Are you looking for some new and fun family traditions?
Whether your family is large or small, young or old, establishing traditions can cement relationships. It can also evoke warm feelings and create memories that last a lifetime.
Over the years, we’ve read numerous books about the value of family traditions.
These habits and rituals add stability to the yearly calendar as the kids eagerly anticipate and participate in the preparations for each special event. Traditions don’t need to be expensive or elaborate to be memorable.
We hope our most enjoyable ideas will provide the impetus for you to create your own family traditions. For more resources, visit our Book Review section.
Keep reading to get some ideas from these 7 holidays and the traditions we use to celebrate them.
New Year’s Eve
We host a party and invite several families whose kids are the same ages as our kids. We start at 6:00 PM and go until it’s over … usually 1 or 2 am.
Everyone brings a dish to share and there’s always enough food. If you’re interested in learning how we host a potluck meal check out this blog.
White Elephant Gift Exchange
Our first event is a white elephant gift exchange.
Everyone who attends the party brings a gift with a value of between $5 and $10. Items can be used, new or collections of unwanted things.
It’s funny to see the stuff that one person deems a White Elephant become a hotly desired item by others. We draw numbers, and the holder of the lowest number picks the first present and opens it.
The next person can take the unwrapped present from the first person or pick a new one from the pile.
We’ve had some really unusual gifts show up. Things like a robotic light up parrot, a reindeer that sang “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” a fiber-optic pumpkin, a set of ceramic dishes with corn on the cob images, and a bullwhip.
The rounds continue with the only rule being that a present can change hands, at most, three times before it becomes the permanent possession of the holder—until next year.
We’re considering doing a themed White Elephant exchange next year. Either edible gifts, disposable gifts, entertainment gifts. mugs and ornaments.
New Years Charades Competiton
We start the evening off playing Charades with guys versus gals. Categories: Movies, Books, Songs, and Animals.
We created the last category so that younger kids can participate by acting out the animal and they love it. Usually, the women win, but last year the guys outlawed “womanly intuition transmissions,” and for the first time in recorded history, the guys prevailed. It was a dirty trick, but you’re talking the male ego here.
We cap off the evening at midnight with confetti, cut up out of scrap paper by the kids. We count down as we watch the descending ball in Times Square, and then the confetti flies . . . everywhere.
Afterward, we’re all down on our knees to scoop up the confetti, and in just a few minutes it’s back in a container, saved for next year. Inevitably, months later, we find a piece of confetti “hiding” in a plant, under a couch cushion or on ceiling fan blades.
Valentine’s Day means cupcakes or cookies brought to each of the kids’ activities—scouts, drama club, band, and school. Don’t forget to put something in the mailbox for your friendly neighborhood Postal Worker.
Annette dreams of the day when we will have the time to host a lovely dinner for many of the widow ladies who are in our life. This can be such a hard day for them. Giving them a flower or small vase of flowers to take home would be a final nice gesture!
If you have teenagers, this could be a nice practice of community service your family does for others. And it doesn’t have to be on the exact day, just the closest weekend before or after that works with your schedule!
Jellybean trails are a real favorite. On Easter Eve, Steve spends at least an hour weaving five trails of jelly beans—one for each kid—all over the house. Each trail ends at an elusive basket filled with sumptuous goodies.
Sometimes the basket is outside in a tree or hidden in the clothes dryer. The day culminates with a crowd of friends over for a lasagna dinner and “resurrection eggs.” see scriber downloads for more details.
Related Article: 8 Easter Traditions for Families
Fourth of July
We always look for a place to sit and watch free fireworks. This year we took beach chairs, a cooler with goodies and our boom box loaded with patriotic marches to a nearby grassy area where we watched and listened and were inspired.
About 40 other “cheap” families sat in the same area cheering as the music played. We felt proud to be thrifty Americans.
Halloween means usually homemade costumes and trick-or-treating. We enjoy going with the kids to visit our neighbors or attend our church’s Harvest Festival.
We steer our kids toward non-scary costumes but always encourage creativity. The kids look forward to dressing up and start planning their costumes in August.
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Thanksgiving is our most tradition-rich holiday. The kids help plan the day’s events. We’ve done “thankful notes,” cooked over an open fire in our backyard and shot cardboard and metal turkeys.
In recent years, we’ve invited international students from China, Singapore, and Indonesia who attend local universities. During their four-year course of study, most international students (the future political and business leaders of their home countries) are never invited into an American home.
To host a student, call your local university or International Students, Inc. at (800) 474-8326 or visit www.internationalstudents.org.
If you want to know how Annette quickly defrosts and cooks a turkey visit this page (video too).
We start Thanksgiving week by drawing the names of family members for Secret Pals. The object is to do special, kind things for your Secret Pal all week long and not get caught. The younger kids need assistance in coming up with kind deeds.
Soon beds are unexpectedly made, candy shows up on pillows, chores are mysteriously done, and kind notes of encouragement are found in unexpected places.
On Thanksgiving morning, we eat homemade Egg McMuffins, watch the Macy’s parade and guess who our Secret Pals were.
When our dinner guests arrive, we go into the backyard and shoot cardboard hand-drawn turkey targets, mounted on wooden posts with our BB guns. Our international students have always enjoyed this.
When it’s time for supper, we gather together and give thanks, then eat turkey, plus all the side dishes.
There will be stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, broccoli, candied yams, and roll. There will also be homemade pies—apple, pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate pudding.
After Thanksgiving Dinner
Related Article: Family Game Night Games
One year, the kids built a “Pilgrim House” in the yard, complete with a fireplace where they boiled corn.
They dressed in costumes, turned an old sawhorse into a cow with spots and an udder (an old latex glove taped to the bottom). This “Cow” was pretended to be “milked” for throughout the day by the younger children. And boy do we have silly pictures.
December is really a month-full of activities. We always attend either the Nutcracker Ballet at a nearby ballet school for children which requires a toy for the Toys for Tots program as admission. Or we attend a church musical or an affordable performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
The kids help wrap each other’s presents and are sworn to secrecy. We also put any finishing touches on homemade gifts.
And of course, we bake our annual batch of pumpkin bread and/or cookies. The days are so full but wonderful all at the same time.
Neighborhood Cookie Exchange
In the past, we have hosted a neighborhood cookie exchange. We started out just inviting our block and added a block each year. In the end, we had invited 100 neighbors. Usually, about 50 attend, each bringing a plate of cookies to swap for other delectable delights.
One of our favorite activities was to have all the neighbors line up by the number of years in the neighborhood. Then we introduce ourselves and end the evening singing Christmas carols.
Presents Throughout the Month Of December
During the month of December, we let the kids open one present each week. This usually happens on Saturday morning. And we start with any out-of-town presents that have arrived. The first Saturday was usually a package from mom and dad. Presents from siblings were saved for Christmas morning.
Opening presents throughout the month of December reduces the off-the-wall jumpiness that precedes Christmas. It also allows our kids the time to enjoy one gift and have something new to play with during a very exciting month of the year.
Christmas Eve Activities
On Christmas Eve, we gather at Annette’s parents’ home with the extended family. After a huge dinner, Annette conducts the Twelve Days of Christmas. She assigns everyone a number—one through twelve—along with the corresponding lyrics.
Usually, it’s two people per number and we sing through the entire song with multiple ad-lib performances ranging from Elvis impersonations to the warping of the original words. We’ve been told that laughter aids digestion.
Christmas Day is a total “jammie day.” No company, no chores, just family movies, toys, presents, board games and us. Steve always makes super-delicious cheese blintzes topped with blueberries and cherries—mmmmm! For dinner, it’s either roast leg of lamb or Pastichio (Greek lasagna).
Drizella the Tooth Fairy
Have you heard of the International Tooth Fairy Association? Yup, they had to organize because of all the complaints.
There were teeth left under pillows with no money. At least, that’s what we told our kids. Over the years, this story has grown to epic proportions. Drizella is probably one of the most inept neighborhood tooth fairies in history.
Often when “duty calls” she is out of the country on vacation or in extended training sessions.
And her delivery system of money for teeth leaves much to be desired.
Money has been found “duct-taped” to the front of PJ’s or hanging from a ceiling fan. It’s even been taped to the upper bunk bed facing the child in the lower bunk.
Fortunately, Drizella’s days at our house were are numbered. When our youngest daughter Abbey turned nine, we knew that the number of lost teeth would be declining.
We know that some of you may scold us for “lying” to our kids. But we invented this story purely out of survival. Often we’ve climbed into bed bone-weary, forgetting about the little chunk of calcium lovingly placed under a pillow.
We saw the disappointed look the next morning and had to come up with some excuse. As the kids grew up, they saw through our “clever ruse.”
They stood there with a knowing smirk on their faces saying, “I don’t believe a word of it, just cough up the money.”
Fun Family Traditions Wrap Up
It’s taken years to develop and fine-tune our family traditions. Yes, they take time and effort. Are they worth it? You bet! If family traditions help keep our teens from going off the deep-end and help strengthen our marriages, they’re worth it.
Many of our traditions are based on things our parents did. Some are ones we created ourselves. We have modified, enhanced and added to them to make them our own.
Many of us have family histories steeped in tradition and family lore. If you don’t, then start your own, it’s never too late. Keep traditions alive and give your kids a gift that will help them “keep their balance” for years to come.