Christmas Traditions

We are just a day away from our Elf on the Shelf making her debut for the season, and it has me thinking so much about the holiday traditions that we look forward to year after year. Harper has an amazing memory, and has already brought up things we did last year that she can’t wait to do again. Like making reindeer pancakes & going to the Christmas tree farm!

When we were little, my uncle always came over on Christmas morning with donuts. And even though we had been awake for hours because snuck downstairs before the sun came up to see if Santa came, we would have to wait to open our presents. We would wait for donuts to arrive, and then wait until everyone was finished, and finally we would all run to the family room begging to open something. I realize now why my parents would make us wait, after all the excitement and anticipation for Christmas morning, it is over in an instant & they weren’t ready for it to end.

After all of our presents were opened and we were running around looking for batteries and trying to sort out our piles of new socks, someone would always spot envelopes in the Christmas tree. They would have our names scribbled on them in Santa’s sloppy handwriting, that much resembled my dad’s, and we would drop everything to go open them. Inside they had word puzzles. Word scrambles and clues and bits of Christmas Vacation trivia that would lead us to find our one last present. We went to my grandmother’s house for lunch, which was always spaghetti & meatballs, and then spent the rest of the afternoon sledding in her backyard & ended the day watching the Christmas Story marathon on TBS.

I feel like it is my job to make holidays as memorable & fun for my kids. And not with presents or over the top pinterest projects (seriously, I’m the worst elf on the shelf mom) but just making everyday things magical. We are planning to surprise the kids with a morning of ice skating (assuming they can actually stand up in the kid skates!) and hot chocolate. Harper has already been asking when we can make Christmas cookies, a full day of baking is something we look forward to every year, there is something so fun about a messy kitchen full of flour & frosting with Christmas music playing in the background. We always do a gingerbread house, go to the candle light service on Christmas Eve & camp out in the living room the night after Christmas to enjoy the light of the tree just a little bit longer. And every year when we take our tree down, the girls help Brandon cut off a round slice of the tree trunk, we write the year on it and save them in a big glass jug. Such a fun memory to look back on!!

I say it every year, but seeing holidays through the eyes of your children is the most magical thing in the world. Would love for you to share your FAVORITE holiday traditions & what you look forward to most! It’s so easy to incorporate these little things into our lives to make every day just a little bit more fun.

Hope you all are having a happy week & enjoying the start of the holiday season!! XO






  1. Ok, your posts lately keep making me tear up. This little elf has some serious emo issues ! HA πŸ˜€ I loooooove the camp out idea. My son is 2 and is super excited about Christmas this year. This is his first Elf year and he’s already obsessed with “Tickles” (where did he get that name?!). Christmas as a parent is absolute magic πŸ™‚ XO

  2. We love to sprinkle reindeer food (oatmeal and glitter mixture) and leave some carrots out for the reindeer on Christmas Eve. We also have one of the adults sneak outside during bedtime stories on Christmas Eve and ring some jingle bells outside the kids windows……the look on their faces when they think they heard Santa’s sleigh is priceless!

  3. I LOVED this post. Christmas is the most magical time of the year and sharing it with kids is even more special! We were never allowed to go past the first stair growing up until my dad had the camera all set up so my brother and I would stretch as far as we could to peek at our presents. Funny how we remember those times so vividly. Can’t wait to follow your family though the holidays this year :)!

  4. Growing up we got to open a present on Christmas Eve, when we were teenagers it evolved to new pjs because lets be real, that’s the best gift you can get. When I got married, my husband and I started exchanging pjs, and a few years ago I started doing a Christmas Eve box with new pjs, hot chocolate, our favorite treats, a movie. It evolved even more when we got a dog and eventually had our daughter. But it’s always remained my favorite and I can’t wait for this year because my daughter is 2 and starting to understand things!

  5. One of my favorite holidays traditions is riding around on Christmas Eve looking at the lights on the houses. It’s been a little different since my sister and I are older/have moved out, but I hope we can have the same tradition with my 2 year old nephew πŸ™‚

  6. Spaghetti for dinner on Christmas Eve is a must! We also always blast the “You gotta get up” song throughout the house as soon we’re awake on Christmas morning before opening gifts. ❀️

  7. ahhh! I love this! I didn’t know why my parents made me wait at the stairs before we could peek, or why we make our kids do it…..but you are SOOO right! It is because we don’t want it to be over so fast! (and slightly because it is hilarious to watch them wait!) Our FAVORITE tradition is to do advent gifts every other day in December! I buy my kids 4 gifts, my parents buy them 4 gifts, and my sister does too! (we buy them each 4 gifts) They are all very inexpensive gifts that we have picked up over the past year….and they are all dealing with Christmas! I remember it being so sad when I got cute Christmas hair bow ON Christmas, and I couldn’t wear it until the following December! So we gift little Christmas goodies….socks, hair accessory, Santa pencil to use at school, necklace, game, gift card for hot chocolate, gift card to pick up christmas sprinkle donut before school, just little goodies that make the kids super stoked, and make memories that hopefully they will pass to their kids! THE BEST TIME OF YEAR!!!!!!

  8. We open new pajamas and watch White Christmas as a family every Christmas Eve while camping out in the living room. It was fun growing up, but now that my brother and I are married with children it’s so heartwarming to see our kids piled up together in the living room in their sleeping bags and falling asleep in front of the fire like we use to. Thanks for sharing your sweet traditions. We don’t have a real tree- (and I doubt we ever do… LOL!)- but I love the idea of saving a piece of tree trunk from each year. Such a fun read.

  9. Shaker gifts! We always had one present that was a “shaker”. We got it on December 1st along with a clue to what it is, we got to shake it and make a guess. If we guessed right we got to open it early, if we never figured it out it was our Christmas Eve present. So much fun and it was always a random gift that we would never ask for. My sister got Candyland when she was like 17, priceless!!! I can’t wait to start this tradition with my little in a couple of years.

  10. Every year since I was little we always have Christmas Eve dinner at my grandmas house and after dinner when it got dark we could go drive and look for Santa .. now we go to candy cane lane and look at all the decorated houses and lights and look for him then come back and open presents form family . This last year my father passed away and we started hopefully a new tradition to go to my moms for brunch all in our pajamas my daughter just turned 3 and I love keeping these traditions for her and creating new ones

  11. A new tradition we started last year with all of our family is Cioppino Night on Christmas Eve…it’s seriously genius {I can’t take credit for the idea}. We spend the say making the stew with tons of fresh seafood and that night, we have everyone over and set up a big long table…all along the table are bottles of opened wine and loaves of bread and it’s SO much fun! Everyone just pours wine and tears off big hunks of bread and eats soup! Easy peasy but memorable!!

  12. Since i can remember my dad has always made homemade cinnamon rolls to eat Christmas morning and now i love carrying on the tradition with my own kids.

  13. You traditions are so great! My favorite tradition is piling in the car with hot chocolate and coffee on Christmas Eve eve, and driving around local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights with Christmas music playing in the background. Happy December!

  14. Oh my goodness .. Christmas brings me back to my childhood as well. We also had to wait until all the chores were done (horses fed and let out) and our mom made homemade cinnamon buns with hot tea or hot chocolate, once everyone was finished we would sit at the tree with the selected child passing out gifts. We always opened our stockings first (my favorite part) and then we would go to my grandmothers house for a huge lunch/dinner of baked ham, prime roast with all the sides and yummy chocolate pie. Then we would all pile into the car and drive to the golf course or seminary hill to do some sledding … Everyone would crash on the couch … We also went to midnight mass and my mom had a tea for all the girls in the family on Christmas eve! This year we will be trekking to the tree farm, making cookies for all the neighbors, ice skating and going to the official tree lighting ceremony. These ages 4, 2 and 7 months are so fun – it should be an epic Christmas!

  15. Love this post! Christmas Eve is the big get together with my extended family and my favorite memory as a kid that we now do with my daughter and her cousins is after dinner when it’s dark we pile the kids into the biggest car we have and drive around looking at Christmas lights and “looking for santa” which is typically just planes in the sky or the occasionally sighting of someone dressed in a Santa suit. This gave the adults back at home the chance to put out all the presents at home and they would tie up sheets so we couldn’t see in. When we got home a neighbor would come jingle bells and yell Ho Ho Ho!!! And we would all freak out that santa was there. When we finally worked up the nerve to go through the sheet all the lights would be on the tree and hot cocoas lined up and presents from aunts and uncles having been delivered by santa. It was so much fun and magical and even more fun to see the next gen of kids enjoy it!

  16. Some of our favorite traditions included frosting sugar cookies. Watching the grinch and making grinch floats. Driving around looking at Christmas lights. Lastly I love our Christmas Eve dinner. All Scandinavian foods. Lefsa, Swedish meatballs, cream sauce and mashed potatoes. It’s always the foods that remind me of this time of year best. The smells and tastes❀️

  17. We do reindeer food, cookies for Santa on a plate she can write her list on. We finally named our Elf after 2 years last night LOL. I love making these memories with Millie, it’s such a sweet tender age and to see everything through their eyes is the most magical!

  18. My favorite Christmas tradition is on Christmas Eve. We’re Polish so that night is like…*it* for us in terms of the pinnacle of the holiday. We have tons of different types of fish, homemade pierogi, and then we open presents. My nieces and nephews are at that fun (but also sad) age where they just can’t *wait* to get to the presents, and all of us adults love making them wait and wait and wait while we finish our cocktails to do so. πŸ˜‰ Thank you for sharing your traditions with us! Now I want donuts. Luckily, a personal tradition I have is I enjoy a donut on the first Friday of every month…and that would tomorrow! Whoop!

  19. I love this! Thanks for sharing! I love traditions so much and am so looking forward to starting a new one this year (bc my oldest (almost 4) is finally ready for it!) It’s called the Giving Manger. Teaches the concept of doing good and in turn receiving pieces of straw to put in the manger throughout the month so baby Jesus can lay down in it on Christmas Day ❀️ It comes with a great book and scripture too!

  20. So you were laughing at me when I asked you about your Elf on the Shelf ideas for this year?? I can’t imagine you being the worst Elf mama!!! haha. It’s only been one night and I kind of already feel like I’m failing. My son thinks the elf is supposed to bring him breakfast and gifts every morning now!

  21. Growing up, my family didn’t have a ton of traditions around the holidays and I couldn’t wait to start traditions for my kids. Your blog has given me so many ideas in that department. Working away from home full time makes it a little complicated, but I’m doing an advent calendar this year (with things to do vs the chocolate ones I’ve done in years past), and I’m so excited to use some of your ideas for this! Thanks again for the inspiration, Friend! <3

  22. Always had donuts from the oven on Christmas morning. I would listen to records (yes I’m old) of Christmas music all day Christmas Eve to pass the time. We didn’t have a lot of family so we spent the days just our family of five. My parents always made it special. Now we always go to Christmas Eve mass after time with my family (we have a new baby in the family this year so it’s super exciting!), have cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa Christmas Day, take our time opening gifts (we slept in until 10:30 last year but I have teenagers!) and then go to my in-laws later in the day for chili and family gathering. I LOVE the Christmas season, especially since my son will be 18 this year on December 21st. I brought him home on a Christmas Day and it was really the best gift ever God could provide. Happy Holiday season to you and your beautiful family.

  23. I love this post!! (Traditions are the best, we need to create more all year long I think!!) Thanks for sharing!!! πŸ™‚
    My favourite Christmas tradition is Christmas Eve! We have loads of appetizers for dinner, go to church, then come home and open up Christmas pjs, put them on, read all our Christmas books by the tree with candles and cookies before heading to bed!
    It is the most wonderful time of the year! Happy Christmas!

  24. Eloise looks like the spitting image of you and Harper the spitting image of your husband in the second photo! So gorgeous! Loved reading your memories and what you’ll be doing with your girls. My son is 2 so maybe we will try doing a gingerbread house. Our traditions are going to see the huge Christmas light display in a nearby town, cutting our tree and decorating it together, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and visiting our local historical society’s old-fashioned Christmas. They do blacksmith and weaving demos and make homemade donuts over a fire with costumed carolers strolling around – love it. I’d also like to attempt going through a short daily family advent devotional. Attempt. πŸ™‚

  25. Hi Jess! Love your blog and posts! To share our annual Christmas traditions, each year we do Operation Christmas Child as we like to teach the kids about giving–especially to those far less fortunate. As a family, about a week before Christmas, we all pile into the car with freshly popped popcorn, hot chocolate (in covered cups!), our warmest blankets/socks, and have the soundtrack from The Polar Express playing while we drive around our local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights on houses and picking our favorite! The kids LOVE this (and so do mom and Dad!).

  26. Painting ornaments on Christmas Eve to hang on the tree before Santa comes and everyone getting in their jammies to make a Starbucks run while listening to Christmas music and driving around to see everyone’s Christmas lights!!

    Also, I’m a bad elf on the shelf mom too ?

  27. We drive around the neighborhood with blankets on our laps, cocoa in travel mugs, and Christmas music playing while we look at everybody’s decorations. My mom took us and I love taking my kiddos too.

  28. I love these traditions, especially the cutting of the tree trunk! Our family has a Christmas Eve elf that appears while we’re at church, leaving festive jammies on the kids’ beds. He makes the way for Santa!

  29. Growing up we had Christmas eve with just our little family of 5 (not sure how my parents pupped that off!) So for supper every year-we would set the table extremely fancy-tablecloths, wedding china, silver, candlesticks, champagne glasses of sparkling juice-the works! We would then turn off all the lights, wear our beautiful Christmas dresses, and have a candlelit dinner and take turns offering toasts. But the best part?? We ate TAKEOUT CHINESE FOOD for the occasion. It was the only time of the year we ever had it and it was the best, most fun and memorable tradition ever. I’m excited to carry it on when I have my own kids!

  30. My family growing up would make christmas cookies on christmas eve. My dad would help us kids roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, and bake them. Once the decorating started my mom would come in and help us, and my dad would leave. Once the last cookie was decorated my dad would come back in and judge the cookies. There were a bunch of different catagories; prettiest, ugliest, most creative, etc. The winning cookies would be the ones that were left out for santa. Now that we are older, but don’t have children yet, my husband and I continue the tradition with friends. Every year we have all of our close friends come visit and we have a night where we have a nice dinner and spend the evening making and decorating Christmas cookies.

  31. I get teary just thinking about Christmas traditions! I love reading about your old and new family traditions.
    A few traditions I’ve carried on to my family are opening new Christmas pjs on Christmas Eve and a new Hallmark ornament every year. This year my daughter is obsessed with Frosty the Snowman & Karen, so that’s what her ornament is. I love the thought of having a memory tree one day with just my kids’ ornaments one day when they’re all grown up!
    Every Christmas night we go to dinner at our best friend’s mom’s house, then all of our friends from college get together at TGI Friday’s. Sounds totally cheesy, but they started that tradition wayyyy back, and it’s fun to catch up with everyone. They travel from all over, Miami, NYC, & LA, home for Christmas so it’s great to spend time in their humble hometown where we still live.
    I’m especially excited because this year my little girl is 3 and totally into Christmas. It’s the first time in a few years that I’ve had both Christmas Eve and Christmas day off from work, so I’m super excited to spend time with my loved ones without worrying about my shifts at the hospital.

  32. Have you ever mentioned your tree trunk slicing tradition before? That doesn’t sound familiar and I’m IN LOVE with the idea. I must must remember that one for the future. What a great little way to save a piece of each Christmas!

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