Don’t get us wrong; we love classic holiday traditions as much as the next person. Decorating the tree, hanging the stockings on the mantel, watching a Christmas movie — it’s all well and good, but some of those traditions can get a little, well, old. That makes sense, though. You do them year after year, and sometimes they don’t seem as special. But there are so many ways to shake up your Christmas while still making it fun (and maybe a little wacky) for the whole family. And no, they don’t involve leaving Santa beer or taking a Christmas card photo wearing feather boas and nothing else (What? You mean only my brothers did that? Well all right then.)
There’s too much pressure and insanity around the holidays to worry about your kids rolling their eyes at mandatory matching family pajamas. So if you’re stumped on coming up with a new tradition the kids will actually get behind, cross that one off your to-do list, because we’ve rounded up the best family Christmas traditions you haven’t thought of yet (but should start doing immediately.)
Not to worry. We know this time of year, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the soundtrack to your nightmares and you’re panicking that you maybe forgot to get a present for one of your kids, so take a breath and read on.
Turn Your Tree Into a Hide-n-Seek Game
No one exactly knows how this weird tradition began, but it’ll make your family look at your beautiful, stunning Christmas tree much more closely. While they’re admiring the dazzling lights and heart-warming ornaments, they’ll be on a mission: Looking for the pickle ornament. Sort of like Elf on the Shelf but much more low-maintenance, you can move and hide the pickle in a different spot on the tree every day leading up to Christmas. Whoever finds it, gets to hide it.
Make your own Polar Express
Everyone knows the beloved 1985 classic by Chris Van Allsburg, but why don’t you make it extra special by making your own Polar Express. If your kids go to bed (relatively) early, wait until they’ve been asleep for a half-hour or so, wake them up and load them up in the car with their pj’s on. Have blankets and thermoses of hot chocolate waiting, and drive around town listening to Christmas carols and looking at the Christmas lights. Bonus if you scope out the street with the best Christmas light display beforehand so you’re not driving around all night.
Trick your kids into cleaning… because Santa
No one wants to have the happiness of unwrapping all their presents overshadowed by the annoyance of trying to find space in their rooms for all their new stuff. Have your kids “make room for Santa” by going through their playroom/bedroom and asking them to pick some toys they don’t play with anymore to give away to make room for the new things Santa is going to bring them. Then, you can all drop them off at a local shelter together. You get to declutter; the kids get to feel good about helping the less fortunate. It’s a win-win.
Blow frozen bubbles
Sounds ridiculous, but if it gets cold enough and you go outside and blow bubbles, they will freeze into gorgeous rainbow orbs of ice. It’s a fun way to get outside when the weather is dreary and see who can blow the biggest frozen bubble. Trust me on this one; your kids won’t be able to wait for next year.
Have a family living room campout under the tree
Once the tree is all decorated and lit, make a pile of sleeping bags, blankets and pillows and have a family sleepover under the tree. (Preferably with a roaring fire in the fireplace.) Cozy up with some big blankets, pop on a holiday flick, and fall asleep to the twinkling lights and magical ambience of your Christmas tree.
Make snow angels — in your swimsuits
You’d be surprised how easily the kids will jump on board with this one. Don’t get me wrong. It’s really dang cold, but if you can count to three, run outside and do a quick flop into the snow, the giggles and laughter will outweigh the five seconds of freezing cold. I’d get a camera ready to document the absurdity, and make sure you toss a stack of towels into the dryer for prime warm-and-fluffy towels to help you dry off.
Have a competition to see who can find the best (or worst) ornament for the tree
Whether it be an awesome DIY or an ornament of Jeff Goldblum’s head, (do those exist? I’d like five), take the kids shopping and see who can find or make the ornament that just makes everyone burst out laughing. There are ornaments of toilet plungers, skunks, the famous leg lamp from A Christmas Story — you name it, it exists somewhere. Make it a competition and have a prize for the winner (maybe they get to be the photographer for the swimsuit snow angels moment and don’t have to participate) and document which ornament wins each year. The older the kids get, the crazier the ornaments will get.
Take an “honest” Christmas card
Anyone else sick of the overly posed and airbrushed family photos people use for their Christmas cards? Take a picture of the kids being their normal, crazy selves. The fake smiles and behind-the-scenes bribery are things of the past. Why not take an honest photo of your family, good, bad and ugly. If you want to go over the top, a staged photo is totally fine, but see what happens when you try to do a family pyramid or surprise the kids when they get off the bus one day with red and green silly string (just make sure the timer on your camera is ready!).
Set up a kids-only Christmas tree that they can decorate however they want
Sure, the big family tree is fun, and whether you prefer a live tree or a fake one, let your littles pick a mini version to keep in their rooms and decorate however they want. Toilet paper garland? Done. They want to hang candy canes and also all the dog’s chew toys? Fine. They’ll appreciate the freedom and ability to express themselves on their own tree, while the big family tree can hold all the childhood handprints and craft stick ornaments.
A version of this story was originally published in December 2018.