How to Start Your Own Christmas Traditions

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Noche Buena, visiting Ninong and Ninang, caroling, and hanging the parol are some Christmas traditions our families have aside from church activities, gift giving, and attending reunions. We would like to keep many of those as they are because of the beautiful childhood memories attached to them which give us warmth and a sense of belonging. Meaningful moments with older family members who have passed on are also reminisced and relived with the younger additions to our clan.

But we can also begin new traditions, whether original or tweaked old ones, once we have families of our own. But where do we begin?

  • First, decide on the values or life principles you would like your family to uphold and nurture. What traditions would you like to create to introduce truths or beliefs you cherish — worship with other families, quiet thanksgiving, serving the needy, opulent celebrations, lavish meals, making time for relatives, travel, new discoveries?
  • Consider the interests and ages of each family member so that even the youngest child will value the importance of each practice. Make sure you explain the reason behind doing holiday habits so that children understand and enjoy their purpose and benefits. The simpler the message, the easier it is to be grasped by the younger ones. The perfect time to introduce values is as early as toddler age.
  • Zero in on your family’s purpose for celebrating Christmas. Is it just about festivities – parties, gifts, and decorations? Or is it celebrating the Savior, the Reason for the Season? God’s Greatest Gift to our families is the reason we respond with thanksgiving and generosity to others.


After finalizing your objectives, come up with traditions which fulfill these goals. You can opt to:

Remember. Advent helps us remember what the celebration is all about. You can simply light up a candle for the first three Sundays before Christmas and the last one on Christmas Eve. We try to do this before a meal when everyone was present, say a prayer of thanksgiving, sing a Christmas hymn, or tackle a Christmas nativity character such that on Christmas Eve the family focuses worship of Jesus Christ. You can finally place the baby Jesus character in your Nativity Scene.

Advent calendar countdowns help teach children about numbers, counting and dates, and build up their excitement for Christmas Day. There are ready calendars that open up to chocolate or toys, but you surely can customize your own. There are many DIY ideas in the internet. We would write different Bible verses, questions or simple adventures in envelopes posted on the wall or inside little boxes we stack up like a tree. The children take turns in opening these daily, instructing them how to build something or create a craft. There can be a brief discussion of a verse, or their answers to questions. It can be a new word, a Bible promise, or a famous quote to share with the family over a meal.

Do you like singing as a family? You can have your child lead a Christmas carol or play a new piece on an instrument after a meal. You can always start your Christmas gift giving with a hymn or someone reading the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible as a reminder of the Greatest Gift we celebrate. If you are a family of musicians, take it a level higher by caroling your neighbor or a friend in the hospital.

Reflect. My family agrees on a single message we specifically want to communicate every Christmas. It can be a description of the year that passed, a certain facet of the Lord we’d like to focus on, or a lesson or a truth our family has learned or experienced. When Yakob, our fourth child, came, we experienced the blessing of God’s abundant provisions and His perfect plan in making our family bigger than we expected. Thus, “Strength in Numbers” was our theme. It was the same year my teen daughter started to save money for her dream birthday trip through her baking, and so we commissioned her to bake cookies shaped like numbers. Our family’s Christmas theme is reflected not only through our gifts, but also on our gift packaging and gift tag messages.

Meet. Meet some needs. Pre-loved toys, books, clothes and household items can be appreciated by families especially those who have been stricken by calamity. Prepare boxes in advance and label them accordingly — clothes, shoes, toys, household items, cosmetics and accessories. Each family member can drop in their own contribution. (You can get more ideas on meaningful and helpful giving and receiving in my previous article, The Art of Gift-Giving.)

Do you like having garage sales? Think of a beneficiary who will surely need a Christmas treat. Together with the money, prepare a basket of pre-loved items left from the sale. Target those who have suffered sickness or death in the past months.

Greet. Think of a unique way of writing your Christmas greeting. Connect this to your theme or the gifts that you are giving instead of just saying “Merry Christmas!” In writing your greeting cards to your child’s teachers and classmates, include a specific character trait you and your child appreciate most about them. Mention a memory you treasure in the past year about the recipient of your gift.

Make calls to family or friends abroad when everyone is gathered in a room. With video calls, chats can be longer and cost little or nothing at all. Make your calls interesting by doing a group choral greeting or wear some colorful costumes to add delight for the person far away.

Munch. If the dining table is the grand display of all the luxury Christmas brings, the kitchen is the center of Filipino food loving for most families. Serve traditional dishes handed down by your grandparents, or come up with new dishes every year, perhaps focusing on a certain region, country or cuisine each year.

Start a tradition of learning something new, trying out online recipes on YouTube. This is an opportunity to teach the children simple recipes. And by the way, not everything has to be home-cooked! Anticipating very hectic holidays, sometimes a yearly practice is to buy a certain fare from a favorite restaurant and that’s perfectly fine!

During potluck parties, ask the host what dish would complement the rest of the handaan. Don’t be surprised if some family members request for your traditional pie or salad every single year. A clan cook-out can be crazy but the party already begins in the big kitchen and a yard with a grill to enjoy the sharing and handing down of recipes to the younger generation. Many of them are interested in cooking and discovering ancestral kitchen treasures.

Think of inviting special guests each year — a single person, a visiting student or professor, a missionary, a tourist who will be spending their holidays away from family. You can also invite your neighborhood security, maintenance staff or past house help and their family members for breakfast. Our church encourages us to adopt a fresh graduate from the police academy, who was assigned to Manila and far from his hometown. Our family also includes our house help in our Christmas Noche Buena, reading from the Bible and praying with them before we share a simple meal. My father encouraged us to eat with farm folks and their families on banana leaves, kamayan style, on Christmas dinner. Each member was to sit in between two staff to get to know them more.

You can also throw a party for the househelp in the neighborhood or your condo floor. Come up with games and each household can contribute for food and raffle prizes. Our family traditionally holds a Christmas party for families on the farm, inviting children of neighboring towns. We play games, give prizes, gift bags and treat them to a meal. We invite a church choir and a pastor to share Bible stories and the good news of Christmas.

Rest. The fuss, fancy and flurry of the holidays sometimes leave us exhausted, even sick. Make sure you leave a lot of time for rest and relaxation. Slow down and savor moments together. Appreciate the contribution of each one, and how the little ones saved up their allowance or worked hard on a gift for you.

Sometimes a carefree day of shopping using Christmas money, or just lying around in bed and eating all the Christmas treats over movies or looking at pictures of past years mean fun for the kids. If you are a family of journal or scrapbook nerds, an afternoon of concluding the year’s entry can involve writing on each other’s diaries, or starting up planners by marking common celebrations and scheduling dream trips.

Maybe a new tradition can be a day of just being quiet in the same room sitting and relaxing over a book, listening to a playlist or serving each other hot cups of tea or cocoa. These happy habits don’t have to conform to a standard of active play. Even restful moments are valuable, and can stay for good, for our good.

Expect some family traditions to even evolve into better, more practical ones, and keep them as long as they are meaningful experiences for each member of the family.

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