Some families love Elf on the Shelf. Others love spreading reindeer food on the front lawn, going to Midnight Mass, or driving around looking at Christmas lights.

As children grow or new youngsters join family celebrations, you might need to tweak the traditions a bit. Here are several ideas gathered from my colleagues and mom friends:

1. No chimney? Leave a key for Santa to get in.

Let your little one put it in a special place for Santa to find. You probably could make your own, but there are a number of commercial options, including these from, Wal-Mart and Etsy.

2. Make your tree truly evergreen.

Instead of cutting down a live tree, get a potted one that you can plant in the spring. You even could decorate past Christmas trees with popcorn and cranberries for the birds. This Old House has an excellent article about factors to consider with this option.

3. Family game

Have one of the presents be a family game that you all — aunts, uncles, grandparents and children — can play after all the gifts are open or after dinner.

Wendy Reed
Credit: Wendy Reed

4. A family that plays together...

Put Nerf (or similar) guns at the bottom of everyone's stockings (adults included!) and have a Nerf war after all the presents and stockings are open.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

5. After all the gifts are open, spread some cheer to the hard-working first-responders.

Deliver cookies or other treats to your local police station and fire department to thank those who are working instead of spending the day with family.

6. Birthday cake for Baby Jesus.

Some do a red velvet cake. Some make it on Christmas Eve and some do it Christmas Day. Some even sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus at Christmas dinner.

7. Reindeer food.

Avoid using anything with plastic or glitter, as that will harm wildlife, but there are a variety of recipes for making your own to sprinkle outside. Some parents make a point to push it around and to grate the carrots they leave out to show the kids that someone was there.


8. Christmas Eve pajamas or books — or both.

Some find it hard to sleep on Christmas Eve (so much anticipation!) so families have a special box they open together with pajamas (matching pajama sets, anyone?) or a special Christmas book. You can get books personalized with your children's names at Put Me In The Story and Wonderbly.

9. Sea of balloons

Blow up 50 balloons to celebrate Jesus' birthday and pile them in front of the tree so the kids can play with them before they get to their gifts.

10. Family movie time

On Christmas night, cook steaks and go out to the movies. It might be nice to get out of the house.

11. Recorded stories

Record grandparents or other relatives reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas." One mom said her children find a recording of the late father-in-law reading a story very special when they listen to it each year. It also could be a way to include family members who can't travel for the holidays.

12. Kindness the Elf

Instead of Elf on the Shelf, have an elf come and help your family do acts of kindness leading up to Christmas.

13. Feast of Seven Fishes

An Italian-American tradition stemming from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat before major holidays, the Feast of Seven Fishes is a seven-course seafood meal that doesn't necessarily involve seven different types of fish, according to Eataly. Here are some suggestions from Bon Appetit for cooking your own feast.

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