**This post was originally published in December 2015. I have updated the post this year–the year of all years: 2020–with a few additional family Christmas traditions that we’ve added to the mix since then.**
The Christmas season is finally upon us, and it truly is the most wonderful time of the year! Even during a year full of as much uncertainty as this year–maybe ESPECIALLY during a year such as this year–our kids deserve to feel and experience the magic of the Christmas season.
During this magical season I love making special memories with my kids. Part of that memory-making involves creating new traditions–or reviving favorites from the past–with your own family. Our family has several Christmas traditions that we begin each December. If you’re looking for some new ideas to add to your own family’s repertoire, here are a few of my favorites!
Wrapped Christmas Books
Every day in December my kids take turns unwrapping a special book for us to read together (after all, tearing off wrapping paper is one of the most exciting parts of Christmas!). The first book is always a brand-new book–an actual gift–and the rest are favorite books that we already own or that I’ve checked out from the library. Over the years I’ve collected enough Christmas books to last us through the month, but any books would work just as well (or, if you’re looking to add to your collection, just check out your local used book or thrift stores).
Kids love counting down to Christmas–and parents love having a tangible way to show them how much longer they have to wait for their most anticipated day of the year! I’ve tried several countdowns, but my favorite is a simple advent chain. This year we are using a “names of Jesus” countdown chain that shows 25 different names of Jesus with scripture reference each day.
My Secret Angel And Me
This is a Christian alternative to the ever-popular Elf on a Shelf. The Secret Angel kit comes with a book about the true meaning of Christmas and a plush angel that “flies” to a new spot in your house each night. The kids have fun looking for their angel each morning, and I like that the focus with this kit is still on Jesus.
When Jon was growing up his mom made this charming activity board for him and his sister. Every day of December you move the little bear to a new designated spot on the activity board so he can look for Christmas (our version is made of fabric and the bear attaches with Velcro). In all of her resourcefulness, my mother-in-law created extra sets of the DecemBear activity so she could pass them on to her children when they were grown and had families of their own. While you can buy your own DecemBear panel on Etsy for a small fortune, your wallet might be better off making your own countdown with clipart and a printer.
Felt Christmas Tree
Jon’s sister Stefanie made this for our family several years ago and my kids all LOVE playing with it! The tree and ornaments are all made from felt, and the ornaments attach to the tree with Velcro. We have several personalized ornaments with the kids’ names and favorite characters. Find DIY instructions here.
Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set
I bought this set many years ago when David (now a giant 10 year old) was a toddler, but all of my kids still enjoy playing with it. The pieces are all made of durable plastic so it’s perfect for keeping within reach of curious hands. All of the pieces are movable (you can even make the angel spin across the top of the stable and, if you spin her fast enough, you can even spin her right OFF the top of the stable. HIL-AR-I-OUS). Plus, it can play music (At least, theoretically it can play music. I’ve deliberately removed the batteries from our Nativity, so we’ve been enjoying the “silent night” version for the past several years.).
When I was growing up my parents always took each of us kids out for a special one-on-one date during the year: a date with Dad for our birthday and a date with Mom for Christmas. My first mom-and-daughter Christmas date happened when I was about 4 years old, and we haven’t missed an annual date since then!
Every year our date is different: going to the Nutcracker ballet, seeing a play or a musical, riding on the Christmas ships, spending time at the spa. Jon and I are continuing the date tradition with our kids, and I’m looking forward to spending this special time with each of them as they grow.
This year our dates will probably look a bit different–maybe a special drive to look at Christmas lights in our jammies, going into the mountains to play in the snow, or decorating gingerbread houses together over egg nog and hot cocoa. With a bit of creativity, every tradition can continue.
So…this one is a bit controversial: We don’t celebrate Santa in our family. In our family we just explain Santa to our kids as a fun game, a neat story, and that Santa represents the spirit of giving. We also teach our kids about the real St. Nicholas and the true story of Christmas from the Bible and about the greatest gift the world ever received (You can read more of my thoughts about Jesus and Santa here).
And, even though we don’t celebrate Santa per se, I do love myself some fun Santa traditions. Our Santa photo tradition is one that my parents started with me when I was a baby and that I love carrying on every yearwith my kids. It’s amazing to look at our collection of photos each year and see how the kids–and our family–has grown and changed over the years. I now have 38 years worth of Santa photos, and each these photos represent treasured memories.
In this unconventional year we had to get a bit creative with how we will continue this tradition. We were able to find a local theater that is providing “socially distanced Santa” photos–the kids will pose on a Christmas set while Santa peeks at them through a window. I just hope everyone is being nice when the big guy stops by!
The Manger Project
This year our church provided building kits for us to work together as a family and build our very own life-size manger. The kids had a lot of fun helping to build our manger (especially when Dad brought out the power tools for them to try!), and it was a great project for them in following directions and working together.
Over the next few weeks we will fill our manger with food and supplies for a local food bank so we can bless neighbors in our community that might need a bit of extra help this holiday season.
In the years to come, I plan on bringing out our manger each year as a symbol of preparing for the coming Jesus. We will get a bunch of straw, and each time someone from our family does something to honor Jesus (a “gift” for Jesus) they will place a handful of straw in the manger. On Christmas morning the kids will discover a baby-doll “Jesus” in the manger they prepared–the greatest gift this world has ever known.
Driving or walking around to view Christmas light displays is a great socially-distant way to celebrate the season of light. Here are a few of my favorite local options:
22 Light Displays in the Seattle area
Woodland Park Zoo Wild Lanterns
Point Defiance Zoo Lights
Woodinville Festival of Lights
Drive-Thru Lights of Christmas at Warm Beach
Redmond Lights Walk
This is a beautiful Christmas book about the true meaning of Christmas. If you want to check it out, you can read it online for free here or watch a read aloud of it here.
The Sparkle Box is a gift box for Jesus that you place under your Christmas tree and open on Christmas morning before you open any other gifts. This year I plan on making our own “sparkle box” and putting it under our Christmas tree (Super fancy: a shoe box covered in sparkly duct tape from the Dollar store).
As a family we will come up with a special way we can honor Jesus with a special gift for his birthday. Ideas of gifts include sponsoring a family through a local or international aid organization, providing help or resources for the homeless, or making a donation to a charity. I’ll let the kids take the lead on this one so we can choose a gift that is meaningful to them. We will then wrap our gift in the sparkle box (or print off some info about the gift we provided). Our sparkle box will be the first gift we open on Christmas morning, and I can’t wait to experience the joy of giving AND receiving that day!
Additional activities and family resources for the Sparkle Box are available here.
Now it’s your turn–what are some of YOUR favorite holiday traditions?