We all know that the true spirit of the holidays is all about spending time with our loved ones — but let’s face it: it’s easy to get caught up in all the extras of the holidays. We find ourselves getting stressed out over gifts for everyone in our families and having to make a full meal for Christmas dinner and even Christmas Eve. We get tired thinking of having to attend all the holiday parties on our list — even if they’re from people we love to see — and having to bring seemingly endless bottles of wine to each person’s house.
Although the holiday season can be a ton of fun, we often end up letting the stress of it all sweep us away and make us forget to enjoy the time we have with our loved ones. We focus so much time and energy on making everything perfect that we forget to enjoy the little things.
But it’s the little things — the fun family Christmas traditions — that make the holidays worth celebrating. They’re the little activities that make Christmas last more than just one day of the year. They bring us together to enjoy just being together and making memories.
Many parents stress over getting their children the perfect gifts, but the truth is, they won’t remember half of those gifts. What they will remember is the fun they had spending time with their parents — the stories they shared, the laughs they had and the attention they received. As any parent knows, little kids will eventually grow up, and when they’re teenagers and then adults, they won’t be spending much time at your home at all. Parents should be savoring these memories now before their children are too old and too busy to spend a quiet night at home.
Some parents worry that because of work and school, they won’t have enough time for Christmas traditions with their kids, but many of these traditions can be done after school or on a weekend night. If you’re forward thinking about it, save some of your time off for your kid’s winter vacation and make time for traditions. All it takes is a little determination to commit to the time. We know you have a lot on your hands with work and your child’s school, but in the end, it’ll be worth it.
Most parents want these traditions to happen organically, but there’s no harm in getting a little inspiration for a new tradition first. Here are our favorite family Christmas traditions to start this year and how to make them your own.
Designate a decorating day
Decorating your whole home in one day can be a monumental task — unless you have a little bit of help. When you have your whole family working together to put up the Christmas tree, hang the stockings and stringing the lights outside, the decorating process can go a lot faster, and it can be a lot of fun. While you and your spouse might have to handle the lights and the heavy boxes, but your kids can hang ornaments and string the garland.
Choose a day to hang up your Christmas decorations and stick to them every year. Some people do their decorations on the day after Thanksgiving because most people have the day off, and others choose December 1st. You can also make it more special by having a special lunch each year. Maybe you order from your favorite pizza place or make your own tacos at home.
Write up a holiday bucket list
The holiday season can last more than a single day by starting a holiday bucket list together. This is a fun-filled list of activities that you can do together during the month of December with the intent to finish them all before the start of the new year. This list can include some of the traditions mentioned on this list along with other favorite activities such as ice skating, a trip to the movie theater or a night at the bowling alley.
You can choose any activities that you like, just make sure they’re all done together. Fill up your list with a mixture of home-based activities and ones done around town. Ig you choose too many things to do out and about, you might get overwhelmed and find yourself too stressed to do these activities. Keep them simple, and you and your family will have fun going item by item all throughout the month of December.
Watch a holiday movie
Some traditions need nothing more than just a favorite holiday movie and about two hours of your time. Watching a holiday movie together gets everyone sitting quietly together and laughing your way through some of your favorite holiday movies.
Each year, choose one holiday movie that you will all watch together. You can make a special snack for the movie and mix up some hot chocolate and marshmallows for the occasion. Then grab all the pillows and blankets you have and spread out across your living room or den. Your kids can make forts if they like or just stretch out on the floor.
In the past, you might have been limited to your DVD collection, but with streaming services, some of the most popular Christmas movies are streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Hulu. You can find age-appropriate movies on just about every services.
Take a Christmas lights tour of Houston
Not all holiday traditions have to be expensive or cost more than a gallon or two of gas. Houstonians all over the city go all out in their outdoor Christmas lights, creating a show in their front yards. There are even some neighborhoods that work together to create elaborate displays on almost every block.
You can make a family night out of touring these different neighborhoods and looking at all the cool lights on display. Before you get everyone in the car, choose a few good snacks for the road and fill a thermos with some hot chocolate. Set up a holiday playlist (a tradition further down on this list) and pack a few extra blankets just so everyone feels cozy and warm.
As you go, sing along with the playlist or play make a Bingo card for Christmas lights with spaces for icicle lights, LED projections and inflatable Santas. This will keep your kids engaged and have a little fun if they start to get bored looking at houses.
See the Christmas decorations downtown
Why drive when you can walk? Downtown Houston always puts on an amazing lighting display, and the stores in the downtown area go all-out to decorate their windows and create an elaborate scene.
Park your car or take public transportation downtown so you and your kids can walk around and take in the sights together. Make reservations for lunch or dinner at a cool spot and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. After you’ve seen the decorations, you can take public transportation down to the Museum District and tour the zoo, all lit up for the holidays, or spend the day at the Children’s Museum of Houston.
Designate a baking day
You’ve got so much baking to do every holiday season — office parties, friends’ parties plus your own family Christmas parties. How can you possibly expect to get all of that baking done in just one month?
Well, what if you had a little help along the way? Instead of spreading your baking out, why not enlist the help of your children and do a baking day altogether. You’d be surprised how much faster baking can get done with a few extra hands to measure out ingredients, spoon batter onto baking trays and decorate cookies.
But baking with your kids can be a lot of fun as well, not just incredibly helpful in reducing your stress. Accept the fact that your kitchen is going to get messy, and let everyone help out in measuring out different ingredients and mixing them into the batter. Put on your favorite tunes and spend the afternoon baking and laughing together.
Start a family game night with a holiday twist
If you already have a family game night planned, give it a holiday twist. If you don’t usually play games together, now’s your chance to start a holiday tradition that will keep going long after the Christmas decorations come down.
Now you can play any old game and add some hot chocolate to make it holiday themed, or you can pick up a brand new game to play together. There are holiday editions of your favorite classic games such as Clue and Monopoly as well as brand new games with holiday twists, such as Home Alone. In this version of the holiday classic, you need to defend the McCalister home from the Wet Bandits — or you can team up as the Wet Bandits and try to score some good loot from the family home. Either way, this game turns the classic movie on its head and makes it fun for kids and parents alike.
Not every holiday tradition needs to be about having fun — although volunteering together can be fun when you do it altogether — but volunteering can teach helpful lessons about empathy and humanity towards others, and those are lessons worth more than any gift under the Christmas tree. Even from a young age, children should understand that not everyone has the same comforts and advantages that they do. By setting instilling empathy and humanity as children, they’ll be more likely to volunteer as they grow up.
Many soup kitchens in the area would love some help serving meals, and churches can often use extra help during holiday food drives. You can even take a trip to a toy store together and choose gifts for children to donate to Toys for Tots or other organizations in Houston. This is a great way to help kids less fortunate than your own have a truly merry Christmas.
Make a holiday playlist
Your Christmas playlist choices are no longer limited to whatever CDs are in your cabinet at home. With Spotify, iTunes and Amazon Music, you have thousands of hit holiday songs to make your season merry and bright.
Choose a day just after Thanksgiving and gather everyone around the computer to create a holiday playlist together. This will be the playlist you turn on during a family game night or in the car while you’re looking at Christmas decorations. It can be a mix of holiday hits as well as a few other songs your kids just love singing, but limit those to songs just released this year. That will make each holiday playlist unique from year to year.
Whenever your playlist starts going, you and your family will feel the holiday spirit, and your kids will come to associate the list with fun holiday times to come. In the future, these lists will serve as a sort of time capsule for your kids’ musical tastes, which can be fun to look back on.
Plan your holiday cards
Why just send out generic holiday cards when you and your family can make your own? Choose one afternoon before Christmas and plan out your holiday card for the season, getting input from your kids.
Online stationery companies like Shutterfly will let you design the perfect card with your family. Spend the earlier part of the day going through photos from the year or stage a card right in your home. When you have the perfect photo, your kids can weigh in on which fonts, colors and styles they like. Doing this all together gives them a stake in the card and makes it fun for everyone.
Family Christmas traditions don’t need to be elaborate or complex. In the end, it’s just about spending some fun time together. Share with us: What are your favorite family Christmas traditions? Tell us about them in the comments.