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30 fun Christmas traditions to start with friends and family

Add something new or bring back a nostalgic activity to take your holiday to the next level.

There's something comforting about the annual Christmas traditions we participate in year over year.

Whether it's piling the family in the car and cutting down a Christmas tree ala Clark Griswold style or attending an annual gathering with friends at your favorite restaurant, it's the rituals that often make the season extra special.

To help enhance your Christmas or holiday this year, we've gathered a list of 30 Christmas traditions to consider incorporating into your routine.

Some are meaningful, like donating your time to a charity of your choice, while others are downright silly, including wearing gaudy Christmas sweaters for everyone to cringe over or creating hilarious holiday cards to send out to loved ones.

Other options include ice skating, making gingerbread houses or settling in for a Christmas movie marathon.

Feel free to borrow any and all of them or use these clever ideas as a springboard to inspire your own unique Christmas traditions because when it comes to celebrating the season, there's no wrong way to make spirits merry and bright. And, in fact, many of them will have you and your crew laughing all the way as the classic Christmas carol goes.

So, read on and whatever you choose, make sure to take plenty of pictures and post them on Instagram because Christmas comes but once a year and incorporating some of these traditions into your holiday are bound to make it the most memorable one yet.

Write letters to Santa

If you've got kids, then it's practically mandatory to write the big guy in red a letter letting him know exactly what's on your Christmas wish list. Even if you don't, make it an annual tradition to write letters to "Santa" to help manifest your dreams or goals for the year ahead, as well as offer gratitude for the blessings of the year you're leaving behind.

Wear ugly sweaters

Everyone is getting in on wearing ugly sweaters during the holidays these days. The bigger the eyesore, the better. And why not? It's good fun and makes for the most excellent photos for cards or Instagram. Join in and have friends or family come to holiday gatherings wearing their best attempt at the worst sweater imaginable. Offer a prize for the most outstanding (or outlandish) pullover.

Decorate gingerbread houses

There's something positively dreamy about gingerbread houses. They smell good and evoke images of frosting-covered fairytales. While they may seem labor-intensive, there are plenty of kits available at grocery or craft stores that make quick work of the project, leaving plenty of time for the fun stuff like decorating and nibbling on candy. Or, if know your way around a kitchen, trying making one from scratch.

Donate your time or volunteer

Between shopping for gifts and preparing for Santa's arrival, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. That said, if you've got the time and means, take a day, or even an hour or two, to give back whether it be through volunteering or donating to a charity. You can incorporate giving to a local food bank or lending a hand at an animal shelter as part of your annual holiday tradition. Invite friends and family to join in.

Go ice skating or skiing

Outdoor enthusiasts rejoice! Not only is it Christmastime, it's also the season of snow which means, yep, you guessed it, winter activities. Whether you hit the slopes or make an annual trip to the local ice rink, plan a seasonal outing to get out there and enjoy the frosty cold air. Not much of a sports person? No worries, any outdoor activity like a holiday hike or neighborhood stroll to admire decorations will fit the bill.

Whip up a Christmas Eve breakfast

Brittany Watson Jepsen’s, founder of The House That Lars Built, love for all things Christmas started young.

“One year, my mom held a Christmas Eve breakfast and I still think about it to this day and have been wanting to do it with my kids. Everyone came in their Christmas PJs, we had a pancake breakfast with blueberries inside, made gingerbread houses and colored a Christmas coloring page," she tells

Gift Christmas pajamas on Thanksgiving

Jessica Burgess, owner of the lifestyle brand and blog Fantabulosity, is a big believer in gifting new Christmas PJs to kick off the season. “Each year, we love to get a new pair of pajamas for our kiddos for them to unwrap on Thanksgiving night," she says. Go the extra mile and pick up matching holiday jammies for the whole family.

Put on an annual puppet show

nativity puppets for christmas
Jane Merritt for The House That Lars Built

Watson Jepsen loves to craft nativity sets, and one of her DIYs can also serve as a yearly tradition to do with your family. This one, in particular, is an opportunity to teach your kids about the birth of Jesus, all while putting on a show.

Get the tutorial at The House That Lars Built.

Paint sugar cookies

Decorating cookies is a Christmas classic — but this is a simple way to spice up a tried-and-true tradition. “You can mix egg yolks and food dye together to make edible ‘paint.’ Then, whip up some sugar cookie dough, use fun cookie cutters to make shapes like snowmen or Santas and have the kids ‘paint’ on the cookies," Kara Harms, CEO of Whimsy Soul, says.

Visit a Christmas tree farm

Harms grew up in a rural Wisconsin town where everyone would trek out to Christmas tree farms. But after moving to California, she realized that most people go to parking lot pop-ups to grab a tree and call it a day. Instead, for some holiday magic, she suggests starting a tradition of going to a tree farm with your family.

“Spend an hour wandering around the grounds finding the perfect tree,” she says. “But if you’re really set on your fake tree, at the very least, visit a local tree farm to pick up fresh garland and locally-made wreaths for your decorations."

A bonus: "These places usually sell hot chocolate and other goodies, so it’ll be a fun place to make some memories.”

Make a new advent calendar every year

While an advent calendar is a tradition in lots of families, Watson Jepsen likes to craft her own instead. Make a new one each year, using one of Watson Jepsen's tutorial or picking up a DIY kit from a store.

Put an orange in the toe of each stocking

“If you're looking for a historical tradition, start the ritual of putting an oversized orange in the toe of your Christmas stockings,” Harms says. “This tradition dates back hundreds of years and stems from the generosity of Saint Nicholas." As a kid, Harms looked forward to seeing how big the orange was before devouring it in front of the fireplace.

Make “baking kits” for friends and neighbors

Burgess loves creating “baking kit” gift baskets to spread some kindness around to friends and neighbors over the holidays, “so they can make treats for Christmas easily,” she says. Throw in cookie cutters, homemade mixes, sprinkles and “adorable potholders.”

Plan a Christmas movie night

Burgess knows how to make a Christmas movie marathon a tradition to look forward to. “So many of us adore watching Christmas movies during the holiday season, but when it’s an evening filled with all kinds of movie-themed goodies like theater candy, popcorn and our favorite drinks, it adds a whole new level of Christmas joy to the evening," she says. Ditch the couch and "set up a pallet of pillows and cozy blankets on the floor" instead.

Buy an ornament that sums up the year

school bus ornament on tree
Whimsy Soul

Harms picks up a new ornament each year. It's a tradition her mother started when she was born, and now she shares it with her husband.

“The rules are simple,” she says. “Come Christmastime, you must find an ornament that encapsulates something important or fun that you did over that year. When I broke my arm in kindergarten, I got a little bear ornament that was wearing a cast. When I was 15 and got my first real job at a local pizza joint, I got a pizza-shaped ornament. These days, my yearly ornaments usually revolve around travel."

Not only is it a fun activity to hunt down a new ornament, but Harms adds that it turns decorating into "a walk down memory lane.”

Host a “Best of Awards”

“If you have a large family or always get together for a Christmas party each year, start a ‘Best Of Awards’ tradition,” Harms says. “Hang up pieces of paper noting categories like ‘Best Movie I Watched This Year,’ ‘Best Podcast I Listened To,’ etc. Then, everyone can go up and write down their favorites. At the end of the night, the results are tallied up and shared."

Through this, you'll learn more about the people around you — and perhaps, discover a new thin to watch, read or listen to.

Make paper snowflakes

Is there anything more magical than a flurry of paper snowflakes? Watson Jepsen suggests using a template to create “picture-perfect” snowflakes and thinks making them with kids is especially fun.

Get the tutorial at The House That Lars Built.

Have a 'favorite things' party

Secret Santa and white elephant parties are a given come Christmastime, but have you heard of "favorite things" parties? Burgess is a big fan.

“Each guest brings three favorite items that they’ll give to three other people. You’ll usually leave with some of the best things that you’d never get for yourself or think you’d even need — and now can’t live without," Burgess says.

Create hilarious holiday cards

“Christmas cards where everyone is always wearing the same sweaters and standing in front of the same fireplace each year are boring. Or at least I think so,” Harms says. “A tradition that my husband and I started when we got married was to take ridiculous, goofy family photos each year for our cards. We have fun planning them, and I know our family always gets a chuckle when they open up our cards each December and see what outlandish thing we came up with this season.”

Go hunting for Christmas lights

No matter where you live, there will always be a street or park that goes all out for holiday decorations each year. Harms enjoys hunting down the best lights and decorated houses each December. “When I was younger, my family would pile into a car and drive around neighborhoods that are known for cool lights so we could see them,” she remembers. “Now that I live in San Francisco, I grab some of my Christmas-loving friends to go visit some of the famously decorated houses in the city.” 

Make Christmas charcuterie boards

Tailor your charcuterie board to the holiday. “No matter if you’re hosting a party or just looking for snacks during movie night, filling a charcuterie board full of your favorite Christmas cookies, candies and dips is something that we look forward to every year,” Burgess says.

Have an annual coloring competition

Get everyone's creative juices flowing with a coloring competition á la Watson Jepsen. Use pre-made coloring pages or blank sheets of paper, then leave out a bunch of crayons and markers for everyone to use. Watson Jepsen suggests putting the masterpieces on display for all to see.

Throw a gift-wrapping party

If you dread gift-wrapping every year, here’s a way to make it enjoyable. “Have appetizers, sweets and cocktails, and wrap all of your gifts while hanging out with your pals,” Burgess says. “Wrapping gifts is better when it’s made into an event with your friends.”

Have a separate gift exchange for the adults in your family

“Each year, our extended family will get gifts for all of the kiddos, but when it comes to the adults, we love to mix things up and change up how we exchange them. We’ve done everything from the common gift exchange games to making up our own. Our favorite has been using gigantic stockings and filling them with multiple, small, inexpensive gifts from each person," Burgess says.

Hang a pickle in the Christmas tree

Here’s a Christmas tradition that comes all the way from Germany.

“What you do is buy a pickle ornament and an adult hides it somewhere in the Christmas tree. And then the family tries to find it. The first person to find the pickle on the tree will receive an extra present from Santa Claus or have a year of good fortune," Harms says.

Have a scavenger hunt

Find a free scavenger hunt printable from the Internet, then drive around with your kids looking for the items on the list. “Make hot chocolate, turn on the Christmas tunes, wear pajamas and don’t forget the cozy blankets,” Burgess adds.

Play Christmas song bingo

group of girls wrapping christmas gifts
Jane Merritt for The House That Lars Built

One of Watson Jepsen’s favorite recent holiday traditions is Christmas Song Bingo, which she shares on her blog. Using the printable and an accompanying playlist, you can make an evening of it with your kids or closest pals.

Travel to a holiday destination

“My husband and I started the tradition of a Christmas trip each December. We’ll go to places like Leavenworth, Washington, the famous Bavarian Christmas town, to pet reindeer and take sleigh rides. Or perhaps Vancouver to see the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge light up with a million Christmas lights or Sun Valley, Idaho for après ski holiday vibes," Harms says.

Snack on some treats

When Burgess and her family head to the Christmas tree farm, they make one important stop first: to the local bakery. “It’s something we look forward to together as a family, and the donuts in the morning are always a great addition to an already fun-filled day,” she says.

Make gifts for neighbors

When Watson Jepsen moved to Utah, she couldn’t believe the amount of gifts from neighbors they received. “It was crazy!” she says. But now making these gifts is an annual tradition she looks forward to. “I love making them every year now,” she says.