Ten Timeless Christmas Traditions

By on December 1, 2012
Christmas Traditions

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year, and for those of us who know the real meaning of Christmas, it can be the best time ever as we gather with our families. But it can also be stressful. In our enthusiasm to celebrate, we can get caught up in frenzied activities that leave us frazzled and exhausted. In our desire to give the best gifts to our loved ones, we can overextend ourselves financially. Christmas traditions can also remind us of loved ones we have lost, or remind us of broken or strained relationships.


It’s important to keep the “main thing the main thing”—to be reminded that more than anything, Christmas is a time to reflect on God’s gift of His son Jesus to us and that it is a time to give, not to “get.” It is not only a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but in his honor, to celebrate each other. It is a time to build family togetherness and to create memories. When we parents, are intentional about the traditions we form and keep, it can help demonstrate to our children (and to all of us) what Christmas is all about.

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Here are some tried and true suggestions of Christmas traditions. Consider how you can tailor these to your children and grandchildren so that they are age-appropriate and meaningful to everyone:

Celebrate 12 Days of Christmas

This does not have to be elaborate. The idea is to have a plan for 12 days of Scripture reading. Look up the verses in Isaiah that prophesy the coming of the Messiah and the verses from the gospels that tell of the birth of Jesus. Put them on small cards or pieces of paper. Give your little ones short, easy to read verses or help them read their verse. Before or after dinner each night, light the candles at the dinner table and take time to read some of the cards and then have a special dessert or treat to share. The idea is to emphasize the historical reality of the birth of our Lord and remind our children over 12 days (it could be seven, or even three) that Christmas is all about Jesus, the best gift ever.

Christmas Eve Scripture Reading

Now that our children are older and come home for the holidays with their own children, we do an extended reading on Christmas Eve. We have a tradition of seafood (clam chowder, shrimp and steamed clams) every Christmas eve. But before dinner, we have a sheet of paper on each plate at the table with a portion of the Christmas story on it and each person takes turns reading their portion of the story. We also sing a Christmas carol and have a time of prayer and thanksgiving before our meal.

Do Something for Somebody Else

Some of our best Christmas memories as a family are when we decided to give Christmas to another family that was in need. Together with our children, we bought gifts, a special Christmas dinner (one year even a tree and lights) for a family. Our children were deeply moved to watch the mother weep and seeing the wide-eyed excitement in the eyes of the children. Needless to say, it did more for us as a family than the family we were ministering to. One of our extended family members makes it a practice to work in a city’s soup kitchen during the holidays. Jesus said, “When you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.” It is humbling and so true that when we give, we receive.

Christmas Carole Together

If your church group does this, go with them as a family. If not, do it yourself or find another family or two that will do it with you. A family we know makes this a not-to-be-missed annual tradition and friends ahead of time scout out the community to see who would benefit by some caroling. People in rest homes and shut-ins love to hear the traditional Christmas carols sung, especially by families with children.

Make Christmas Ornaments Together

Hand-crafted ornaments are a good way to personalize Christmas and make lasting memories. Visit a craft store for some ideas and personalize them with glitter, etc. When we take out our Christmas ornaments to decorate our tree, the ornaments we made with our children when they were small somehow are more special than the beautiful color-coordinated ones. Now that our grandchildren are adding to the tradition, they love seeing what their father made when he was their age!

Do a Missions Project as a Family

Sometimes we think that anything we do for missions needs to be a church-organized event. It’s wonderful to participate with the church in missions, but why not take on a project as a family? Check with your pastor or mission secretary (read the missionary newsletters on the bulletin board) to see if there is a particular need or project you can adopt as a family. When I was a child, we lived near some large oak trees that had big bunches of mistletoe among their branches. My brother and I climbed into these trees and cut some of the mistletoe. We wrapped it in small bunches with ribbon, put them in a box and went door-to-door selling mistletoe for twenty-five cents a bunch. Within a week, we made over two hundred dollars, a lot of money in those days! Maybe you don’t have time to accompany your children going door-to-door, but perhaps you could do a garage sale with the proceeds to go toward your mission project. Or decide as a family to cut the gift-buying budget and give that to a mission or benevolence project.

Celebrate with Music

What would Christmas be without carols, without Handel’s Messiah, without French horns! One of our traditions as a family was to go together as a family to a musical event. For years, Portland, Oregon had a “Singing Christmas Tree” at the Civic Auditorium. It was a fabulous event, recognized by the entire community that was very special. Many churches sponsor programs like this that you can go to as a family. Also, fill your home with music to add atmosphere and joy, reminding us of the wonderful gift of Jesus.

Christmas Communion

Our church has a Christmas Eve communion. It is not a service, but several of the elders volunteer their time on Christmas Eve to be at church. The church is open for several hours on a drop-in basis. It is a wonderful and deeply spiritual moment. If your church does not offer this, you can do it yourself at home. Communion is a sacrament that can be incorporated into your annual Christmas traditions.

Game Night

As we indicated earlier, Christmas is a time to be together as a family. It’s time to break from routines like watching the news, taking phone calls, being online or playing video games. It’s time to put a fire in the fireplace, break out a puzzle or a game. Or if the snow cooperates, put on your parka and get out the sled with hot chocolate later. It’s time to be together and let your family know you are there one hundred percent, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Get out the popcorn and board games. Take time to have fun being together.

De-Stress Christmas!

Instead of adding more activities—as wonderful as they are—try deleting some activities. Most of stress comes from inside us, thinking we have to have things just right: the perfect gift, perfect decorations, spectacular Christmas programs, the not-predictable newsletter. Trying to do it all right can be overwhelming and exhausting. Be intentional about bringing “peace” into your home and into your lives. Simple pleasures really are the best, such as a night at home with homemade soup, music playing in the background. Refuse to be caught up in unrealistic expectations and frenzied activities.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have joy and that my joy might remain in you.” Welcome him into your home and your family live and experience his Joy and Peace as never before.

Nancie Carmichael graduated in 2012 from George Fox Evangelical Seminary with her MA in Spiritual Formation. She is a speaker and author of several books, including, “Lord, Bless My Child” (with her husband, Bill)“Selah—Time to Stop, Think, and Step into Your Future;” “Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning”.


About Nancie Carmichael

Nancie Carmichael and her husband Bill have been involved with the writing and publishing field for many years as they published Virtue Magazine and Christian Parenting Magazine. They now own a book publishing company, Deep River Books. Nancie and Bill have written several books together including: Lord, Bless My Child; and Seven Habits of a Healthy Home. Nancie has written: Your life, God’s Home; Desperate for God: How He Meet Us When We Pray; The Comforting Presence of God; Selah: Time to Stop, Think, and Step into your Future; and her latest book, Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning. Bill and Nancie make their home in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and are parents to five married children and grandparents to ten. Nancie received her Master’s of Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2012, and in 2005, received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Western Baptist College. Website: nanciecarmichael.com

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Ten Timeless Christmas Traditions