For as long as I can remember, I have been excited to create traditions and memories of Christmas for my family. I have had a running Evernote list of ideas over the years and I’m sharing some of them with you!
This list is by no means a comprehensive list of things I think everyone should do in their home. Pick and choose just one that sparks your interest. There is enough pressure and busyness to the season and we should really minimize and lower our expectations rather than try to do all the things.
What I find gets me most excited are traditions that focus on Jesus Christ. I want my children to remember the true “reason for the season” and prioritize the activities that involve mentioning and centering in Christ. Here is my list of favorites!
Light the World Campaign
An easy tradition that involves service-oriented activities is to follow along with the Light the World advent calendar they provide each year. You don’t have to think of ideas, they give daily prompts that are totally doable in a day, inspire your family to think of others during the Christmas season, and involve your kids as well. Even if you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I highly encourage you to join and participate. Any Christian can see the benefit in this great program!
I love that I get text messages as reminders each day and they have all kinds of resources as well. Just text LIGHT to 71234.
Jesus Centered Advent Calendars
Advent literally means “coming”. The world was waiting for the coming and the birth of the Messiah. Now, for us, we are waiting for the Second Coming when Christ will come to the Earth again. It is about preparing our hearts and our minds.
I am obsessed with advent calendars. I wrote a whole mini post about my favorite advent calendars back in 2017! I plan on having one in every room for Christmas season. I am all about the classic tree and ornament advent but I love these advent calendars that are focused on Christ.
Nativity Advent Calendars
Not only do I love advent calendars, but I especially love ones that are a nativity scene. I created one myself and you can read how to make it here.
This advent, usually an interactive walk called “The Winter Spiral”, is a tradition in Waldorf Schools with a whole class of children. You can read more about it here and here. I love that it can be condensed down to a daily home activity by using Grimm or Waldorf products like the wooden spiral and either a Mary on a donkey figurine or a candle but you could easily make your own spiral with anything you have (rocks, candle holders, wooden circles a piece of paper even!). Each day the figurine or candle gets closer to the center until Christmas day! You can find all kinds of advent spirals on Etsy. I love how this family used it as a path to create a great table centerpiece and what she has to say about this tradition. I love how interactive and engaging this calendar is for kids!
Service Activity Advent Calendars
If you have a normal advent calendar laying around, instead of filling it with trinkets and treats, you can fill it with service-based activities to do as a family! Use the Light the World prompts or create your own!
12 Days of Wonder Advent Calendar
This calendar has beautiful illustrations to hang in your home that are all focused on the Nativity. You can find this calendar here. They also have the most BEAUTIFUL bell garlands with the names of Jesus and a book to study 100 names of Jesus. You can best be sure I own both bell garlands and the book, I love all things names of Christ!
Candle Advent with a Daily Devotional
Buy a simple tapered candle and candle holder to place in the center of your dining table. Each night, one of your kids can light the candle (or they can take turns lighting and blowing out since it will probably end up in a fight for who gets to light it, am I right? ha) and you can have a simple devotional. This can be determined by your family’s age. It could be retelling the story of the Nativity with the Fisher-Price set, picking a name of Christ to focus on and read a scripture reference, or a characteristic of Christ to focus your devotional on. The list goes on! The kids will love doing this each night and making sure the candle burns down to the next line.
Give a Gift to Jesus
Every year, each member of the family writes a simple and short letter to promise something to Jesus that they will do. If the child is too young to write, the parent will help them write their letter to Jesus. You will keep these letters and open them next Christmas. This is an alternative to writing a letter to Santa. But the most important difference is that instead of asking and focusing on what you are getting, it’s centered on the giving of Christmas season.
Whether or not you achieved that goal or kept that promise, you can remind your child (and yourself!) that God still loves us and through His grace you can continue trying to be better!
Service Christmas Paper Chain
Instead of just a normal Christmas paper chain, make it more meaningful by having acts of service or kindness on each paper for the child to take off each day. A few ideas: place candy bars on neighbor’s windshield, prepare ziplock bags for the car with water and snacks to hand out to homeless people on the street, pay for person behind you in line at the drive-through or at the grocery store.
Instead of service, you could make a gratitude paper chain and continue the season of thanksgiving into December! With each paper chain that comes off, it can be written on with something the family is grateful for and they can be read on Christmas morning or the next Christmas.
The Giving Manger — Fill baby Jesus’ manger
This tradition involves having a manger under/near the tree and throughout the holiday season, working together as a family to fill the manger with straw one small act of kindness at a time. Here is a cute set you can buy! You could also replace the straw with small strips of yellow paper and invite family members to write their kind deeds they did for Jesus and then add it into the manger. These small acts of kindness become the soft straw for baby Jesus to lay in on Christmas day.
I think this one is a great visual for younger children and can get everyone in the family involved in service without it being more forced. I think encouraging your kids to write down acts of kindness they see their siblings doing is another way to make it even more meaningful and exciting to read through on Christmas morning.
“Back to Bethlehem” Night
As a family, you gather under the tree for a picnic of sorts that includes food Mary and Joseph would have eaten. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just a simple setup with items like grapes, oranges, bananas, naan/flatbread/pitas, cheese, pistachios, pomegranates, dates, hummus, pickles, olives, crackers, or grape juice are just a few ideas. The photo of the charcuterie board above is from this food blog. Pretty much anything you can eat with your hands. I believe that making it more intimate by sitting on the floor together with tons of blankets and pillows will make it more memorable and create some great conversations about how life was at the time Jesus was born.
If you want to, go all out and make it extra fun — dress up in full Biblical attire, use candles, and/or create a market where the kids can use chocolate or real coins to pay for their plate of food. You can also have a centurion greet your guests at the door and collect taxes. Play a Middle Eastern station on Pandora even! I love all the ideas this blog post gives!
Act out the Story of the Nativity
Many families I know grew up getting dressed up and acting out the story of the Nativity in Luke 2 as a family. If you get dressed up for the “Back to Bethlehem” night, you could do them both on the same night! Use simple fabric and towels as your attire, give family members roles like angels, shepherds, wise men and of course Mary and Joseph. You get the idea!
A Letter from your Parents
This one isn’t necessarily centered on Christ, but it is one I think goes well with this list so I had to add it. I heard of someone’s mother writing a letter to each child and putting it into their stocking. That same friend had her mom pass away and those letters became a wonderful treasure to her children.
I love the idea of writing something personal (in your handwriting!) and also writing my testimony each year to my children, mentioning how important they are to me, and how important they are in God’s eyes.
Three Wisemen Gifts
I’d like to call myself a minimalist and so I don’t necessarily want to buy dozens of gifts for our kids each year (although with this being our first Christmas with our almost 2-year-old, I can see the temptation to buy them all the cute things!). I love the idea behind having 3 main gifts to give, mirroring the 3 Wisemen gifts given to Jesus. I’ve heard of two ideas: One is giving something joyful, something needful, and something meaningful.
The other three gift themes I’ve heard is something to wear, something to read, and something they want. I love these themes and think it makes gift-giving more intentional than just buying impulsively.
Shepherd on the Search
Shepherd on a Search is the equivalent of “Elf on the Shelf” but instead of the elf watching your kids and tattle to Santa for their bad behavior, the shepherd is on a search for baby Jesus and each day he gets closer and closer until Christmas morning he finds baby Jesus under the tree! You can be just as fun and creative with your placement. This company created a “Shepherd on a Search” kit that includes a cute little stuffed shepherd and book. They even have a plush camel and sheep you can add to the gang as well! They have created all kinds of other products to add fun to your Christmas season but have it focused on Jesus than Santa. If you’re looking for daily ideas of where to place the little guy, they provide ideas on their website!
I have also heard of a replacement for “Elf on the Shelf” called “Wisemen Adventures” where the Wisemen are looking around the house for Jesus and each day they are on a new adventure. You can get your creative juices flowing and have the Wisemen end up in all kinds of silly places that will crack your kids up. I got the idea from this blog post.
The Christmas Owl Messenger
Another replacement for Elf on the Shelf that leans more on the ‘Santa’ spectrum is the snowy owl Christmas messenger! I got the idea from this blog post and I loved the little stuffed animal owl with his aviator goggles on and little satchel.
The idea is, each day, the family members can record their own acts of grace and courtesy. These little pieces of paper get folded and tucked into the owl’s messenger bag. The little owl is part of ‘The Spirit Post‘, an exclusive owl brigade based in the North Pole. In the evening right before bed, he is placed next to the fireplace and during the night he delivers the holiday spirit to Santa, who then spreads it throughout the world. You could have fun with this and have the owl land in silly places the next morning or keep it simple and the messenger bag is magically empty each day. I love the idea of focusing on “giving” instead of “getting”. I haven’t been able to find their kit with the toy and book they used to sell, but here is a video the creators made that explains it a bit more and you can find your own owl stuffed animal to dress up and use.
Alphabet Christmas Story
One day I randomly came across this web page from a 2011 copy of a Friend called “Christmas ABC’s” and I fell in love. I redesigned it to be a printable I could hang in my home and I added it as a free download below!Download Christmas ABC’s