Traditions are great around the holidays because it bonds the family unit, it gives you something unique to look forward to, and it invites a shared past that children can pass on to future generations.
But there’s no reason to purposely create a tradition if it doesn’t fit with your family culture, or if it doesn’t mean anything to you.
This week’s project in our 12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas series is to plan a new family tradition, or to get ready for your much-loved holiday tradition already in place.
So here are a few ideas to create a new tradition this year — if any of them spark an idea for a unique twist that reflects your family, run with it.
1. Jesse Tree
A jesse tree is a simple tree that holds one ornament per day for a set amount of time, leading up to the final one on Christmas day. Each ornament is a symbol of a particular part of Scripture, starting with creation and leading to the birth of Christ.
This is a simple, powerful way to introduce the chronological epic of the Bible to younger children, since there are many short daily devotions that you can do each day as a family. My favorite is Ann Voskamp‘s “The Glorious Coming.”
You can tweak your jesse tree to reflect your family’s style and budget as well. It can be a separate Christmas tree, of course, but it can also be a craggy branch planted in a flower pot, with lots of branches for hanging ornaments. It can even be a simple construction paper tree cut-out, taped to the wall.
And the ornaments themselves range from heirloom-style quality pieces to simple free printables from the Internet. My favorite ornament collection is this simple one from a friend of mine, but there are also plenty of ways you can make your own. Some families collect ornaments from the store as they find some that fit the devotional topic.
2. Pajamas on Christmas Eve
Many families have a fun tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve, and that present is always the same — pajamas. The kids always know what it is, but it’s still fun to see what kind of jammies they’ll don on Christmas morning.
3. Baby Jesus under the Tree
This simple tradition is great for little ones. When you put up and decorate the tree, include a simple empty manger at the base. You can make one out of wood, or you can create a makeshift manger out of a crate, a basket, or even a doll’s cradle.
Each evening, after the kids are in bed, add a little bit of “straw” in the manger — raffia from a craft store works well. Then on Christmas morning, among the gifts, will be the most significant gift reflected in the season — baby Jesus was born. Use a simple, unadorned doll and place him swaddled on top of the straw.
4. Christmas Eve Surprise Cookies
Photo by Matthias Rhomsberg
The day before Christmas, deliver cookies to those who have to work — firefighters and policemen, nurses at the hospital, even airline employees at the airport. It’s a small, simple way to cheer up their day when they would probably rather be with family than at work.
Check with these places ahead of time to make sure they’re allowed to accept such gifts — many communities these days have placed restrictions on what they can receive.
5. An Annual Ornament
Choose an ornament for each child, each year until they leave the home. See if you can have the ornament reflect something about the child’s personality, an accomplishment they achieved that year, or something else unique. If your daughter was a mouse in The Nutcracker this year, pick a ballerina or a mouse, for example.
Give this ornament on a set day each year — Christmas eve, or Christmas morning. Then when they leave your home and start their own, let them take their box of ornaments with them.
6. Christmas Play
Your kids don’t need to sign up for the community theater or your church’s Christmas pageant to have fun acting out the Christmas story. Some families have a tradition of all the kids in the extended family — all the cousins and grandkids — reenact the first Christmas, complete with shepherds, animals, and wise men.
It’s not difficult to create your own simple script, but you can find plenty online to download for free. I’m impressed with this collection.
There are also the myriad of more “traditional” traditions — caroling around the neighborhood, driving around to look at the lights, watching your favorite movies, and the like.
The most important part of family traditions are to keep them simple, keep them lighthearted, and keep them fun. Their purpose is family unity, not a perfect holiday season.
What’s your favorite Christmas tradition in your family?