christmas traditions!

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what are some of the traditions you and your family do over the holidays?

i made a little list of a few of our favorites! and i’d love to hear some of yours, it’s always fun to try new ones out…

— josh and i love reading david sedarias’ holidays on ice together. he was one of the things we really bonded over when we were dating and it’s fun to pull out his christmas book each year. the audio recording of him reading his own essays in this book are particularly amazing. it’d be a fun one to listen to while decorating for the holidays or driving to a christmas party if you have a car.

— it has become christmas tradition since our first year of marriage for josh to make a triple batch of his famous ginger cookies each year on christmas eve and i love the way it makes our apartment smell.  since we make so many, we like to deliver them to friends together on christmas eve and the days around christmas.

— we’ve also enjoyed hosting a pie night over the years around the holidays with friends. we’re actually hosting one this weekend! it’s always fun to have everyone bring their favorite homemade pie and josh loves giving out awards at the end of the evening which is always a riot to watch. but you could do it as just a dessert night, or a cookie exchange, or even an ugly sweater christmas party! options are endless. always fun to get together though with friends over good food during the holiday season.

— we’ve been doing the whole matching family christmas jammies thing for so many years now! fun to pull them out when you’re decorating the christmas tree, or on christmas eve at the very least! josh’s somehow always end up in the good will pile and i never know why he doesn’t wanna hold onto them. ;) this is a fun video of our family so many years ago (when i had platinum blonde hair, oh my!) in our christmas jammies. :)

— we have started watching some christmas movies with the kids over thanksgiving weekend to get into the christmas spirit. we did elf, how the grinch stole christmas, and home alone again this year (we introduced it to them last year and they cried from laughing so hard) and we’ve been watching bits of home alone 2 before bed every couple of nights lately (we’re almost done with it!). josh even found that old stop-motion rudolph the red-nosed reindeer movie from the 60s along with a few other christmas classics, frosty the snowman, santa claus is comin’ to town, and the little drummer boy. they’ve really liked these older classic movies too!

— music is such a great part of the holiday season and we have love learning new christmas songs together. samson just learned how to play jingle bells on the piano and i’m so proud of him! we sing christmas songs around the piano often, and i always like having christmas music playing somewhere in the apartment (have you listened to leslie odom jr.’s christmas album yet? it’s a good one.) and since we do a faux christmas tree in our apartment, i have several pine needle smelling candles that i often have going, in addition to having mini marshmallows fully stocked in our kitchen so we can make hot chocolate at any moment!

— we love finding a way to serve together with our children over the holidays. we’re actually going to the new york food bank this weekend to serve along side many of you (thank you to everyone who signed up!) i can’t wait to serve with you guys!!! if you can’t find a service project that allows your children to contribute in your area (it’s actually always harder than we think to find something children can participate in), we always like supporting a good cause and on christmas day, we have our children pick out animals from the heifer international catalog to donate (they can give things like sheep or chickens or bees or pigs or bunnies to a family in need so they can help themselves and their community with the animals) and it’s a great way to get kids involved in a good cause. something we have really enjoyed doing with our children each christmas morning.

just a few of our favorite christmas traditions! would love to hear some of yours in the comments below! always fun to try out new ones over the years. merry christmas!

  1. Rachel Garces

    Oh this post makes me so happy!!!!! Our babies are 3 and 7 months. We were just talking this weekend about what traditions we want to start with our babies! So much fun and excitement. We’ve definitely busted out all of the holiday and Christmas books since Thanksgiving, and decorating the tree and house this year was a blast. Looking forward to seeing everyone’s ideas. Especially for little ones.

  2. Happy Christmas, thanks for sharing your glorious family in so many enchanting ways! Have y’all ever watched Eloise at Christmastime? It’s a NYC Christmas movie treasure in our home. Wishing you all things merry and bright!

  3. Liz

    What kind of candles do you use? I keep on buying ones that claim to smell like a Christmas tree and they don’t really work. I’d love to have a rec of some that work 😍

  4. Patty

    On Christmas Eve we visit a local farm that always has baby lambs out for viewing and we drive around looking at Christmas lights.

  5. Chelsea

    We do our stockings on Christmas Eve morning and fill them with activities to do as a family that day. Chocolate chips for baking Santa’s cookies, Christmas pjs, tickets for a movie or show, etc. I love having that day day for our little family to stop and enjoy each other and escape from the busy holiday season. Also, you should heck out lokokitchen on instagram for some crazy pie inspiration!

    • josh

      This is so clever!

  6. Haleigh

    Our family opens one gift on Christmas Eve and it is always so special. On Christmas day, someone is chosen to play “Santa” and then hands out all the gifts individually, one by one–but only until the last one to be handed out has been opened. Only one person is allowed to open one gift at a time. It turns into a show AND an all day event, which is wonderful because stretching Christmas Day out as long as possible is exactly how it should be.

    Another thing my parents did when I was a kid was hang sheets around the tree on Christmas morning so that my sister and I could not see all the presents until after breakfast. I swear, it was MAGIC every year. We would first all open stockings, all at the same time, then eat breakfast. Then the rule was to get dressed–no present opening in pajamas. Again, it gave the day structure and streeeetched it out. Such magical memories; these things I will definitely do with my kids!

    Thanks again for the ideas of serving and giving away cookies. It is true that giving gifts is just as good as receiving. I will look to make that happen for us this Christmas Season.

    Frohe Weihnachten, from Germany :)

    • josh

      haha! i love the sheets idea! but we don’t have room to put presents anywhere except under the tree. taking turns is definitely key!

  7. Rena

    Watching Christmas series is so nice! Although normally I don’t watch TV and series it happens that I make an exception in this context during Christmas :)
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

  8. My husband grew up writing letters to Santa. They would go outside and burn them in the fire pit. The story is that the letters burn up to the North Pole and then magically become whole again for Santa to read. His parents secretly switched out the real letters for fake ones and his mom held on to the real ones all of these years. We just had a baby in February so she’s not old enough to write letters yet, but we’re looking forward to doing the same thing once she’s older!

    • josh

      Can’t believe she switched them out!

  9. Oneida

    We love making traditions as a family as our 2 kids grow! We do an Advent calendar – it’s a felt hanging Christmas tree we got at Target on super sale after christmas with tiny pockets. Every year we buy Christmas M&Ms to fill it so they can have 1 M&M a day until Christmas (we’re sugar Scrooges haha). We read Bible verses each day and the kids pick out the characters needed for that part of the story from their play nativity set. We use the remaining M&Ms to make Christmas sugar cookies with our Christmas cookie cutters. We take these to share with friends when we visit Winterhaven, a neighborhood in our town that goes ALL OUT with light shows, water fountain displays, horse rides, etc. It’s totally volunteered by each house in the neighborhood and has been going on since 1960 or something! It is completely free, but they take donations for the food bank. Also, 3 out of the 4 of us have December birthdays, so there are lots of parties and cake and general celebration! One thing I’m sad about this year is that usually we do a Christmas shoebox to send overseas through our church, but we changed churches this year and haven’t gotten around to doing it on our own. The girls have always loved each picking a child their age and the generosity they show by wanting to buy these kids EVERYTHING (they beg and plead and show sad eyes) and cramming that shoebox full…well, writing this has inspired me to be motivated and find out how to do it on our own! Thanks for sharing and keeping me accountable ;)

    • josh

      Let us know if you find out about the shoeboxes! And where is this Winterhaven?

  10. Rachel

    Tiny E & S slay me! Uuuggghhhh why do they have to grow?! Ps: your hair in that video makes me want to dye mine! Sooooohhh cute. Our favorite traditions are Dutch baby pancake christmas morning, new jammies on Christmas eve from my MIL, driving & walking the 95yr old “Christmas Tree Lane” two miles of houses decorated here in Fresno, getting our fresh tree! And I’m excited to start new tradiations with my 2.5yr old daughter thus year! Every year with her is more and more exciting and special. Her first movie was the star this year, so maybe that will be a new tradition we start every year. Hilarious, clever short and right to the point! Faith filled.

  11. Stacey

    I love the holiday season and hearing about other people’s Christmas tradition. My husband and I always watch How the Grinch stole Christmas together. We usually end up going somewhere local to look at lights.

    @stylingsofstacey |

    • josh

      Watching that is one of my favorite traditions too! Ever since high school.

  12. Rachel

    Hey there! I used to be a big fan of Heifer International, too, but after educating myself further I did a complete 180. There are so, so, so many reasons why “gifting” animals is problematic, from an environmental standpoint to an ethical one. Here is a webiste that does a nice run down of some of the reasons why organizations like HI do more harm than good:

    You guys seem like such a caring, gentle, thoughtful family, and i Know you would never intentionally choose to do harm. What will you tell your kids when they ask what is going to happen to the cute bunnies they pick out from the catalog?

    Please reconsider this tradition.

  13. Katrin

    Cookies are always the best idea! Go Josh! ~

  14. fefe

    Every Christmas my boyfriend and I get a new ornament to represent something big that has happened that year. One rule is that we can’t order it online, though! It has to be found, and sometimes it feels like one “picks” us!

    For example, the year we moved to NYC we were kinda panicking about finding a ornament that wasn’t super tacky but really represented our new city. We went to tons of holiday markets and nothing was really speaking to us. After we had gotten our lil sidewalk tree, we went home. We were looking through our closet for lights and randomly, in the back of our closet, we found an ornament that was a little hand painted yellow cab! We called it the “Christmas miracle” ornament that had clearly been left behind by the previous tenant! Now it’s ours, and it’s one of our favorites!

    • TAZA

      such a cool story!

  15. Has your family watched Arthur Christmas? It’s an animated film and one of my favourite Christmas movies! I’ve already watched it a few times this season ^-^ -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    • TAZA

      we haven’t! going to write that one down.

  16. Gola

    Having friends visit us in Krakow each year to attend the traditional Christmas market in Old Town.
    Sending UNICEF Christmas cards which reminds me of my childhood as my mom used to do that when I was little.
    Cooking and baking together with my sister while listening to George Michael.
    Despite the lack of impresive voices in my family ; carrying on a family tradition of carol singing at Christmas night :)
    Still running in our pyjamas when the family guests are already at the door!

    Merry Christmas!

  17. Grace

    Love this!! My family always opened up new Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve. It allowed us to open a present early and we would wear them to bed and open presents wearing them in the morning!

  18. Rita

    I started following your blog in 2006 or 2007 when you were newly wed and you had just announced your first addition to your family. Fast forward eleven years or so and a million life events later to today. I had a random thought…”What was that blog that I used to read with the xute dancer and her hubby?” A short google search and here I am, still in love with your style and openess. I just watched tje short film from 1/6/17 and can say with complete convixtion that I was sent here, to your blog for that message today. Thank you for sharing with the world. I needed your message today. ❤

  19. Michelle

    Is there a recipe for the ginger cookies?

    • josh

      I think it is a family secret?

  20. Carol

    Love all your traditions! What a beautiful family. Ginger cookies sound fabulous. Will you be sharing the recipe??? Merry Everything and Happy Always

  21. Elise

    The last few years we have started spending Xmas eve at the beach! It’s great, we pack a picnic and play til the kids are tired out :p Then look at some Xmas lights on the drive home before getting ready for Santa to come.
    We should do a house swap one year so your family can have a beach Christmas and mine can have a snowy one ;)

    • josh

      ha! Australia is too far for Christmas I think!

    • TAZA

      crazy to think of christmas eve on the beach! how fun.

  22. Sarah

    We bake a birthday cake to Jesus and read the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2

    We wrap the same books each year and have a book advent under the tree

    A silly one but a special one: ever since our first yer of marriage my husband has put a fire place on the TV from YouTube because I grew up with starting. Fire on Christmas morning before stockings and it has just become the sweetest most special thing

    A lot of music and a lot of singing.

    As much making the season about the reason: Emanuel

    Keeping a quiet slow pace on Christmas morning to savour each other. I feel like every year we try to distill it more and remove the busy-ness of the hustle on Christmas Day.

    And basically we never eat turkey or ham on Christmas 🙃 gingerbread beef Wellington

    Writing and delivering Christmas cards

    Sharing love and Joy. That’s the most important for sure.

    • josh

      Great list!

  23. Amy Anderson

    My family has a shepherd’s dinner every Christmas Eve. It’s my girls’ (ages 13,10,7&5) favorite Christmas tradition! We turn off all of the lights in the house, lay out a blanket and have a “picnic” dinner on the living room floor with just the light of the fireplace glowing. We feast on the foods the shepherd’s would’ve eaten on their way to see the Christ child…fish, hummus, pita bread, grapes, nuts (we do pistachios), olives, cheese & I like to add a Martinelli’s sparkling beverage to add to the special.😉 We imagine what it would be like for those shrpher’s on that special night and my kids just love it! It’s something special and out of the ordinary of a usual family dinner at the dinner table. Afterward we read the Nativity story from the Bible and then watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas while drinking egg nog.😊 Thanks for sharing yours! I totally want to read that book with my husband that you two read every year.👍🏼 Happy tradition making!

    • josh

      This is cool. I forgot we did this with our friends one year. We ordered from the Hummus Place nearby. We should do it again. Thanks for the reminder, Amy.

  24. connie

    OH my gosh the old video–the kids are so little! i see why you’re going for two more. they are ADORABLE. can’t even handle the cuteness.

    • josh

      Right?! Luckily they look more like Naomi, so they’re extra beautiful.

    • TAZA

      that’s nice of you! thanks, connie!

  25. Amelia

    Hi Friends! We’ve done the Shoebox thing too through our playschool and just as a family. It’s “Operation Christmas Child” by Samaritan’s Purse. Shoeboxes are tracked which makes it extra fun. One year our box went to the Philippines.

    We make homemade pizza on Christmas eve. We also have a tradition of enjoying Christmas morning at our own house. Because there is nothing like waking up in your own bed on Christmas morning.

    • josh

      Thanks, Amelia! Just looked up OCC. And totally agree about waking up in your own bed.

  26. Megan B

    I am not sure it counts as a tradition but one year my husband and I bought socks for our daughter (she is somehow always losing them!) we wrapped them individually so she had to open SEVERAL presents and each time it was a sock. It began to be very comical and in the years past I have kept doing it, only I don’t buy as many as I did the first year.

    Any other tradition is we started buying a real Christmas tree. My husband grew up with a real tree but it wasn’t until our first Christmas together that I had one.

    • josh

      hahahah! this is so funny we may have to do it too!

  27. Helga

    My family has many fun Christmas traditions but a few years ago my cousin and I started a new one that I love. We make tiny gingerbread houses for all of the kids in the family and get together a week or two before Christmas so they can all decorate. The parents bring lots of decorations and the kids use their mad decorating skills! It’s fun to see their personalities all over the houses they decorate. We have to wait until 12/20 this year because my daughter demanded that we wait until she gets home from college so that she can participate!

  28. Megan

    We really take our time opening presents Christmas morning. It started because our kids always just wanted to play with whatever toy they had just opened. So instead of making them set it aside, now we take the time to play dress up or build the LEGO airplane before we move on to the next present. I admit, I get a little antsy with curiosity and excitement for all the unopened presents, but it’s really fun to still have presents to open hours later.

    • josh

      Oh wow. We need to do this!

  29. Bren w

    Some of our traditions- watching all the Christmas movies starting December 1st. Putting up the tree and decorations the day after Thanksgiving. Listening to Christmas music everyday. Making cookies and candies, yum!
    We did all of these things with our children, and now we are doing them with grandchildren.
    Somebody was asking about Christmas candles…the best ones I’ve found are surprisingly, the cheapest.Glade candles! The Apple cinnamon are so close to the smell of apples and cinnamon. A trick I use is to scoop some out of the holder and put it in an essential oil warmer. It makes the smell more intense.

    • TAZA

      love these! the candle i am liking right now is Bougie Aromatique in the frasier fir scent.

  30. Bren w

    Reading Christmas books with our grandchildren is something I hope to be able to keep doing along with all the other special traditions that we have.

  31. Grace

    My dad always makes a big production about the children going to sleep because Santa only comes when we are asleep. Despite being 31 years old, I am still his child so every year I am also sent to bed around 10 pm. It is one of things I love most about Christmas and it really does make everything feel extra special in the morning.

  32. Lizzy

    I love David Barnes and Hillary Scott’s “Christmas Tonight”… and I think you will love it too if you haven’t discovered it yet!

  33. Abby

    A few of our favorites: my husband and I visit our local holiday stroll the first weekend of December and each pick out an ornament from our favorite craft store. This year we took our daughter and she picked one out, too! (Mostly because she loves to grab things…)

    When I was growing up, my parents came up with a GENIUS idea to keep us in bed even if we woke up early on Christmas morning. After we fell asleep on Christmas Eve, they’d leave one gift on the end of our bed for us to find and unwrap when we woke up in the morning. It was always something that would keep us occupied quietly, like a book or a quiet toy. It’s one of my favorite traditions, and I can’t wait to start it with our daughter once she’s a little older.

  34. Rosie

    Another great film to watch is Miracle on 34th street! Merry Christmas xox

    • josh

      Eleanor is the only one of the kids who was into it. Will keep trying.

  35. Victoria

    I always loved watching how other people celebrate christmas! Specially people from another country!
    Im from Argentina, and christmas starts with the family getting all together to go to church, to celebrate Jesus birthday. After that we have a HUGE dinner. We usually divide what to bring, so every member of the family (uncle, aunts, cousins, grandmas, etc) have the opportunity to show off their special cooking skills ;) (mine is dessert!)
    At 0.00 pm we all gather toghether to make a toast and sing some christmas carols, when that ends we give out the presents. If there kids, like this year (… is my nephew’s firts christmas!) One of the adults would dress like Santa, or as we call him, Papa Noel,
    We also get all together again on the 25! And of course, we eat, we invite friends… since is summer over here we usually go swimming or something like that. It’s the best!!
    I really loved the idea of te pie contest! I may suggest it this year! :)

  36. Oneida

    So I found out that the Christmas shoebox window is actually in November. You can’t get the actual Christmas shoebox to send it in unless you order them in a big pack (which makes sense for churches), but you can use any adult size shoe box. I’m hoping to remember that next year, though I’ve heard maybe you can send it anytime because sometimes it takes until summer for the kids to actually receive them depending on where they are at. Until then, my older daughter’s first grade class chose a family to adopt for Christmas, so instead my daughters signed up to each pick out a really cute top for the family’s 4-year old girl. Not the same, but they were still super excited to find something nice for her and spent lots of time debating between shirts.

    Also, Winterhaven is in good ole Tucson, Arizona! The best city in the world, at least to us ;)

    (This is in reply to Josh’s question…it’s so nice that you guys comment back to us when we write!!! Also, is there a way to reply on a thread to your replies on our comments? Did that make sense? Ha)

  37. Megan

    While I haven’t done this particular tradition (yet!)…it just popped up on Facebook and I thought you and Josh would love it!

    Apparently, in Iceland, books are given as gifts on Christmas Eve. Then, everyone in the family cozies up to enjoy their new printed goodies with some chocolate. :-) I can just picture all of you in your matching Christmas jammies diving into new books!

  38. Shelby

    We always have a special Christmas breakfast lasagna!! It has french toast, sliced deli ham, apple pie filling, granola, and a brown sugar/sour cream sauce on top. I know it sounds SO weird but it’s something my whole family looks forward to every year and its absolutely delicious!!

    I linked the recipe below (:

  39. Kristin Smith

    Prep and Landing and Prep and Landing II are awesome short kid Christmas movies. They are seriously so funny and approriate for littles. We love watching them. You can buy both in a set.

  40. addie

    I love the ideas, but how do you get the tree to twinkle in the background – is it just playing with the focus on the dslr?
    Thank you!

  41. Ilene Flores

    Your traditions are beautiful, isn’t it just so much fun and so magical for you to see that sparkle in your families eyes when that Christmas spirit sets in! Some traditions for my family the matching pjs for Christmas Eve night and then the photo op in the morning (bed head and all) to get our new picture for next years Christmas cards. On Christmas Eve night we go to my husbands family annual party for yummy food, music, and good convo then at midnight we all open gifts. Going to the Christkindl Market is a must every year with my bestie and a new tradition is my son and I bake/decorate cookies to hand out to our neighbors and the mail carrier. We also donate money, food, clothing to those who need it. We also just got an elf on the shelf this year.