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Holiday Traditions To Start With Your Family

This year, why not explore new holiday traditions to start with your family? There are plenty of ways to get started, and with a little research you may find a new way to enjoy the winter holiday season with family and friends.

But where to start? It may help to take stock of what you already do in November and December each year and go from there. Do you travel for the holidays? Do you stay home and welcome visitors? What you currently do can be a springboard to a whole new type of holiday–or at least a new part of one.

Holiday Traditions To Start With Your Family

Holiday Traditions You Can Start With Your Family: Timing Counts

Some families are full of shift workers, others may be strictly 9-to-5 earners. Do you struggle to gather everyone for “day-of” holiday celebrations? One of the most useful holiday traditions you can start is to find just the right time for all travelers.

Do you NEED to have your big holiday gathering on November 24 when November 25 would work better? Sometimes ignoring the calendar and setting your own holiday dates makes more sense. Pragmatic traditions are just as helpful as sentimental or charitable ones.

Doing Holiday Things With Your Family

One of the most obvious entries in any “holiday traditions” article is taking time to do all the usual holiday things with your family and extended family. But what if, when decorating your home for your favorite winter celebration such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Christmas, you dedicate a portion of those decorations to a holiday you don’t know much about yet?

You don’t have to convert to another tradition to learn more about it; you and your family might be surprised at how much in common your traditions have with those of others.

Some people establish traditions that push back against their own–such as no-gift Christmas. But some can’t part with the gift-giving tradition and some of these folks opt to offer all hand-made or homemade gifts instead.

If you can get your family on board with the idea of making gifts for one another instead of buying them, you may find a useful, money-saving holiday tradition doing so. Pro tip: some families decide in advance who is making gifts for whom to avoid the stress and pressure of coming up with homemade items for every single member of the family.

Going “Traditional” But With A Big Exception

Anyone who has seen the movie A Christmas Story likely remembers the scene in the film where the family has their Christmas dinner, but it’s Chinese food instead of turkey. Some of us saw that movie at formative times in our lives and wondered what that would be like.

If you need a new holiday tradition, you could do a LOT worse than swapping out one food culture for another at holiday time. Chinese food is just one example, and while some might balk at replacing turkey and mashed potatoes with a more unfamiliar set of flavors, we should never forget that America has TWO major roasted bird-type holidays practically back-to-back.

Thanksgiving and Christmas don’t HAVE to have identical menus, and that’s something some people get quite accustomed to when trying to start new holiday traditions.

Giving Back

Friends, family, and extended family can all team up to give back during the holidays. It’s a fairly common practice, but what you can do to make it more useful is to find a charity or cause that you and the family personally relate to and are passionate about.

It’s one thing to bake a batch of cookies for your local shelter or fundraiser, it’s another thing to get personally involved in animal rescue, community improvement, fighting hunger, or contributing to the arts. Some people have a sober January or Dry January tradition, and some people have a giving-back-in-December tradition.

If you love cats, your time might be most productive working with them. If you are motivated by investing in the local community, you can do two things at once by purchasing gift cards from local businesses, and gifting them to your favorite charity.

Local businesses survive in part by such good will, and that little corner shop you love may be just as supported by this act as the charity you donate to.

Giving back holiday traditions don’t have to be financial–they can be environmental. Local cleanup projects, environmental conservation, and awareness raising activities could all be part of your new holiday season pay-it-forward approach.

If You Stay Home For The Holidays

Staying home for the holidays has its own stresses, especially if you are the host for a Thanksgiving dinner or other holiday meal. Changing up your holiday routines to include a bit of travel is a nice “vacation” from hosting for some, but others get hooked on traveling for the holidays and make it their new tradition.

If you have been the host of a gathering for several years in a row, it might be a good idea to try something new and let someone ELSE worry about who is going to sit next to whom. If you decide to start traveling during your winter break or holiday down time, you can easily start new holiday routines incorporated with your travels.

You could find local food banks along the route and deliver homemade baked goods to the ones you select as part of an annual “give back” effort. You could also donate to a local charity, animal rescue shelter, or other worthy cause along your holiday travel route to make donations with goods or cash.

Donating to charities during the holiday season is common, but traveling to do so isn’t. You may find a warm reception when delivering out-of-town donations, as this is generally not expected. Fun surprises over the holiday season are a great idea!

If You Travel For The Holidays

Some people take road trips, others prefer to fly. If you are a winter holiday traveler, you might consider doing the opposite of what you normally do in terms of driving and flying.

If you fly, wouldn’t it be fun to take the family for a more leisurely drive where you and your passengers control the starts and stops?

Airport food is even less appetizing during the holiday season if you’re a frequent traveler; driving and trying new things along the way is a simple holiday switch but one that could change the entire way you experience this time of year.

And if you are a frequent holiday driver, wouldn’t it be nice to get to your destination a lot faster by changing up the method of travel? It seems like such a simple thing, but in the same way that people used to flying should try driving, if you are a holiday commuter, flying might be a fun treat as long as you give yourself plenty of time to get through the metal detectors at the airport.

Peak holiday travel times can be a bit crowded, and it pays to be willing to travel at earlier or later times. These options are presented here as alternatives to what you normally do, but some find they enjoy the alternative so much that they make it their new holiday tradition. That could be true of you, too!

Holiday Traditions To Try With Your Family

  • Make tamales or cookies together and share them with friends and neighbors.
  • Make a new dish that you’ve never made to go with your holiday meal.
  • Have a cookie decorating party.
  • Have a holiday-edition family game night.
  • Host a karaoke night where everyone sings holiday songs.
  • See a local performance of The Nutcracker.
  • Go apple picking and bake homemade pies together or make applesauce.
  • Take a trip to the snow for sledding, tubing, skiing, or snowboarding.
  • Visit a Santa-themed destination, like SkyPark at Santa’s Village.
  • Have a Christmas Tree Campout – sleep out by the Christmas tree, tell stories, enjoy holiday snacks, etc.
  • Gift an annual ornament.
  • Build a gingerbread house.
  • Participate in an annual toy drive.
  • Set out mugs, marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, and more for a hot cocoa making station.
  • Host a food drive in your neighborhood and donate what you collect to a local food pantry.
  • Make a traditional holiday meal such as monkey bread for a Christmas breakfast.
  • Anonymously pay away the lay away at a local store.
  • Go to church on Christmas eve.
  • Go through your clothes together and gather gently used items you no longer use and donate to a local shelter.
  • Countdown with an advent calendar.
  • Watch a tree lighting in your hometown or Rockefeller Center!
  • Wear an ugly sweater.
  • Volunteer at a local senior living center and spend time with the residents playing cards, reading books to them, coloring, etc.

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Heidi Deal
Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights. When she's not writing you can find her solo hiking and going on new adventures with her kids and pup.