8 tried and true holiday traditions my family can’t live without

Every family has their traditions around the holidays—customs and rituals they repeat every year. While believing in Santa may be short-lived, holiday traditions are the anchor of the holiday season for my family. 

Experts say that traditions are particularly powerful for children. They are predictable, impart a feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself, and offer stability year after year. Traditions can also teach values, like waiting for your turn, taking the time to appreciate a gift that has been given to you, or doing something for others in need. The good news? Traditions can be started and modified at any time.

My own family has several traditions that appear front and center each year. While my husband and I started these, the kids have carried them on, practically insisting on them. Here are 8 tried and true traditions that carry on in my family’s holiday season.

1. Food. We have many traditional foods that are eaten throughout the holiday season, from the candy mix I make each year to the Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch foods I serve. I rarely make these foods at any other time of the year, so they are a special treat for my family.

2. Eating in the dining room. We like to elevate the food experience during the height of the holidays by eating in our dining room. We use the nice linens and tableware and serve sparkling cider to the kids.

3. Decorating the tree. We set aside an evening to decorate the tree together. The children fill our tree with their ornaments collected over the years. My husband and I watch and talk with them while holiday music plays in the background.

4. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every year on Christmas Eve, we watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” together. And I cry every year.

5. Pajamas. On Christmas Day, we all stay in our pajamas—all day. When the kids were younger, they would play all day with their toys. It’s definitely a stay-at-home-with-the-fire-burning family day for us. We call other family members, enjoy our gifts, and make sure to relax!

6. Photo-op on the stairs. We have always taken a picture of the kids on Christmas morning, sitting on the stairs in their PJs. They always look sleepy and a bit bedraggled. As they have gotten older, my teenage girls have complained about “not looking good,” but my husband and I don’t care—we love getting this photo before they are allowed downstairs to see all their goodies under the tree.

7. Watch family home videos. Since the kids are off from school for a lengthy time, we try to watch old family home videos most nights together. It’s really fun, and funny, to watch the kids watch themselves in action as toddlers! What strikes me each year is how little their personalities have changed and how they are defined (in many ways) early on in life.

8. Throw a party. Most years we have hosted a party of some sort. Either a dinner party for a close knit group of family friends, a blow out party for lots of people, or recently, a New Year’s Day drop-in where family friends and kids drop by for a casual celebration. It’s a great way to see many of our friends, and let the kids host some of their friends, too.

There are many other traditions that we have started, stopped, or periodically participated in, such as volunteering in a shelter or running in a race during the holiday season. What are your family’s holiday traditions?

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About Jill Castle, Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She is co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

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