The magical holiday season is upon us. After a rough year, it seems the holidays can’t come soon enough. What a welcome distraction! There are so many wonderful things about the holidays and and so many memories to be made. But if you are like me, you might get anxious thinking about all the clutter, shopping and extra stuff the holidays bring with it, not to mention the expense.
Perhaps your budget is tighter this year, you are trying to de-clutter, or are trying to make the holidays more memorable or de-emphasize the gift element of the holidays – It’s easy for presents to become the focus over physical presence. Regardless of your reasoning, anyone can make their holidays even more special with some fun family traditions. In no particular order, these are some ideas to help you make the most of your holiday season.
Bake Together – We have food allergies, so one of our favorite traditions is making tons of compliant treats – like 5-7 different options. I probably made 10 batches of cookies when I was week overdue with my youngest son, who ended up being a Christmas Eve baby. We go crazy and and bake pretty much daily through New Year’s. We enlist the kids help, and make everyone’s favorites, following whatever specialty guidelines necessary. It’s special to us, because we don’t typically eat a ton of sweets. The treats also come in handy to take to our various holiday functions. We also end up with plenty of leftovers for Santa and they can be used as tasty consumable gifts for friends and family. Some of our favorite refined sugar, grain and dairy free holiday treats are from this cookbook.
Get outside! Maybe it’s a hike, a canoe ride, ice skating, or a picnic. You probably won’t be able to camp, but depending on where you live and what the weather is like, I’m sure you can find a yearly tradition that involves the outdoors.
- Make a gingerbread house – There are even recipes online to do this FROM SCRATCH! Now that’s a project. We never eat ours, so we often use the store bought options but Danielle walker has a Grain-Free recipe in her Celebrations Cookbook if you are looking for something allergy compliant.
- Create Christmas Ornaments each year to adorn your tree. A handmade ornament is also a great gift for loved ones since you will likely already have the supplies and can make duplicate sets. Make sure to include a date somewhere so folks can remember what year they received it.
- Make some gifts – have the kids help make gifts for family members. These are often some of the most well loved and appreciated presents and kids have a blast making them. Every year we hunt through Pinterest for ideas. Salt dough ornaments are fun and last for ages.
Practice Gratitude – The end of the year and the holidays are such an appropriate time to reflect on the year. We can reflect on all that we have accomplished, what we are grateful for, the things we want to change, and our goals for the next year. Make a list as a family of all the things you are thankful for, your goals and dreams for the new year. Do something special and symbolic with your list.
Drive around looking at Christmas lights. Every town has “that neighborhood” that tends to go all out on the Christmas decor.
Take a trip – In lieu of gifts, plan a family vacation. Experiences trump gifts, every time. It doesn’t have to happen the week of Christmas, it can be a February trip to Disney or a January trip to the Caribbean, just as long as everyone knows the trip is your holiday celebration and family gift. If the trip is a surprise, you can wrap a small gift each with an item that your loved one will need for the trip (snorkel, new mittens, a bike helmet, etc) and announce the trip that way.
Have a Christmas Movie Marathon, or watch one every night as a family, leading up until Christmas.
Donate to a non profit in your loved ones name – One year my grandmother bought all the grand children farm animals at an animal rescue. She sponsored the animals in our names and we each got info about our animal and their story. Even though I was 12 at the time, I still remember Bonny the Cow in Kentucky and felt pride that I helped her in some way via a donation in my name.
Recycle Gift Bags. Every year use the same gift bags. I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased a Christmas gift bag. When I was a kid, my aunt and mother passed the same gift bag back and forth to each other for OVER TEN YEARS. It was always a topic of conversation and one of my favorite early childhood memories. It’s also a great way to reduce waste and save money.
Book Advent Calendar – Instead of advent calendars with small toys, one year I picked up thrift store books and I wrapped them. Each night leading up to Christmas we opened and read a book. It was SO much fun. I chose some books my kids wouldn’t normally pick themselves, some holiday themed books and some special I knew they each would be super excited about. You could stick to a classics, holiday, or topic theme or just whatever strikes your fancy! Since we picked up all the books at the second hand store and library used book section, we didn’t feel bad donating the books from the stack that weren’t a hit. It’s also a great way to get a bunch of extra reading in while school is out of session and have more bonding time with the kids as well!
Go to a movie – you can “treat” your friends for their gift from your family
Caroling – You don’t have to go door to door to enjoy Christmas music, though that’s fun too. Our family loves sitting around and singing the carols together, especially printing off the songs and helping the kids learn them too. Years ago I saw a set of 10 vintage caroling books and have often wished I had purchased them. They would make such a great family gift but printing or reading your favorites off your phone works too!
Attend a church service together – there’s not a lot better than a candlelit church service to bring out the magic and remind everyone of the true meaning of the holidays. Even if you don’t have a regular church, ask around in your neighborhood or on your community Facebook page where everyone’s favorite holiday service is. It’s also fun to see how other churches celebrate so you can choose a church not your own or make a tradition of going to a new church every year to get exposed to and appreciate and support other religions and learn how they celebrate!
Go out to a favorite restaurant or ice cream – Treat the family to a special outing. You can get dressed up fancy, in Christmas colors, or everyone can go in their PJ’s, just have fun with it and make it special for you.
Host a family collection drive for the less fortunate and either “Adopt” a needy family for Christmas, or drop off essentials and winter items at your local homeless shelter. To make it even more of a group effort, you can host a food drive for your local food pantry or work together to put together gift bags for homeless to distribute in your town. It wouldn’t take us an hour in our town to find a handful of folks on the street to hand out bags of water, snacks and self care necessities.
Volunteer – a soup kitchen, animal shelter or elderly home are great places to help out around the holidays. The elderly are often forgotten about during the holidays so call around and ask the ones in your area if there are any particularly lonely residents who would like a gift package or if they have any volunteer needs. They might have instructions or policies for you to follow. If you looking for a pet, try fostering a few first. You will help save a life and just might find your Fur-ever friend in the process. This is even better to do after the holidays as people will get a Christmas puppy or kitten and take them to the shelter when the newness wears off or things don’t work out as expected.
Scavenger hunt or Game Night – Pinterest has tons of ideas and printable pages for a scavenger hunt. You can also have a game night and use the games you already have or have each person you invite bring their personal favorite, its a great way to get to play some games you have maybe never heard of. Our family favorites are Exploding Kittens, Phase 10, Zingo, Scrabble, and Heads UP.
Host a family swap – If you gather with a large group prior to the holidays, have everyone bring their unwanted holiday decor and swap the items you no longer use. It’s a great way to freshen up your home in a fun, affordable and memorable way. You can also do this with children’s or other clothing items. I love being able to pick through hand me down kids clothes from my cousins kids!
When you HAVE to exchange gifts – If you have some less flexible people in your extended family who still really desire the gift giving traditions, there are a few ways you can suggest keeping things to a more minimal scale.
- Pick a theme – Maybe exchange coffee mugs, hand me downs, Locally made products only, or stick to swapping consumable gifts. I have a list of fun consumable gifts here if you need ideas.
- Pick a budget – You can suggest a $10 or $20 budget per person to keep the number of gifts to a minimum.
- Secret Santa – A great way to reduce the number of gifts and expense is to play secret Santa or or just assign each person just one person to shop for, then set a budget for each.
- Gifts everyone looks forward to – Maybe its an ornament or gag gift, but find that niche gift for each person on your list and make it a tradition! Having a pattern for the types of gifts you are buying can make the gift giving more affordable, with less pressure, and decrease the number of gifts you are buying. Instead of wondering what you are going to buy your mom, you can just decide what kind of coffee or chocolate you will get her this year. Maybe you always get your dad a new brand of wool sock (the older you get the more exciting socks get :), or a crystal ornament for your mother in laws collection. For our immediate family we create calendars using photos of the kids from the year. It’s a favorite gift for many and I wouldn’t dream of trying to get them anything else. For people outside our immediate family, I tend to stick to books as gifts. I might pick up my favorite book of the year to give to others or find something that stands out to me as something the person I am shopping for might enjoy.
I hope these clutter and toy free holiday traditions have inspired you, or given you some ideas for this Christmas. Do you have a favorite holiday tradition? If so, please leave a comments so our readers can hear from others what works best for them!