Ah! Christmas! A time of year filled with family, fun gatherings, familiar carols, excitement, giving and special traditions that bring us together. For many of us Christmas also evokes memories of  specific smells, sounds and a feeling of home.

Every Christmas I think of those things that made Christmas special when I was growing up. Our annual White Elephant exchange on Christmas Eve, the box filled with cookies from my Grandma, my Mom’s Red Beet Eggs, Christmas Eve service, homemade ornaments…just a few of the memories that come back as Christmas approaches.

Those fond memories are what led our family to realize the importance of establishing our own traditions that would make Christmas special.
But why do I recommend family Christmas traditions so strongly?
Family traditions bond us closer together; they help our kids feel a sense of belonging; they create memories that will last a lifetime; they give us something to look forward to and they can help shape the character of our children.  Most importantly, my hope is that family traditions will help to bring our kids home to share them with their children.

And although we try to hold to various traditions throughout the year, Christmas just seems to be a time where we hold tighter to our traditions and to the memories that they create.

One of my fondest Christmas memories was when my daughter, Abby, spontaneously broke out in song at what would be our last Christmas with my mother. In no time the whole room was singing carol after carol and I can still see my beloved Mom’s face beaming as she took it all in. It was her tradition to include Christmas carols in our celebrations and I know that year was extra special because her grandchildren were the ones who carried it forward.

You likely have your own Christmas traditions but let me share a few of our special traditions from my heart to yours.

1. The Advent Calendar
Our Christmas traditions begin on December 1st when we bring out the Advent calendar. We stash a special treat, challenge, word of encouragement or advent message behind the appropriate door from December 1st-25th.

This was a tradition we thought would grow old but even as teens our kids make the Advent calendar their first stop in the morning. We have even enlisted their help in finding new creative ways to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas behind those little doors. And as they’ve grown older, the challenges have changed to focus on serving others, helping someone who is hurting, providing helping hands to those who need it and more.
2. The Annual Christmas Tree Search
Surprisingly, the annual Christmas tree search has also become an endless tradition, which, when missed makes Christmas seem, well, not quite right. We have tromped through snow, been slowed down by rain and braved frigid temperatures. And this year, uncommonly warm for Pennsylvania, we headed out in short sleeves to find the perfect tree. The decorations also bring back wonderful memories, laughter and conversation as we fill the tree with ornaments—each with its own story or memory attached.

3. Christmas Eve PJs
A tradition established by our kids is the annual Christmas Eve gift—which must be a new pair of PJs that they can wear on Christmas morning. 

4. Christmas Morning Breakfast
We have friends who go all out on Christmas morning with a big feast and a long wait to open gifts. But for our family, Christmas breakfast is fresh baked cinnamon rolls. We wouldn’t dare allow them to wake up to any other smell.

5. Opportunities to Serve
For our family Christmas is also a celebration of Christ’s birth and God’s unspeakable gift to the world.  And that celebration helps to shape the traditions that keep our family connected in a special way during this season of joy.

One of our favorite traditions is serving Christmas dinner and handing out gifts at a local inner city ministry. There our kids serve homeless and/or struggling families, participate in a Christmas service and help to wrap and hand out gifts purchased for the children who attend. It is always a wonderful time that brings our family together as we reach out to others.

Your Traditions Matter
I imagine you have many traditions of your own—and likely quite a few creative ideas that would be an encouragement to young families who haven’t yet found the traditions that will bring their family together. Please take a few moments to share your ideas.
And have a very Merry Christmas!