Our Holiday Traditions, New and Old

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I have been thinking a lot lately about holiday and family traditions.  Before kids, Lonnie and I did stuff more or less the way our families had growing up, minus the obvious kid-oriented activities.  Then, having three kids within three years, some traditions have fallen by the wayside, while others have fallen into place, albeit somewhat haphazardly. Up until the last year or so, we were really in "survival mode" and "fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants" mode, trying to make things special for our girls and ourselves, but also not having the time and energy with three young children to get very fancy or creative.  

Also, while it’s great to do fun stuff with the little ones, I do feel like their memory year-to-year with regards to traditional holidays is fairly hazy.  But now, at 2.5 and 4.5. I’d love to start being more intentional about them!  They are starting to remember and look forward to things!

Most of the traditions I can think of in our family are based around traditional holidays (i.e., commercial holidays like Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthdays and the like).  Since it’s that time of year, I am going to focus this post on Christmas, but I LOVE the idea of creating more meaningful traditions based on other things — seasons, lesser-known holidays, just "special days" that we invent or latch on to as afamily.  I do have and recommend this book: The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & Everyday
by Meg Cox.   It has a ton of great ideas, I need to reread and pick some out to do this year, for sure! 

Advent Calendar

I feel like this one kicks off a month of festivities around here! I have fond memories of this from my childhood, and have fun sharing it with my kids.  Ours is a fairly large one with pockets for small gifts (either shared between them, or one for each girl), though I am hoping to gradually switch to special activities at least some of the time instead of daily gifts and candy.  This year we hung it in the kitchen, so we open the gifts either before or after breakfast (depending on when they remember, ha!).  I wrote more details about it here.  

homemade advent calendar 

Handmade Gifts

Last year, Lonnie and I teamed up to make these wooden people for the girls.  This year, Lonnie has made them a bunch of "tree blocks" inspired by Teacher Tom.  I am going to make some some awesome new activity bags for them, some tie dye silk play scarves, and hopefully (gotta get cracking!) individual photo books for each girl (I feel like this is particularly important for Elsie and Delia, with their identical twin-ness, but I am sure Emma will love having her own as well).  Not sure if I am up yet for having the girls make things themselves to give to others, though I do like that idea a lot.  If not this year, I am putting that in my idea list for the future!  

handmade wooden people

Holiday Lights Drive

This is a new one this year, and it was a great hit, so great, in fact, we are planning a second run!  We eat an early dinner, get the kids in jammies, and perhaps pack some kind of treat before hitting the road to look at holiday lights around our neighborhood.  While the kids are fairly impressed even with the local normal home displays, its nice to end with a bang at one of a couple "mega displays", which I learned about through our neighborhood blog.  One had tons of fun stuff in the yard to look at so got out to have a look from the sidewalk, and it was hard to tear them away, they loved it so much!  They really were just shocked and thrilled to be out after dinner in their jammies, though — a break in the routine really makes it special!  

The Tree Farm & Santa

I come from a family of tree snobs, and am rather particular about my Christmas tree.  While it still hurts to PAY so much for a tree that I used tobe able to pick up for free in my parent’s yard (yes, they actually had their own mini Christmas tree farm!) I do love the tradition of taking the family out to the farm, wandering through the rows and rows of trees and finding one we like.  This was the first year we did this, after years of me lamenting that it was just not feasible for us, and we had a blast.  A pro this time — Santa showed up, right after lunch!  The girls were thrilled!  


Christmas Cookies

This is a little one, in the grand scheme of things, but the girls and I really like it.  My birthday is in mid-December, and I remember many birthday parties where holiday cookie decorating was the featured activity (at my request). So far I have not figured out how to include all three of my girls in any kind of baking project successfully, but if I do it in stages, or mostly focus on having Emma help, it works well. This year, we are hosting my multiples club for a cookie decorating party — so I will do the cookie baking ahead of time, and I think it will be a lot of fun!  

"Ladies Tea"

This is one my extended family has been doing for awhile now — every year, the ladies in town (cousins, sisters, aunts, moms and grandma) get together for a formal "high tea".  Often we go out for this, but some years we have hosted it in homes, to better accommodate babies and budgets.  For now, its mostly a grown-up thing (and a welcome break, for me!), though at some point the girls will be able to join us, and that will be fun! 

Fostering a Spirit of Giving

While I don’t believe giving to charities and those less fortunate should happen only during the holiday season (I’d rather have it an ongoing thing, throughout the year!), I do think the giving and "gifting" aspects of Christmas provides some opportunities to talk about and do something concrete regarding this with my kids.  We haven’t included the girls in this kind of thing in the past, and I haven’t decided what exactly we’ll do this year, but I am looking for something!  Ideally with the intention of continuing it — through both discussions and actions — throughout the year.  I think we might start with buying some gifts for a family in need, and/or shopping for food to take to our local food bank.  Or, we might buy/gather/collect and donate some coats, hats and other winter gear to donate to a shelter of some sort.   Suggestions and ideas for this kind of thing are very welcome, I’d love to hear what you do in your family! 

Winter Solstice

This is another event I’d want to create some traditions around, but have not in the past.  Emma is really into space, the planets, the sun and moon, and the changing daylight hours right now, and all the girls love candles and fire (who doesn’t?).  I think if I can find some books or maybe poems that we can read, then light and hang either homemade lanterns or candles, or maybe just light a fire in our fireplace (a rare treat around here) that might be a start….  

Candle light
Photo thanks to Alesa Dam via Flickr

What are some of your family traditions?  What are your favorites, and what are your kids’ favorites?  When did your kids start noticing, remembering and looking forward to certain traditions?  Anyone have some ideas for non-commercial holiday traditions that are fun and meaningful for young children?  


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6 comments to Our Holiday Traditions, New and Old

  • Oooh, I so wanted to participate in this month’s carnival, alas, not enough time.

    I read your previous post with the advent calendar. I love it! It’s so much better than the store bought ones with chocolate (that I grew up with – and loved). I’m hoping to make one for next year – it will be my summer project.

    I would also love to make the individual photo books for the girls, also identical. Another summer project.

    We started a tradition of decorating our tree on the solstice. We use real candles (as well as white lights – but not at the same time!) which is so beautiful. I think I’ll put a post up about that so I can put the pictures up.

    I also love the sound of the book, I’ve been wanting to include more ritual and tradition in our family lives. Like you, it was survival mode for the first few years with twins and then I went back to work, it leaves very little time for extras.

    I’m so glad I discovered your blog at last month’s carnival!

  • What a great list of traditions!! (And I’m drooling over your little people.)
    We’ve done two holiday lights drives so far this year, Kieran has really enjoyed them, and I look forward to doing them again. We’re also big into handmade stuff – I hope that Kieran continues to love it as much as I do.
    Thank you for sharing!!

  • I love your handmade wooden people!

    We make cookies every year, too. This year I guess Bubby will “help” by watching us in the Ergo. It’ll be fun when they both can help.

    We’re hoping to go drive around the neighborhood tonight (that is, if this crazy wind and rain stops!). I’ll have to try and find out if there are any big displays around here. We’d like to go to the Botanical Gardens one night.

  • Those are some fabulous ideas, and I do appreciate that you’re finding ways to do special things with three little kids, because sometimes I give up when doing something with just one seems exhausting. :)

    I’m really jealous that you grew up with trees available for cutting your yard! That’s amazing. And those little people are priceless. Love!

    You’ve given me a lot of good ideas. I think we’ll also need to find an intentional way to help those less fortunate throughout the year; I tend to do it kind of spur of the moment but don’t often remember to include Mikko in the effort. And the idea of celebrating the solstice: Mikko’s fascinated with how it gets dark so early, and I didn’t even think of translating that into a special celebration and teaching moment. That would be fun!

  • Wow, this is an amazing list and such an inspiring post! I’m going to be so on my game next year! Or maybe by spring… Thank you for sharing. Those little people rock! And I’ve been wondering which book would be most useful to me. That one sounds great.

  • Thank you for sharing all your traditions! I adore those tree blocks. My older daughter is only 3 1/2, but we made some salt dough ornaments this year which she had fun helping to cut out and then painting.

    One thing we do (not just around Christmas, but relatively often) is go through our old things and pick some to donate. We talk to Meredith about where the toys are going and how it’s nice to pass things on when we are done with them. We buy a lot of our stuff used too, in an effort to reduce and reuse. It’s nice to do before Christmas, since a lot of new toys and other items tend to come in around that time of year. We try to maintain a one in/one out type of philosophy, but of course it doesn’t always work that way, especially with the kids still so young.

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