One of my most favorite things as a parent has been sharing generations of my family’s Christmas traditions with my children while adding in new ones from the five of us. However, when I asked my kids which ones they loved the most, I was truly surprised.
You see, all of their top choices were either free or very inexpensive … truly Christmas magic. Here is our list of 12 Favorite Christmas Traditions:
1. Pajamas on Christmas Eve: We haven’t always done this, but we’ve been doing it long enough that the kids can’t remember exactly when we started. Yes, you’ll have to spend a little bit of money, but here is my tip – you don’t buy actual Christmas pajamas. Instead, I buy ones that represent something my children love (Star Wars, princesses, theater, etc), which means I can buy them here and there in the months leading up to December, utilizing sales and coupons. 2 out of 3 of our kids said this is their most favorite tradition.
2. Sitting together to eat the Christmas Day meal: Okay, this one came from our youngest child and kicked in a bit of mom guilt. It made me realize how hectic our lives have become and that all five of us rarely sit down to eat together. Of course, she is also my chef and loves how we use the fancy china and silver for our Christmas meal. This one costs you nothing as it is simply spending time together, even if you are eating PBJ.
3. Watching Rudolph (and other Christmas movies): This one is another freebie – well, as long as you have TV and electricity, which should never be taken for granted. Our eldest loves Rudolph the most, and I learned a long time ago to purchase it on DVD in case we missed its air time. Of course, now we have it on DVR for the same reason. If those aren’t options for you, your local library will usually have some options to check out, or try your best to catch it on prime time.
4. Advent calendar: I didn’t have one of these growing up, but all three of my kids absolutely love it. My mother-in-law gave us one when we only had two children. It hangs on the wall, and has the cute little padded ornaments that go on it. The kids take turns every year, and we have to have a schedule so there is no arguing about who hangs Santa on Christmas Eve. This is one of those traditions where you can choose to buy a calendar or get inventive and make your own! Either way, it will be a fun memory for your family.
5. Making snowflakes: Our middle child reminded me the other day this doesn’t have to cost a dime, as he was making a snowflake out of a fast food napkin. For this one, you can spend as much or as little as you like. The goal isn’t perfection; it is the joy in doing something together.
6. Baking cookies: Once again, this one doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Do what fits your budget. We invite my best friend and her son (whom we consider aunt and cousin) over to make cookies every year. No cookie cutters, no problem! Roll into balls or use a butter knife to make your own shapes. Even the teens still get into this one. The cookies are far from perfect, but the children have a blast, and Santa has never lodged a complaint. Here is my biggest tip for you: if you do sugar cookies from a mix, add a tablespoon of vanilla – they will taste like homemade.
7. White Elephant: Another one I didn’t do growing up, but my older children loved participating at youth group. We had a $5 limit, which makes this easy, affordable, and leads to some inventive ideas. Of course, it is almost impossible to do in 2020, but my son wanted me to include it any way. You see, last year, he received an actual white elephant statue, and he couldn’t wait to regift it this year.
8. Cutting Your Own Tree: Granted, this one will require spending some money, but it is so worth the memories. Also, if you like a large tree like we do, cutting your own is actually cheaper than purchasing from a big box store or nursery. When I was little, my parents started the tradition of taking our family to a tree farm near where we spent Thanksgiving. All these years later, I live about an hour from that same tree farm, so my kids get to have the same experience. In fact, we’ve been going there so long that the owners put my wedding announcement up in the wreath room. Talk about making a customer feel special!
9. Ornaments: Whether you make one or buy one, have an ornament that represents something from each year. All three of our children already have a large enough eclectic collection that they are set for the first year they need to decorate their own tree.
10. Decorating the Tree: You’ve got the tree and the ornaments, now is the time to decorate it, right? This is another simple way to make some special memories. For instance, we always tease my husband not to cut any off, even though we tend to choose a 9-10 foot tree. Then, hubby puts on the lights, and the rest of us grab our individual ornament boxes. I love this special time of each child remembering who have them which ornament and what it means to them.
11. Stockings: Our youngest told me the surprises that come out of her stocking are some of the best Christmas memories, and once she said it, the older two agreed. Santa has some staples he sticks in there – oranges, small packs of Kleenex, and chocolate – but everything else is a total mystery. And that makes pulling everything out of your stocking fun.
12. Christmas Morning Suspense: Yep, it shocked me, too, when my kids said this was a favorite tradition. Apparently waiting with your sibling at the top of the stairs while your parents get the tree lights turned on and breakfast in the oven also makes wonderful memories. And if that doesn’t tell you special traditions don’t have to cost a dime, I don’t know what does.
Wishing you and yours the merriest of seasons.
A few years ago, I had come to dread the daily question of “What’s for dinner?” I was in a rut for recipes, at least one child would most definitely hate whatever I made, and the thought of even stepping foot in the kitchen was overwhelming. Something had to give.
I decided to use a tactic I had learned when our oldest was a toddler, and I put the ball back in my family’s court, with a certain set of rules. Here is what I told them:
The older two would be responsible for thinking of 2 meals per week (and the youngest child immediately volunteered herself to come up with one, which was great.) This left one meal for my husband to plan, and I only had to think of one dinner per week!
Meals must be mostly healthy. No meal choice could be repeated in back to back weeks (this was to get us out of that recipe rut.)
No one could complain about anyone else’s choices. The only person allowed to be unhappy with how something tasted was the chef. This guaranteed that each person would have 1-2 meals per week that they truly loved.
Choices must be told to me no later than Thursday night since we go to the grocery store on Friday. Failure to do any of the above means Daddy is in charge of dinner. (While my husband as many admirable qualities, making a good dinner in a timely manner isn’t always his strong suit. Since the kids don’t like to be hungry, this was a good incentive to get them to help plan meals.)
I launched my plan with high hopes … and it exceeded all expectations. The kids were happy at dinner, everyone was at least trying foods without complaint, they started researching and falling in love with new recipes, and I enjoyed being in the kitchen again.
We’ve added quite a few new family favorites to our repertoire, but this one is loved by all five of us and is made at least once per month:
Taco Chili (Instant Pot Version)
- 2 lbs ground beef (we love supporting our local butcher shop)
- ½ large sweet onion, diced
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 packs taco seasoning (your brand and spiciness level of choice)
- 2 cans Goya Red Bean Soup, undrained
- 1 can (15 oz) of black beans, rinsed
- 1 can (10.5 oz) diced tomatoes with green chiles
- 1 cup of your favorite salsa
- 1 cup water
- Heat Instant Pot on the saute setting. Add ground beef, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Brown in instant pot, then turn off. Add taco seasoning and stir to coat well.
- Add Goya Red Bean Soup, black beans, diced tomatoes with chiles, salsa, and water. Stir well, then add lid, making sure vent is set to “Seal.”
- Select “Soup” and set to cook for 12 minutes. When timer reaches “zero”, allow pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes, then release any remaining pressure. Stir and taste, adding additional salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve in bowls with your family’s favorite toppings. Suggestions include shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, lime, avocado, green onions, and cilantro. Our kids particularly like scoop tortilla chips with it.
Hope you enjoy and that our experiment makes your dinner time more enjoyable. Check here to find out what else we've been up to!