With 3 birthdays in the month of November right before Thanksgiving, I am usually not in the mood to start thinking about Christmas until the season actually rolls around. However, I have learned that with a large family, the sooner I can plan anything, the better it goes. A little planning goes a long way! And so I’m sharing our 12 simple Christmas traditions we actually do most years, in case you need some advance planning ideas as well. I’m reviewing them myself for the upcoming season, making a list and checking it twice, to see where we can fit them in our calendar this year. These activities are not flashy or fancy, but that is precisely why they actually make the calendar most years. We keep things simple around here, whenever possible, so we can focus on enjoying our time together without unneeded stress and hassle. I hope you leave a comment below and share some of your family’s favorite traditions as well.
Advent calendar with optional activity
We’ve been using a canvas wall advent calendar I made years ago (this one is similar). Our’s has held up to the test of time. Sometimes I print off our verse cards with optional activities, and some years there is just some candy and I read something from one of our favorite advent books. The pockets are big enough to hold lots of candy and so we are able to use it for the whole family. I usually put in a different kind of candy each year and vary it through the month. Also, I don’t fill it all ahead of time because.. well that would be too tempting and plain dumb! 😀
Add to our nativity set
We made a cute little set a couple years ago with peg dolls and because we let the kids play with it, we inevitably have new pieces to make or add in for fun. It is a simple peg doll kit you can get at Hobby Lobby. We just used the felt pieces you can get for under a dollar there as well. Here are some instructions to make your own
Supplies needed you can find at most craft stores or here online:
Gingerbread houses with graham crackers
Every year we make gingerbread men cookies, but not houses. Like I said, we keep it simple around here. 🙂
We aren’t about to go spend $100+ on 9 gingerbread house kits either.
“Sorry kids, one less gift this year because we bought gingerbread houses that you were frustrated to make and we wouldn’t let you eat until they were stale and dry!” hehehe. But seriously.
However, we do make these little graham cracker “gingerbread” houses that the kids love to create and we actually let them eat them when they want to. They’re small enough and I don’t actually want a bunch of gingerbread houses laying around all season anyway.
Buy the kids a themed ornament every year
My hubby and I have a standing date at the start of the season where we do a couple things together to prepare. First up, we buy a themed ornament for each child every year that they will take with them when they leave. This was a tradition my parents started and when I got married, I got to take quite an assortment of sentimental ornaments with me. We always have a memory tree now, and that’s totally fine with me. Maybe someday we’ll have a designer tree, but likely not! For now, I love this tradition and the kids are so excited to see what we’ve bought them each year. We sharpie their name and the year on the bottom and hope they last through until they leave our home. Most won’t, but that’s ok too.
Secondly we pick out our wrapping paper we’ll be using for the season at Hobby Lobby. They have the best options at a great price. You get a huge roll and can find many coordinating patterns.
Our favorite stores with charming affordable ornaments
- World Market
- Hobby Lobby
Make inexpensive crafts from Hobby Lobby
Every year when I am out doing my first solo outing, I pickup 2-4 easy craft kits from Hobby Lobby to have on hand. These are super affordable and have everything needed to make a fun ornament or gift for someone that I can pull out whenever we have a free evening. They’re cheap enough that I don’t care if the toddler paints all of it, but challenging enough that the middle schoolers usually want to join in, too. 🙂
Take the kids shopping to buy gifts
We put a spending freeze on come November. You aren’t allowed to buy anything for yourself so that you save your extra money for gifts. We keep a list of pay chores they can do throughout the month as well. Then we take each group of kids shopping to the dollar store, Target or Walmart, stores that are affordable and easy to price check. Each child carries a shopping basket with their coat over so no one can peek. An older sibling takes them through the aisles and helps them with the math. We also let them pick out a wrapping paper of their own to wrap their gifts in. This really helps keep the focus on the excitement of giving instead of receiving. They get so much joy in anticipation of giving instead of receiving.
Cutting down our own Christmas tree in the National Forest
Usually the Friday after Thanksgiving, or very soon thereafter, we go “hunting” for a tree. We’ve kept up this tradition through all the babies since the first year we were married! This is one of our favorite traditions and we have lots of fun and crazy memories of these trips. Some years we have an abundance of snow and bring sleds. Some years there has been no snow and we find a tree in less than an hour. It’s so fun to see how far we have to trek each year to find that perfectly imperfect tree. We always have cocoa, coffee and candy canes packed along. Sometimes, we bring chilli with us to eat up there after.
Decorating the tree and house
We have learned to get 2 Christmas tree tags now, because I love decorating with real boughs around the house. The Sunday after we get our tree we pull out all of those saved, sentimental ornaments and ALL the rest of the decor and start decorating the tree. If we get to the rest of the house, that’s great, but otherwise we just decorate as I go through the week after that. I keep it super simple, with lots of fresh natural greenery, white lights and a few fun things added in each year I find on clearance. Every year Nick’s goal is to add one more item to our outside lighting display, as well.
Pajama ride to see lights
Once the season has been kicked off we love to wake the kids up after they’ve been tucked in for a surprise ride to get a treat and see the lights in some special neighborhood on display. Some years we’ve made it extra special with cocoa in the car and a special ‘golden ticket” Polar Express style. Other years, we’ve gone through Dairy Queen or just taken an extra route through a highly lit neighborhood on our way home from somewhere.
Watch our favorite Christmas movies
I know this is the top pick for most families, but in case you see any new ideas below I’ll include ours. Be sure to leave your favorites in the comments below, too.
Our favorite movies that we cycle through each year are the following:
- It’s a wonderful life
- Little women
- The nativity
- The Star
- Santa Claus
- The Family Man
Make candy cane tracks to leave on windshields
Some years we put together a larger homeless kit to pass out to the needy we have in our area, but since our town has a huge ministry for this, we often just leave tracks with candy canes with a sweet encouraging note and verse to leave on people’s windshields when out shopping. It’s also a fun activity to prep with the kids in the evening. Tying the little notes on each candy cane and having them help decide which verse and what to say are a fun activity. You can easily make your own, like we did, or here’s a fun free one!
Deliver gifts to neighbors
A few days before Christmas we deliver a homemade goodie to our neighbors. The kids usually help me make and package up these and then we all walk around the neighborhood together delivering them. We focus on the families we know well, or who have just moved in near us. This number usually doesn’t exceed 10 families, so it’s not a huge amount.
Here’s what we normally make that is an affordable and easy to scale option:
- Cranberry orange sourdough loaf
- The easiest caramel corn- except I use honey in place of corn syrup and add spices.
- Mini cinnamon rolls
We don’t do this EVERY year, but definitely the ones when we have new neighbors to meet.
Of course there are the usual Christmas parties to go to, cookies to bake and exchange and recitals to attend, and treats to make and eat, but these activities are always on our list to choose from each season. I hope they’ve given you some fresh inspiration and ideas to try in yours.
Pin to save & share 12 Christmas Traditions we actually do
As always, thanks for being here in my little corner today, friend!
In HIs service,