60+ Minimalist Holiday Traditions

60+ Minimalist Holiday Traditions

I’ve gotten a handful of requests to share what the holidays look like for me now, since adopting this mindful/minimalist lifestyle. These are the same requests I have gotten every year, for the past four years. And every year, I sit down and attempt to write something helpful and meaningful, but it never feels quite right. The truth is, I don’t have a good answer—and I can’t tell other people what to do. Every year has looked different since my parents got divorced, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want the holidays to look like for me.

Sometimes, I think it’s important for us (us being bloggers) to remember that we are not experts of everything. Not only does assuming you have to be an expert put an incredible amount of pressure on yourself, but it feels disingenuous which people can read/feel. If it doesn’t feel good, I won’t write it. So, I can’t tell you which holiday traditions you should embrace now with your own new mindful/minimalist lifestyle. Instead, I’ve reached out to some of my readers and asked them to share their holiday traditions with us.

The result was a rough blog post more than 9,100 words in length that I never could have written myself. Some of the responses made me smile, and more than a few brought a tear to my eye. After deleting any duplicates and editing it, this heartwarming post is still 6,200 words long but I wouldn’t remove another thing. To make it easier though, I’ve broken the traditions up into six categories: things you can do alone, with friends or with your partner, and things you can do with kids, with family and for others. (And I’ve bolded a few I love/would love to do!)

I hope you take as much from this post as I did, friends. And thank you again. This is just another example of how powerful a community can be when we all come together. I know this holiday season, and future holiday seasons, are going to be richer for me personally because of you. xo

Traditions You Can Do by Yourself

  1. My favourite tradition that I’ve adopted is taking all the working Fridays in December off. It just really helps slow down a month that can move a lot faster. So far, I’ve used one to do my small bit of Christmas shopping and on another I made cards, cozied up on the sofa, and worked on a craft project before I went out to see a friend. – Meghan
  2. Every December, I read the book A Homemade Life and cook/bake one of the recipes. – Cait
  3. I cut holly, cedar, and fir from parks in my neighbourhood, then make a wreath for our front door from the greenery. I use a wire coat hook stretched out to a circle shape, and a little craft wire. It always turns out rustic and beautiful, and of course, it’s all compostable at the end. I just save the wire and coat hanger for next year. – Shannon
  4. For me this year, as I’ve recently become more mindful and minimal, I enjoyed dedicating one full day to making hot cocoa from scratch and watching a really cheesy Christmas movie. It’s still holiday-related, ingredients cost less than $10 (almond milk, unsweetened cocoa & maple syrup) and it gives me a chance to relax away from the chaos that the holidays can sometimes create. – Laura
  5. I enjoy drinking from cheap snowmen glasses my parents had and I try to use them exclusively through the holidays. I use a holiday mug for my tea at home and in the office. I tied jingle bells to my purse and feel a little Santa-y as I move about. I sit in my living room and enjoy the Christmas tree lights, and usually a cat or two is close by. These are my traditions and they make up my good and happy life.
  6. I have to spend quite some time on the road to get from one family to the other. Instead of taking the car, I choose to go by train to have some down time in between family gatherings, to read, to watch the train to pass beautiful landscape, and to listen to podcasts or music. When I was younger, my sister and I knew the song ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ would come on the radio at some point on our drive to our grandparents. Now, I deliberately put it on to get the same nostalgic feeling. – Pia
  7. One of the Christmas traditions I have developed for just me here in the UK is on Christmas Eve. The BBC always broadcasts the nine lessons and carols service from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve. I like to listen to this and wrap my presents up (just a few gifts for my family). It helps me to reflect on what’s important at this time of year and think of other people who may not be in such fortunate circumstances. The choral singing is beautiful (one of the best choirs in the world) and really helps me to get in the Christmas spirit especially if I’ve been working right up to that point. I think it’s good to build your own traditions, they just have to be meaningful to you. – Vivienne
  8. Every year, on Christmas morning, I wake up significantly before everyone else (think 4 or 5am), in whatever house I’m in. I take my book and a cup of tea (and holiday baking if I have it) to the Christmas tree, and just sit under the lights and read and take the time to reflect on my year and be grateful for the things and people that are part of my life. It’s often my biggest moment of quiet and calm during the holidays, which tend to be a little busy and crazy, and I look forward to it every year. – Mallory
  9. Some years I have been invited to be with friends [on Christmas Day], and other times I am alone. No matter what my plans are later on, I always make sure to go for a run in the morning, and try to do something special for breakfast. Not something stressful-special, but more along the lines of pancakes or cinnamon buns. – Calee
  10. I have two personal traditions. I always go to see a movie on Christmas Day (during the afternoon). I’m going alone. I like this time with myself! My other tradition is reading all the Harry Potter’s book during the holiday. I read all of them every year! – Marie-Michèle

Traditions You Can Do with Friends

  1. Years ago, when my friend Kasey moved from Toronto to Vancouver, we decided to do something Christmassy in the city. One December night, we met up and walked through the Vancouver Christmas Market together. The next year, we went to the VanDusen Festival of Lights. And now that I’m back on the mainland, we decided to do something Christmassy again. On Monday night, we met up and walked through Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, then went out for a nice dinner after. For as long as we are both living in the Lower Mainland, I would like to keep this tradition going and visit one local attraction each year. – Cait
  2. Every year, I go ice skating with my friend and go for a cup of hot chocolate after. It’s always nice to step away from family just for a bit, and have a chat with a close friend. It’s also so festive! – Hana
  3. I have a dear friend I’ve known my entire life, we grew up next door to each other. Our moms used to love to craft together and now we do as part of our holiday tradition. We spend weeks looking for ideas and gathering supplies from thrift stores, and one Saturday in December we spend the entire day laughing and creating while getting glitter literally everywhere. – Patty
  4. I live in New Zealand and a tradition I have had for a longtime is a Christmas morning walk or mountain bike or run in the hills with my close friend. We decided a long time ago that in order to cope with the busyness of the day, we needed exercise and time for ourselves. So we get up early and spend an hour together doing what we love. It’s summer here so the mornings are bright and warm. – Rae
  5. I had a group of friends who would get together to host an ‘Orphan’s’ Christmas’ for those who didn’t have family, or couldn’t see them, or for whom family Christmas was difficult for any reason. And it was, and is, designed to be utterly stress-free. You come if you want to, but it’s ok if you don’t. You bring food to contribute if you want to, but it’s ok if you don’t. You can bring gifts if you want to, but it’s ok if you don’t. And it’s ok if you want to bring gifts for some people but not for others—there is no sense of a gift exchange, just giving if you want to. Gifts are usually small, and very frequently handmade or consumable (or both). There’s a long table, made up by putting tables together—people bring chairs and crockery and cutlery as needed. It’s all mismatched and no one cares. There are favourite foods that certain people bring, but they may or may not appear in any given year. Every year around the table are people from a range of religious traditions and none. Dietary restrictions are dealt with by letting everyone know what’s in each dish, and people choose what they want to eat from what’s there—and there is never a shortage of food or options. We always have a great time, eat too much, laugh a lot, and all help out with the clear up. Over the years, new partners and friends, and children have been added to the mix, and it’s become accepted practice that family Christmas happens in people’s home in the morning, but that we meet around lunch time for a laid-back, relaxed party that starts in the afternoon. Kids get put to bed or taken home at some time, some people will stay overnight and people come and go as they want. It is always relaxed and happy and welcoming. – Sarah
  6. Me and a couple of friends meet in the last weekend of November to make Christmas puddings. There are 3 friends at the core, plus some years siblings and or partners join us, and now one of my friends has had children and they are joining in too. Lots of giggles, stirring, grating, chatting and the occasional badly sung Christmas tune. The puddings get distributed among friends and family (or donated to charity if people have too many!). – Ally
  7. When the parents of a good friend of mine passed away just before Christmas, she and I started a new tradition of going skiing first thing in the morning on Christmas Day. We had first tracks, (because most people open presents, etc. before heading to the ski hill), we splurged on a special lunch (not the cafeteria), and it became a wonderful new tradition that allowed her to remember that even though her parents were gone, she would never be alone for Christmas. – Kim
  8. We have not exchanged gifts for years now. What my husband and I do instead is have friends and family over for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I wrote about the experience last year (pictures included). This year, it will take place on December 29th and we’ll again have about 25 people. We usually manage to seat them all at tables in one single room and in reasonable proximity. All that is required of our guests is for them to attend and bring the spirit of the season with them. We take care of the rest. – Hélène
  9. I moved away from my friends and family a few years back and have started to introduce my own traditions in an effort to enjoy the season. Before Christmas, I’ll host a potluck with my friends in my current town and, on Boxing Day, my friends at home all go out for supper and then drive around looking at lights or head back to someone’s house to just enjoy being together. – Susan

Traditions You Can Do with Your Partner

  1. A tradition I inherited once my husband and I met was to watch the 80s film Christmas Vacation each year on the night after the Thanksgiving feast to kick off the holiday season. Now that we’ve lived in other states, we continue to do it just the two of us. And in recent years, we’ve made an effort where we’ve lived to attend the local community tree lighting, as they’re free to attend, pretty, and can help you connect with the area in which you live. – Stephanie
  2. My husband and I share an advent calendar. It’s one of those customizable sets of drawers in a shape set ups. We decorated it together a couple years ago, and I get the odd days and he gets the evens. It is mostly filled with chocolate but we try find one or two presents that will fit the drawers to scatter through the days. We both have to be present for the opening of each day and it is a fun little routine for us in the mornings. – Meghan
  3. We like to drive just north of where we live where there is a community of homes that all put up the most epic Christmas light displays. The past couple years we left it too long, so it was super busy and slow when we went to look. But it starts on December 1st, so this year we went on the 5th to beat the crowds. So fun! – Dayle
  4. We just started doing the local Jingle Bell Walk/Run together. That takes place a couple of weeks before Christmas and people come out dressed up in Santa hats, blinking icicle lights, elf ears, etc. It’s a lot of fun, helps charity, and it ends in free breakfast by the beach. – Sandra
  5. In the weeks before Christmas, we plan and save our spare money to cook a 5-star meal together: la crème de la crème! Also, my boyfriend doesn’t eat breakfast, so for Christmas morning, I plan and enjoy some *me time*, which includes cranberry pancakes, maple syrup, a good book and a good coffee, all while listening to a Christmas playlist. – Odile
  6. We paint an ornament each to add to our Christmas tree, attend a local play of the nutcracker, exchange one gift each Christmas Eve (pyjamas are the usual), and I still cook a turkey and all the fixings (which we then eat till New Years lol). We also go ice skating and sledding, if we get snow. – Crystal
  7. We celebrate our own little Christmas on the 23rd, dubbed Christmas Eve-Eve. We watch old Christmas movies, open the gifts we got each other, and enjoy Chinese takeout for dinner. As a total introvert, Christmas Eve-Eve is my favorite part of the holiday season; it’s the one time when we can just relax at home together. – Laura
  8. This year we are living on a boat doing The Great Loop, so I don’t know where we will be for Christmas but I know we won’t be around family. I will be looking for other people in the marina who don’t have plans and ask them to share the day with us. Our one tradition that can travel with us anywhere is ordering takeout pizza on Christmas Eve. We started that when the kids were little and have followed through with it each year. – Mary
  9. My boyfriend and I are adopting a tradition from Iceland: to exchange books on Christmas Eve and stay up all night (or most of the night) reading our new books. We are very excited for this new tradition because we have demanding families and it will be nice to just spend the evening relaxing and doing something we enjoy. – Sara
  10. My partner and I have spent the last few years with our own, very simple, holiday tradition: We rent a cabin for a night or two in a nearby State Park. It’s naturally fairly minimalist because the State Parks shut off most utilities during the winter, and the cold definitely keeps the crowds out. They usually have electric lights and a wood stove for heat, but that’s about it. We have found, though, that we don’t need anything more when we can spend all day tromping around in the snow, exploring and relaxing. We sometimes still exchange small, thoughtful gifts, but the real gift is spending a few days alone (together) in the woods. It gives us a calm in the midst of the storm that is The Holiday Season. – Ashley
  11. Christmas traditions changed quite a bit once we got married 3 years ago. We are still slowly working on making our own traditions, but our favourites so far include playing lots of board games while munching on homemade baked goods. And we love to attempt The Globe & Mail Christmas crossword. We almost finished it last year! – Katrina
  12. Every year, my husband and I sit down before we pack away the Christmas decorations and write down wishes for each person for the next year. Then, on Christmas morning, we read the wishes. It’s interesting to see how much happens in a year. It can be bittersweet, of course. But also lovely. – Sarah
  13. Over ten years ago, we chose to lead an alcohol-free life, so we don’t “do” New Year’s Eve. We get up early on New Year’s Day and take the ferry to Block Island, which is off the coast of Rhode Island. Block Island is beautiful and deserted at this time of year, so we explore and spend time outside, enjoying the natural beauty. We stop at an overlook, looking out at the ocean, and share our intentions for the coming year. We listen to the silence and sounds. We stop at the tiny grocery store and chat with the locals, admitting that we’d gone to bed at 10:00 the night before! We arrive back home, cold, tired and peaceful. – Anne

Traditions You Can Do with Your Kids

  1. My daughter’s advent calendar has a little chocolate and something Christmassy and free/cheap to do together every day (e.g. watching a Christmas movie at home, making a gingerbread house, making Christmas decorations, visit Santa at the grotto, etc.). This year, I also added to buy food for the food bank and socks for the homeless as two of the activities. – Virginia
  2. We’re just starting to build holiday traditions. This year is the first where our daughter isn’t a baby, so showing her things like Christmas lights at the zoo or going and looking at the fancy decorated trees are the traditions I want to instill. My favorite one from last year was to go downtown, have brunch at a fancy place, dress up for it (or at least dress the baby in something festive!), then go look at the big tree in the middle of downtown. But our traditions are fluid, too. This year, we’re doing “Christmas” the weekend of the 15th because we’re going to Arizona for ten days. – Kathleen
  3. I’m still figuring out what our traditions are but some of the things we do include: making Mexican hot chocolate with my daughter at least once a week (I let her pour the hot chocolate from a teapot we love and share); playing Christmas music in the mornings to get the day started; watching my daughter make a dance routine for any Christmas song she likes (this year it’s Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”); and putting reindeer antlers + a red nose on my car (kids LOVE it). We also put a tiny Christmas tree in her room with lights. My aunt gave it to her and she loves it. – Teresa
  4. We take our daughter to the local farm, just on the edge of the town where we live, and select a gorgeous real Christmas tree from the wonderful selection they sell there. Ours is around 5 ft. tall and we know that they grow about a foot a year, so that’s 5 years worth of tree! That’s pretty humbling when you look at it like that. We bring it home, give it a good drink for a day, then drag it into the hallway of our home, where we decorate it with simple lights, plus red and silver baubles. Because it’s at the foot of the staircase, I put the lights on as soon as I come down in the morning, so our daughter can enjoy seeing it when she comes down for breakfast. – Catherine
  5. This year we’re going without a Christmas tree, by request from my 11-year-old son who said, “Some people don’t like setting it up because it’s confusing getting the right branches in the right places and some people don’t like decorating it because it’s boring and some people think it takes up too much space and makes a mess. But I really like Easter egg hunts. Can you hide the presents in the lounge room Christmas Eve for us to find as a treasure hunt on Christmas morning?” So we’re trying that this year. – Sharon
  6. On December 23rd, when work and school are finished for the year, we spend a night in the city. We live in a semi-rural area outside of Melbourne, Australia, and don’t get into the city much throughout the year. We spend our time checking out all the decorations in the town square, the Myer windows (a department store with amazing Christmas windows usually based around a children’s story), the beautiful buildings which have Christmas scenes projected onto them and generally getting into a festive mindset. My kids bring their money box change collected throughout the year and give this to buskers. We absolutely love to watch the many music, comedy and dance performers. To top it off, we stay in a hotel with a swimming pool which we love as it’s usually very hot here. The breakfast buffet is always a highlight too. – Jacqui
  7. I have two daughters (27 and 26) and our tradition on Christmas Eve is to watch Christmas movie classics like: Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express, Elf (is that considered a classic?), and It’s a Wonderful Life. We sometimes add in a new one and there are times when we don’t get through them all. We always watch It’s a Wonderful Life last. – Sharon
  8. I have watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) on Christmas Eve every year since I was 4 years old. I watch holiday movies all month long, but save that one for Christmas Eve. – Cait
  9. We have two Christmas traditions with our girls. 1. We make sure to be in our own home Christmas Eve night so we can wake up and have a slow morning with our girls – open presents, eat donuts, and play in our pyjamas! 2. On Christmas night we have a slumber party in the living room with our girls, watching Christmas movies until we fall asleep. We also started a New Year’s tradition with our girls last year. We write down a bunch of fun activities on slips of paper (movies, card games, charades, board games, etc.) and have the girls pick surprise activities out of a bag throughout the night. We made it to midnight and had a ton of fun! – Jaime
  10. Since my eldest was 4 years old (he’s 27 now!), each year I have written a letter to each of my children in which I talk about significant things that have occurred in their life that year and ways that I’ve seen them grow. I tell them how proud I am of them and how much I love them and include a special prayer or Bible verse for the coming year. Initially, I put the letter in a box that checks had come in and wrapped it in silver paper covered with clear contact paper and I put the name of that child on the top of the box. Over the years, the boxes have come to be known as the kids’ “Silver Boxes” and they are under the tree each year. My son’s silver box now has 23 letters in it. He has told me that reading my letter is the best part of Christmas for him. This year, I also plan to write letters to a couple of friends as well, just letting them know how much their friendship means to me. The recipients don’t have to keep the letters, but they don’t take up much room if they do wish to save them. And each one is, of course, very personalized. This sort of gift doesn’t take up much room, doesn’t cost anything, and lets the recipient know how much they mean to me. – Susan
  11. This year will be my son’s first Christmas and I can’t wait to make them wonderful for him. Something that I am going to do is prep a Christmas Eve box for him. A little box with a pair of PJ’s, a Christmas movie and snacks to have the night before Christmas. – Leonor
  12. For Christmas morning, my girls find croissants, shelf-stable juice, and plates, etc. in their rooms with stockings at the end of their beds. It gives them something to eat that isn’t candy, plus a filled “gift” to entertain themselves with before we all roll out of bed. In the toe of the stocking is always a chocolate orange. It’s a nod to those who put the citrus fruit in the toe, and it’s a memory of Little House on the Prairie for me, and a reminder to count my blessings. – Jennifer
  13. In my house, there are two of us (my daughter and I) and our loving companion dog Bentley. I grew up in a busy, urban city and holidays were filled with tons of people, loud laughter, and copious amounts of Southern food. After moving away, I grew into a mom who valued silence. Stillness. Peace. I found the joy in that empty blank space. The holiday tradition we hold most dear now is to take hot bubble baths (candles lit), put on our most comfy PJ’s, turn on the electric fireplace, drink hot tea with cream and sugar, and tell stories of dreams. We make up elaborate stories about faraway lands, stories of old, and dreams yet to come. The space then transforms and in those moments we aren’t just sitting with one another as mother and daughter, but rather, as friends, sisters, soulmates on this journey—and surrounding us are one another and simultaneously the versions of ourselves we hope to become. This tradition feels magical and honoring. – Jayna’

Traditions You Can Do with Your Family

  1. I want to share a small tradition my family did when my siblings and I were younger. It fills me with joy to remember it. We don’t do this anymore, since we are grown up and don’t live in the same house anymore, but I think this tradition helped us through some difficult times. At the beginning of the month of December, all the family members would put a Christmas stocking at the handle of our bedroom door. We had all month to put small notes, cards or drawings in every stocking of the house. On Christmas morning, we had our “normal” gifts to open, but we would also open our stockings and discover all the nice things every member of the family had draw/wrote to us. It was so special. We started this when we were young (at around age 9) and we continued this until we were adults. It was very special during our teenage years, when we were not as close anymore. Still, every year, everyone put effort into it and every Christmas morning, we read all those nice things and were happy to be with each other. It might be a very small tradition, but it is a cherished memory for me! – Émilie
  2. I only require one thing each year though: a day. One day for my husband, son and I to fully DO holidays. We turn on sappy holiday music, make the house smell with cookies baking, our son picks a holiday color theme for everything to be (cards, decorations etc), we make garland (out of folded paper made into snowflakes), decorate our metal tree we bring out each year, make cards and write our list of who we are sending presents to this year. Once that one day happens, the rest doesn’t matter at all. :) – Julie
  3. Hugs and more hugs. Our family is Mexican and we traditionally open our gifts on Christmas Eve at midnight. Before anyone can open ANY presents, we go around and hug anyone and everyone in sight, expressing how grateful and happy we are to be with one another. It also serves as a reminder for us that by coming together we are united and honor our family members who have passed. You can literally feel the love all across the living room when this happen and, as corny as it may sound, it feels magical. It is the same deal the following morning. On Christmas Day, another round of hugs before a big breakfast (and clean-up time). When your life is not one of plenty, or you’re privileged enough to live a life of less by choice, a big bear hug from a loved one (or loved ones!) can be a powerful and reassuring reminder of what really matters in the end. – Liz
  4. Mine is rather boring and obvious, but I live 1,000+ miles away from “home” so the best part of the holidays is just getting to spend time with family. Sure, some of them come visit me here in Florida, or I take a trip up there in the summer, but Christmas brings everyone together at the same time. All of us “kids” have grown up now, and everyone besides me is married, so they have to dovetail plans with their other half’s family plans. I’m thankful that we can still spend a few hours together before everyone has to rush off to other familial obligations. – Josh
  5. One of my holiday traditions was born 20 years ago. My mom passed in the fall, and that Christmas, my brother, my father, and I simply decided we would only spend time with people who brought us happiness (which, thanks to some nearby less-than-pleasant family from my mom’s side, meant just the three of us!). While we missed my mom terribly, it ended up being a wonderful and reflective holiday for us. No one gave us a hard time that Christmas given our loss, and from that point we decided that EVERY holiday should be like that. Nowadays, it’s a firm tradition. If there is a Christmas party with people who will bring us down, we find an excuse. If there are activities with people who don’t make us happy, we avoid them. We host a big group of family members for Christmas, but each of them must pass the test that they bring us (and the other guests) happiness. – Paul
  6. Christmas has never been a structured or consistent thing in my family, since we’re what I like to call a Very Portable Family Unit. The one constant for the past three years: cinnamon buns. I refuse to even make them the rest of the year, because when you see how much butter and sugar go into them, oh boy. But once a year, on Christmas morning, I’ll bake fluffy, ooey-gooey, full-fat, full-sugar, full-gluten cinnamon buns for whatever we’re doing, even if it’s just breakfast at home with our parents. It’s not especially mindful in terms of food and calorie consumption, but it is a consistent tradition that can adapt to however many people are involved! – Desirae
  7. Half of my family is German and Austrian which means I grew up spending December 24th around the biggest feast you’ve ever seen. My grandfather would unload every German meat, cheese, and pickled vegetable he could get his hands on and we would chow down. Nothing about this feast was fancy and it didn’t revolve around gifts or presents. It was just a way for us to stuff our faces and hang out together. (And it goes without saying that this feast could be done by a take-out menu – cooking skills not required.) – Britt
  8. A couple of years ago my parents started a new tradition where we choose a new country each year and cook a bunch of dishes from that country for dinner. – Luise
  9. One of my favorite traditions is when we do Christmas with my dad’s half of the family. Every year, instead of doing a big Christmas dinner, everyone brings an appetizer or a new food that they’ve tried in the last year! Of course, there are always some classic favorites, but we try to get people to try something new! We’ve also found that we spend more time and focus talking about where we had this food or our opinions of the different foods, than we do worrying about gifts. – Kasey
  10. There are only four of us who are physically together for Christmas so we no longer have the traditional Polish twelve-course dinner on Christmas Eve known as Wigilia. The meals were wonderful but a great deal of work. Now we get together on Christmas Day for a much simpler feast of brisket, mashed potatoes and vegetables. I make the brisket and potatoes the night before so it’s less work on Christmas Day. (Brisket always tastes better the next day anyway.) We start the celebration with appetizers like cheese and olives, exchange stocking stuffers, then have dinner and watch the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. It’s a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend the holiday together. – Annie
  11. On Christmas Day, we often sit around the dining room table and work on puzzles. And each year, my mom uses a website to make a holiday-themed word search that includes all our family member’s names, as well as fun words like “mistletoe” and “reindeer”. It’s always a race to see who can complete it fastest. – Emily
  12. Every year since my sister and I were very small, my parents have taken us out for a “winter picnic”. I know it sounds bonkers, and when I was 19 and it was on New Year’s Day after a long night of partying, I was in no shape to spend time huddled in Kananaskis Country around a fire while it was -30°C (-22°F). But this tradition has grown to be something I look forward to (and relish sharing it with others who think we’re crazy). Regardless of weather, my mom packs a picnic basket full of chili, smoky sausages, a few snacks and steaming thermoses of hot chocolate and coffee. My dad is responsible for the firewood and blankets. We usually drive into Kananaskis or to another picnic area around Banff or Canmore and get a fire going. If the weather is nice, we linger and maybe even do a brief hike around the picnic site. On years where it’s brutally cold, we’ve done a quick in and out of the car to eat and run. But regardless of the weather, we always reward our bravery and struggle with a dip in the Banff Hot Springs and dinner in town in the evening. It’s quality family time that’s unique to us and a tradition I plan to carry on with my own family one day. – Meredith
  13. This year, we are doing something special. I’m a professional photo organizer and we found a box of vintage family slides buried in a closet at Chris’s mom’s that she had forgotten about. We brought the box home – it was a treasure trove of old family slides c.1955-1975. I have a home office and two scanners so we scanned everything and made it into a slideshow with music. We also made a photo book for Chris’s mom, as we know it will be an cherished heirloom she’ll want to pass down. We think everyone will get a big kick out if the slideshow on Xmas day – and it will help the kids see their parents in a different light. And best of all, the slideshow costs us nothing but time (the photobook on the other hand, around $100). – Marci

Traditions You Can Do for Others

  1. From November to before Christmas, we go through the clothes (and toys) to sort out those that can be ‘released’ to other homes. These are taken to a domestic violence thrift shop or a program that directly places basics into the hands of the needy. – Coralie
  2. I always make Christmas cookies for my neighbors and include a little holiday note. – Kaleigh
  3. I am a yoga teacher and I offer all my students the opportunity to give a present to toys for tots vs. pay for their class! I am happy to forgo one class to benefit one more child in need. – Amy
  4. My partner and I decided to adopt a new tradition that we started this past Giving Tuesday/Black Friday. Instead of shopping on Black Friday, we decided to donate what the average shopper spends to a local charity. This is something we will do every year now and it’s a lot easier to avoid Black Friday when we think about how our money might better be used helping the community. – Josh
  5. My aunt decided a few years ago that once all of the grandkids were out of high school we would no longer buy each other gifts because it was so stressful and expensive. Instead, each year all family members draw a name from a hat and buy a toy that reminds them of that person. We wrap them all up and open them together on Christmas Eve, then my aunt brings all of the toys to a local women’s shelter for their Christmas Day. It’s heartwarming to do something kind while also having a little story around how that gift reminds them of you. – McKenna (*Note from Cait: My office used to do this, when I worked for the government!)
  6. This is the first year I have adopted the wish list of a little girl who lives in a women’s shelter in our area. They have a program called Dreams and Wishes that matches the kids list with someone who can fulfill all or part of it. I chose a girl, aged 4, since I only have nephews. – Dayle
  7. I take my grandchildren shopping as a group for food for the food bank, and we drop it along with some decorations we have made for the Food Bank’s Holiday Dinner. We also go hiking to collect pine cones, berries and seeds for the animals in our local wildlife rescue centre, drop them off and check out the animals in care. – Nancy
  8. The last few years, I have tried to give back in a small way. One year it was purchasing gifts for the children’s aid society, and another it was filling purses with feminine products for homeless women. This year, I am going to do the shoebox project where you fill a shoebox with gifts for a homeless women. You put things in it that you would like to receive yourself. – Laura
  9. My family and I put together pretty gift-wrapped packages of socks, gloves, cards with handwritten notes (and a few dollars in the years we can afford to do so) in the weeks leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we take our packages downtown near the mission where homeless people tend to congregate. We hand out the packages with Christmas cookies and hot chocolate to whomever we find on the streets. Everyone is always so happy and really just delighted someone thought of them. Their reactions are the best Christmas gift we could ever get. Each person gives us a big hug! Last year after our trip downtown, my 10-year old-daughter was quick to point out that these may be the only hugs some people get all year. – Lisa
  10. We always set an extra plate at the table for the ‘unknown stranger’. Who knows when you meet someone who you could help, or learn from or just spend some time with. It is important to be mindful of others all year long and also focus more on others than ourselves. – Dora-Lynn

And I will leave you with something short and sweet:

The only holiday tradition worth keeping is to love the people you share it with. – Barbara

Do you have any simple traditions you’d like to add?

  • Wow, this is a great list. I can see why it was originally much longer, and I wouldn’t have mind reading a bigger version! :)

    A simple tradition that I like to keep up during Christmas is to re-watch at least one Home Alone movie. I used to love them as a kid, and I still do. It really makes me feel those Christmas feelings lol

  • A holiday tradition that my parents started when my sister and I were younger is a Christmas treasure hunt. My sister and I are now 17 and 27 and they still do this for us every year. We open our gifts and stockings in the morning, but one gift is held back for Christmas Day ‘Eve’. My sister and I get handed a clue and the treasure hunt ensues. After running through the house (and sometimes the yard) looking for all the clues we end up finding our final gift. Usually the final gift would be the biggest or most exciting gift, but now that I’ve adopted minimalism and have my family thinking about it more too, last year my parents gifted my sister and I $250.00 each to donate to a charity or cause of our choice. It was one of the best gifts. I donated mine to the Donkey Sanctuary of South Western Ontario and my sister donated her $250.00 to a local animal sanctuary.

  • Your readers really are the best- what a way to come through for you! This is such an incredible list. There’s a lot on here that I’d never even thought of, but might need to add to my holiday rotation now. Thanks for having such a great community of people!

    • They do all the work! I’m grateful to have them :) and yes, SO many ideas to consider! This year, I’m really feeling that new book + puzzle on Christmas Eve . . .

  • When my kids were little, on Christmas Eve at bedtime they got to put on their special Christmas pajamas. Then I read them ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and then the Christmas story from Luke and we would all sing Silent Night before I tucked them in. They always settled down so much better after our bedtime ritual. And it was the moment I felt that Christmas was truly here. Michelle

    • “They always settled down so much better after our bedtime ritual.” – I feel like this is true most days, but would be especially important to do with kids on Christmas Eve, when they might already be feeling the excitement of the next day.

  • I loved Josh’s idea about Giving Tuesday in place of Black Friday. Last year for Black Friday I cleaned out my closets instead and donated clothes and warm coats. I would like to see the days switched permanently. Based on what I’ve seen/heard most people Black Friday shop for themselves so wouldn’t it be a nice reminder to think of others who are less fortunate first?

    • I agree, Annie. While I’m not against saving money on something you were already going to buy, I prefer Giving Tuesday – and giving all year!

  • What an amazing list Cait! These responses warmed my heart on a cold day and gave me a great way to spend my lunch hour! I just wrote on my blog about how people I’ve met online have changed my life today. Communities online are really amazing, especially yours!

    The only tradition with my family that has survived the test of time is watching Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve. Even when I’ve spent the holidays alone I’ve always watched it on December 24th. :)

    • Love love love that tradition. I watch Rudolph on Christmas Eve, and usually watch A Christmas Story on Christmas Day!

    • Ooo yes! I’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas once already, but might have to watch it again on Christmas Eve too. Good thinking! :)

    • RIGHT!? I got over 125 responses, but lots of them overlapped/were similar. Just incredible what a group of people can put together though. :)

  • Great list! We like to pile into the car and drive around neighborhoods that are really into decorating their houses. The best part is you get to stay nice and warm inside the car!

  • This post is gold, Cait, and your readers are awesome. I will save this post for further rereading as I want to savor every tradition.

    Some of my most meaningful ones are
    – solo: reading my Bible on the Christmas story each morning the whole month
    – friends: watching a Christmas show from our favorite dance school every year then going to dinner
    – kids: having a secret santa for 3 days straight with two small fun $1 gifts (usually with rules like something shiny this week, something strange next week, etc.) and one bigger $5-10 gift
    – family: BBQ night on January 2 right before everyone leaves (I live in the tropics so we can grill outdoors year/round)
    – others: earmarking care packages for people in need who aren’t necessarily covered by the local charities and leaving them anonymously

    Have a great and meaningful holiday season, Cait!

  • Love this list! For me, Christmas is all about spending time with my loved ones and I especially love doing that while celebrating how beautiful our winters can be in this country, There are SO many lovely outdoor festivals and activities you can partake during these cold winter months and I feel like us Canadians don’t always take advantage of them!

  • So many great ideas! I don’t have to add any (except: start early, slow down), but I wanted to thank you for this meaningful list and all the time you put into it.
    Have a quiet and peaceful holiday!

  • Wow! Amazing list. While your readers helped write it, this was a major effort to curate and edit – thank you for pulling this together. Merry Christmas!

  • This was so beautiful and inspiring to read. I would love to adopt some of these traditions and see how they work with my family! Thank you for doing this Cait, what a great idea.

  • As someone who recently got married, I’m realizing that family Christmas traditions are inevitably shifting as we spend the holidays in different places and with different people. I still visit my side of the family to stay with my folks for a few nights around Christmastime (even if it’s not ON Christmas), and we make the most of those times by watching our favorite films (A Christmas Carol, Rudolph, etc.), lighting a fire in the fireplace every night, turning on some Bing Crosby, and just enjoying each other’s company while sitting around the tree. Gifts play a very minor role nowadays, because I think we’ve all realized the most precious gifts of Christmas are those that cannot be bought. My father is aging pretty rapidly (it seems like every time I see him he looks significantly older), and every visit is important to me. At the same time, I’m enjoying creating new traditions with my husband as we build our life together: decorating our own tree, watching a Christmas movie nearly every night, and making hot mulled cider and banana bread. And despite being very family-oriented, one of my favorite traditions is the one I do alone every year: I read “A Christmas Carol” in the few evenings before Christmas Eve. It is the most perfect, cozy, spooky story! It completely sets my mood for Christmas and reminds me that the most wonderful thing we can do is love and be kind each other.

  • Wow! I really love this post. So many great ideas.
    To add: Every year I watch Love, Actually by myself. As a family, we assemble a breakfast strata on Christmas Eve. As soon as we wake on Christmas morning, we put it in the oven. It bakes while we unwrap gifts. It is so rich and delicious.

  • For many years now my favorite “doing by myself tradition” is a donate to Toys for Tots, or another similar toy drive for children in need. As I don’t have children, I love walking in the toy aisle and picking out a few awesome things, (one year I bought a 4 foot life size doll). I then like to imagine the children receiving them on Christmas and for maybe one moment they feel nothing but pure joy and love, and forget about any problems they have and can just be kid, even if it’s just a brief moment. One year, a young teenage boy that I know had a very dysfunctional family situation was swimming and I was on my surfboard, I asked why he wasn’t surfing and he said his board broke. I was on a brand new maybe $600 surfboard (which my ex-boyfriend had bought for me and I didn’t want to keep and was planning to sell it on Craigslist) instead (as it was a few days before Christmas) I got off the board and pushed it towards him and said Merry Christmas and then I swam in. That was the best toy I had ever given a “big tot” and I know that he will never forget that and hopefully will always know that someone loves him; and it was one of the best moments of my life.
    If/when I have children, I will continue this so they can grow up knowing the joy of giving and understanding gratitude for what blessings they have and to share it where and when they can with others who may not be so fortunate.
    Happy Holidays from Hawai’i :-)

    • That was an amazing read. I can only imagine how shocked he must have been to be given a new surfboard on the spot! You are a wonderful person!

  • Throughout the year, my husband and I keep every card and letter that we receive in a decorative greeting card box (similar to a box that might be set out at a wedding to receive cards and money). In December, we save the holiday cards that are sent to us and open them together on Christmas Eve, taking turns reading them out loud. Then we add them to our card box. On New Years Eve, we go through ALL the letters and cards that had been received that whole year and re-read them. We keep a few treasured notes, and discard the rest.
    I like this tradition, because I get to re-live the memories twice, but I also have a planned time to discard the ones that aren’t meaningful to me. It helps me to not feel guilty about throwing them away…and it also keeps me from acquiring an ever-growing pile of letters and cards.

  • Just a small inexpensive treat is to put egg nog in my coffee. Make sure you get the light egg nog as the regular egg nog doesn’t work so well. Very yummy and a nice tradition for the holidays instead of expensive coffe shop egg nog lattes.

  • What a great list! Thanks to everyone who contributed. You made me smile, think and get a little teary eyed. :)

  • Absolute best blog post of the year….and I mean of all the blogs I follow.
    Thank you so much and Merry Christmas.

  • Since relocating to Aus, my traditions have changed heaps. On the years I go to Minnesota, I leave a trail of snow angels in the yards of family and friends. We also started a sledding day with extended family in the area (aunts, uncles, cousins, and grand-cousins). In Aus, I like to go to a Christmas carols and picnic event at a local beach with friends. I also have started making beach sandman. (A small snowman made of sand and decorated with found objects from the beach. Due to the heavier weight of sand, the sandmen are only maybe 20cm tall). There is always a lot of interest and smiles from kids of all ages.

  • What a lovely compilation of traditions. I’m inspired to build a bit more quiet into Christmas morning. The happy chaos of extended family here on Christmas Day has gotten overwhelming for this introvert!

    Our children are now late 20 somethings, but they continue to say their favorite tradition was what we did every December 5th, so I want to share it. When our kids started public school, I was made more keenly aware of what many children lacked, especially as winter came. Children showed up with no hats, mittens, sweaters, and thin jackets, etc. Long story short: after IDing some children in need, I took my own kids shopping at Target where they picked out warm clothing, and other things I was made aware that certain children needed. At a consignment shop, we picked up warm coats/vests. All my kids knew was the age/gender of who we were shopping for.

    About 9:00/9:30 PM on December 5th – St. Nicholas Eve – we loaded up the car with gifts and hot chocolate, and drove around anonymously delivering the gifts. The streets were quiet, Christmas lights were often on, and at each stop we parked the car a bit away from each house and stealthily delivered our goods to front doors, where they would be found the next morning. Over the years, we collected fun stories about the deliveries, such as the time the police stopped us, thinking we were burglars! All in all, though, it was a ‘feel good’ tradition: family time, the quiet of the night, Christmas tree lights in windows, and the fun of anonymously delivering much needed warmth to children.

  • What a great post! Thank you for sharing all of these traditions. It’s a little peak into other peoples homes and hearts and it truly reminded me how important it is to do special things with those that bring me joy everyday!

  • This is such a lovely post. It’s great to read peoples Christmas traditions – some of which I think I may be adopting myself! (Thank you for including mine :) )

  • Wonderful list, Cait!
    Now that we have kids (year four into it) our traditions have taken on a whole new spin. For a while, the Mrs. and I had established some special traditions of our own. Then, blammo, twins arrive. Couldn’t be happier, but it’s admittedly better now that they’re old enough to really get excited in anticipation of Santa’s visit.
    Today we went sledding over at the park. Last night we shared a simple dinner of cheese fondue. Maybe we’re just starting to set some new traditions for future years.

  • Great holiday post. The Meaning of the holidays have been lost in the messages that marketers bombard us with. That is a great list. Keep the holidays simple and you will enjoy them more.

  • My best friend and I have a couple of traditions. We’ll both make slow cooker fudge, different varieties, then we get together and bag it up, to give to teachers, coaches, etc. Good way to catch up and a nice homemade way to acknowledge people we appreciate. We also both only have one child each, who get on amazingly, so we do santa photos together, and get a photo of our girls together each year.
    At work, a small workplace, we don’t do gifts, we all pitch in some money, and each year we pick a different charity to donate it to.

  • What a great list! You had me at the first suggestion from Meghan. I’m writing down several for next year’s season.

  • We have sausages, scrambled eggs and orange juice for Christmas day dinner every year. On our honeymoon in Victoria, BC, over Christmas break, 19 years ago. We had a little kitchenette hotel room at The Admiral. We cooked sausages and scrambled eggs for breakfast. There wasn’t much open for Christmas and we had already went to the Chinese restaurant that was open for lunch, so for dinner we cooked more of the sausages and scrambled eggs for dinner too. As our first anniversary came around, we thought, why not do it again, and this was the 20th year in a row that we have had sausages and scrambled eggs for Christmas day dinner.

  • This is not necessarily Christmas specific tradition, but sometimes happen to land around the holiday season. I have lived away from my home state for quite a few years now and visit my family once or twice a year. As much as I love the gifts from my family, historically most of them end up in my closet – they were just things that I never used/needed. However a few years ago my mother and I decided to take each other out to Santa Fe, NM (near my home town) and spend the day walking around the plaza, browsing through art galleries, grabbing a bite to eat and window shopping. At the end of the day we’ll buy each other one thing that caught our eye (jewelry, clothing, kitchen appliance, etc). This has now become a tradition and we get to spend a day together to catch up without the rest of the family AND we can both get something that we can use/want!

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