Ideas for Starting your Own Christmas Traditions

By Maren A. Lam, guest contributor

"I have never had a Christmas like this before," my husband, Fred, told me while we spent our first Christmas together at my parents' place in Missouri. 

The night before, my dad read the Nativity story from the Bible to us. Thanks to my mom, we always had homemade meals and sweets. All of my siblings were there and added with 4 of my nieces and nephews, a lot of energy was under one roof. Apart from my teenage brother gift wrapping empty cereal boxes to bulk up the loot under the Christmas tree, things seemed pretty normal to me. 

Two years later, we spent the holidays with Fred's family in California. It was my first Christmas without my own family and I realized that each family has their own traditions even at Christmas time. We split our time between Fred’s dad and mom. His dad took us out to eat and then we spent the rest of the day with his mother's family at his grandma's house. People played games and socialized as we showed off our then-5-month-old baby boy. There was not a Christmas tree, we didn’t take turns unwrapping presents, and it wasn't a white Christmas. However, it still felt like Christmas. I believe the main reason it did is because we were spending time with family.

This will be our first Christmas on our own—that is Fred, two year old Calvin, baby Alex, and me. So I really want to do whatever I can to make the season feel special and start our own Lam family traditions. Here are my ideas for starting your own Christmas traditions: 

1. Christmas traditions don't have to be Christmas-y

Take your family to do something really fun. Fred and I are children at heart so we plan to go to an indoor water park on Christmas Eve (I don’t think our toddler will mind!). Don’t have an indoor water park? Go bowling, rollerblading, or to the arcade.

Or if you are trying to do something with a bigger group, do a lip syncing competition. I know a family that does a lip sync battle at Christmas and they have a riot. Christmas songs are rarely done and everyone unleashes their inner pop star. 

2. Yummy food

Food is a great way to start your own family traditions. For example, my sister feeds her family beans and rice every Christmas dinner. This started out of necessity when money was tight as a newlywed. She adds more substance to the dish these days, but it is a good way for her and her husband to reminisce. A lot of families I know do homemade cinnamon rolls. I don’t have much talent in the kitchen so I’m going to keep things simple, but still delicious, with German pancakes for breakfast.

3. Keep it local

There are so many festive activities to do for families in metropolitan areas this time of year. Many of these are free, which I love. Christmas lights, parades, sitting on Santa's lap, holiday parties, etc. I have made a calendar of events I want to go to this year and the ones I love will make the cut for next year. Even if you don’t live in a place with a lot of holiday events, taking a drive to see neighborhood Christmas lights is always fun. 

4. Evaluate your Christmas list

Gifts are fun to give to your kids but it is really a hassle to buy everyone else something. Do we really need to buy every adult family member something that they may or may not like? Try to scale it back if you can. My siblings and I do a gift rotation and there is a twenty dollar cap. It has really made Christmas shopping easier.

5. Teach

While gifts are fun, I want to teach my children how wonderful it is to give. One year, an unknown angel knocked on our door and fled, leaving behind a $100 Walmart gift card. We still don’t know who did it but I have always remembered it. I hope to start paying it forward now with my family. If you need ideas, is a great resource for finding ways to volunteer in your community.

I don’t know if all of these ideas will become our family traditions, but we are going to make memories trying. Whatever you decide to do for your family’s traditions is sure to be special because you will be doing it with the ones you love.