More Meaningful December Traditions for Families

Want more family joy and deeper meaning this holiday season? It's possible!

The key is simplifying, so you can focus on what matters. Taking on too much will stress you out and sabotage the meaningful, warm feeling you want for your family. Nobody can spread joy and good cheer when they're rushing.

Photo: MafaldaBlue

So first, just say no to everything that feels obligatory. Then, consider what you love about your holidays. Consider what no longer feels in keeping with your values. Maybe the traditions you have work for you, but you want to make a few tweaks. Maybe you'll add a new one this year, that better expresses the values you want to model for your children.

You’ll find your traditions gain meaning as you revisit them every year, regardless of what holiday you celebrate. In fact, that's what makes traditions. It can be as simple as having the same breakfast every morning on Christmas -- if you do it every year, your children will take great pleasure in it. If you ask your children what they love most about the holidays, don't be surprised if they mention the little things you've barely noticed.

Then, limit yourself to trying one or two new things this year that you think might add meaning to your family's holiday. Don’t expect perfection. Don't worry about getting it on instagram; just enjoy it in the moment.

And here’s an early gift to make it easier: 50 ideas for possible Family Traditions to get your creativity flowing as you think about what would most nurture your soul, and your family's, this winter. Remember, this list is to inspire you, not pressure you. Just pick one or two!

1. Have a special date with each child to talk about what matters most -- and manage expectations.

Sit down with each child for a special hot chocolate date. Tell your child that he or she gets to "live" the spirit of the season with you by finding kind ways to contribute to the well-being of others, and brainstorm some ideas together. Work with your child to plan how you can make some of those ideas a reality. Then, ask your child to tell you four desires:

  • One present for them that is within your means.
  • One "together" present that you will do with them, like take them to the zoo.
  • One book.
  • One "giving" present that your child will feel good about making to gift someone else, like stuffing stockings for kids at a shelter, or making a framed drawing for grandma with his own note to her written on it.

This wonderful tradition gives kids everything they really need, and much to look forward to, while helping them find meaning in living the spirit of the season rather than getting lost in the commercialism.

2. Give appreciations with all presents.

Help your child write “Appreciations” for each person in the family to go on their gift, as they help you wrap.

3. Use dinner discussions to deepen meaning.

You're eating dinner anyway. Why not have regular discussions throughout the month about why you celebrate and what you're celebrating? Ask your kids how this holiday makes them think about the way they want to live their lives in the coming year. Open holiday cards together at dinner (let kids take turn doing the opening) and discuss what you love about the people sending the cards. Let each person share one act of kindness they did today.   

4. Be Kindness Elves.

If you can't resist the Elf on the Shelf, then definitely squelch the idea that the elf is watching your kids to see who's naughty and nice. Instead, have him do good deeds while the kids are asleep. Tell your kids that the elf loves when THEY do acts of kindness. Let your children be kindness elves, too.

5. Cultivate gratitude.

Now's the time to start a family gratitude journal. Every night at dinner during the month of December, record what everyone is grateful for. Or just write on slips of paper and add them to a gratitude jar. Read them aloud on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve or the Winter Solstice.

6. Share your tradition with your friends.

Have an annual tree trimming party. Or celebrate the Winter Solstice with a candlelit dinner, a roaring fire, and a night walk under the stars. Or make latkes and homemade applesauce to enjoy as you watch the candles in the menorahs light up the night.

7. Connect.

Go gift shopping with each child separately for other family members, but make a point of connecting to that child. Take her to lunch, encourage her to try on clothes and buy her something she covets (wrap it and give it later, of course). Make sure your conversation in the car is really special. She'll remember these dates for the rest of her life.

8. Send a holiday box to the cousins or grandparents.

Let your children help fill the box with their drawings and photos of them engaged in holiday festivities. Be sure to let each child dictate a letter to include saying how much they miss their loved ones.

9. Make ornaments.

Decorate felt trees with glitter, cut foil stars, make colorful paper chains. Each year, help each child make a new ornament with his photo and the year. Your box of homemade ornaments will be the kids’ favorite box to open every year.

10. Make playdates special.

Invite the kids' friends over for a holiday card making party. Use construction paper, stencils and paint, line them with ordinary white paper with typed or written messages.

11. Give the party everyone looks forward to.

Invite ten families to bring over five dozen of their favorite cookies and some empty containers. Parents drink punch, kids drink hot chocolate, and everyone goes home with a mix of holiday treats from everyone else.

12. Go through each child’s room with them and create a “give-away” box

...of gently used items to pass on to kids who need them. Have a family session to clean and repair old toys and clothes and take them to donate. A word of warning -- don't force your child to give things up. If he's not willing to part with something, just wait until he is.

13. Spread sweetness.

Invite your kids’ friends over for a pie or cookie baking party. Together, take your goodies to your local soup kitchen, home for the elderly, or to the firehouse where folks are hard at work on the holiday.

14. Get kids giving.

Work with your kids to make simple, inexpensive, fun presents together for your friends and cousins: homemade bubbles, fingerpaints, clay, dress-up boxes, jewelry-making kits, puppet-making kits, candy-making kits, snowglobes.

15. Read a holiday book with your kids every night of the season.

If you pack the books away after January 1, and get them out again every December 1, your kids will look forward to these books all year.

16. Pay It forward.

Buy and wrap mittens and gloves for needy families. Or ask your kids to volunteer with you at a soup kitchen some Saturday. Or give them a set amount to spend and take them to the toy store where they can pick out a gift for a needy child, and let them personally deliver it to a children’s hospital, homeless shelter or charity drop-off point.

17. Dreidel Showdown Night

Your family will have a “geltload” of fun taking part in an annual family dreidel tournament. You don't even have to be Jewish! Don't forget to hide gelt so the kids can have a treasure hunt.

18. Bring the yule green inside.

Go on a nature walk to gather greenery together. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate and just enjoy the fresh air.

19. Have a bonfire to celebrate the Solstice.

Or have a picnic dinner in front of the fireplace or the tree, or just light a lot of candles! Sing all the songs you can find about light, including "Here Comes the Sun."

20. Make a gingerbread house together.

Don't worry what it looks like. The fun is in the doing!

21. Make a treasure map or clues

...for your kids to follow to find their presents.

22. Go Green. 

Use only recycled wrapping paper, brown paper with kids’ drawings, or newspaper decorated with stickers. Wrap them all in ribbons galore.

23. Take a ritual bath by candlelight

... which is a traditional Yule custom. Add candles or glowsticks for extra fun.

24. Deliver Meals on Wheels

...for homebound folks. Have your kids bring homemade cards.

25. Write a family holiday letter together send out to your community of friends and family. If the idea of paragraphs is daunting, make it in the form of a list of highlights from each family member, or a newspaper or newsletter. Or skip writing and make a family video to send to all the relatives as your "holiday letter."

26. Slumber Party

Take turns letting each child sleep in front of the tree with you nearby on the couch with the tree lights on.

27. Spread cheer!

Spread pinecones with peanut butter and birdseed and feed the birds.

28.Make or buy an advent calendar your kids can count down the days.

29. Every year, take a photo of the family in front of the tree, or the menorahs.

Frame them and put them on the same wall so you can watch them change over the years. Don't worry about everyone looking perfect. This is slice of life, not instagram.  

30. Enjoy the glitter.

Take a walk or drive to admire the holiday lights together.

31. Let there be light!

Make a menorah together out of clay, spools, or old bolts. Or make candles.

32. Unplug the TV to avoid the toy ads

... and use the time to make holiday decorations or presents for friends and relatives.

33. Go ice skating together.

Take lessons if you need to.

34. Have your kids dictate thank you cards

to everyone whose presence enriches their life all year long, and then deliver them.

35. Light an advent wreath.

(Candlelight is magical!)

36. Sing! Invite family and friends to go caroling

...or waissailing. You don't need a big crowd. Make hot chocolate or cider to take, along with songsheets.

37. Lucky enough to have snow?

Have a snowball fight, kids against grownups. Go Sledding.

38. Help your child make a playlist of your family's favorite holiday music.

39. Plan to connect digitally with far-away relatives who can't be with you at the holiday.

They can even watch while your child opens their gift.

40. Watch a different holiday movie every weekend during the season.

41. Leave cookies out for Santa.

Once the children are asleep, make elf footprints to track from the fireplace to the cookie plate, and around the tree and through the presents. (Just use tiny shoes, or cut two sponges in the shape of small shoes and dip them in flour.)

42. Take photos of your kids opening their presents you can send those big-eyed expressions along with their thank you notes.

43. Make light in the dark.

Line your walk with luminaria -- paper bags weighted with sand, with a candle in each.

44. Celebrate snow!

Cut paper snowflakes and tape them to your windows and walls to lure a snow storm. Save them and add more each winter.

45. Write a winter poem together every year

... paste them in a scrapbook. These don't have to be high literature or even rhymes. You'll be amazed how poetic everyone's thoughts sound when you record them:

"What I love about winter:
The silence of cold nights
Candy canes melting in my mouth
Making presents for Grandma
Snow melting in my mouth."

46. Pack the fixings for a holiday dinner in a basket and deliver it anonymously to a family in need.

47. Take a walk.

You know those times when the kids are bouncing off the walls and the house is a mess and you're wishing you hadn't eaten all those holiday cookies? That's the perfect time to bundle everyone up and get out of the house. Yes, even if it's dark. Your kids will sleep better after some fresh air and exercise, and so will you. If you want to make this a tradition, just take a family walk after the meal and before dessert, on the holiday.

48. Christmas Eve tradition.

Whether you go to Mass, or read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" or sprinkle reindeer food on your lawn, this will be one of your children's most lasting memories of the holiday if you celebrate Christmas.

49. New pajamas as an "early present" on Christmas Eve.

You have to buy your child new PJs anyway. If you give them on Christmas Eve, it's a lot easier to get your kids into their PJs on this most-excited-of-all-nights! Not sure it works with a new toothbrush, though.

50. Save holiday cards in a basket.

Throughout the following year, at mealtime, take the top card and say a blessing or things you appreciate about the family or friend during dinner. That card is then placed on the bottom of the stack and the next night take the next card and do the same.

Recommended Resources

Happier Holidays Planner:

You CAN create the December of your dreams! Here's how to simplify, stay peaceful and make meaning, while you make merry, no matter what holiday your family celebrates in December. Download now.

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