The holiday season is a magical time filled with joy, togetherness, and many cherished traditions. People around the world celebrate Christmas in their own unique ways, creating lasting memories with friends and family. From picking out the perfect tree to baking festive treats, there are so many wonderful customs that have stood the test of time.
The Most Popular Christmas Traditions
Most holiday traditions slowly catch on over the years. Here are some of the most popular Christmas traditions:
- Watch Christmas Movies: Curling up with classic Christmas films is a time-honored tradition loved by all ages. Favorites include “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause,” “The Polar Express,” and countless heartwarming cartoons sure to transport you back to the magic of childhood. There are also plenty of movies that take place during Christmas, like “Better Off Dead” and “Die Hard”. What, is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie? With so many options across streaming platforms old and new, Christmas movie marathons have become a staple activity leading up to the big day.
- Enjoy Christmas’ National Holiday Status: Christmas wasn’t declared a US national holiday in the United States until 1870.
- Elf on the Shelf: This more recent tradition has fast become a beloved Christmas game for kids. After adopting their very own scout elf, children must name their new little friend who appears in a different hiding spot every morning. Just remember not to touch the elf or their magic will disappear!
- Visit A Store Santa: The first store Santa was Massachusetts businessman James Edgar in 1890. Since then, shopping malls everywhere have hired legions of temporary Santa’s though the years. Wonder if Mr. Edgar warned kids back then not to shoot their eye out?
- Decorate A Fake Christmas Tree: The first artificial Christmas tree was created using toilet brush technology in the year 1900. Do you have a fake tree or a real tree in your home?
- Decorate A Real Christmas Tree: The Christmas Tree, a now-common tradition around the world, began in Germany in the 1500s. The history of Christmas trees in America got a much slower start than the rest of the world. The first Christmas Tress didn’t arrive until the early 1800s when German settlers brought the tradition to America from Germany. Take time to pick out that perfect tree and transform your home into a magical winter wonderland by stringing colorful lights and hanging precious ornaments with sentimental value. Don’t forget the tree topper. Angel, star, or something else?
- Visit A Christmas Tree Farm: Bundle up and wander through sprawling evergreen forests choosing that perfect Christmas tree together as a family. Most tree farm visits include fun activities like hayrides, campfires for making s’mores, wildlife exhibits, gift shops and more.
- Setup Outdoor Christmas Decorations: From dazzling light displays to giant inflatable Santas, outdoor decorations have become a friendly neighborhood competition. Take an evening drive to check out the most dazzling light shows in your area. And remember to hang festive wreaths, string icicle lights, drape garland on your porch railings, and place luminaries or candled lanterns along walkways. Make your home the place people want to slow down to admire.
- Hang Mistletoe: Mistletoe dates back to ancient Celtic rituals and Norse mythology. Today the tradition involves hanging mistletoe and stealing a kiss with anyone who winds up underneath it. It’s all in good fun and the perfect excuse for some holiday romance.
- Prepare A Festive Christmas Dinner: Gathering with friends and family for a delicious Christmas feast is at the heart of many celebrations globally. While the menu varies across cultures from roasted meats, stews and curries, to seafood delights – the sentiment remains the same. It’s a time for loved ones to reflect on what matters most while sharing great food and making new memories around the table.
- Bake Cookies and Treats: What better way to spread some seasonal cheer than by baking scrumptious Christmas cookies, desserts and candies to gift to others? Bake a few of your finest recipes and deliver to friends, neighbors, family or co-workers arranged nicely as edible acts of holiday kindness. Just save some for Santa!
- Make Irish Santa Snacks: Instead of cookies and milk, the Irish leave Santa mince pie and Guinness. What does Santa prefer in your house? Savory or sweet?
- Holiday Gift Exchange: Exchanging gifts with loved ones is one of the most exciting Christmas traditions. But switch things up from typical gift giving with entertaining games like Secret Santa, White Elephant gift swaps or creative stories that pass one gift around to unsuspecting receivers. Laughter guaranteed!
- Send Christmas Cards: With everyone keeping a distance lately, Christmas cards have made a resurgence. Express your appreciation of friends and family near and far by sending personalized holiday cards embellished with a special note. Surprise them with a unique design that perfectly captures the spirit of the season. Need help figuring out what to write in your boss’ Christmas card?
- Christmas Caroling: Spread Christmas cheer door-to-door by going caroling with friends in your neighborhood. From silly sweaters, Santa hats, jingle bells and songbooks – a bit of holiday magic is bound to touch every heart. Even better, join a local group event and bond with festive strangers over everybody’s favorite Christmas tunes.
- Christmas Ornament Exchange With Neighbors: Start new heartfelt traditions by gifting loved ones a meaningful ornament each year commemorating special memories made together. Furthermore, adorn staircases, mantles, tables and more with ribbons, garlands, candles and pops of red, green or gold accents across any surface imaginable. The options for some festive holiday hustle and bustle are endless.
- Go See The Nutcracker Ballet: Attending a performance of the Nutcracker ballet has become a staple outing for many families during the holidays. Let this classic tale of toy soldiers and sugar plum fairies enchant you while introducing younger ones to the world of dance and Tchaikovsky’s magical score.
- Celebrate St. Nicholas Day: Celebrated on December 5th, this kid-friendly European tradition commemorates the birth of the historic Saint Nicholas – known for his generosity and gift giving. Kids polish their shoes and set them outside their bedroom doors hoping to find small gifts, treats or gold coins left behind by St Nick when they awaken.
- Send Letters to Santa: Writing thoughtful letters to Santa detailing wished-for gifts and expressing gratitude for blessings received this past year has stood the test of time. Place letters near plates of cookies and cold milk beside the tree on Christmas Eve so Santa can thoughtfully read them by the fire before getting to work.
- Use A Santa Tracker: NORAD used the Internet to track Santa for the first time (1997).
- Wear Christmas Pajamas: Kickstart Christmas morning in coordinating holiday-themed pajamas with the whole family – yes, even the pets! Capture the moment with group photos to laugh over for years to come. Matching PJs never go out of style when making memories.
- Snowball Fights: When weather allows, initiate impromptu snowball fights using freshly fallen snow. Team up with your kids, spouse or friends for carefree laughs that mimic playground days of old. Just beware of any frozen ice chunks amidst the fluffy soft stuff!
- Wear Ugly Christmas Sweaters: Ugly Christmas sweaters have oddly evolved into fashionable attire come the holidays. Don your gaudiest, tackiest, most ridiculously patterned sweaters for parties, events, family photos or anytime you need a good chuckle. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
- Host A White Elephant Party: This lively gift exchange game full of stolen presents and competitive fun will liven any holiday gathering amongst friends or co-workers. Set a low budget, draw numbers and let the gift-nabbing begin! You never know what humorous, odd or coveted item you’ll unwrap.
- Building Gingerbread Houses: Constructing tiny houses made of spiced gingerbread held together by icing mortar brings cookie artistry straight from the pages of Hansel and Gretel. Pick from graham cracker foundations, candies of every color, chocolate shingles and more to build a fantasy frosted fortress the whole family can craft and enjoy together.
- Hide A Christmas Pickle: This odd holiday tradition has recently resurfaced in popularity once again. On Christmas Eve, parents hide sparkly green tree ornaments shaped like pickles amongst the pine branches. Whoever spots the pickle first on Christmas morning wins the privilege of opening the first gift! An easy addition for extra excitement.
- Giving Back: The gift of giving means just as much, if not more, than receiving when celebrating the holidays. As a family, pick charities, shelters or community programs and donate money, goods, gifts or time volunteering on their behalf. Teach kids the values of selflessness and service critical to keeping Christmas spirit thriving all year long.
- Christmas Light Safaris: Pack everyone into the cars with thermoses of hot chocolate and cruise your neighborhood streets on the nightly hunt seeking the most lavish, luminous light displays around. Turn it into a game guessing which home shines the brightest before proceeding inside to recreate similar setups in your own yard.
- Attend A Live Nativity Pageant: Many churches and civic groups sponsor live nativity performances as part of Christmas celebrations where adults and children recreate pivotal scenes like Mary and Joseph gazing upon baby Jesus. Don an angel halo or shepherd cloak and participate yourself for added holiday immersion.
- Celebrate Boxing Day: Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated the day after Christmas Day, on December 26th and it has northing to do with the sport of boxing. Originally started in the United Kingdom, Boxing Day has now become a tradition in several countries that previously were a part of the British Empire. Since servants spent their Christmas morning serving the royal family, they were given the day off to visit their families on the day after Christmas. Their employers would often give them small boxes of leftover food and unwanted gifts the day after Christmas. Since then, Boxing Day has transitioned into a day associated with shopping, sports, and charity work. Many stores have Boxing Day sales similar to Black Friday.
Whether longtime traditions or new ideas you’ll debut this year, there are so many festive ways for families and friends to enhance the holiday season with extra magic. Take time to establish heartfelt new customs unique to you while also honoring treasured rituals passed down over generations. However you choose to celebrate, may your days be merry and bright. Happy holidays to all!
A History Of Christmas Traditions
This infographic below captures some of the world’s most popular Christmas and Winter Solstice traditions, and their milestones, from 3,000 BC to modern times.
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