25 Holiday Traditions To Start This Year

Make new memories with friends and family this holiday season.

Decorating Gingerbread Men Cookies
Photo: Lew Robertson / Getty Images

I'm filled with nostalgia and happiness when looking back on my family's holiday traditions. In a hazy remembrance, I can't always recall every detail. Still, the impression of holidays and family Christmas traditions glide past, all accompanied by strings of lights, fragrant evergreen needles, and the steadfast smell of cinnamon in the kitchen.

While some family Christmas traditions remain the same year after year, it's never too late to start something new with family and friends. This holiday season, make new memories and create a few family traditions you'll look forward to every year.

Classic Traditions

Bake Cookies

Baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve is a tradition many families hold dear, but cookies are perfect anytime during the holidays. Bake cookies for friends and family and store them in decorative tins—they are tasty gifts to send home with guests and holiday visitors. Make it a family affair, and enlist the kids' help to decorate gingerbread cookies.

Pick Out A Tree

Choosing and decorating a tree for the holidays is one of the most beloved December traditions. Make a day of it—bundle up and take a trip to a tree farm to find just the right one (and get your fill of hot chocolate along the way).

Open an Advent Calendar

This calendar has numbered flaps that open to reveal surprises each day leading up to the 25th of December. Extend the excitement of the holidays with a bit of suspense, and let kids look forward to a small gift each night. Create a calendar or buy a pre-filled option with gifts or chocolates.

Write a Letter to Santa

Did you know the United States Postal Service can deliver letters to Santa and return messages from the North Pole? Register for a Greetings from the North Pole Post Office to make sure you get your wishes delivered.

Being in the South also presents an opportunity to send your cards from Christmas—that is Christmas, Florida. Visit this perfect holiday post office and surprise loved ones with a letter from this yuletide location.

Read a Classic

For some reason, reading classics like Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol or How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss never seem to get old. Plus, don't forget to snag a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore for Christmas Eve.

Find the Christmas Pickle

This lesser-known tradition, with origins dating back to the 19th century, is a way to bring the person who finds it good luck or a special gift. Usually, in the form of an ornament, the first person to "spot the Christmas pickle" receives a gift or the tidings of good fortune. You can play a recurring game where the person who finds it can relocate it for a new person to discover.

Traditions That Help Others

Donate Toys

To make way for presents Santa will bring and help children understand the importance of generosity, donate toys to an organization in your community that is collecting during the holiday season. You can even set up a donation box by asking guests to donate one toy in exchange for a day of fresh-baked cookies and hot cocoa in your home.

Donate Your Time

Volunteer as a family at your community's food bank this season, or find another opportunity to give back together in your town. Make opportunities to donate if you don't have a local organization leading the task. A simple toy drive or cookie sale can help others celebrate the season.

Host a Book Exchange

Time off work, time with family, time at home—it's the perfect opportunity to do some December reading. Share the books you've loved this year with your family, and host a holiday book swap. Donate books that don't make anyone's new reading list to the local library—this is an excellent way of getting a head start on your spring cleaning.

Holiday Food Traditions

Feed Santa's Reindeer

You can't forget about Santa's reindeer. Everyone knows that Santa loves milk and cookies, but the reindeer could use a snack too. Carrots and celery are a good go-to. Set them next to Santa's cookies or find a special space for them.

Have a Hot Cocoa and S'mores Night

Don't forget the marshmallows! If it's a cold December night, light a fire in the chimney, grab a mug of hot chocolate, and make a pile of s'mores in the kitchen. Because of the South's seasonably warmer temperatures, this fun night can take place outside if you own a fire pit or outdoor fireplace.

Plan A Special Holiday Meal

Plan a dinner to celebrate your family's heritage, or cook up everyone's favorite dishes for one incredible, long, leisurely holiday meal that everyone will savor. There can be a theme to the evening, or everyone can prepare one dish and let it be a surprise potluck.

Host a Cookie Exchange

Invite neighbors, friends, and family members to prepare their best cookies to bring to a cookie exchange. Prepare two dozen of each cookie so you can share with everyone and leave with a variety of perfectly homemade cookies.

Decorate Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread houses can look very professional or very messy, depending on who is doing the decorating. Make it a playful competition between you and other family members to see who can create the best-looking house. Set a time limit and have a designated "judge" who won't see the creations until everyone finishes—competitors can stand away from the houses to prevent any unintended bias.

Make More Time for Family

See the Holiday Lights

Step one, bundle up and pile in the car. Step two, drive around town to look at the houses covered in holiday lights. Step three, Ooh and aah. Being confined to one car, without any distractions but the beautiful decorations, help establish family memories and hopefully funny conversations. You never know what kind of decor people will have outside their homes—some are so professional they look like they belong on a postcard.

Snap a Family Picture

When you have a stack of treasured photos tracing your family's holidays in a few years, you'll be thankful you kept up with this tradition. Set an appointment and have a professional take a photo, or round up the rowdy crew and snap a shot at home when everyone is together.

Wear Matching Pajamas

For the whole family, of course. It's a photo op waiting to happen—don't forget about your dog or cat. They need some matching pajamas too.

Watch Christmas Movies

A simple tradition with family members can be to watch the same Christmas movie every year. There are so many magical and heartfelt films to choose from, ranging from It's a Wonderful Life to Elf. Make this evening more special by making it a movie marathon of all your favorites.

Put on a Talent Show

Reserve this tradition for the kids to see what they can come up with or invite adults to let their inner-child run free during this joyous time of the year. Kids can perform musicals on Christmas Eve or anytime throughout the season.

New Social Traditions

Throw a Holiday Party

We're thankful for our loved ones all year, but it's the perfect time to let them know. Invite all of your friends, whip up the tastiest holiday recipes you can find, and enjoy the company of friends and family. Host a potluck and ask friends to bring dishes representing their family's traditions and cultural heritage, or explore our favorite seasonal recipes for more ideas to make your holidays the happiest yet.

Host a Gift Exchange

The gift exchange mystery can be fascinating if you add a game into the process. Try hosting a gift exchange where everyone purchases a gift, usually under 20 dollars and applicable for anyone, and keeps it wrapped throughout the game. Then draw numbers from a hat to decide who chooses first, second, and so on. Make the game personalized to your situation, or add "wild cards" where anyone can swap their gift. After everyone chooses a gift, unwrap them as a group to see everyone's surprise.

Neighborhood Snowman Building Contest

If weather permits, host a snowman-building contest where every family in the neighborhood proudly displays a frosty friend in the front yard. Grab some carafes filled with hot chocolate for after, or gather at the neighbors to warm up after holding fistfuls of snow.

Host an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" Party

An ugly Christmas sweater becomes a beautiful thing when worn around a group of family and friends in equally audacious clothing. Host a party where the "ugliest sweater wins" or make a rule that every person should make their sweater from crafts or spare items.

Start a Collection

Hang an Annual Ornament

Purchase or let kids craft an ornament each year. You'll be able to reflect on every holiday your family has spent together. The Christmas tree will showcase a collection of heirlooms that can pass on to your kids or grandkids for their trees in the future.

Send a Holiday Card

Create a holiday card to share with friends and family. They will love catching up and seeing a photograph of your smiling faces. Save an extra card, and start a holiday card scrapbook. Update it each year—we guarantee that you'll love revisiting your family's cards later.

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