28 Christmas traditions to try with your family this year

From secret Santa footprints to candy canes grown in a VERY special way, here are our favourite ways to add little extra magic to Christmas - from December 1st to the big day!

hand holding a Christmassy mug on a blud background celebrating Christmas family traditions

Some Christmas family traditions are passed down, some created by accident, some planned from Pinterest. You don't need one, but if you're interested in starting your own we've found the most original ideas that might help.

You may already be a fan of the naughty elf on the shelf. Or maybe you like to watch Christmas movies together under one blanket. Perhaps donating Christmas toys, enjoying a few Christmas games for families or singing the 12 days of Christmas.

Whatever your cherished traditions are, remember it's not always the gifts, but the memories that families carry with them year after year. (Unless its 1991 and you unwrap the Mr Frosty machine - then you'll always remember that.)

See below for our 28 ideas that may be worthy of a spot in your yearly family Christmas traditions.

Family Christmas Traditions 

1 . Christmas countdown with a twist

pile of books with wrapping bow on and gold streamers to mark christmas family traditions

Credit: Canva

Sure, you can go for your traditional chocolate advent calendar, but if you fancy a twist wrap up 25 different books for your kids to unwrap each day and then read that night. They can be a mix of Christmassy and normal books. Or maybe themed... 25 days of Paw Patrol, anyone?

Advent count downs are fun, plus the science tells us that rituals, such as Christmas family traditions, are important in their own right. Routines such as this offer up structure and predictability which manage rates of anxiety. So, your mums traditional trifle is good for your mental health.

2. Elf on the shelf

This fun family Christmas tradition - a bit like advent - kicks off on December 1st in the UK. Parents and carers move the elf around the house each evening for the kids to wake up to. There are so may ideas and if you don't have the imagination (lets be honest it's the end of the year!) try our round up of naughty elf on the shelf ideas.

Or alternatively, turn your elf on the shelf into a kindness elf and have them help you around the house or leave notes when they've seen your kids are kind or thoughtful.

Mum-of-three, Dionne says: "I whinge (and maybe swear a bit) about moving the elf every year, but really I know my kids absolutely love it. And it sparks conversation on the school run every morning. He even had us talking about body consent over toast one memorable Monday!"

3. Write to Father Christmas

woman holding a polar post reply as part of a family Christmas tradition

Credit: Canva/Polar Post

A classic tradition to introduce for your little ones is sending a letter to Santa. And they don't even need to be able to write. A fun tear and stick down activity with pictures of toys cut out is just as fun for them to "send to Santa".

You can also try the Polar post. Mum-of-two, Sam tells us; "It is a little pricey but I think it's worth it. It's so beautifully written that it's almost like an heirloom. It will be going in their memory boxes, they'll thank me one day I'm sure."

4. Creating and sending Christmas cards

This could be a nice half day activity, especially if you make it a Christmas mission. Don a Santa hat and walk or drive to your nearest post box to deliver.

And, creating them makes it another crafty choice to immerse your little ones in. It can really engage your children and invite them to think about the people they're writing to. Note: It's worth remembering that children can focus on something or about 15 minutes at a time. So ready yourself if they decide they're done.

5. Christmas crockery

christmas plates and mugs s part of family christmas traditions

Credit: Matalan
(Image credit: Stephanie Lowe)

From Christmas mugs, gravy boats, charger plates, and wine glasses. The tradition of getting out 'the Christmas crockery' is a real marker that Christmas is on it's way! And it's fun to start this young, as it also helps them enjoy eating - every little helps when it comes to fussy eaters. We adore this penguin mug, from Matalan.

Dad-of-three, Marc tells us; "I remember my mum always used to bring out this special cake stand that was only meant for Christmas, it had a shiny gold handle at the top. It felt special, to use only at Christmas. It gave our homemade cake a real sense of occasion!"

6. A Christmassy day out

As family Christmas traditions go, if in doubt, making memories from experiences is a winner. A family day out - whether immediate family or with your uncle you only see at Christmas time - is always a day to remember.

There are a few favourites to choose from, for a day out. We have the best Christmas markets in the UK if you fancy a festive mooch with a gluhwein in hand, maybe book a ticket on the Polar Express or pop along to Lapland UK (this sold out by Sept in 2021, so get in quick if want to go.) Just don't forget to wear your best Christmas jumpers while you're out and about. 

7. Wreath making / Christmas crafting

Research shows that the spirit of Christmas, such as family traditions, manifests as a multitude of positive feelings and behaviours that are experienced collectively, including goodwill and generosity. So turn your hand to wreath making!

Christmas wreath making as a family christmas tradition

Credit: Canva

There are plenty of florists across the country who have branched out (pun intended) to offering workshops on wreath making around Christmas time. Failing that, cut out a ring of white paper, leave your kids with some paints and let them go creatively crazy.

8. Ginger bread house making

Ah, the art of patience, careful hands and more patience. Gingerbread house making is fun, and fair warning it can become competitive!

"I'm one of four, and it started off as mum's sibling team building exercise. Well now, we're in our 30's and we each buy the same kit and do a group Zoom call to compete for the best house. While I hate losing, I secretly love this tradition. And already my kids are invested in it." Dad-of-three, Cameron

9. Family photo

Mum in a christmas hat family photo as a family Christmas tradition

Credit: Canva

Make a point of taking a family photo, all together in front of the tree, on the stairs, out in the snow anywhere you feel it's right. Just make sure everyone, we're looking at you always-behind-the-camera mum, is in it and you print it!

"Throughout the year I collect and print photos. Whether it's holidays we've been on or the boys just splashing about in the paddling pool. And I create a book of photos for that year. With my grand finale always being a family photo around the tree. It's not an easy tradition and takes some time. But, looking back over the years as the boys grow make it totally worth it." - Mum-of-two, Jasmine

10. North Pole breakfast

The North Pole Christmas breakfast is traditionally a complete blow out to celebrate the beginning of the festive season, so prepare yourself for some excited children! To get the whole family really in the Christmas mood it’s nice to theme all of the food and decor to look as Christmassy as possible. You can let your imagination run wild with decorations (but don’t worry, we have some tips to help you too).

If you don't fancy doing it yourself there are plenty of garden centres across the UK who offer this as an alternative or addition to Santa Grotto visit. "We did this for my son a few years ago, and he loved it! His eyes were shining with excitement. What I liked about it, is he was sat with new children he hadn't met before and came away with new friends." - Dad-of-one, Dave

11. Dress up your pet

dog with christmas hat on

Credit: Eliza Hesford

Dogs are part of the family, this much is true. So why should they escape the festive tradition of dressing up for Christmas! This year, and every year after, turn your dog into a Christmas elf, reindeer or the most adorable Christmas pudding you've ever seen! Then just enjoy, or take a photo of them.

"I found an adorable doggie santa hat and when I put it on my dog Mabel, I loved it and knew it had to be a card! I find most Christmas cards to be quite impersonal so I've always made my own and she was a total pro at it. Mabel has since passed and I'm so glad we have this momento." Doggy-mum-of-three, Eliza

12. Christmas grotto

A classic, every year Santa's Grottos are a staple, a go-to. Whether you book a garden centre, trek to a city-centre, pop the shopping centre, sitting with Santa is a festive tradition across generations. Some face-to-face time with the Big Man himself and his reindeer creates such special memories.

Did you know that this is a truly English tradition, not American. The first place ever to invite Father Christmas to 'meet' children was in Liverpool. And amazingly, the first ever grotto is still going strong 137 years on.

13. Christmas jumpers - the good the bad the ugly

You roll your eyes at the mention of Christmas jumpers. And the ugliest one you own, sits at the back of the wardrobe until it's time to shine! Get it out, add a Santa hat you're good to go!

14. Christmas movie marathon

Satna hat, bauble and snow with a movie clipboard

Credit: CAnva

Get in the spirit with a Christmas movie! Whether you're a fan of the old classics - looking at you Santa Claus the movie. Or you prefer the Hallmark Christmas-in-California-with-an-heiress-finding-herself or you prefer the kids ones, there's a move for everyone! One night might not be enough. Maybe invite each family member could pick one and you can take it over a few days?

"I roll my eyes as we watch The Grinch (cartoon one) for the third time that morning, but secretly I love it. The singing, the rhyming his dog, Max. It's all so Christmassy." Goodto.com Family Editor and mum-of-one, Stephanie Lowe

15. Christmas light Express

Every area has one. THE house who goes all out with Christmas lights!  Some areas have full streets of houses committed to the sharing the Christmas spirit. So wrap up warm and go on a treasure hunt looking for lights, or jump in the car with a flask of hot (warm) chocolate and go Christmas light hunting.

"We have this one street not far from us, and every year (not just at Christmas, they put flags up for VE Day too) most of the houses on that stretch put on a twinkly show. We time it just as it's getting dark, wrap up warm and go for  wonder to see what we can spot." Mum-of-one, Hallie

16. One-of-a-kind ornaments

glittery background with three hanging baubles

Credit: Canva

"My dad got each of us a clear fill-your-own bauble and he wrote our name on it. And, every year, since I can remember he wrote a note to us on Christmas eve. He'd pop it into our bauble and we'd open it on Christmas day. Always the last one to be opened after our presents. I'm a mum now, but he still does it. I love this so much I've started it with my first child." Mum-of-one, Taylor

17. Christmas eve takeaway

"This one is a standard tradition in my husband's family. They've always had a takeaway on Christmas eve. I always thought it was weird. But now we have a family we do it too. It's because his mum would have the fridge full, and pots and pans filled with pre-peeled veg. Which all makes sense, now I'm the one prepping Christmas dinner!" - Mum-of-three, Louise

18. Family games night

A great family Christmas tradition, board games really come into their own at Christmas. A family gathered round a table, drinks and snacks flowing as you bicker over who's on whose team. Need some board game inspiration? We have a great round up of the best Christmas games to invest in.

19. Leave a treat for Santa

teackaes on a place, and coaster for santas milk

Credit: not on the highstreet

When it comes to Christmas traditions, it doesn’t get much more traditional than this! An oldie but a goodie, leaving mince pies and a glass of milk out for Santa is a lovely Christmas ritual on Christmas Eve, maybe invest in a personalised coaster for Santa? We love this one from NOTHS.

If the Santa in your house isn’t too keen on mincemeat, you can substitute cookies or cakes instead. Just don’t forget the reindeer food for Rudolph – flying round the world in 24 hours is hungry work for him too, you know!

20. Carol-singing

You only get a short amount of time where the kids are up for anything so get them singing Christmas songs. Print out some lyrics, fire up a Spotify playlist and get ready to karaoke your way through some Christmassy classics.

21. Christmas eve boxes

Treat your little ones to an extra gift at Christmas and make them up a special box especially for the 24th of December filled with Christmas themed gifts. The idea is that these extra presents in their Christmas Eve Box will get them even more excited for Christmas Day with things like an extra bauble for the tree, some festive pyjamas to wear on Christmas morning and a Christmas film.

22. Magic Santa Key

red bauble and gold key - Santas magic key

Credit: canva

"We grew up in a flat. All the movies showed Santa coming down a chimney. We didn't have one - and were beside ourselves. How would Santa get to our living room!? My mum created the Magic Santa key to our home. It only worked with Santa's magic and for one night only. We would hang it on the tree and on Christmas eve, we'd leave it outside our front door for him to pick up when he visited. As family Christmas traditions go, I remember that fondly." - Mum-of-one, Lisa

23. Boot prints

foot prints in flour on wooden floor

Credit: Canva

"My parents were brilliant at making Christmas magical for us kids and my dad always played his part with style - he wrote letters back to the notes I left for Santa, left a few mince pie crumbs on the plate and happily obliged with drinking the whiskey he told me Santa preferred to sherry.

"One year he did great big sooty boot prints leading from the fireplace to the Christmas tree - I was old enough to know Santa wasn't real by then but the pretence and shared joy of those silly moments was a huge part of the memories and fun. Mum-of-three and goodto.com Consumer Editor Heidi Scrimgeour

24. Matching Christmas PJs

Much like finding the top Christmas toys for the year, matching family Christmas pyjamas are one of those classic family Christmas traditions. They’re the perfect pre-big day treat to get the excitement started early. Leave the PJs under the tree on Christmas Eve and let the kids unwrap them just before they go to bed – all whilst patiently nodding ‘yes it was lovely of Santa to come early…’ The entire family will look adorable in their festive jammies – plus it’ll make for a super cute photo-op in the morning!

25. Wrap up the door way

Living room door wrapped up for christmas

Credit: Canva

"My dad was obsessed with Christmas and making it as magical as he could for us. I remember one year he wrapped up the living room door and me and my siblings were allowed to jump and rip through it. It was such an exciting rush. I'll never forget. So much so, I did it for my kids too." - Mum-of-three, Kiran

26. Wear everything you've opened

"This started out as a joke in my family. When my brother dared me to put everything on that I'd received. I ended up with so many things on, including, one year ski goggles! It's not become a family Christmas tradition." Mum-of-two, Hannah

27. Christmas walks

sunset in the snow

Credit: Canva

One of the best and most effective family Christmas traditions. Whether mild or snowing, it's great to get outside, breath some fresh air and wish some strangers Merry Christmas.

28. Thank you notes

"In my family we open presents from friends and family on boxing day. I never got why, until I became a mum. Christmas day is so chaotic that trying to make a note of what your kid rips open at the speed of light to then write a thank you note in the new year, isn't going to happen.

"Let them have the over-excited Christmas day. On boxing day it's a bit calmer, and you can sit with them as they open each present and make a note of what was from who." - Mum-of-four, Hayley

Jessica Dady
Food Editor

Jessica Dady is Food Editor at GoodTo and has over 11 years of experience as a digital editor, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the must-buy seasonal food hampers and advent calendars for Christmas to the family-friendly air fryers that’ll make dinner time a breeze, Jessica loves trying and testing various food products to find the best of the best for the busy parents among us. Over the years of working with GoodTo, Jessica has had the privilege of working alongside Future’s Test Kitchen to create how-to videos exclusively for GoodtoEat - as well as writing, testing, and shooting her own recipes. When she’s not embracing the great outdoors with her family at the weekends, Jessica enjoys baking up a storm in the kitchen with her favourite bakes being chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and a tray of gooey chocolate brownies