Two young, white children dressed for the holidays throwing snow in the air in front of a red car with its trunk open, revealing holiday presents.

Try These New Family Holiday Traditions

Updated November 2, 2020 . AmFam Team

From preparing meals for families in need to donating old toys, there are many ways to add change to the holidays. Try out these new holiday traditions.

Few celebrations across the year bring back vivid memories like those of the holiday season. Peppermint candy canes, baking with family, stringing up lights around the house — all the usual traditions. But you can still enjoy those traditions while creating your own. Whether you’re a new family looking to carve your own path, or just simply looking to spice things up, we have an idea or two to help you find your own unique ways to make the holiday season feel extra special.

Try something new this holiday with these merry and bright holiday traditions.

Try New Activities to Make New Holiday Memories

Most memorable holiday experiences come from doing activities with loved ones, like decorating the tree or doing some holiday shopping online. We've got a few new traditions you can add to your holiday fun:

Create a countdown calendar

Deck the halls a little bit each day and spread out the cheer by crafting a calendar that counts down to the holiday. For each day, add a treat, gift or fun activity for you and your family to enjoy. Build your own calendar using construction paper and glitter for your own personal holiday flair!

Join the Christmas Bird Count

Almost a 120-year-old tradition, the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (Opens in a new tab) is one of the most important citizen-based efforts to scientifically gather data on bird populations across North America. Put on your long johns, get the kids out of the house and spend the morning hiking outside and charting the various types of birds in your neck of the woods. Your family will work with expert birders (compilers, as they’re called) that lead the tour and identify those feathered friends for you. Dates range from the middle of December through early January, though the majority of the birders go out on Christmas morning.

Celebrate the winter solstice

Turn your eyes towards the skies this season by observing the winter solstice .If you’ve got a telescope and the night skies are clear, taking some time to stargaze can be a fun way to explore the universe with your family. Bring the planetarium to your backyard by using stargazing apps like Star Tracker to help your kids learn the names of each star and where they are in the sky. Plus, it gives you the perfect excuse to warm up those chilly fingers and toes afterwards with hot cider around the fireplace.

Give Back This Holiday Season

Although it’s easy to make a budget and buy gifts for the family, adding a little variety to the way your family gives back can become quite meaningful for everyone, including those that will receive the gifts you’re giving. Here are some fun, simple ways to give back this holiday season:

Donate old toys

If you’re looking to pay it forward, or just hoping to spread a little more holiday cheer, consider donating unused toys to a local charity or shelter. Organizations like Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (Opens in a new tab) and Operation Homefront (Opens in a new tab) would be happy to take holiday toy donations. This year, be sure to call or check out your favorite organization’s website to see how they are accepting donations this year. 

Share holiday baked goods

Giving cookies, cakes or breads to neighbors can be a fun tradition and great way to spread holiday cheer, especially if you don’t plan to have everyone gather this year. Package up your desserts and let your neighbors know ahead of time you’ll be dropping them off. Leave the treats at their doorstep to share your love. They’ll remember your kindness, and you’ll add a little generosity to a chilly winter day.

Make a meal for charity

You may know of someone whose family would be over the moon if a whole holiday meal were to show up on that special day. Contact your local food pantry to learn of a family to cook for. Before you start cooking, remember to inquire about food restrictions and talk to the family about the food you’ll be preparing to be sure your menu is right for them. Coordinate with the family ahead of time to schedule a safe and convenient drop-off time.

Cook up New Traditions for the Holiday Season

Pairing good times with great food is the perfect way to make new memories. Get the family together and try cooking up these new traditions this year.

Bake your own gingerbread house

Although gingerbread house kits are readily available at any grocery store, there’s nothing like the smell of fresh gingerbread to make the tiny tots eyes all aglow. Use a ruler to trace guides onto parchment paper for how big your pieces should be, then cut them out while the baked dough is still warm. Wait for the pieces to cool off before assembling them using a thick royal icing. Break out the cookie cutters to make your gingerbread house’s inhabitants, and don’t forget to decorate with sprinkles!

Try new holiday recipes and traditional meals

Whether it’s regional or based on your ancestry, try making a new recipe or traditional dish this holiday season. Get the whole family together to make a family-sized portion of potica, lussekatter, Allahabadi cake or bibingka. It’ll bring you closer together and give you something delicious to enjoy for the holidays. Check out these holiday foods from around the world (Opens in a new tab) for inspiration.

There are so many new and unique ways to deck the halls this holiday season. Traditions don’t need to be fancy or tied to the past. New, positive ideas to make the season bright can help to reframe the way you and your family look at giving. And better still, the connections you’ll make with loved ones while you help spread some joy can last a lifetime.

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