20 Holiday Traditions for Kids


Do you remember that magical feeling that you got as a child? That feeling that overtook you at the mere mention of Christmas? The anticipation of all the fun leading up to the big day and the countdown?! Every morning my sisters and I would rush out of bed and open a piece of chocolate from our Advent Calendar. We would add a cotton ball to Santa’s beard and we would cut a ring off of our links… all those things meant that we were ONE DAY CLOSER to Christmas!

One of the most rewarding parts of parenting is the joy of reliving those childhood memories through our children. Seeing the excitement radiate from my children not only makes me nostalgic, but it warms my heart in an indescribable way.

I wanted to share some traditions that I have started for my kids and would love to hear yours!

  1. Books. I purchased 12 Holiday books this year and will wrap them and put them under the tree. Each day (starting on December 12th), my kids can open one book. We will read that book each day up until Christmas (read one book on day 1, read 2 books on day 2, read 3 books on day 3, etc). Check out Amazon for some inexpensive options.  Added bonus: I will recycle these books for next year!
  2. PJ’s & a Movie. On Christmas Eve my kids will get a new pair of Christmas jammies, a holiday movie and some hot chocolate & popcorn.
  3. Holiday Lights. One of my favorite childhood memories is bundling up and getting in our family’s station wagon and cruising around town looking at lights, while listening to Christmas music. Here in Madison, we are lucky to have a lot of festive neighborhoods, in addition to the beautiful Olin Park light show! Check out some of the best places for lights here.
  4. Baking. Growing up, it wouldn’t have been the holidays without my mom baking at least 20 various baked goods, cookies & festive treats. Even now when we arrive at their house for the holidays, one of the first things I do is raid all the secret hiding places for those desserts! Baking is also a fun way to get the kids involved. My toddler LOVES to decorate sugar cookies. And yes, it’s messy. But I let her do it anyway. Knowing how happy it makes her and the time we get to spend together makes it worth it. (Even if she is licking the spoon for an hour straight).
  5. Decorating the Christmas Tree. Every year since I was born I have received ornaments for Christmas. And we have kept them all. So to say we have quite the collection is an understatement. But decorating the Christmas tree has also become a family tradition and one I look forward to. As I go through the ornaments I am reminded of Christmases past and am starting a new tradition for my own kids (this year we will only decorate the top half of our tree, because… toddlers.)
  6. Angel Tree. We always buy gifts for the Angel Tree. Now that I have three kids, I pick out gifts for kids that have the same age and sex as my kids. I have my oldest help me pick the gifts and explain to her who the gifts are for and why it’s important for her to pick something that she would really like. It’s been rewarding to instill in my toddler that giving is just as fun as receiving (though we are still working on that concept for her!)
  7. Advent Calendar. Thanks to Pinterest there are a million fun ideas for this. Growing up our calendar was simple and we loved every second of it. Here some of our favorite ideas!
  8. Elf on the Shelf. People either love him or hate him – we haven’t yet welcomed the Elf to our home (maybe next year?! Or maybe not…?), but a lot of people have great fun with this little guy and most importantly, the kids love it!
  9. Letters to Santa. Do you remember writing a letter to Santa each year and then mailing it off to the North Pole?? And do you remember the magic when he actually responded and you got a letter in the mail from the man in red?
  10. Pay it Forward. Another really cool idea is to give each of your kids a little bit of money and use that to do something nice for a friend, class mate or stranger. Ideas include: a new book, an Orange Leaf gift card, their favorite treat, etc!
  11. Video from Santa. Last year we used the website Portable North Pole to make a little video for our toddler. It was really cool to see the excitement in her eyes as she watched him say her name!
  12. Christmas Caroling. As a child, I joined my church and went Christmas caroling every year. Am I a good singer? Not remotely. Was it fun? YES!
  13. Nutcracker. The Madison Ballet performs The Nutcracker every year and it’s phenomenal. It’s a fun way to get into the holiday spirit and a tradition that can be made for the kids. (**You could also watch The Nutcracker on tv if seeing it in person is not in the cards for 2020)
  14. Sledding. I was a lot braver about the cold when I was a child… we would bundle up (to the point where we could barely move!) and head outside and go sledding. Hours later, we would go inside and drink hot chocolate even thought we could barely feel our fingers and our teeth were chattering. But it’s still a fond memory of growing up in the midwest!
  15. Operation Christmas Child. Pack a shoe box full of Christmas goodies for a child who is less fortunate… let your child help pick out the contents and mail it off. Explain to your child how much joy they are bringing to another child and that will help get them in the holiday spirit! Here are more details on how to get involved.
  16. Holiday Cards. Getting mail during the holidays is SO.MUCH.FUN! We LOVE hearing from friends who we don’t get to see or talk to very often. After the holidays are over, we hate the thought of throwing all the beautiful cards away – so we love this idea from Dallas Moms!
  17. Make an Ornament. One of my mom’s favorite ornaments of all time is one that I made with my Brownies Troop when I was in 1st grade. I personally think I look hideous with my bowl cut and oversized front teeth – but my mom loves it… and that’s all that matters, right?! So get in the holiday spirit and make some ornaments that will create lasting memories for years to come!

In ‘typical years’ we also do these, but they would of course need to be modified in 2020!:

18: Tour the Capitol. The Capitol building has one of the best Christmas trees I’ve seen — and you can take your family to check it out all holiday season long. It’s so fun to see it through the eyes of a child!

19: Take Cookies to the Fire Station. It’s fun to show our gratitude this time of year, and this is just a small way to say thanks. Plus – what else are we supposed to do with the 20 dozen cookies we plan to make?

20: Gift for our Mail Carrier. Homemade card, packaged goodies, or gift cards… back to the idea of showing gratitude and giving back. This is a person who works hard every day of the year to bring you your mail – so it’s fun to say thanks and the kids can get involved, too!

Alisa Sleep
Alisa was born and raised in Iowa before attending Arizona State University. She then lived in Chicago, Georgia and Florida before settling in Madison. From her nomadic lifestyle grew a love for the beach, as well as a fondness for spicy food, sushi, white wine, southern charm, Diamondbacks baseball and idyllic ocean sunsets. Alisa and her husband, Joe, are parents to Ava Mae (August 2012) and twins, Nora & Jacob (March 2014). Alisa is a work-from-home mompreneur with a passion for business, fashion, fitness, community and all things mom. When she’s not enjoying time at home with her family, you can find her sweating it out on the tennis court, training for the next big race, pinning her heart out on Pinterest and exploring Madison with her little ones (and sweet Boston Terrier, Peaches) in tow.


  1. Where, oh, where are the tacky neighborhood lights in Madison?! I’m talking blow up Snoopys, mannequins, and lights that annoy the neighbors. Are there any neighborhoods like that?

  2. Your article just got me really excited for Christmas! Super sweet ideas – I love the PJ’s and a movie one and just might implement that into our traditions.

    One thing I was thinking about doing this year is having a Christmas date night with my husband. Having my sister watch our daughter while we go out shopping for gifts. Grab a hot cocoa or Starbucks and go, just the two of us, to find treasures for under the tree.

    Thanks for the Christmas cheer 🙂

  3. Love this! This is the first year we will be staying in town for Christmas and I’m excited to enjoy ALL of the days counting down to Christmas.

    Another fun thing we do is pack up the kids in their jammies with hot cocoa and drive around looking at holiday lights.

  4. One of my favorite ways my parents got us to sleep on Christmas Eve was the pjs from the elves. If we were good kids and Santa was going to bring us presents we would get Christmas pjs on Christmas Eve. We would come home from church and find them on our beds. And so we knew who’s presents were whose our pjs would come wrapped in the paper that our presents from Santa would be wrapped in. That way each child knew who presents were who’s and if it was a gift for all of us it would be wrapped in all of our papers. That way we didn’t have to look for name tags we just knew who’s was who’s.

    I am now doing this with my child… It is so much fun to see him check to see if the elves came to bring him his special pajamas. He hurries to put them on and get to sleep so Santa can come


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