All-Time Favorite Christmas Traditions

From decorating the Christmas tree to leaving cookies for Santa, Christmas traditions offer great ways to celebrate the holiday season. We help you celebrate old and new traditions alike.

By Elizabeth Jensen


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Behind Closed Doors
1/20
Start an Advent Calendar

    This fun and festive tradition makes the countdown to Christmas part of the daily routine. Put little notes, presents, or sweet treats inside to make each of the 24 pre-Christmas days merry and joyful.

    Behind the tradition: The term Advent comes from the Latin "adventur," meaning arrival. The tradition of marking the Advent dates back to the early 19th century when families would make a chalk line on their front door counting down the days in December until Christmas Eve.

2/20
Send Out Christmas Letters

    Wish your friends and family a very merry Christmas by sending them a sweet holiday letter. Start with one of our unique Christmas letter designs for a more personalized touch.

    Behind the tradition: The first Christmas greeting card was designed by a British artist named John Horsely in the Victorian period in England. Since then the tradition has continued to grow and evolve.

3/20
Give a Meaningful Ornament

    Add a little something special to your tree by giving your family members a meaningful ornament. Choose one that signifies a milestone or special moment from their year, and give it to them before you decorate the tree.

    Behind the tradition: The first Christmas ornaments in the 1800s were varieties of fruits and nuts. As the tradition of decorative Christmas trees in the home spread, ornaments became more ornate and specialized. Now, the manufacturing and sale of Christmas ornaments is one of the biggest markets worldwide.

4/20
Set Up the Christmas Tree

    Put on your favorite Christmas tunes, indulge in your favorite treats, and make a day of decorating the tree.

    Behind the tradition: Originally a German tradition, putting Christmas trees in the home was an oddity in America until the late 1800s. Now approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold each year.

    Editor's tip: To keep your tree fresh for the entire holiday season, keep it cool and out of direct sunlight. This will prevent it from drying out. Crisp, cold water is also a must for keeping your tree hearty and healthy.

5/20
Display Your Christmas Stockings

    Hanging Christmas stockings is a fun and festive way to spruce up your mantel and show off your family's style. Reuse stockings year after year for a bit of nostalgia. And make sure you behave; you don't want coal in your stocking!

    Behind the tradition: According to legend, a widowed nobleman was financially strapped and fretting about how he could pay the dowries necessary for his three daughters to wed. One night, the daughters did their laundry, left their stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry, and went to bed. St. Nicholas, who had heard about the family's despair, visited the house that night. He threw three sacks of gold down the chimney and into the stockings, giving the girls the money they needed to get married.

6/20
Hang Outdoor Christmas Lights

    The beauty of Christmas lights glowing amidst a blanket of snow is pretty hard to beat. Decorate your yard with twinkling lights to give your home that extra sparkle during the holidays.

    Behind the tradition: Originally people would light their trees using small white candles. But in 1882, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of electrical light bulbs, which were displayed on the White House in 1895.

7/20
Decorate with Poinsettias

    The queen of Christmas flowers, the poinsettia is versatile and pretty. Choose a variety of colors and display throughout your home as cut flowers.

    Behind the tradition: The star-shaped leaves of the poinsettia, native to Mexico, are said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. The festive plant rakes in more than $200 million in sales a year, with most happening in December.

8/20
Set Up a Nativity Scene

    Displaying nativity scenes is a great way to show what the celebration of Christmas is all about. From a miniature version on your coffee table to a large outdoor light display, there are many ways to share and enjoy the scene.

    Behind the tradition: The nativity scene is one of the oldest Christmastime traditions. Legend states that St. Francis of Assisi introduced the world to the tradition after a trip to Egypt in 1220. Traditional nativity scenes usually consist of the holy family, an ox, a sheep, and a donkey.

9/20
Build a Gingerbread House

    Adorable, delicious, and oh-so fun to make, designing gingerbread houses is a cute and crafty way to decorate for the holidays. Make your own gingerbread cookies or pick up a set from your local grocery store. Either way, the end product will make you happy you participated in this fun Christmas tradition.

    Behind the tradition: Gingerbread became a popular treat in central Europe during the middle ages. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert are credited with making gingerbread cookies a Christmastime tradition.

10/20
Hang Mistletoe

    Kissing under the mistletoe is a fun and festive tradition that is essential for any Christmastime celebration.

    Behind the tradition: The ancient Greeks were the first to believe in the power of mistletoe. During Saturnalia, ancient Greeks would kiss under the mistletoe; they later incorporated the act into wedding ceremonies. Custom says if you are kissed under the mistletoe you will have a deep romance or a long-lasting friendship with your lip-locked partner.

11/20
Dust Off the Christmas Dinnerware

    Celebrate the special occasion of Christmas dinner using special dinnerware. Use your favorite china or festive set to enjoy your hearty holiday meal.

    Behind the tradition: Christmas dinner became a ritual centuries ago in the Old England era. Using special place settings makes the event more meaningful.

12/20
Read a Christmas Book

    From The Night Before Christmas to The Polar Express, there's a wonderful variety of Christmas tales to enjoy. Cozy up in front of the fire with your favorite fable and a hot cup of cocoa.

    Behind the tradition: Children's books played a large part in spreading Christmas traditions after the Civil War when Christmas became a legalized holiday. Now The Polar Express is one of the most valuable picture books on the market

13/20
Go Window Shopping

    The displays during the holiday season are definitely something to enjoy. Forget about the inside of the mall and head outside. Bundling up and window shopping in big cities is a tradition that big stores, such as Macy's, count on.

    Behind the tradition: The Macy's Christmas window displays have been a time-honored tradition since World War II. The gorgeous displays -- in Chicago and New York -- draw people from all over the world.

14/20
Tour Outdoor Christmas Light Displays

    Enjoying outdoor Christmas light displays is a great way to get into the spirit in the days leading up to Christmas. Many cities offer drive-through displays, but it's also fun to find a neighborhood that is notorious for its creative decorations. Tune your radio to a Christmas station, sit back, and cruise!

    Behind the tradition: Rockefeller Center in New York City is one of the biggest outdoor holiday light displays. The Saks Fifth Avenue holiday snowflake display has more than 72,000 lights and 50 bright snowflakes.

15/20
Go Christmas Caroling

    Whether you're cozy in your doorway enjoying the tunes or bundled up and hitting the bricks to spread some joy, Christmas caroling is a wonderfully merry holiday tradition.

    Behind the tradition: Carols originated in Europe thousands of years ago -- the earliest Christmas carol was written in 1410. Over time more Christmas carols were written and many orchestras and choirs began singing them around the holidays. As carols became more popular, the tradition of singing them in the streets also emerged.

16/20
Open One Present

    This tradition helps curb some of the pre-Christmas excitement. Gather around with some hot cocoa and some delicious treats and enjoy one, single present.

    Behind the tradition: As early as the 13th century, the act of giving gifts on Christmas was very common. However, gifts were often pieces of fruit or simple toys. Now the holiday shopping season is the biggest and most lucrative time for retailers.

17/20
Set Out Cookies and Milk for Santa

    The big guy and his reindeer work hard on Christmas Eve, so make sure you're leaving them a yummy treat. This tradition is fun to get the entire family involved in. Make your favorite Christmas cookies, set them out before bedtime, and keep the leftovers for a post-present opening indulgence.

    Behind the tradition: Children eagerly leave Santa delicious cookies and milk on Christmas Eve to help him fuel through the night. This tradition is one of the newer ones. It started around the time of the Great Depression as a way to encourage children to share with others.

18/20
Enjoy a Christmas Dinner

    Gathering with family and friends to enjoy a hearty meal is definitely a favorite holiday tradition. The traditional Christmas meal is dependent on your heritage and geographic location, but a must-have is sweet and sugary Christmas cookies.

    Behind the tradition: The Christmas dinner ritual started in Old England after Saint Francis of Assisi proclaimed that everyone should share equally in the joy of the day. In respect for Christ, families would invite their servants to eat with them at the same table. In the morning, the leftovers were fed to the animals.

19/20
Bake Some Christmas Cookies

    Start a new tradition by baking one of our tasty Christmas cookie recipes.

20/20
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