Why and How to Make Unique Christmas Traditions for Your Family

Traditions are the bonding goop in families. They are ‘understood’ by the family, like an inside joke or secret handshake. They are a constant to rely on, a marker for special events. Traditions are a display of family pride, like team colours or an anthem. And the BEST thing about traditions is that they can be aaaaannnnything at all!

Like cussing on road trips.

Or writing down what you are thankful for each Thanksgiving.

Or like this nutcracker.

our nutcracker tradition

We don’t really know where he is from.

He is broken but I keep gluing him back together.

He frightens most young children.

But last year we accidentally started treating like an Elf on the Shelf.

But he’s a Nutcracker, and broken. And not totally mischievous and bendy like the Elf.

But hey, memories are still being made and when all the other kids in school are talking about their zany elves, our kids can describe their broken nutcracker doing unimpressive things to a row of silent nods. We will know when they come home from school just how our cheapness in their early years lead to tween-angst. We will know because they will give us that look that we all gave our own parents when ‘evvvvvvvveryone had lunchables BUT US!’.  Yet, we will give them that smug look that all parents give their children when they know that they have just created a family tradition.

As with each tradition, it is a chapter in our family’s story. Each page accumulating a story of what we value and who we are.

I’m not sure why, but there is something about the Christmas season that makes us seek out family traditions more than any other time of year. Perhaps it is because the most grumpy family members have been made pliable with chocolate truffles and extra rum in their nog, and are finally convinced to wear the wrapping paper hat while playing a game of Potato Chip Poker. Perhaps it is a Christmas miracle.

When we first became a young family I was giddy with the thought of creating traditions that would be unique to our family. I wanted to do them allllll! I quickly learned a few things that have shifted how I view our family traditions. . . . .

Like the fact that I don’t have to do them all – right away. There can be a lot of pressure to have a Pinterest Christmas from ‘Baby’s First Christmas’. But first of all, perfect is boring. Second, it is exciting to try on traditions and see what fits. This is kind of what I’m trying with the advent activities.

The nice part about ‘trying out’ traditions is that it allows you to become selective in what works for your family. Because if we overload our holidays, or lives, with them, we can lose our ability to be flexible and content. We still need wiggle room to go to Tim’s for breakfast one Christmas morning when the Wife Saver didn’t get put in the oven.

There have been some traditions I’ve tried to instil that flopped like my first attempt at Math 11. Then there have been many that just happened, like the nutcracker. Or the one where Conor is THE only one who can run the Christmas tree train (fine, maybe this one started because I always said, ‘when your Dad gets home’ when the kids asked me to turn it on).   The best thing is, there are many more to come. It is never too late to start a tradition. 

A photo posted by Shawna Scafe (@shawnascafe) on

Christmas traditions don’t have to be complicated, or metaphorical, or expensive. Here are some themes to help you explore the different ways you can bring simple family traditions into your holiday. . . .

  • Music. A holiday song you learned the harmony to. Playing ‘All the Single Ladies’ while you decorate your tree. Listening to old records with your dad on Christmas Eve. TransSiberian Orchestra like a BOSS!
  • Food. A special dish you make for brunch. Buying the ‘expensive’ cereal. Putting candy canes in your cocoa (I do not personally endorse this). A special prayer you say for Christmas dinner. Christmas crackers! Fighting over the wishbone. A signature cocktail or appy.
  • Crafts. A family handprint wreath. Stringing popcorn to hang on the tree. Making gifts for friends.
  • Games. Playing ‘go fish’ on Christmas Eve. Doing a family puzzle. Scavenger hunt. Family trivia. Snowball fights.
  • Decor. A certain ugly Christmas penguin that you keep in the bathroom. Having the green candles on the table and the white ones on the mantle. Going through the box of old Christmas cards together. The weird garland thing that took your mom two years to knit and now she demands on hanging it each year.
  • Lights. Mom only wanting white lights. Having the same tree lit up each year, and Dad wishing he never strung lights around it that very first year because now the kids demand it each season.
  • Photos. Taking the same photo each year. Hanging photos on the tree. Photos with Santa.
  • Outings. Sledding each boxing day. Going to the town light up. A special event in the neighbourhood. A polar dip. Bonfires with friends.
  • Clothes. Christmas PJs. Your crazy Aunt wearing her big ugly Christmas present brooch. A tacky Christmas hat that gets passed around.
  • Books. Reading the same Christmas book each Christmas eve. Reading a book series over the holidays. Writing the past year’s memories in a book. Buying a new magazine for the holiday.

  • Gifts. The white elephant gift that is being passed through the family. Using the same card each year. A gift exchange.
  • Charity. Making care packages for the local shelter. Volunteering at the food bank dinner.  Doing random acts of kindness each day of the month.
  • Church. The Christmas eve service. Crying while everyone sings Silent Night by candlelight (or so I’ve heard).
  • Entertainment. Christmas movies. A family talent show. Watching the Office dinner party episode. Youtube videos of the best things that happened this year.
  • Ornaments. Getting a new one each year (or every third-ish year). Making your own.
  • Then and Now. Filling a jar with memories. Keeping a piece of wrapping paper from each year. Video taping a family christmas carol. Putting handprints on the treeskirt (like my instafriend, @nickyjack)

Maybe you are still trying out different traditions for your family. But, I bet if you look at this list you probably realize you already have a lot of ‘traditions’ in place for your young family. Wherever you are in setting some family traditions, own them, nurture them and proudly let them become a page of your family story.

I’d love to know, what are some of your favourite Christmas traditions for your family?

See all post for A Simple Christmas Series

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