Do you decorate for Christmas before or after Thanksgiving? And do people really wait until just a few days before Christmas to put up their trees and decorate? I see it all the time in the movies.
Like when they go to get their tree and it’s like Christmas Eve, and I’m sitting there baffled and irrationally angry…do people really do this? I start decorating our home for Christmas following Halloween.
I’m not a ‘take Halloween down and get Christmas up on November 1’ kind of person, but it takes every bit of two weeks to decorate our home (we have 15 Christmas trees in our home, including the glorious 15-foot main tree…I’d like to go larger, but my husband is not on board).
It’s Christmas tradition, you know?
I admit that I am slightly enamored with Christmas. And by enamored I obviously mean obsessed. But it’s just the most wonderful time of the year. It’s glorious. The feeling in the air is downright joyful, and I love everything about Christmas. Which also means I’m not your best resource for saving money during the holiday season, but being a writer is a lot like being a parent.
Do as I say, not as I do. in all seriousness, many Christmas traditions are not at all expensive. In fact, most of what you do probably is a tradition. Growing up, we always picked our tree the day after Thanksgiving.
It was the first of many holiday traditions we enjoyed throughout the season, and I grew up wanting to make sure our kids have the same sort of traditions every year. With that in mind, here are my 20 favorite affordable Christmas traditions.
1. Pick Out A Christmas Tree
Before it became impossible to find a tree as large as I wanted for our main tree room, we’d go pick out a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. The kids loved the tradition, and so will yours.
2. Decorate the Tree as a Family
The single most enjoyable thing we do during the holidays is decorate the main tree as a family. The kids each have their own trees in their rooms that they decorate however they.
Most of the other trees are simply lit but have no décor, and the main tree is the main event. Everyone loves when it’s finally up and decorated. The kids love to climb on the ladder and hang things as high as they dare.
They also love to bicker with one another about hanging things too close together, getting in one anothers way, and breathing in their space, but it’s all fun and games. It’s such a good evening spent together.
3. New Christmas Pajamas for Everyone on Christmas Eve
You don’t need matching pajamas if you aren’t into it, but I love it. The kids get new pajamas on the first night of December when our magic elf returns, and again on Christmas Eve. They get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s always matching Christmas pajamas. We wear them to bed and wake up to open gifts on Christmas morning. It’s the greatest day.
4. Breakfast with Santa
Somewhere near you, you will find a breakfast spot with a morning dedicated to eating with Santa. Find it, do it, and love it. It’s something our kids loved to do when they were younger. I promise, at least three restaurants near you will do this in December.
5. Christmas Movie Nights
No matter how busy things get in December, nothing stops this family from Christmas movie nights. They are a hit with all four and with us. We always manage to sneak in both Home Alone movies, Elf, and usually one we don’t watch every year throughout the season. We have hot chocolate, popcorn, and all the snacks.
6. Go Holiday Light Hunting
Because we are Floridians, we can do this, but you can change it up. We get together with friends one night just before Christmas. Usually, three or four nights before.
We have dinner together and depending on how many people join, we either decorate the golf carts and take them around the neighborhood, or we decorate a trailer and drive around the neighborhood to check out lights. It’s always cold – to us – in the 50s or so, and we have warm beverages. We cover up with blankets and snuggle the kids. It is a great tradition.
7. Bake Christmas Cookies for Santa
Christmas Eve in our house is all about baking for Santa and preparing for the best day of the year. We let the kids make sugar cookies, use all the Christmas cookie cutters, and then they decorate.
We just make sure they have plenty of icing, sprinkles, and any other Christmas baking supply they need. We have a special plate for Santa’s cookies, a matching cup, and another matching plate for reindeer carrots. The kids bake, decorate, and then leave the cookies out for Santa that night.
8. Host a Favorite Things Party
This is such a cute idea, and it’s not expensive. This is a great tradition for your entire family and the people close to you. Ask everyone to bring a dish – an appetizer, dessert, side, whatever. Everyone also needs to bring their favorite thing – but they need to bring five of their favorite item.
You get to pick the budget. For example, you can tell your guests to bring their favorite item under $25, and they’ll all bring their favorite item x5. Everyone attending does this.
Then, everyone sets out their items on a table, everyone else gets to check them out, and you make everyone draw a number. Starting with number one, everyone gets a turn picking something off the favorite things table. If the last number is 30, then person 30 picks their first item, and then they get to pick a second time, then number 29, back down the numbers to one, and then repeat.
By the end of the evening, everyone has five of someone else’s favorite things to take home. Remember: You set the budget, so you can make it affordable for you.
9. Host a Gingerbread House Competition
Who doesn’t love to win? This is a great idea for the family to enjoy every holiday. Everyone gets a gingerbread house (premade and already assembled is best) and then you all decorate. The best one wins. Everyone can vote anonymously, or you can just make them for fun. There doesn’t need to be a winner. But families are competitive, so someone should probably win.
10. Make Christmas Decorations
Are you picturing shoving popcorn down a piece of string to make popcorn garland? Yeah, we don’t think that sounds great, either. But there are plenty of other holiday decorations you can make as a family that aren’t edible.
11. Volunteer Your Time
You can ask around, but I imagine there are many opportunities to volunteer in your area this time of year. Something we’ve done with our kids in the past is volunteer to help wrap gifts for families in need.
People donate the gifts, they’re checked out and approved, and then they must be wrapped so that the families who receive them have gifts to open on Christmas morning.
This is not only a wonderful way to spend time together as a family, but it’s also a wonderful way to teach your kids about the importance of giving back to those in need. Being generous doesn’t have to be expensive. Giving your time is just as – if not more – valuable than giving your money.
12. Spend Time With People You Love
This is the time of year to include the extended family in some of your lovely holiday activities. It’s time to invite the grandparents to enjoy a fun holiday activity with you. Perhaps just have them over for dinner. The point is to find time to spend with your loved ones this season.
13. Enjoy a Tree Lighting Ceremony
And here it is – our single favorite holiday tradition. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, our favorite Omni Hotel hosts their annual tree lighting ceremony for guests.
We book a room months in advance (we are a family of six, and suites book well in advance) and drive up to Amelia Island the morning after Thanksgiving.
The event is free, and the kids love it. Santa arrives, there is a tree countdown, hot chocolate, cookie decorating, an elf scavenger hunt, Florida snow, arts and crafts, and even a place to write letters to Santa. It is the most festive evening of the year, and it feels like being part of a Hallmark movie.
I’m willing to bet you can find a local tree lighting ceremony somewhere near you. Whether it is at a hotel or your local downtown, go enjoy yourself with the family.
We’ve been doing this since we discovered it in 2019, and our kids look forward to it every single year. It’s January and we already have our room booked for this year.
14. Find a Holiday Event Near You
Off the top of my head, there is a Santa’s Polar Express train ride, ICE at the Gaylord Palms, the Enchant Christmas Event, and a few other cool things within an hour of our house. So, you can certainly find a cool Christmas event near you. The kids love stuff like that, so get creative in looking for what you want.
15. Shop For Children in Need
You don’t have to spend a fortune, so this can still be an affordable family tradition. We adopt a family every year, and we make sure that the kids shop for the kids on the list.
We always choose a family with a few children around the same age as ours, and we give them each a budget and let them shop. They love to pick out what the kids need from their lists, but they really pay close attention to and focus so much on what they might want. They are so sweet about it, and it’s a really wonderful thing to do.
16. Host a Cookie Baking Party
Christmas cookies are the best. We love the tradition of having a few of our favorite families over to decorate Christmas cookies just for fun. We bake them, let them cool, and then set out a Christmas table cloth, frosting, icing, candies, sprinkles, and napkins, plates, etc. on the bar and let the kids sit together decorating cookies. The always have the best time.
17. Have Santa Over to Visit the Kids
All right – this is our second favorite family tradition. It’s grown a little over the years…I think we had almost 70 people over this year. A few nights before Christmas, we host a pajama party. All the families wear the same Christmas pajamas (we pick them out from Target and every family orders theirs in November).
They all come over, everyone brings a dish, and we provide a ham and turkey, and we have dinner. Once everyone arrives, Santa and Mrs. Claus surprise the kids by coming over. They sit by our Christmas tree and spend time with every single child.
The best part? We hire the most amazing local Santa and Mrs. Claus, and they only charge $75 per hour. This is our gift to our guests and their kids, but you can always split the cost of Santa with everyone in attendance if you’d like to make it a more affordable holiday tradition.
18. Take Family Photos by the Tree
We do this with Santa and Mrs. Claus when they are here. Every family gets a family photo, every child gets an individual photo, and then there is my favorite photo. I go upstairs and take a photo of all the kids with Santa and the Mrs. from above. The tree lights, the matching pajamas, the Big Man and Mrs. Claus…it’s absolute magic.
This is a tradition that we get to share with the people we love the most, and it is a favorite all the way around. Imagine looking back on your photos in 20 years and watching your family grow up one Christmas at a time. It’s magic.
19. Go Ice Skating
Even in Florida, we have ice skating during the Christmas holidays. You can find a place to go if you look around. Regardless, this is a favorite tradition. The kids love it, probably because it’s not something we can do all year. We skate, and then we hunt down hot chocolate or go to dinner, and everyone is happy.
20. Write Letters to Santa
I’ll be honest by saying this is not a fun holiday tradition if your kids aren’t old enough to spell. Or write. But perhaps you are parents with patience (I am not) who don’t mind helping with all of that.
Our kids love writing to Santa each year. Even our teenager who believes in the magic of Christmas but not in Santa likes to send him a letter. The thing is that they’re so wonderful for my husband and I to read.
The things they ask for – making the sick relative of a friend healthy for them, or asking for one of their siblings to get something that they really, really want – is heartwarming. Why? Because it’s not always all about what they want. Sometimes, they know that what they want is one thing, but other people might need a Christmas miracle or someone might want something so much, and that’s usually what they write Santa about. Of course, there is always a PS I’d love a blah blah blah, but still.
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