30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Cultivating Family Holiday Traditions When You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any

My husband and I have been married for almost 7 years. Our anniversary is at the end of the month, followed up three days later by Thanksgiving and then our son’s sixth birthday two days after that. Exactly two weeks later my eldest son turns 14 and two weeks after that is Christmas Day. And then New Years the week after, of course. That’s a lot of events crammed into a short amount of time. Do we have anything special planned for them? Nope. Do we have anything planned at all? Uh…no.

Creating Family Holiday Traditions

You know how some families have these great traditions that happen each year on special events? I love hearing about these family traditions! Like a special birthday plate that has been handed down and is served on each year. Or an elf breakfast celebrating the first day of December. How about particular songs that are sung in celebration of a special day, certain meals that are prepared, specific decorations that are put up.

Yeah, we don’t have any of those. I feel like we really have no family traditions.

Perhaps I’m feeling a little guilty coming out of Halloween. While my kids had costumes (3 out of 4 handmade, thank you very much!) and they did go trick-or-treating, we didn’t go to the pumpkin patch and we didn’t even purchase or carve pumpkins. Despite several trips to the attic to look for the “fall box” my husband wasn’t able to find my autumn decorations so the house went un-decorated (to the disappointment of the kindergartener).

Is it lack of planning that I almost always find myself thinking a few days before a kid’s birthday, “Dang, we should have planned a party or something!”?

Is there lack of creativity (or sheer exhaustion) that I just don’t have it in me to come up with ideas for cute ways to celebrate when there is a special day?

Perhaps it’s lack of budget that with so many big events squished into a month, there’s no way we can do something grand for each special day?

But family traditions don’t have to be grand. Or cost anything. Or require a lot of planning, do they?

Why Have Family Holiday Traditions?

Why bother with traditions at all? Is it just a guilt thing, thinking my kids are missing out? Not at all. I know that participating in traditions is very important towards creating family bonds and childhood memories. Traditions create an identity and reinforce your family values. Having a tradition also means that people know what to expect. Expectation isn’t a bad thing. It’s something to look forward to, something to get excited about. Traditions are also special because it gives people something to teach, to pass down to others.

I had to think really hard about things that we do as a family that would be considered a tradition. Some years I’ve done things that might be considered tradition, the next year I missed the mark. I WANT to create traditions. I want to make things more consistent year after year. And with an anniversary, two birthdays and three major holidays coming up, the time to create traditions is now!

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

My son’s thankful list.

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Curating Family Traditions

So, how can you create family traditions? Fortunately the internet is a wealth of ideas that you can pick and choose from as they fit into your family. I intend to be more committed to coming up with memory-worthy family traditions that will bring my family and I closer. Creating and cultivating traditions doesn’t have to cost anything or be overly extravagant. As I created this list, I realized that my family has more traditions than I knew!

Thanksgiving

Seasonal Table Decor – From the tablecloth you spread on the dining room table to the glass candlesticks you place in the center, choose Thanksgiving table decor that you want to use year after year as a tradition.

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Inviting Friends – What better way to show the spirit of Thanksgiving than by inviting others to your Thanksgiving table? Request that friends bring a dish to share that includes their tradition or culture.

Dinner Prayer – In our family, we always start each meal with a prayer. At Thanksgiving, we all stand around the table and hold hands. Each person says one quick thing they are thankful for to share with the group.

Traditional Foods – While turkey, gravy with mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are pretty much every American’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner fare, what are the traditional foods in your family? I’ve heard of tamales, mac and cheese, ambrosia salad and creamed corn appearing at the table. Dig up one of grandma’s favorite old recipes and make it a tradition to prepare that dish each year.

Football – Whether watching the big games on TV or pulling out the football to play in the yard, do it together as a family.

Eating the Leftovers – You’d better hope there are leftovers! We actually try to make a LOT of extra food, planning that there will be plenty of leftovers. Leftover apple pie for breakfast, turkey sandwiches for dinner and full Thanksgiving dinner again at night! My friend’s family makes tacos the next day by stuffing corn tortillas with mashed potatoes, a beaten egg, chopped leftover ham, cheddar cheese and green onions (they close the tortilla and fry it in oil – delish!!)

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Enjoying traditional Thanksgiving foods as well as our family favorites.

December

Advent Calendar – My mom had the cutest Advent calendar made of felt. She’d pull it out each December and I loved using it each day as a kid. There are some really cool calendars out there now, counting down the days to Christmas. Certainly helps to build anticipation for the holidays.


Donating Gifts – Our church collects gifts each year, as does our kid’s school and the dentist office. We try to donate something to each one. It’s a perfect tradition to share with the kids that shows it’s better to give than to receive. This year we’ve already purchased a bunch of goodies to create boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

Movie Day – Choose one day (maybe a snowy or rainy one) where everyone gathers together and watches traditional Christmas film favorites.

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.


Hot Cocoa & Egg Nog – Give these two seasonal drinks a grand entrance and make it a special occasion. Offer them after a neighborhood walk to see holiday lights or while snuggled in front of the fireplace.

Volunteering – Despite the busy season, many of us still squeeze in volunteer work. Whether it’s at the local food bank or with your church, volunteering yourself as a tradition really expresses your family values.

Holiday Lights – Here’s another one that we actually do. I never thought of it being a tradition, but it totally is! Take a drive in the car or a walk through the neighborhood to admire the holiday light displays. Bring a traditional snack like popcorn or cocoa to make it extra special.

Bake & Decorate Cookies – For many this tradition can be a chore! Take back the joy in holiday baking by only making your most favorite cookies. Include the kids and let them decorate (don’t worry about perfection – the kids just want to have fun and eat their creations!)

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Christmas

Decorating the Tree – I have a confession. I used to decorate the Christmas tree by myself when the kids were in bed! I was always worried about broken ornaments and strange placement. And then I got over that. I remembered when my parents would play Christmas music and my brother and I would pull each ornament out of the box, oohing and aahhing with the memories of each one. I want my kids to have that tradition too.

Wrap Together – Last year I stopped wrapping all the Christmas gifts alone. I started enlisting the help of each child individually to get them more involved in the holiday. I allowed the younger one to wrap gifts (lots of tape was sacrificed!) for his older brother and sister. He loved keeping the secrets of the gift and the anticipation of them opening it on Christmas morning.


Christmas Music Sing-along- Turn on the music and everyone join in, you know the words! Now it’s time to teach the lyrics of your favorite Christmas songs to the kids too.

Christmas Morning Breakfast- While we don’t have a traditional meal per se, we do always indulge in a big Christmas morning breakfast before gift opening. Sometimes we have French toast. Other days, it’s pancakes. But there is always bacon!

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Bacon for Christmas morning is our family holiday tradition!

Collecting Ornaments – In writing this post, I realized that THIS is a tradition of mine! My grandmother would purchase my brother and I ornaments from Avon each year and those are my most cherished collection. I’ve been purchasing the Hallmark Beauty of Birds Series for my own white tree display.

I used to buy my eldest son a Hallmark ornament of his own each year that reflected something he’d loved that year. Unfortunately with four kids now, the cost of buying each of them a pricey ornament is out of my budget. But perhaps I can take them to the store and let them each choose something inexpensive.

Church – While we attend church each Sunday together as a family, participating in a traditional Christmas church service has it’s own feeling.

New Years

Ring in the new year with family-friendly celebrations that keep you close at home, creating memories together.

Special Foods – After the indulgence of Christmas, my family always chose to go a different route for New Year’s Eve. Appetizers like a cheese and cracker platter, fresh cut fruit and nuts served with a glass of wine are a perfectly acceptable dinner! We’d follow it up with the big box of chocolate and peanut brittle that someone always seemed to gift us each year!

Dress for the Occasion – Choose the theme for your evening – Is it glamorous? Then dress up to the nines! Or casual and cozy? Then have everyone wear their pajamas and snuggle in blankets.


Stay Up Till Midnight (Maybe) – I admit, we haven’t made it past midnight in several years (having little ones and no party plans does that to you!) No need to stay up till midnight in your neighborhood though. Choose midnight in a different time zone and celebrate your New Year at 8 pm if you’d rather the kids stick to their normal bedtime!

Games All Night – When I was younger, my family would pull out several board games to play together. We’d play cards, Yahtzee, Clue and put together a puzzle until the clock struck midnight.

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Birthdays

With four kids, birthday parties aren’t always in the budget. But small traditions are so important when celebrating each child’s special day.

Breakfast In Bed – Serve your child’s favorite breakfast to them in bed. What a fun way to wake up!

Kid’s Choice – Give kids the choice of activity on this day and you might be surprised what they choose. For my son’s 5th birthday, his one request was a play date at the park with his preschool bestie – easy and done! Plan ahead and ask them their choice for dinner as well so you can prepare it on their birthday.

A Birthday Letter from Mom & Dad – Write a letter to your child with notable thoughts on the year past. Save the birthday letters in a special box to be gifted to them when they’re an adult.

Cake Served on a Special Plate – I bought a pretty vintage white cake platter the year we were married. It was going to hold our wedding cake but the cake ended up being too wide. However this cake plate makes a special appearance for each birthday!

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

Anniversary

My anniversary, I’ve got nothing. We went to dinner on our first anniversary and since then, we’ve always just treated it like any other day. No gifts, no cards, just a regular day that includes the phrase, “Happy Anniversary, honey”.

I don’t want to blow off our wedding anniversary anymore. I want to create some traditions that show my husband (as well as my kids) that we treasure our marriage with a celebration. Doesn’t have to be expensive or over the top, but it should be something!

30+ family holiday traditions you can create with your family on a budget.

A blurry cell phone selfie is better than nothing!

Same Restaurant – Do you have a special restaurant that you dined in while dating? Return each year for your anniversary (or another restaurant in the same food theme).

Love Letter – Given that I’ve never even received a store-bought card, this one isn’t really in my husband’s wheelhouse but there are some partners who love to share their thoughts and feelings on paper.

Give Traditional Gifts with a Twist – You know those “traditional anniversary themes” for gifts, like paper for the first year and gold for the 50th? Add a twist to those by setting a budget each year. For instance it’s my 7th anniversary this year and the theme is wool or copper. If we set a budget of $20, we could buy a copper bangle, a wool scarf, Moscow mule mug or a wool felt ornament. The point is to actually purchase something that is perfect for your partner, not just anything to fill the quota of a gift.

Wedding Album – Pull out the wedding photos and guest book to look through it together and reflect on the day.

Get Away for the Big Days – Though we might not have it in the budget to have a get-away each year on our anniversary, we’re already planning our 10th anniversary with a big holiday vacation.

And what if none of these traditions feel right for your family? No matter, try only what feels right. What’s most important is gathering together. And the memories you make!

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