see if they could discern more detail about their stocking, specifically, without disturbing the contents.
  • Eating Fresh Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas Breakfast. I don’t know how Mom got roped in to this one, but she stayed up late Christmas Eve every year making cinnamon rolls from scratch that would be baked the next morning.

There are SO many wonderful traditions to enrich your holiday season, and so many of them are so simple. I’m sure some of mine look familiar, although you probably have your own special memories. Your challenge today: write down as many Christmas activities or traditions that you love as you can remember. Then put the list with your getting-ready-for-Christmas box and make an effort to include more of them this year!


  1. Sheila says:

    The only tradition we’ve kept in our family is dining together and giving gifts afterwards. We haven’t put up the tree or decorated our home for a number of years now. Hope to do it differently this year though.
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  2. Brenda J. Butler says:

    My sister and I were allowed to open our stockings as soon as we woke up. Mom would always have in it: a small game or two (teensy playing cards, puzzles), notepad, fun pen or pencil, a clementine or mandarine orange, a few candies – maybe some other stuff. So – some food to keep us from feeling hungry, and some stuff to keep us busy, so Mom and Dad could sleep in.

    One Christmas, my Mom offered to make bacon and eggs. I said sure, that sounded great (every other year we all said no! let’s eat as fast as possible and get to the presents), but I guess my Mom was bluffing all those times she offered …

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