When Jared and I were first married it was tempting to try to recreate every tradition we grew up with and a dozen other ones we heard about from friends. There’s something solidifying in a family about carrying out traditions, but it can easily get out of hand and add lots of unnecessary stress.
My husband grew up with the German “St. Nicholas” tradition of putting out his shoes at night to wake to them filled by an “elf” in the night. My mother-in-law took it to the next level by doing it all 24 days before Christmas starting December 1st, which is obviously amazing when you’re a kid, but so much to keep up with as the elf. I tried to keep this tradition alive for the first three years after kids, but felt downright exhausted by Christmas morning.
It was that year I took a step back and reevaluated our family traditions. Anything that felt like something we’re “keeping up with” was crossed off the list, especially when I have a baby. That is the year to simplify. Start with one tradition you really love. That might be enough!
If you’re looking for more, easy ways to bring in the feeling of the holidays, here are some very simple traditions that can all be done at home while your baby is wrapped on you! I look forward to the smells of the holidays as much as the music and food, so I broke down this list by the five senses. That may sound crazy, but all you have to do is circle one from each category and then you’ll have created a total sensorial holiday experience, all right at home.
+ Holiday movies – I love all the classics but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a Hallmark Movie Girls or Couples night where you watch all the cheesy ones and eat food. I also found this list of best holiday TV show episodes that I’m excited to watch this year.
+ Wrapping presents – My go-to is brown kraft paper (always pretty, eco-friendly, and inexpensive) and pretty ribbon (currently obsessed with this velvet ribbon!) or twine but if you’re wanting something with a little more pop then I’d go with one of these options: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
+ PJ and Cozy Sock Night
+ Make homemade cards for family + friends – Can include older children and is a craft + a mini-service project. This link has some fun homemade ideas (the watercolor is my fave!).
+ Light candles – Whether you’re lighting a menorah or a crown of candles for Saint Lucia’s Day or just bringing in some hygge each night, candles are my favorite way to bring in some holiday vibes.
+ Book advent – We have the same 25 Christmas books that we wrap up every year and put under the tree December 1st. Every night we bundle up together and open one of the books and read it together. During such a busy season, I love that it brings us together and when I was postpartum with my fourth baby, it was the easiest way for us to spend time together every day. See my book list here.
+ Holiday music – I made an Apple playlist here of all of my favorite songs for you, but I have to give a shout out to our record player (we have the C100). Our Elvis Dolly Parton Christmas records play on repeat and there’s nothing like the warmth and nostalgia it brings. I couldn’t forget about your littlest babe, either — Here’s a Holiday Lullaby playlist. Hoping it brings the sweetest dreams!
+ Games – If you have little ones who can’t quite play games yet, this storytelling game is the best!
+ Family singalong – It’s cheesy but also seems really fun if you incorporate food and friends. Here’s a classic singalong I found on YouTube.
+ FaceTime caroling – I think caroling over phone or video chat would be a fun way (esp with older kids) to connect with all of your long distance family + friends and could very easily replace a traditional holiday card, which makes it a double win.
+ Evening fires
+ Holiday candles – If you know me, you know I burn candles all day long every day of the year based on the season. My favorite holiday candles are PF Candle Co (Spruce) and Syndey Hale (Blue Spruce + Spearmint), and I have to say that this Bath & Body Works candle is amazing and Magnolia’s seasonal line at Target. Truth be told, sometimes I’ll just go to Home Goods and find a handful of $5 holiday candles so I can change up the scent throughout the season.
+ Stovetop potpourri – I use this 5-ingredient recipe every year (+ used it for neighbor gifts as well!).
+ Garlands – Sounds hard but I promise anyone can do it and learn in under 10 minutes and the aroma is worth it. Wear your little one in the Solly Wrap & walk and clip some greens from your yard, buy this simple $10 kit and you’ll have everything you need! Use this easy tutorial.
+ Hot cocoa bar – Here are some cute ideas but really it doesn’t need to be this fancy. Nobody ever complained about some hot cocoa and whipped cream.
+ Cookie making party – You can approach this a million different ways but here are a few (most of my favorite recipes and ideas are from A Bountiful Kitchen): host a cookie exchange party if you want to invite friends, sugar cookie decorating with kids (or try them frosted for a fun twist), these homemade oreos are wickedly good, these chocolate peppermint cookies are perfect for passing out for neighbors and teachers, the ever-popular Swig cookie recipe, and, if you want to go for the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe then you can’t beat NYT’s recipe (but remember to make them a day ahead). Can you tell I like cookies?
+ Chocolate covered pretzel rods – Easy recipe here.
+ Abelskivers – We started making these Swedish pancake/donut balls years ago on Christmas Eve and it quickly became an annual tradition. You can buy the pan here and all the recipes out there are similar, but my favorite one is here.
+ Monkey bread – This dessert that we justify eating for breakfast on Christmas is terrible for you, but, alas, we feel we must keep this family tradition alive. Slightly 1980s but I don’t care, Pioneer Woman does this recipe right (although my mom thinks it’s blasphemy to use anything but Rhodes rolls).
+ Advent calendar – My Daughter Florence makes the sweetest advent calendar with simple activities for each day that we’re using, but if you just had a baby then here’s one from Anthro that doesn’t involve activities!
+ Wreath making – Same as the garland supplies (take a wrap walk to cut some greens with some scissors + buy this little kit) but a little more technical and you’ll need a wire frame as well. Use this easy tutorial. My kids always help me with this and you can use virtually any greens to make a beautiful arrangement.
+ Salt dough ornaments – We started doing this years ago with my toddlers when we couldn’t afford all the ornaments I wanted to buy but now it’s become an annual holiday craft. I’ve used many recipes but this one looks especially good!
+ Decorating the tree
+ Holiday play dough – This is something we do for every season because my kids will play with the play dough all month long, I always have the ingredients on hand, and it keeps their hands busy (but near me) while I am cooking in the kitchen. You can get my recipe from our family’s Jenni Kayne feature here.
+ Gingerbread kits – Michaels always has easy kits!
+ Knit scarves/blankets/hats or tie quilts for local shelter – easy and relaxing way to give back to your community
Download your Holiday Experience Guide from above here & be sure to share the new traditions you’re making as a family with us in the comments! Happy Holidays, Mama.