Start a holiday tradition with loved ones

Dec 8, 2009 at 12:36 p.m. ET

If money is tight this Christmas because of the economic downturn, or if you simply feel you have lost the reason for the season, start a holiday tradition this year. Whether it's singing carols, hosting cookie exchanges or making gifts, these things save money and bring loved ones together. Here are some ideas to get you started:

 Make an advent calendar

Make an advent calendar

Sherri Stanczak of Missouri started a tradition years ago of making advent calendars for her children. Now that her three sons are grown, she continues to make them for her nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Stanczak says she can make four calendars from one piece of 11-by-17-inch poster board, with each calendar being five rows across and five rows down.

'I usually draw it with green and red markers,' she says. 'Then I buy party favors from dollar type novelty stores. I buy things like nail polish, lip gloss and hair ties for the girls, and Hot Wheels, army men and bouncy balls for the boys. Then I buy bags of candy -- bite-sized candy bars, suckers and peanut butter cups.'

Stanczak next wraps the presents and hot glues them on the calendar. Then she punches two holes in the top of the calendars and ties red and green yarn through to hang. Even though making the calendars can be hard work, Stanczak says the end result is worthwhile.

'This year I have made the most ever -- 12 calendars, which is 300 presents to wrap," she says. 'Wow! But they love them.'

Tell stories

'Every Christmas after dinner we each tell a story about something important or funny or otherwise memorable that happened to us in the past year,' says Barb Byrne of Missouri.

'We start with the oldest member at the gathering and work our way down to the youngest.' Byrne says the family captures the stories on video and makes copies to share with each family.

'But for those who are 'camera shy,' the stories can also be captured on audio,' she suggests. 'A family member could also decide to transcribe the audio tapes into written format and then 'publish' a booklet with pictures for everyone to enjoy.'

Host a cookie swap

Host a cookie swap Lynette Viviani of New Jersey recently sent out invitations to her 14th holiday cookie swap.

'It's something that I first experienced when I lived in Perrysburg, Ohio more than 18 years ago and brought to my new neighborhood when I moved to New Jersey in 1996,' Viviani says. 'It's held every December on the second Friday of the month and it's a ladies-only affair.'

More than 100 women converge at her home, which has a 14-foot Christmas tree, and each guest bakes five-and-a-half dozen of their favorite cookie or candy.

The group puts out a half dozen to share, and then everyone takes home five dozen of a variety of cookies.

'The cookies are a great excuse for my friends, acquaintances and co-workers to get together for lots of food and drink,' she says.

Learn about other cultures

Patti Green, founder of kids' cooking company Ginger Kids, suggests families add a theme to the holiday break. Families choose a different country to explore each night, and the children learn about its culture, foods, traditions and celebrations. The family can then make one or two recipes from that country. Children will learn to embrace new cultures, as well as appreciate the differences and similarities to their own. Sweden, for instance, celebrates St. Lucia Day Dec. 13. The celebration marks the beginning of Christmas, and families enjoy a special breakfast together and gingerbread cookies prepared by the children or family.

Sing carols

'I really admire my in-laws and their Christmas traditions, particularly the family sing-a-long,' says Gayle Nowak of Massachusetts. Her mother-in-law hosts the sing-a-long in early December. About 40 people squeeze into her family room to sing a dozen Christmas carols that Nowak's mother-in-law plays on the organ.

'A more recent tradition added to the sing-a-long involves anyone who plays an instrument to perform a song or two for the family.' she says.

The family also enjoys a pot-luck style dinner prepared by Nowak's mother-in-law, as well as her famous Santa cookies.

For more Holiday tips and ideas on SheKnows:

7 Ways to keep in touch with family over the holidays
Festive Christmas cocktails
Preserving Christmas memories