Family Holiday Traditions with Toddlers
This post is all about our favorite holiday and Christmas traditions with toddlers. The magic of Christmas is so fun with kids and I’m so excited for all of these this year as well! This post was originally published in November 2018. This post may contain affiliate links.
December is almost here and holidays with kids is the best. There may be a little less sleep and a few more meltdowns in the toy aisles, but the magic little ones bring to the season is real. If you’re looking for traditions for you and your little ones this holiday season, I’m sharing our Christmas traditions along with a few other ideas.
What are traditions?
Before we dive into all the different traditions you can start with your family, lets chat about what traditions are for a minute. Traditions can look very different across cultures and religions but essentially, a tradition is something celebrated by a group of the people the same way every year (or every week, every month, every quarter, etc). Traditions are often passed down from generation to generation but just because you haven’t inherited traditions doesn’t mean your generation can’t be the first.
Traditions have historically centered around celebrations, stories, food, rituals, and music but they can be whatever you want them to be.
Why Traditions are important for kids:
Traditions give children a sense of belonging, identity, and stability.
As you nurture strong family traditions, you build your child’s feeling of connection and belonging within your family. As those traditions extend beyond your nuclear family, you can foster a sense of belonging within your extended family, community, or ethnic group. Want to feel more connected to your kids? Pick a few traditions (the holidays are a great time for this but you can also have weekly traditions like Friday pizza night, Saturday family movie night, Taco Tuesday, or 5pm dance parties).
Are their cultural, religious, or moral identities you want your children to grow up with? Traditions are a great way of passing these on to your kids. As you think about which traditions you want to start, think about which identities you want to cultivate in your children.
Lastly, we’ve all heard that repetition and routines are great for kids (especially toddlers). Holiday traditions help create stability for these same reasons. It gives children something to look forward to and something to expect. Amid the added chaos of the holiday season, traditions help ground children in the familiar.
Our Christmas Traditions with Toddlers
There are the traditions we have implemented in these first few years of little kids (currently ages 4,3, and 0) and many are continuances of traditions I grew up with as a girl. Even at age two, our oldest would talk eagerly about Christmas Tree Snacks, remembering the nightly December ritual from when he was only 23 months almost a year later. It was a testament to me the power of traditions (and the memories of toddlers).
- Christmas Tree Snacks: This is my favorite tradition my parents had growing up and we started it with Lincoln his very first Christmas. Each night in December leading up ’till Christmas (or most nights in December, realistically), we gather on the Christmas quilt in the living room before bed. We bring down the nativity and use the figurines to act out the story of baby Jesus, starting with the angel appearing to Mary and ending with the three wise men bringing the baby gifts. A few years ago we started adding on to the end, always talking about what kind of gifts we can give to Jesus. I about melt each time Lincoln says, “When we are kind, THAT’S a gift to Jesus.” “When we are helpful, THAT’s a gift to Jesus.” After the nativity story we have a family prayer and then eat a small Christmas treat on the quilt. It’s the one time they’re allowed food outside of the kitchen and treats range from homemade cookies to three teddy grahams. I love this tradition for centering our Christmas on the story of the Christ child and focusing on the most important gifts we can give of kindness, service, and love.
- Christmas Cards: Admittedly we haven’t sent out Christmas cards every year BUT I’m determined to keep up this tradition. I love having a fridge covered in faces of friends and family during the holidays, especially as a way to keep those far away top of mind. Lincoln loves going through and naming different friends and it’s a fun way to add a feeling of love and friendship to our home.
- Christmas Lights: Counting Christmas lights on all our drives during the holidays is fun (and a great way to keep the kids occupied in the car) but we like going out on at least one Christmas Lights centered drive, heading to particularly over-the-top neighborhoods, or little downtown areas all decked out for the holidays.
- Christmas Music Dance Parties: No explanation needed (we love Amy Grant, Josh Groban, Mariah Carey, and Michael Buble Christmas CDs).
- Decorate Gingerbread Houses: We love decorating gingerbread houses every year and telling the story of Mom & Dad’s first date decorating gingerbread houses together in December 9 years ago. We often just buy the kits from Trader Joes with a few additional packs of candy to supplement.
- Advent Calendar: These are a fun way to visually help kids count down until Christmas. Trader Joes has great 99 cent options.
- Gifts: Another thing I loved that my parents did growing up was always ask what we wanted to give for Christmas, instead of what we wanted to get. There was a huge emphasis placed on gifts, but it was on finding gifts other family members would love. Of course, I still loved coming down the stairs to see what Santa had brought, but I also remember being so excited as a kid to have a sibling or a parent unwrap the gift I’d picked out for them. I try really hard to ask my kids about what they want to give people in our family more often than I ask about what they want to get for Christmas.
- Christmas Pajamas: We have matching Christmas Pajamas that we all wear throughout December and specifically on Christmas Day. My kids love getting into their red + green jammies for Christmas Tree Snacks (almost) every night! Our first year I gave these as a gift (to an 11 month Lincoln who didn’t know the difference) on Christmas Eve but now I like bringing them out at the beginning of the month so we can spend more of the season in them. Our favorite pajamas are from Hanna Andersson and they get passed down from kid to kid but Amazon also has some great family matching options at a lower price point.
Eventually I’d love to decorate cookies for friends and donate toys each year (we were able to have Lincoln pick out a few books to give to children in the hospital for a church event – but I love the idea of cleaning out toys to make room for new ones and teach kids a bit of gratitude and the spirit of giving).
I’d love to hear, what are your favorite things to do with your kids this time of year? Any favorite family holiday traditions you’ve kept alive from your childhood?
More Christmas Traditions to Try with Kids
9. Book Advent Calendar! Wrap 25 books and then let kids open one book each night leading up to Christmas. These don’t need to be new books – they can be Christmas books you already own.
10. Christmas morning Scavenger Hunt: Make kids hunt for their presents on Christmas morning.
11. Love Calendar: Make your own advent calendar with notes you love about your kids.
12. Watch the Polar Express (or find one near you and go!).
13. Donate: Have your kids go through their toys and choose some to donate to kids who don’t have toys this holiday season. A great way to focus on giving (and clear out toys before Christmas morning).
14. Camp out under the Christmas tree one night (not necessarily Christmas night).
15. Write a letter to Santa (and photo copy it so you have them to look back on).
16. Encourage family members to give each other coupons as gifts. Each coupon is an act of service. This is a great way to get little kids thinking about how they can serve and show their love for each other!
17. Hide christmas chocolate coins in the Christmas dinner.
18. Go Christmas Caroling. This is one my family did each year growing up, picking a few houses of friends or neighbors to deliver a plate of cookies to along with a few favorite Christmas songs.
19. Pick out a new ornament as a family (or for each child). This is a great way to slowly build a beloved ornament collection and then you can reminisce on years past as you decorate the tree each year.
20. Make Christmas candy (or cookies) and deliver to friends or neighbors. Ben and his mom always made Christmas candy growing up (and he brought some back from California after we’d been on two or three dates in college).
21. Decorate Christmas sugar cookies: These can be for neighbors or just to enjoy at home. Here is our favorite sugar cookie recipe (not necessarily the prettiest but THE tastiest sugar cookies, promise).
22. Go to a tree lighting. We went to the Faneuil Hall tree lighting in Boston last year and it was magical for both our toddlers. These are usually early in December so google to find out when they’re happening around you.
23. Watch a Christmas Movie. Some great options with kids are ‘The Grinch,” “Elf,” “The Polar Express,” and “Home Alone.” but “Beauty and the Beast” also has a Christmas movie you could easily turn “Frozen” into a holiday movie if you wanted.
24. Pick out a Christmas tree together and decorate it. Kids love feeling included in family decisions and selecting a Christmas tree is no exception. Make a family date out of it and grab hot chocolate on the way home.
25. Give back. Working in a soup kitchen might be hard with a 3 year old in tow but find ways you can give back. One idea for toddlers is to decorate holiday cards for veterans or rest homes. Talk about the importance of spreading love and cheer during the holiday season.
26. Get outside! Go sledding or ice skating together.. or just have a snowball fight in your yard. You can do this on the first snowfall or make it a Christmas day tradition once the gifts are opened and everyone has had a nap.
27. Elf on the shelf. Have you done Elf on the Shelf in your house? We haven’t but I hear it works wonders for keeping kids on their best behavior during the holidays!
Acadia just looked over my shoulder and said, “Wait! THAT’S what Adelaide looks like now?! She’s all grown up!”