With the holiday season officially upon us, I wanted to share a few of my family’s favorite holiday traditions. Here they are in no particular order!

little kids sitting by a decorated Christmas tree 1. The Setting Up of the Christmas Tree is a big deal around here. This year is the first year that the kids have their own “kid tree” to decorate with all those ornaments they bring home from school and make. That is due in part to our faithful, old prelit Christmas tree pretty much dying on us – it got relegated to the kid tree and we strung white lights on it. “My” tree is in the living room and has all sorts of boring decorations, according to my kids. Things like cranberries and glittery acorns. We spend a lot of time around our Christmas trees. Every night we turn off all the house lights and sit in the dreamy light of the Christmas tree listening to Christmas music. Usually we are all crammed and jammed on one couch together enjoying the moment.

a felt Christmas tree advent calendar 2. This felt advent calendar has been around since I was a little girl and I guess I was the lucky kid (out of my four siblings) to get it. We use it faithfully every year and the boys keep a very detailed account of who gets to unveil that day’s felt ornament. We also have a Lego advent calendar for the first time this year (thanks to my sister who has our name for Christmas) and I have a feeling it is going to be a big hit.

3. Every year, we call a (in this case, the) nursing home in our area and ask if our family can come do a Christmas program for the residents. In the interest of full disclosure, my boys don’t really love when we start planning this. They get really nervous and shy and they aren’t really those kind of boys that love performing in front of a crowd. But no fail, every year, it ends up being one of our greatest family moments in December. The kids usually play a song on the piano they’ve been practicing, we sing a few songs as a family (you know, like All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth – we have very average musical ability) and sometimes the boys read a Christmas poem. The highlight is talking with the residents before and after. I look forward to this all year.

a Christmas card that has five kids, parents, and the words Happy Holidays 4. I am an old-school Christmas Card Mailer Outer. I love to get Christmas cards in the mail. Love it. So I still send them out (almost 200 of them, actually). I know this is sadly becoming very out of style but I grew up in the generation of the annual Christmas card letter and it’s stuck with me. Above is the sneak peek of the front of our card. I don’t do a crazy long letter, instead, I just type up a few words for each kid and put it on the back of the Christmas card (I always order from mpix.com – love that you can do front and back for a reasonable price). This year, for example, Cam’s update is “19 months, bossy, loved, stinking cute.” Bring on the Christmas cards (I instantly love my friends and family 100% more if they send me a Christmas card).

decorated Christmas gingerbread sleds 5. Not decorating Gingerbread Sleds isn’t even an option. We do it every year and it probably goes without saying that we all love it (I mean, hello, candy, candy, candy). This year I might change it up and do these simple graham cracker houses, Christmas-themed of course. My family might stage a mutiny so I’ll have to tread very carefully.

a stack of Christmas books 6. I have collected Christmas books over the years. Each December, I wrap them up and put them under the tree. Every night, one of the kids picks one out, unwraps it, and we read it as a family. This is another of my favorite traditions. While there are a few silly Christmas books, most of them are sweet and tender and have a wonderful message about the true meaning of Christmas. Here is a list of some of the books we read:

Big Susan by Elizabeth Orton Jones
The Bears Christmas by Jan and Stan Berenstain
Christmas Oranges by Linda Bethers
The 12 Days of Christmas by Robert Sabuda
A Little House Christmas Treasury by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Christmas Alphabet by Robert Sabuda
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston
The Night Before the Night Before Christmas by Natasha Wing
The Last Straw by Frederick H. Thury
The Carpenters Gift by David Rubel
Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
A Snowman named Just Bob by Mark Kimball Moulton
The Miracle of the Wooden Shoes by Deborah Pace Rowley
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
A Night Without Darkness by Timothy Robinson
Mortimers Christmas Manger by Jane Chapman and Karma Wilson
Night tree by Eve Bunting
A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson
Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed
The Christmas Train by Thomas S. Monson
I Believe in Santa Claus by Diane Adamson
The Christmas Baby by Marion Dane Bauer
A Merry Little Christmas by Mary Engelbreit

7. Each year, on Christmas Eve, the kids get to open two presents. They are always the same things year after year but unfailingly, the kids are so excited about them they can barely stand it. The first is a pair of PJ’s. Usually PJ pants for the boys since I can either find them really inexpensive or make them super quick with my serger. The second gift is a new ornament. These ornaments also went on the kid tree this year (see #1). I try to choose an ornament that somehow reflects their personality or an activity they were involved in over the last year. My vision is that when they grow up and leave me (sob!), they will take all these personal ornaments with them to use on their own Christmas tree.

glazed monkey bread in a bundt shape 8. Christmas morning breakfast is always cinnamon rolls or monkey bread that I prep a few days before and bake the morning of.

a piece of lasagna and a breadstick on a white plate 9. I know I’ve mentioned this before but we are fairly untraditional with Christmas Eve/Day food. We have a big lasagna meal on Christmas Eve usually with some type of cheesecake for dessert. Then on Christmas Day, since I don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen all day (I’d rather stay in my PJ’s relaxing with the family), we do a ham in the crockpot (with rolls that have been made, frozen, and warmed up) and/or leftovers from the night before. Oh, and we always have a cheeseball for snacking. Always.

10. Driving around looking at Christmas lights happens every year. We live in a really small community and were out of town last year, so I’m not sure exactly how many lights we’ll be able to see, but my plan this year is to use this idea and surprise the kids one night on their way to bed – they’ll find a golden ticket on their pillow and off we’ll go with mugs of hot chocolate and treats to see some lights wherever they may be. If all else fails, we’ll just drive around drinking hot chocolate and since the kid’s expectations are so low, they’ll be thrilled no matter what.

I love this time of year! What are your favorite holiday traditions?