I remember my oldest’s first Christmas and thinking about all the things our family could do to make the time more meaningful.
And I started dreaming those nostalgic and magical dreams of creating our own family traditions that the kids would remember and love. It led me to search for ways to instill family time, gratefulness, and even a “slow-ness” to the holidays.
But all I kept finding was Elf on a Shelf. I already didn’t want to do Santa and now this elf guy was trying to make his way onto the scene.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with either. I just didn’t want to have to make up excuses for my elf, worry about ruining Santa, or really add stress in any way to the holidays. So instead, I worked on creating a list of simple, but meaningful holiday tradition our family could start and continue From December 1 to December 25th every single year.
Affiliate links included to help our family pay for holiday expenses including gifts, baking supplies, and even to buy prints of pictures taken during Christmas.
Alternatives to Elf on a Shelf that foster family time.
Chances are you know all about the Elf on the Shelf, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a Christmas traditions that brought the family together rather than creeping the kids out? This year, why not spend time doing something that everyone is sure to love. Whether it’s baking Christmas cookies or watching holiday movies, there are Christmas traditions that your kids will love.
Make a Seasonal and/or Family Recipe each Day
Standing on a stool next to my mom and brother dipping peanut butter sandwiches made from ritz crackers into chocolate almond bark will always be something I remember from the holidays as a kid.
We spent days making fudge, peanut butter bonbons, “do-dads”, and other treats.
The kitchen just has a way of bringing the family together, especially during the holidays.
So even this year as I am planning a new baby to be born right around Christmas, I have asked my mom to continue with some of those traditions of making treats and goodies with my girls.
I want them to experience that and magic that surrounds cookie baking, making gingerbread houses, and sneaking bites in between especially with their grandma. And even the years when we’re separated by thousands of miles, it’s something I want to do with my kids.
In fact, I am working on making special Christmas recipe cards with family recipes and great holiday treats on them to have a stack where the kids can wake up each day and find a new card waiting for them in the kitchen.
Do “Kindness Elves” and Random Acts of Kindness each day
Instead of a sneaky, naughty elf showing up every day, I really love the idea of doing kindness elves. It actually instills the values I want to nurture in my children. Instead of the idea of trying to improve kids behavior, this great idea works to work alongside our children to do actionable and measurable good in the community around us.
And I believe there is no better way to change hearts or instill goodness in our kids than to show even small acts of kindness to others by modeling it for them and working with them.
You can even get a pre-made kit of Kindness Elves with 50 kindness idea cards, stickers, mini-postcards, and even a home! There are multiple versions of the elves to fit all needs and they’re so wonderful and even inexpensive! Get them from my friend Anna in the link above. (She is in the UK, but yes, they ship to the US!).
Also, see how my friend Megan has done 24 days of Christmas Kindness.
Watch Christmas Movies and TV Specials
Chances are there are Christmas movies and TV specials you watched as a kid. Why not share those with your kids?
It might be Rudolph or Charlie Brown. Either way, this is something your kids are going to love. Each night, choose a different one to watch. You can also make it a tradition to buy a new movie or TV special DVD or Blu-Ray each year.
Make Christmas Love Garland
This is so much fun, especially for little ones. Cut construction paper or printer paper into strips and have each person of the family write down something they love about Christmas. Do this each day and staple the ends of the first strip together to create a loop.
Run the second strip through the first loop and staple. Continue this each day to create a chain. Once long enough, you can hang it and add to it each day. The kids can even add glitter and drawings to make each piece special.
Create Homemade Ornaments
Each day, work on a different simple craft to make homemade ornaments. My mom still has a silly ornament that I made out of a dog biscuit when I was 5 and we have multiple clothespin reindeer, pipe cleaner candy canes, and popsicle sleds that my brother and I made in our childhood.
So It might be coloring pieces of paper and rolling them up to make candy canes or decorating plain ornaments with glitter… or weird ones like my dog biscuit ornament! There are so many awesome ideas out there from other bloggers and crafters.
Best of all, many of these ideas cost very little to make. You can even do crafts to upcycle some of your older ornaments.
Start a Book Advent Calendar
The great part about having a Christmas book advent calendar is that it can grow with your children. But even the true kid lit books meant for 3-year-olds can be beloved books read by the family well-into adulthood.
See this post from a friend on books to include and how to do a Christmas Book Advent Calendar.
Read a Bible Verse a Night and the Christmas story on Christmas
As our family is Christan and we want to focus on the true meaning of the season, I thought it would be especially nice to not just read the story of the birth of Christ on Christmas, but find a verse for every day leading up that pointed back to the birth of a savior.
It’s especially nice to be able to have verses from both Old and New Testament to point to how the whole Bible points to the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.
More Holiday Family Traditions
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!