Like our cherished habits and routines, traditions build a sense of anticipation—a trust that the joys and wonders we experienced in the past will come around once again. With the holidays, there’s the chopping of the tree (or the annual unveiling of your family’s faux tree from the closet). There are the gift exchanges, office parties, and the many Christmas cookies eaten in quick succession. We have so much to look forward to this time of year—and creating traditions with your family, friends, or partner has a certain way of infusing the holidays with a special sense of magic.
‘Tis the season to slow down and connect to those you love. If the two past years of redefining “normal” have taught us anything, it’s to live in gratitude and awe for the moment unfolding before us. And rather than trying to cram in all the activities and check off all of our holiday to-dos, how much more joy would you experience if you identified what matters most and did exactly that?
With that intentional spirit to guide us, keep reading to learn how you and yours can make this special season all the more beautiful, filling it with love and light.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
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Why We Make Holiday Traditions
Growing up, every year on December 23rd, my family would venture into the forest to chop down our tree. With five people’s busy schedules to contend with, it was impossible to get us all in the same place at the same time. But because of that, we kept the tree up well into January (and each year, my birthday party was illuminated with twinkly lights). What may have been an inconvenience or even a disappointment to others became special for us. It was a treasured tradition that we looked forward to year after year.
Traditions don’t start off as traditions. Instead, they’re the activities we practice year after year because they bring a certain comfort to our lives. They’re anything but artificial—we gravitate toward traditions for the sense of happiness and connection they weave into our days. So if you’re grappling with ambitious plans and a holiday bucket list that strikes you as a little long, my advice is to prioritize what really counts. After all, the point is to spark joy, not stress during the holidays, isn’t it?
How to Create Traditions of Your Own
As I said, traditions don’t just appear out of thin air. To start creating a few holiday traditions of your own, try asking yourself: what are the things that make you and your loved ones feel warm and cozy this time of year? Maybe that’s an all-day holiday movie marathon. Or, perhaps you love baking all the holiday goodies and hopping in the car with the kiddos to distribute to your neighbors? Here are a few ways you can start creating holiday traditions this year.
Identify what you already like to do. With your family, partner, or all by yourself, brainstorm a list of all of your favorite activities to do this time of year. You can even reflect and think back to what you liked doing as a kid. Together, identify the activities that feel worthy of becoming a tradition and be intentional about making them happen this year—and for many years to come.
Don’t be overly ambitious. I can’t emphasize this enough. When it comes to making holiday traditions, keep your list short and your plans within reach. Nothing’s fun when you overwhelm yourself!
Remember: you’re not obligated to do anything. Can’t get down with caroling? Would you rather spend your artistic talents on something other than a gingerbread house? Alongside your list of things you’d like to make a tradition, think about the things that feel more like a have-to-do than a get-to-do. Cross off what doesn’t resonate. Bonus: It creates space for more fun.
10 Holiday Traditions to Start This Year
Visit a Local Bookstore
… says the woman writing this from a bookstore. Because truly, is there anything cozier? In a season where all my days hit peak coziness, I’m looking for moments that make me feel wrapped up in warmth. Browse the shelves with your S.O. or cuddle up with a chai all on your own. And if you buy a few books as presents, all the better.
Shop for Your Favorite Trader Joe’s Holiday Treats
Nothing feels more celebratory than visiting your local Trader Joe’s to pick up your go-to seasonal faves. I even plan to go on the same day as one of my long-distance friends. We hop on FaceTime after our respective trips to compare and taste-test our hauls. This has easily become of the best (and tastiest) holiday traditions.
Visit a Holiday Market
I love scouring the local listings and checking Instagram to find all the holiday markets that pop up in my city throughout the month. My partner and I set aside a Saturday to bundle up and browse the stalls and vendors—with a cup of mulled wine or cider in hand, of course.
Read Your Favorite Holiday Books
In my family, this tradition has carried on long past childhood. While we once used to snuggle up with my parents on the couch to read our favorites—The Night Before Christmas, Christmas Trolls, and The Polar Express—we’ve now brought this love of holiday reading into our own homes. I always make sure to pick up a few new books each year, both picture books and longer reads. My 2022 picks: The Tea Party in the Woods, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, and We Met in December.
Spend an Evening Decorating
My partner and I had just gotten home after a whirlwind Thanksgiving trip. With November gone, we quickly realized our insatiable craving for Christmas everything. One Saturday, we drove all around the city, piling garland, a fake and festive tree, and all the trimmings into our car. When we arrived home that evening, we turned up the holiday music, got in our comfy clothes, and poured mugs of chai. A few hours spent in a decorating frenzy and we were set. It was so much fun, that we vowed to approach our decorating this way every year.
Host a Holiday Crafternoon
Who doesn’t love a good weekend afternoon spent crafting your heart out? Brew some tea, set out some treats, and invite your nearest and dearest. You can consult our list of holiday DIY decorations and presents for ideas to get you started.
Adopt a Family for Christmas
Make a less fortunate family’s holiday merry and bright by generously donating everything on their Christmas list. This is an especially touching tradition to start if you have kids—by participating, you’ll instill in them a desire to give back from a young age. Learn more by getting in touch with your local Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services , or Salvation Army.
Go for a Winter Hike (Or Walk!)
Contrary to popular belief, you can still get outside even when the temps drop—you just need to be prepared! After a morning spent lazing about eating coffee cake and drinking copious cups of coffee, my family and I would always venture out for a hike on Christmas to get some fresh air. Pick a local hike or stroll along your city’s walking paths. Be sure to bring a hat, mittens, and plenty of layers. Store a thermos of cocoa in the car with all the hot chocolate fixings to warm up post-walk.
Watch Your Favorite Holiday Movies
Is there anything better than a day spent in your pajamas watching all the best new and classic Christmas movies? We’ve rounded up the best new holiday movies in 2022 to give you a few ideas on where to start. Pop the popcorn and bundle up under layers and layers of your favorite fuzzy blankets—we’re staying indoors.
Buy Matching Pajamas
Speaking of getting cozy, there’s a reason so many matching pairs of family pajamas exist. Hanna Andersson has some of our favorites, but you’ll likely find a few solid options at Target, too. Wear them on Christmas Day or any random Sunday during the month (don’t forget to snap a pic). If you don’t want to go all-out, slippers work too!