20 Unique Holiday Traditions Your Family Should Try This Year

20 Unique Holiday Traditions

The holidays are a time of tradition. Some are so long standing we don’t even question them anymore. Like, I know there’s a reason we bring a live tree into our house and wrap lights and shiny, fragile things around it but I can’t remember what it is. Or turkey. Delicious, but I personally am unclear as to how stuffing, cooking and eating this particular breed of poultry became synonymous with the birth of baby Jesus.

One of the things I love most about the holidays is that it’s the chance to start new traditions. Not that Christmas trees and turkeys aren’t meaningful, but watching my kids create and fall in love with our own rituals is even more appealing.

In our house, we let the kids select and decorate the tree with no creative input from parents. Each of my daughters has a Kindness Elf that works similarly to Elf on the Shelf except that s/he leaves little notes suggesting something nice to do for someone else that day.

Christmas Eve is for public skating and Chinese food and both girls get new pajamas to wear to bed. Christmas morning NEVER begins before 7:00 a.m. (more of an iron clad, violate-at-your-own-risk type of rule than a tradition, per se) and the menu never changes: homemade cinnamon buns and orange juice (mimosas for mommy).

These are simple, easy traditions because this season is complicated and expensive enough and few among us need another thing to do, remember or buy. Some of our traditions developed organically and some were conscious decisions to do the same thing every year. Regardless of which approach appeals to you, here are some ideas, big and small, old and new, that will help your family connect and celebrate this holiday season:



  • Put that old Halloween candy to use and decorate a gingerbread house. Buy a pre-made kit or kick it old school with your own gingerbread and icing recipes.
  • Take the kids shopping for food and/or toys to donate to families in your area.
  • Purge adult and kids’ winter clothes and accessories and donate them to a local shelter.
  • Get dressed up and see a production of the Nutcracker
  • Use an advent calendar to count down from December 1st to the 25th. Create your own or buy one already filled with little gifts or chocolate.
  • Find out if there’s an angel tree or other gift donation program at a senior’s centre or family shelter near you that you can contribute to.
  • Choose and cut down your own tree at a local tree farm.
  • Plan your experiential gift with cousins or friends. If you’re trying to cut down on “stuff”, a trip to the zoo, overnight at a waterpark, or other experience you can all do together is a great alternative.



  • Order in from your favourite take out restaurant, dive into a fondue (not literally), or commit to trying a new cuisine or traditional holiday dish from somewhere else in the world.
  • Snuggle on the couch to watch The Polar Express, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown’s Christmas or another family favourite.
  • Track Santa’s progress on the NORAD website.
  • Bundle up in the car, cue up the holiday playlist and check out the lights display in your area.
  • Go for a pajama walk around the neighborhood. Exercise in cold, fresh air is a good sleep inducer!
  • Host a holiday drop in where friends and neighbours can stop by to deliver their holiday wishes in person. Let the kids come in jammies!
  • Make a popcorn and cranberry string for some old-time Christmas tree decorations.




  • Pick one person in your family to act as the elf, handing out gifts from under the tree. Rotate who gets to do it each year.
  • Once the gifts are open (and mom’s had her coffee!) create a hot chocolate bar for the kids where they can add their own toppings like whipped cream, sprinkles, mini marshmallows and crushed candy canes, or a bagel bar with cream cheese, fresh toppings, peanut butter and jam.
  • Let the kids interview family members using their (possibly new?) iPhone or GoPro camera about their favourite memories from the year past and what they’re most grateful for. Or have the kids write their wishes for the next year on paper and seal them in a plastic ornament to review next year.
  • Take a family photo in front of the Christmas tree. Try to do the same pose each year!
  • Play board games or do a family puzzle.


Picture of Jen Millard

Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at wineandsmarties.com.

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