Holiday Traditions

See the other parts of this series for:
Why traditions are important
Traditions around the table
Weekly traditions
Once-a-year traditions

In some ways it’s much easier to establish traditions around holidays. There are usually plenty of family gatherings and planned activities.

Actually, there are often too many things.

I think the real challenge for holidays is creating some special traditions that are unique to your own family. That and learning to say “no” to all the activities that can get in the way of time with our families in our homes.

Here are some of the traditions that our family has enjoyed over the years and that our kids associate with the holidays now. Sometimes we might include others, but these are the things that we do whether any other people join us or not.

1. Thankful Tree/Basket
This doesn’t happen every year, but I try to remember because it really helps us to see that there’s another reason for Thanksgiving other than eating. I provide scraps of paper and pens near a container and each day of the week of Thanksgiving we all write something we are thankful for that day. Sometimes we’ll hang them from a branch I found outside (stuck it in a container filled with rocks to hold it) and sometimes they’re just a put in a basket. We then read them at the meal, each drawing one at random to read.

2. Decorate For Christmas The Saturday After Thanksgiving
I started this out of desperation- I couldn’t find time to decorate otherwise! Now my daughter likes to help with this, which I LOVE, so we make this time a priority.

3. That other Thanksgiving Thing
While we’re on the subject of Thanksgiving, Brian wanted me to mention that the day after Thanksgiving we celebrate NOT going out to all the sales. I know frugalista’s are divided on this issue, but you couldn’t get me out there if you paid me (well…OK, maybe for a LOT of money!).

4. Celebrate Advent With More Than A Countdown
I think I mentioned that I made 25 little stockings when I was pregnant with our first child and filled them with miniature ornaments because I wanted to have a unique Advent for our family. This tradition was so important to me to have in our family that I planned it before the kids arrived! I certainly wouldn’t have the time now, but I’m glad I have them.

Each day of Advent our kids take turns finding the stocking and ornament and putting the ornament on a miniature tree. The tree starts out empty, but by Christmas it is full of ornaments. We light candles and always have a reading, some years from an Advent book and some years verses from the Bible that coordinate with the days leading up to Christmas. Working to keep the focus on the meaning of the holiday is one of the ways to combat the consumerism that is rampant during this time of year.

5. Holiday Show or Movie & Dinner
This is one we’d save up for if we wanted to see the Nutcracker. We’d usually find 2-for-1 tickets and for a few years we always saw the Nutcracker and viewed the downtown Portland holiday lights. When the kids got tired of the Nutcracker, we changed the tradition to going to a movie- a new release, usually Pixar or Disney- and then going out to eat at inexpensive places. Oh, and believe me, the kids don’t let us forget this one.

6. Bake Cookies
Yep, the standard. But it never grows old. And since the cookies and goodies we make are specific to the holidays we only get them once a year, so you know this is anticipated. We make a number of different kinds to fill bags and give them as gifts.

7. Special Christmas Meals
In addition to any extended family meals we have, we also have a couple of meals we like to do every year. One is new in the last few years that we’ve come to enjoy- we make fish ‘n chips on Christmas Eve. The other is something we’ve done since the kids were born- a Christmas morning brunch. And it’s not casual- it’s special, just like the holiday we’re celebrating. We use the good dishes and serve some special food and pastries and linger around the table as much as allowed before opening our gifts.

8. Three Things To Combat Consumerism
I thought long and hard about this when our family was just starting. What could I do to try and take the focus off things and put them on the meaning of Christmas? I came up with these three things that I’ve been able to be consistent about:

  • There are no gifts around our tree until Christmas morning. I remember focusing on those gifts when I was growing up- even trying to figure out how I could find out what was in them, counting them, shaking them. You know what I mean. And you can guess what it was that I thought of leading up to the day. And it didn’t have anything to do with a birthday. So I keep the gifts out of sight and a train around the tree for the kids to play with.
  • There are three gifts to open on Christmas morning. I heard this when our son was little and loved the idea of tying the gifts to the three gifts the magi brought to baby Jesus. So I’ve tried to keep to this idea, though I have to confess that I sometimes put more than one clothing item in a box so it counts as “one.” I also try to keep the three gifts to a theme: books, clothes, and then a fun gift the child wanted. Other little items like art, socks, etc. can be put in the stocking.
  • We make the gift-opening last as long as possible. We wait for everyone to get up, then open our stocking gifts in our PJ’s. Then mom and dad make coffee and everyone gets dressed. We have our brunch. Then we open the main gifts, one at a time, so everyone gets to see the gifts.

9. The Pickle Fiasco
My son wanted to make sure I told you that every year we try to hide the Christmas Pickle in the tree (which is supposed to be a German tradition, I think). Our problem is that we forget to look for it on Christmas day. Like every year.

Except for the one year that he remembered and proudly brought it to show me.

And that was the year I forgot to get the special little “gift” for finding the pickle.

Um, I don’t think this one has worked very well for us.

10. Easter Traditions
We don’t really do anything different from many others around Easter. I did get an Easter book when the kids were little and we did readings and art projects the week leading up to the holiday, but it’s not something they were interested in as they grew older. We of course dyed eggs and had egg hunts and a meal, and we also got Resurrection Eggs to do with them that we enjoyed. And the years we made the Resurrection Cookies (the ones you leave in the oven overnight) were wonderful- you’ve got to do those at least once, just to see the looks on their faces.

I’m hoping you all will have some new Easter Traditions that we can add to our family traditions. Does anyone have special traditions for other holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, or the like? I’d love to hear about them- thanks to everyone for all the great ideas so far!


This is linked to:
Frugal Friday @
It’s a Hodgepodge Friday
Favorite Things Friday





  1. says

    1. I love the thankful basket idea. It would never work for my parents, but when I have kids, I’d love to do this with them.

    2. We always decorate on the day after. Sometimes, that means I decorate on my birthday!

    4. We do something very similar with an ornament and some chocolate in a wooden advent box.

    5. We’re going to do this with our wedding anniversary which will always be one week before Christmas.

    9. My family always does the pickle. Yes, it’s German. Now that there are only two of us (no kids yet) it doesn’t work so well. One year we got my brother to hide it, but spent two weeks looking for it!

    An interesting note on Christmas traditions – my parents taught us that Santa decorated the tree. My parents stayed up ALL night (well, til about 3 am) decorating the tree every year!

  2. says

    Once or twice when I was growing up, my mom decorated an “Easter tree”–just a pussywillow branch or something similar with wooden eggs and rabbits that were probably older than I was. But then one of the ornaments broke and she never put it up again. I’ve tried to do that for our family, though, even though I can’t find nice quality Easter ornaments in the stores. It’s just nice to have a cheerful, visible reminder that doesn’t look plastic-y or tacky. Easter is actually my favorite holiday, so I’m eager to see more decorating ideas!

  3. Lesli says

    WOW what a list of ideas you have shared with us! It is most appreciated & in perfect time for the holidays that are sneaking upon us. Listen, you mentioned Holiday movie watching & I thought I’d share a new one with you I recently ran across. Homeless for the Holidays came out late last month on DVD & is a great holiday family film. To break up the monotony of the classics, this is an awesome film that relates to all of us today. Nearly losing it all, an executive must take a job at a burger joint to help his family survive near the holiday season. Definitely worth checking out & great for a family movie night as well. Just wanted to pass along!

  4. Joanna says

    We also started Advent traditions to bring our focus back to the meaning of the season. My German grandmother made Advent wreaths for each family every year. We have continued this with a table wreath of mixed evergreen clippings (keep fresh and prevent drying out for the month by misting regularly with water and storing outside when not in use) and candle holders made by my grandfather. We try to have a family dinner, including 1 or more guests on the 4 Sundays before Christmas and gradually light the four candles, representing Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We have a white pillar candle in the middle of the wreath which we light on Christmas Day along with the 4 Advent candles. One year, I researched quotes for each of these words. I emailed the list of quotes including “Hope” the first week of Advent, the list of quotes including “Peace” the second week, etc to friends and family – it was fun to do the research and people loved getting the quotes each week.

    • says

      That sounds lovely, Joanna – and I also got your emails with the attachments and the picture of the beautiful advent wreath you use, thank you! Those sound like wonderful memories!

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