My family has spent the last five New Year’s with close friends—every year we make New Year’s Eve hats out of construction paper, stickers, markers and a whole lot of glitter. Everyone (currently ages six to 44) gets into it, and we wear our hats at midnight for the countdown. It’s tons of fun, especially now that (almost) everyone can stay up late! This December, consider creating a brand new holiday tradition that you can repeat year after year. Here are 13 fun ideas to inspire you.
Prove Santa was in your backyard
Sure, he might leave a note or a crumb-filled cookie plate behind, but that’s so expected. Take it one step further this holiday—Go outside late on December 24 and make “sleigh” and “reindeer” tracks in your backyard by dragging a chair and pressing a shovel handle into the snow or ground, respectively. Evidence!
Adopt a new tradition from your heritage
Pick a custom you know about but have never followed (maybe it’s something your grandparents did this time of year, but you never adopted) and make it happen. If your ancestry is German, for instance, you could celebrate St. December 6—a tradition where children put out their shoes in hopes the bearded guy will fill them with fruit, nuts and chocolate. If you’re Mexican, add a traditional Christmas piñata (filled with fruit and candy) to your holiday celebration. Or, if you have Italian roots, celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes with a serious Christmas Eve seafood spread.
Create a holiday food memory
Pair a treat with a special activity. “On Christmas morning, we eat crescent rolls and lemon curd as we open gifts,” says Vanessa Parvin of South Orange. “We had them our first Christmas as newlyweds and decided to make a tradition out of it. Our daughter Molly has been doing it her whole life.”
Holly Wright of New Providence says she’s made or helped make Swedish tea ring every Christmas she can remember. “It’s sweet dough filled with butter, nuts and fruit. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.”
And Rebecca Zlotnik of Maplewood makes Hanukkah s’mores with her family: “We use a piece of chocolate gelt and vegan or kosher marshmallows with our favorite graham crackers.”
Build a menorah collection
Consider adding a new one to your array every winter—whether it’s one the kids make at preschool, something you buy at a store (places like Crate and Barrel, Target and Jonathan Adler usually release modern menorah designs every year) or a souvenir you collect on your travels that year. You needn’t light them all each night of the holiday (though go for it if you want to), but they make a beautiful seasonal display in a bookshelf or on a mantle.
Gift new PJs
Karen Faistl of South Orange gets her two girls new PJs each year, but she puts a twist on the delivery (her parents did it for her, too). “Santa and his elves sneak into the girls’ rooms and leave a new set of pajamas or nightgowns,” she says. “They arrive in the same special boxes every year and magically appear, usually while we’re sitting at Christmas Eve dinner. The girls keep checking throughout the evening!”
Get the kids in on the act
Have the kids put on a Christmas or Hanukkah play, complete with skits, music, singing and dancing. This is a wonderful way for cousins to connect over a multi-day visit or to get all the kids on the block together for some holiday bonding. Be sure to video the performance!
See the lights
Make a night of it and drive around to look at the decorated houses in your neighborhood, the brightly lit streets and windows downtown or the display at the Turtle Back Zoo. This is a wonderful way to spend time with extended family, too.
Help your kids choose gifts for one another
Take each kid on a shopping trip to get a little something special for their sister or brother. Give them a budget and the cash, and let them pay for the gift themselves at the register (for a little holiday math lesson). You’ll get some one-on-one time, and you can talk about what makes the other sibling special and what they might really like.
Have the kids make their own wrapping paper
Get some rolls of butcher paper and a supply of markers, crayons and stickers and let the kids create the paper you’ll use to wrap family gifts—you can even leave it out for Santa to use.
Snap the same pic each year
Arrange the family in front of the hearth or the Christmas tree, outside in the yard or at a favorite spot in town for an annual portrait. Have everyone sit or stand in the same spot, in the same order—It’s so much fun to see everyone grow up from year to year!
Write heart-felt holiday notes
Maria Witt, a South Orange mom of four boys, writes notes to each one every night from Thanksgiving until Christmas, telling them something she loves or respects about them or something she appreciated that happened during the day. “When they wake up in the mornings, the notes are waiting for them on the counter,” she says. You could also just write a Christmas Eve or first-night-of Hanukkah letter for each of your kids, or have everyone in the family pen a special note to everyone else.
Host friends from a different tradition
If you celebrate Christmas, invite some friends or relatives who celebrate Hanukkah for Christmas Eve, and see if you can join their family for a night of Hanukkah. Give the kids the responsibility of explaining some of your traditions to the other family.
Have a time zone New Year’s Eve celebration
Pick a few international locations (London, Paris, Rome!) and count down to midnight in those time zones. Go all out by serving food from the different cities and play appropriate tunes. This is perfect for letting kids too young to stay up until midnight on the east coast participate in the big celebration.