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Having Fun Together

13 Holiday Traditions to Start This Year

Pack more joy into your season with these easy traditions you can repeat each year…

I'm a sucker for holiday traditions-some have stuck (like our annual ornament-making day) while others have fizzled (garland-stringing, it seems, is no fun for my people). I try out new traditions each year and foster ones that make us happy, bring us closer, and create a sense of something-more. Beyond the standard photos and holiday cards, here are more do-it-every-year ideas to try this season.

1. Show how they grow. Start with a solid color table runner or tree skirt and trace your children's hands on it with fabric-paint pens each year. (Or embrace the sloppy and have them do hand prints.) Be sure to include the year and their ages.

2. Celebrate your heritage. Do a little digging and unearth a tradition from a part of the world that fits your family's background-or have your kids spin the globe. In France, for example, everyone leaves their shoes by the door on Christmas Eve, and in the morning they're filled with treats and gifts. In Mexico, families break open a star-shaped piñata.

3. Have a give-back plan. Get a piggy bank and make a family plan to contribute to it throughout the year, noting that next year you will donate the money to charity.

4. Paint your own keepsake. Scope out your local paint-your-own-pottery plate or do a project at home and DIY a special for-the-holidays-only item-such as a cookie plate for Santa, a menorah, or an annual picture frame. Or start a tradition where you make wrapping paper, cards, gift bags each year. 

5. Go on a "kindness" spree. Create a list of thoughtful things-like anonymously paying someone's bill at lunch or shoveling an elderly neighbor's walk-and then spend an afternoon paying it forward. Other ways to spread kindness: Have your kids pick out a toy to drop off at a donation center, make holiday cards for soldiers, or sing carols at a nearby senior center.

6. Make it an event. Whether it's running (or walking) at your town's annual Jingle Bell walk, catching the local dance school's performance of The Nutcracker, or taking in a nearby holiday train show, make time to do something special as a family each year.

7. Give a family gift. Each year, buy a special gift for the whole family to enjoy together, like a new board game or a family pass to a local attraction.

8. Help the animals celebrate. Bring the spirit of the season to your woodland neighbors by decorating a tree in the woods with edible animal treats, such as cranberry strings, sliced apples, and sunflower-seed balls. And, of course, before you do any of it, read the inspiration: Eve Bunting's lovely holiday book Night Tree.

9. Make room for more. To make space for incoming loot, have your children select a few in-good-condition toys they no longer play with to donate to a local family shelter. (If you celebrate Christmas, consider having the kids leave them in a sack near the tree to give back to Santa so he can bring them to other kids.)

10. Drum up a family resolution. Gather the troops and discuss a positive change you'd like your family to make in the year ahead. Perhaps you want to start a family game night, go on more bike rides together, or find a way to volunteer as a family.

11. Read The Night Before Christmas this way. Reading The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve is already a beloved tradition for many. Change it up and instead of having one reader, make it a family affair and have each person read a different part of the book. (Pre-readers can contribute a line in the story with parent's help.) Don't celebrate Christmas? Take turns reading another holiday story that has meaning for your family. 

12. Create a scavenger hunt. To help make present opening last longer, make one present include only a clue! This will start a scavenger hunt that leads to the present.

13. Host an open house. Just because you're no longer out with friends at midnight, doesn't mean the new year doesn't deserve a celebration. This year (and every year), host a New Year's Day open house where all are welcome during a set time period. With any luck, your new tradition might also become one you share with your nearest and dearest!