This post: Memory making holiday family traditions to start this year / Updated 10/2021
Rather than clinging to old traditions that may be a little weathered, (at least in our kids’ eyes), maybe it’s time we usher in a few new Thanksgiving and holiday traditions to spice things up a bit and give our kids something to look forward to.
Whether you grab hold of a few of our suggested holiday traditions or adopt a few new ones of your own, make the holidays special this year by creating new and lasting memories your kids will never forget.
From slightly sappy and silly to casual and festive, here are a few memory-making holiday family traditions to start this year.
Memory-Making Holiday Family Traditions to Start this Year
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1. I’m Grateful For…
If there’s one thing the last couple of years has done, it’s made us realize and reflect upon what’s really important in our lives. And, there’s no better time to talk about and share our many blessings and what we’re grateful for than when we’re gathered around the Thanksgiving table with those we love. During Thanksgiving dinner, have everyone take turns sharing what they’re grateful for. (Get the tissues ready, you might be surprised how honest and heartfelt your family’s answers are.)
2. Memory Tablecloth
When Deb Mills, a mom in Clinton, Missouri, asked her teenagers to sign their names on the Thanksgiving tablecloth with a fabric marker that disappears when washed, they thought she was a little crazy.
What her kids didn’t realize is that prior to washing the tablecloth, their mom embroidered over their signatures leaving behind a beautiful memory of the family’s holiday. Over the years, she served Thanksgiving dinner on the same tablecloth, always having her kids (and now grandkids) add their signatures to the tablecloth. “We started with seven of us and now there’s 19 of us. It’s been so fun seeing their signatures change through the years,” said Mills. (Image compliments: TODAY Parents)
3. Play a Game After Thanksgiving Dinner
Rather than hitting the couch and watching television after Thanksgiving dinner (which is nice, but oh, so boring), why not stretch out family time by playing a few post-Thanksgiving dinner games? Head outdoors for a game of family football, play a fun board game at the kitchen table or try out a new silly game your family has never played before. Here are a few hilarious Thanksgiving games that will get the whole family laughing!
4. DIY Fall or Holiday Craft
Nothing gets you in the spirit of the season like jumping into a hands-on DIY craft. There are so many amazing DIY crafts to choose from – literally, something for everyone. What’s really cool is that many of them are inexpensive to make and yet special enough to sell at a craft fair (a fun way to make a few holiday bucks) or give to family or friends for the holidays. Looking for ideas? Check out these Fall Craft Ideas and DIY Christmas Crafts.
5. Make a Family Holiday Bucket List
Gather your family and have each person pick one thing they’d like to do as a family during the holidays. It could be anything from ice skating or sledding to visiting a Christmas tree farm or building a snowman. Then, have everyone add the event to their calendar (a must when you have busy teenagers) so the entire family can plan ahead and have something to look forward to.
6. Take a Themed Family Holiday Photo
Nothing (and I mean, nothing) has been typical about these past couple of years. So, logic says, your holiday family photo shouldn’t be, either. Instead of the traditional (albeit nice, but totally predictable) family holiday photo, consider taking a fun, silly or themed family photo to lighten the holiday spirit.
A few ideas include using holiday props like “naughty,” “nice,” or “ho ho ho,” signs in your photo or taking a picture of the entire family baking cookies, making a snowman or sledding down a hill. Or, if you really want to have fun, come up with a crazy or fun family photo and include a header such as, “All I Want for Christmas Is…,” What Christmas Means to Us…” or “Family ~ It’s What Matters Most.”
7. Have a Backyard Bonfire with S’mores
Break out of your boring routine and plan a backyard bonfire complete with s’mores and hot cocoa. Let the kids invite a few friends over and spring for a few extra snacks and drinks (because let’s face it, teenagers are always hungry) and enjoy an evening gathered around a warm, crackling fire.
The best part about hosting a backyard bonfire is that there’s little to no stress in planning. Just purchase traditional s’mores ingredients, (don’t forget the long skewers or sticks to roast the marshmallows) and keep the hot cocoa with plenty of mini marshmallows flowing.
8. Feel Happier By Decorating the House Early
If you’re one of those families who has their tree decorated, the Christmas village all lit, and the outside lights up and in full swing by early November, you might just be on to something. According to experts, decorating for Christmas early may make you happier, which means you now have a legitimate excuse to break out the gigantic Santa, garland and ornaments a whole lot earlier than year’s past.
9. Make a Jingle Bell Rockin’ Playlist
If there has ever been a year to blast Christmas carols, this is it! Let the entire family add their favorites to the list and play all your top holiday faves while decorating, baking a few cookies or wrapping presents.
10. Have a Cookie Baking Day
I’ve never been too successful getting my son to join in on our cookie baking day (I’m still working on that), but my daughters and I always have a blast. We start planning weeks in advance sifting through recipes, carefully choosing which ones we want to bake and making our grocery ingredients list. When the day arrives, we always wear our fun holiday aprons, crank up the holiday music and spend the day making memories and a total mess of the kitchen. (I find colored sprinkles on my kitchen floor weeks later.)
11. Have a Family Holiday Movie Night
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teenagers it’s that if you make food, they will come. Get the popcorn poppin’, make a few easy movie night snacks, choose a classic holiday flick everyone agrees on and snuggle in for a relaxing family movie night. Looking for movie ideas? Here’s a list of the 25 best Christmas movies of all time.
12. Give Each Child a Holiday Ornament
Even if your kids are in middle school, high school or beyond, it’s never too late to kick off new holiday family traditions. A great tradition is to give your kids something to look forward to every year by purchasing them their very own ornament. To make it even more special, purchase an ornament that signifies a major event or milestone in their life.
If your child started driving this year, buy them a car ornament. If your daughter made the soccer team, purchase a soccer ball ornament. If your son was a tad addicted to gaming this year, buy him a gaming-inspired ornament. (Don’t forget to put the date on the bottom of the ornament!) What’s great about this tradition is that when your kids move out and get a place of their own, they’ll have a collection of ornaments to take with them – each with a wonderful childhood memory.
13. Reach Out to a Family in Need
The past couple of years have been tough for so many people. Now, more than ever, is a great time to reach out to those who have been impacted by the harsh reality of the pandemic. Whether you make dinner for a family, purchase gifts for children who might not otherwise have a Christmas or volunteer as a family at a local shelter, take a moment to count your blessings and give back to your community in whatever capacity you’re able.
14. Ditch the Presents and Opt for Experience Gifts Instead
What is your child really going to remember? That new shirt or jeans you bought them or a wonderful experience that will forever remain in their memory and heart? A few ideas are a one-night stay at a fancy hotel (with a pool and hot tub, of course), an all-day hiking adventure, a spa day with your daughter, a helicopter tour over your city or a night in a treehouse hotel. If that doesn’t suit your budget, scale it down a notch and plan a family camping trip, have an epic snowball fight or visit a museum.
15. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights
Every single year, since my kids were toddlers, we spend one evening before Christmas driving around town looking at all the fancy Christmas lights and decorations.
We don’t just hop in the car and drive… we actually plan our route, do research on which neighborhoods or subdivisions to visit, pack the car with snacks (sometimes we pick up a pizza) and bring along plenty of drinks. Despite the fact that my kids are now much older, there’s still plenty of “Ooohs and
Ahhhs” coming from the back seat. Be sure to crank up the holiday music!
16. Open One Special Present on Christmas Eve
Build anticipation and excitement with your kids by letting them open one special present on Christmas Eve. It doesn’t have to be super expensive or one of their “bigger” gifts, just something small to ramp up the family excitement. (In my house, I always give my kids and hubby new pajamas to wear to bed on Christmas Eve.)
17. Wear Matching Pajamas and Take a Christmas Morning Photo
What better way is there to have a little fun and join in on a few laughs than by wearing matching pajamas on Christmas. There are so many styles to choose from, many of which aren’t too expensive. Add to the fun by gathering the entire family around the tree on Christmas morning (don’t forget your pets) and take a festive family photo. Then, text your picture to family and friends wishing them a beautiful holiday.
18. Visit a Festive Christmas Town
Gather up the family, hop in the car and head toward the nearest festive Christmas town. So many towns across the United States (and globally) go to great lengths to decorate their little towns to the hilt. Many offer carriage or sleigh rides, strolling Christmas carolers, homemade hot chocolate, and plenty of decorative holiday light to get you in the holiday spirit.