Traditions Old and New: Our Family Christmas Calendar

Oh the holidays, one of the most special times of the year. It is a time filled with traditions and moments to celebrate. It’s a time to focus on love when the news is often filled with stories that perpetuate the opposite. The holidays have always had such a special meaning to me, and now being a mom it is so fun to pass on the excitement and joy to my own daughter.

Christmas Calendar Day 1: Local Christmas Tree lighting and carols followed by decorating our own tree!

When I was a kid, Christmas was more than just gifts and the big jolly old man. Having moved every two years as a child, I grasped onto the traditions of the season. I could always count on the holidays to help make whatever house we were in feel like home. We could have been in a new country surrounded by a language I had yet to learn, and out the Christmas boxes would come filled with comforting decorations and traditions. The holidays gave me a sense of stability, and I always looked forward to the familiar sights and smells that my parents made sure came with us no matter where in the world we were. The traditions of the holidays not only brings back great memories for me, but a beautiful feeling of comfort no matter what is going on in my life.

Even as an adult, my parents (especially my mom) know how to do the holidays; I can still walk into their house when we visit and see the same beautiful decorations and feel the memories contained in each ornament placed on the tree. Even before we had Kennedy, we’d still decorate gingerbread houses as a family (which was quiet a competitive sport in our house) and bake cookies. It was always important to me to continue our traditions no matter how old I was or where everyone in the family lived.

Christmas Calendar Day 4: Ring Bells for the Salvation Army

I knew having a child of my own would only make the holidays all the more special. Watching my daughter so beautifully and faithfully believe in all things Christmas reinforced my love of the season even more. In fact, Kennedy loves the holidays so much that we end up listening to Christmas music all year and even have our own North Pole in the basement. She truly believes that she is one of Santa’s elves that I’m thoroughly convinced she has real elf magic in her (but I promise her dad isn’t really Santa). So as we passed on the traditions of our families, we knew we had to make the holiday season even more special for our little elf. That is how we started our own 25 Days of Christmas. Call it an Advent Calendar, or just call it soaking up every day in December and learning about what I feel Christmas is all about- giving back to others and being with the ones you love. It’s a great way for us to really celebrate the season and spend time together as a family giving back and having some fun!

Christmas Calendar Day 8: Drop off toys at the American Family Children’s Hospital

The giving parts of our Christmas calendar are my favorite. We are constantly teaching Kennedy about acts of kindness and giving throughout the year, but I do take advantage of scheduling more in during the holidays. Even when Kennedy was just a year old, we bundled up and dropped toys off at the Children’s Hospital and peanut butter at the Humane Society. Last year we dressed up as elves to ring bells and bring items to the local shelter. Our activities open up a dialog about the world and allow us to answer any questions Kennedy may have. They may be hard questions, but the conversations we have around our activities are important and open the door for more conversations in the future.

Christmas Calendar Day 16: Bake cookies and deliver them to the local fire station

Some of our activities have forced me to get out of my own comfort zone as well. It wasn’t easy as an introvert to drop off cookies at the fire station or hand out candy canes to the TSA workers at the airport. But it brought a smile to others faces and reminded me that there is a lot of good in the world.

We always encourage friends and family joins us for many of our activities, it really brings in even more holiday spirit! I find that it creates such a positive environment for everyone involved. It provides us with exciting conversation at dinner and gives us something to get excited about each morning. Holidays can be stressful and draining, but the goal of our Christmas Calendar is not to add more stress, but to take a step back from the demands of life and appreciate the moment we are in. Together.

Christmas Calendar Day 21: Decorate Gingerbread Houses with the family

Being a parent is a very magical experience in general, but there is something even more special during the holidays. I love taking time each day- be it heading to a play, donating canned goods, or just doing a simple craft at home- to step back and remember how beautiful it is to truly believe. It was a gift my parents gave me growing up, and something I am enthusiastically passing on to my own little elf as well. Maybe I know a little more about that jolly old man now that I’m a grown up, but watching and experiencing the holidays with my daughter reminds me that I still fully have the ability to believe. Our family Christmas Calendar may only last 25 days, but the fun and the memories help the magic last all year long.

Christmas Calendar Day 24: Bake Cookies for Santa

Interested in some ideas for your own Family Holiday Activities? Make sure to check out the Madison Moms Blog Area Guide to the Holidays or try out some of our family favorites!


1) Run Santa Run 5k

2) Attend MMB’s annual Cookies with Santa

3) Attend your local Tree Lighting

4) Go to the library and read about other religions and holidays

5) Donate to a local food bank

6) Ring bells for the Salvation Army

7) See a Christmas Carol at the Overture Center

8) Bake and deliver cookies for your neighbors

9) Donate to your local Human Society

10) Make a homemade gift for a friend

11) Go see the Christmas lights at Olin Park

12) Check out Zoo Lights

13) Donate a gift to the Single Women’s Shelter Holiday Party

14) Pick out and donate items to the American Family Children’s Hospital

15) Take a ride on the Santa Express

16) Watch a Christmas Movie in your PJS

17) Pick up some traditional goodies and see the giant gingerbread house at Clasen’s Bakery

18)Write and mail a letter so Santa

19) Bake and deliver cookies for your local fire station

20) Find a Breakfast with Santa

21) Check out the Capitol Christmas Tree and grab hot cocoa downtown

22) Make a Gingerbread House

23) Go Ice Skating

24) Bake and decorate cookies for Santa

Kathryn is a mom of 2- her wise sensitive Kennedy (7), her sweet little joy, Croix (2), and 3 wild and crazy fur balls! After finishing grad school in NYC, Kathryn decided to embrace the cold and move to Madison. Despite plans to only live here for one year, she fell in love with her husband Joe and all the city has to offer. She loves staying at home full time with her kids during the week and spending a few weekends a month as a social worker in the ER. After a childhood of moving around internationally, she has enjoyed putting down roots in Madison but still loves to travel as much as possible. When not adventuring with her family, you can find Kathryn running around her neighborhood and local trails, writing with a strong cup of coffee, or covered in dog hair from all the furry friends in the house!


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