20 Fun and Frugal Holiday Traditions

20 Fun and Frugal Holiday Family Traditions | #Christmas #Traditions #Family Editor’s Note: Tanya is back to share some great activities your family will love this holiday season.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. When I was child, I loved it for the presents, but as I grew older, it became less about the presents and more about the traditions. I think this happens to most people. Presents decrease in importance while traditions and memories grow in value. Unfortunately, too many still over-emphasize gifts and overlook creating valuable traditions.

This has never been a problem in our family. We always spend Christmas Eve at my Grandma’s house. She always makes oyster stew and eventually added chili to the menu because too many of us didn’t eat oysters (myself included). But, if she didn’t make oyster stew, even us non-oyster stew eaters would throw a fit, because making fun of the brave souls who eat those slimy suckers is part of the tradition! In honor of my family’s holiday traditions, I put together a list of ideas for those who want to start or add some new family traditions to their holiday season.

20 Favorite Holiday Traditions

It is the traditions we celebrate during the holidays that we remember and cherish. Here are some fun and frugal ideas for you.

Take an Evening Tour of All the Christmas Lights

Whether there is a neighborhood in your community renown for their holiday lights or you just drive around, marvel in the beauty of all the houses lit up for the holidays. Put some hot chocolate or apple cider in travel mugs, turn on the Christmas tunes and start cruising.

Best Snowman Competition

If you live somewhere with snow, there is nothing more fun than building a snowman. Hold a competition to see who builds the best snowman (turn into a neighborhood event to ramp up the competition and holiday cheer) and warm up afterwards with a big mug of hot chocolate (this was my favorite part!).

Go Ice Skating or Sledding

Grab your ice skates or sleds and invite friends and neighbors to join you in some winter fun. Invite everyone back to your home afterwards to enjoy some holiday treats and hot chocolate.

Tip: This is a great activity for the holiday break.

Watch Your Favorite Holiday Movie

There are so many great holidays movies from oldies but goodies, like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas to more modern classics, like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Elf. Make your family’s favorite meal, put on pajamas and get comfy while you watch your favorite holiday movie. Finish the night with a special holiday treat.

Attend Holiday Concerts and/or Plays

There are a ton of concerts, plays, ballets and events celebrating the season throughout December. Many are free or very low-cost. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and support your local community too.

Go Christmas Caroling

This may seem a bit old-fashioned, but kids really LOVE singing Christmas songs. You can gather a bunch of kids and have them carol in the neighborhood or take them to a nursing home or hospital to sing to the residents or patients.

Visit Santa Claus

I used to beg and beg and beg my Mom to take me to the mall to visit Santa. She’d eventually give in and take me. And when it was my turn to sit on Santa’s lap, I would either refuse to do so or sit on his lap and cry. I like to say I was starstruck instead of scared. šŸ™‚ While I agree Christmas has become heavily commercialized, sitting on Santa’s lap is something every young child should experience.

Bake Holiday Treats

Nothing beats homemade holiday treats. Turn into a family event by inviting your kids to bake cookies and other treats with you. They can roll out dough, cut out cookies and decorate them. They may not be bakery perfect, but they will taste delicious and your kids will be so proud to serve them to guests.

Host a Holiday Potluck or Progressive Dinner

Gathering with friends to celebrate the season is always fun, but it can be a bit spendy if you do everything yourself. The good news is people are happy to help out. Host a potluck or a progressive dinner, so that you don’t have to buy and make all the food in order to spend time with loved ones.

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

Christmas is a time of giving, so consider volunteering at a soup kitchen. It will be an eye-opening experience for your kids who may be more (or too) focused on the receiving aspect of Christmas.

Collect Toys to Give to Shelters

Have your kids pick gently used toys to donate to kids at your local homeless and/or women’s shelters. Invite friends, neighbors and church members to join your efforts.

Sponsor a Family or Child

This is a popular holiday favorite for a good reason. We have so much, but not everyone is so fortunate. Too many kids would not receive a gift or big holiday meal without the kindness of strangers. When you sponsor a family or child, give to Toys for Tots or participate in some other program, you’re truly embodying the holiday spirit.

Make a Gingerbread House

Play some favorite Christmas tunes and pretend not to notice when some of the decorations disappear into mouths instead of going onto the house. šŸ™‚ Consider making two and sharing one with someone who is alone for the holidays or bring it to a local nursing home.

Roast Marshmallows and Read a Christmas Story

Gather around your fireplace in your pajamas and roast some marshmallows while you read one of your favorite Christmas stories. Even if you don’t have a fireplace, your kids will love reading a favorite holiday story out loud together.

Make Homemade Christmas Cards

Turn Christmas cards into a fun crafts project. There are a ton of ideas on Pinterest and your cards will be treasured gifts to be displayed, rather than discarded.

Create a Holiday Video in Lieu of a Christmas Cards

If making traditional Christmas cards doesn’t appeal to you, then consider creating some sort of a holiday video — a montage of highlights from the past year, kids reenacting their favorite Christmas story or just a holiday message from the family — to share with loved ones. You can post the video on YouTube and Facebook and send the link to family and friends.

Purchase a Special Ornament Each Year

While a coordinated Christmas tree looks gorgeous, there is something special about a tree filled with ornaments that have a story or meaning behind them, even if they are not color coordinated. When I have the opportunity, I like to pick up an ornament for my Mom when I travel. She always asked me where I bought it so she can note it on the box.

Complete a Holiday Puzzle

Pick a big jigsaw puzzle to work on every night with the goal to complete it on Christmas Eve. It’s a fun, family project and a great way to enjoy a low-key evening together.

Tip: Pick up the puzzle for next year during the after Christmas clearance sales.

Make Holiday Crafts and Decorations

You can literally find thousands of Pinterest boards on making holiday crafts and decorations and they look gorgeous, often times better than what you can buy. If you’re crafty, or even if you’re not, this is a great family project and your home will look so festive.

Create Christmas Eve/Day Routine

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the two days that everyone tends to focus on, so think about what you want to do those days. We’ve done the same thing my entire life, and it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t go to Grandma’s house for oyster stew (or chili for me!), then off to Church for the candlelight service and then back to Grandma’s to open presents and eat holiday treats on Christmas Eve. This is comfort to me. What you choose to do is what your kids will remember forever and emulate with their kids some day.

The Family Traditions Golden Rule

We have a tendency to overdo everything at Christmas, from the amount we spend to the commitments we make. Don’t say “yes” to everything but take a step back and really think about what you TRULY want to do this season. Too much of anything can lower its value, even family traditions. Take your time and decide which traditions matter most to you and your family and make them a priority.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

TanyaTanya is a freelance writer, web designer and blogger. You can find her at Eat Laugh Purr where she and her ginger tabby, Max, enjoy simple pleasures every day and at TV Fanatic reviewing Madam Secretary and more. Connect with Tanya on twitter and Pinterest. And please, no judgement on the number of cat pins I have.
December 3, 2014  •  21 Comments  •  Christmas

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  1. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    These are some really great ideas. What I love most about them is that a majority of these activities are free. I love free and I This year if it snows in Japan I have promised myself that I am actually going to go outside and enjoy some snow with my daughter. I'm hoping we get some snow for Christmas day this year. Thank you for the tips.
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      Thanks, Petrish! I love Christmas too and I especially love it when I can find low-cost or free ways to enjoy the season. I grew up in Minnesota and now live in LA and Christmas always throws me for a loop here. Christmas lights and decorations seem out of place against sand, palm trees and flip flops. Of course, I go home for Christmas and am thrilled to get back to sand, palm trees and flip flops! Fingers crossed you get some snow for you and your daughter to enjoy on Christmas!
  2. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    Love this list, Tanya, and that's SO funny about the oyster stew! I wouldn't touch it either - yuck! We are huge when it comes to family traditions during the holidays. The day after Thanksgiving always means putting up the tree and watching A Christmas Story. Christmas Eve is always at Rick's mom's with his family. Christmas Day is always here with my family. Those traditions really make the holidays extra special, don't they?
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      We always decorate the day after Thanksgiving too. It's what I miss most about being home for Thanksgiving. I loved decorating my parent's house! I hate to admit this but I am not a big fan of A Christmas Story. I know it's a beloved classic but I just not got into it. :) My favorites are White Christmas and Elf and I still like all the kid's classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I'm still a big kid at heart! Your family traditions sound a lot like ours and it just makes me feel warm and fuzzy thinking about them. And the food. :)
  3. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    This is the perfect time of year for family activities. Personally, I would love to do a puzzle - it's been years!
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      It's been years since I have done a puzzle too, Natalie. I think it would made a great holiday project.
  4. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    My favorite part of Christmas growing up wasn't the presents but staying downtown at a hotel and spending time as a family. We did it once a year and went swimming and each got $5 to anywhere we wanted to eat. We would look at the lights and just had a great time. I told my parents that was my favorite memory growing up and it kind of surprised them. I now do it with my family. Tradition and experience over presents...those create memories. Love the list.
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      Thanks, Lance! I love your family tradition too; it sounds wonderful! And I love that you are carrying it on with your kids too. It's true that the memories we create throughout the holidays (or anytime) are what truly matter.
  5. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    Great list Tanya!! We are big fans of watching Christmas movies together. Every year, we have to watch Love Actually, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Charlie Brown Christmas and Elf before Christmas otherwise the holidays never seem quite right.
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      I love Love Actually. I sometimes forget it's a Christmas movie though, but it's definitely one of my favorites! Isn't it funny how "wrong" things seem when we miss one of our traditions. They are such a part of us.
  6. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    Awesome list Tanya! We do many of these things in our family to help celebrate the Holidays. Our kids really enjoy looking at the lights, so we usually make an evening out of it. We're also big movie fans as well and have a few we enjoy.
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      I love looking at the holiday lights too, especially when I go home at Christmas. I must admit that I still have a hard time with Christmas lights and green grass. It seems wrong! It needs snow. :)
  7. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    I don't have any traditions anymore and Christmas is not that big of a deal to me, but I like the pretty lights, candles, and I think having a white elephant party/potluck is a great frugal way to spend the holiday. I'd probably have one, but my friends are SWAMPED this time of year and probably do not want to go to one ore holiday party. lol!
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      A New Year potluck might be a nice compromise. It does seem like everyone is crazy busy. I actually do very little here. All my Christmas stuff happens back home, so I have one crazy week and an otherwise fairly low-key December, which works for me!
  8. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    I'm definitely a huge fan of checking out lights at houses and boats - there's a lot in SD, and it really makes things super festive and "Christmas-y" despite no snow! I love baking treats, as well - great list, Tanya!!
    • Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
      They do a boat parade here too, but I have actually never seen it but I heard it's gorgeous. I imagine it would be with all those lights reflecting off the ocean. This year I'm making caramels here and the rest of goodies when I get home. My bags were a little heavy last year with all the goodies. :)
  9. Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014
    Hi Tanya,

    Your opening remarks really captured my attention when you mentioned how some over-emphasize the gift giving and instead of focusing on the tradition. I find this to be so true and what this causes us to do is lose sight on what is important , not to mention it puts people in unnecessary debt by spending too much money on Christmas.

    You have given so many great ideas here. I believe it is really important to create memories and spending money on gifts that probably cannot even be found the following year is not my idea what I want my Christmas tradition to be all about. Al of the material things we buy can be gone tomorrow, but no one can take away our memories we create and your list is all about creating memories.

    I served in the military for 25 years and still love to serve others today. Now I use my blog to do that. But I think your idea of volunteering captured my attention the most. Just the idea of either going alone or taking a family member with me to volunteer would be something that I would cherish forever. I have volunteered while I was in the military at a retirement home, and the looks on their faces when they saw us in uniform serving them was priceless and it gave me such joy and peace.

    Thank you for sharing such an awesome article with us today.
    • Thursday, December 4th, 2014
      Thank you Nate for your service, first and foremost! I can only imagine how much joy you brought to the retirement home residents where you volunteered. Volunteering is such a great way to not only give back, but give us perspective too. It's so easy to get caught up in our own lives and grumbling about our problems and volunteering always helps me see the big picture. My troubles seem so small. I remember the excitement of gifts more than I remember the presents but our family traditions I remember so vividly and still look forward to every year.
  10. Thursday, December 4th, 2014
    We put up our Christmas Tree, and then watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - then it's officially the Holiday Season for our family. It's a tradition even our son (who spends most of his time locked in his room playing online games) gets into!
    • Thursday, December 4th, 2014
      I love it, Travis! National Lampoons Christmas Vacation is one of my favorite holiday movies. It makes me laugh so hard! I can't blame your son for not wanting to miss it or decorating the tree (although it's nice when traditions even get teenagers to engage!) I really miss helping my Mom decorate our tree and home since I moved to LA. Of course, now I really look forward to coming home and seeing it decorated. :)
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