What Family Traditions Do You Have During the Holidays?

What are your family traditions around the holidays? When we were growing up, my parents would light angel chimes at the dinner table, and the heat from the candles would make the angels spin around and ring the bells. That little “ding, ding, ding” sound still makes me feel so warm and cozy…

Toby is two-and-a-half years old, so this is the first holiday that he’ll really understand. I’ve been thinking so much recently about the value of rituals, and I’d love to create some for our family. So angel chimes are the very first holiday tradition we’re starting with him.

Does your family light angel chimes? (Apparently, angel chimes are actually Swedish, but they were introduced to America about fifty years ago.) What other holiday family traditions do you have? A big Christmas Eve dinner? Homemade stockings? Super spiked egg nog? I’d love to hear—and get ideas!

  1. Growing up I didn’t have any traditions really. But my husband and I have been able to start new traditions. Instead of an advent calendar, we have a thankful garland. Each year I craft a garland with twelve slips of paper where we write what we are thankful that year. Each night before bed we read one of the slips. And then the same breakfast Christmas morning: baked french toast, champagne, and orange juice!

  2. Oh, my god, this brought back so many Christmas memories! We used to have almost identical Angel chimes when I was growing up (I grew up in Lithuania). We would always light them up during Christmas Eve dinner. That sound it makes is almost magical to me. It reminds me of that one night a year when my family used to dress up, pull out the good china and have a long calm dinner, trying each of the 12 dishes that were traditionally served on Christmas Eve. I recently asked my mother whether she has kept the Angel chimes in the house. I thought perhaps she’d be so kind to mail them to me so that I had something to remind me of my childhood during the holidays. Unfortunately I think she got rid of it. After reading this post I’m determined to find a similar version an bring back the old tradition to my home.

  3. The night before Christmas my brother goes across the street to the ice rink that the town makes at the local park. I fall asleep to the sound of skating and sticks hitting the ice.

    Every Christmas morning, whichever one of us wakes up first wakes the other. We NEVER go downstairs until we can go together. It’s still going that way, even though I am 32 and my brother is 29, and now my husband is in my room with me.

    My dad makes cinnamon rolls early in the morning, so we wake up to the smell of warm cinnamon and sugar.

    When we go downstairs, we get breakfast and bring it to the living room where we all open our stockings together. We listen to Manheim Steamroller Christmas.

    We always go as a family to see a movie on Christmas day. We walk together to the theater through the snow.

    In the late afternoon, if there is enough snow, we strap on our cross country skis and break a track around the park across the street.

  4. We do Christmas Eve pajamas. And has to have a meal, the same family friend said ten years, two years ago, they even move to a half mile road! For a while we when I was a child, I am in let my brother leader of four or five in the morning, we are only allowed to view or stockings, until 7, when we can go to wake up our parents. But that was a long time ago:) although my youngest brother asked us what was I wake up in the morning, and the rest of us to some of the downstairs eight. Our guests left on Christmas day, and plates are finished, we see this is a better life. And my mother’s birthday is the day after Christmas, so we always have an early dinner “Russian tea room, then go to see the tree. Unfortunately such as advent calendar and appear wreath off as we are getting old, but it doesn’t matter.

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  5. My mom and my grandmother always had their kids pin a sock at the end of the bed starting on December 1st. If the kids had been good during the day, the “elves” would leave a piece of the most beautiful old fashioned hard candy for the child to find the next day. If we were naughty, there would be nothing in the sock and we knew a bad report had been sent to Santa. My mom (and grandmother before her) also always have ridiculous holiday pajamas for everyone in the family to open on Christmas Eve after church. We would rip open our boxes and laugh at each other’s PJs before putting them on then we’d pile on the couch with cookies and egg nog to watch a Christmas movie before falling asleep. Traditions, whatever they are, are such a great part of family holiday memories!

  6. I’ve never heard of angel chimes but this seems like such a sweet and simple tradition! For our son, due in March, Dan and I have been talking about fun family rituals like a night to decorate holiday cookies or family Christmas movie nights :)

  7. we’re in the early days of family traditions as our eldest is only 3. i bought some kraft paper baubles and he’s decorated one for the last two years. then we hang it on the tree. when he saw last year’s he said ‘i was only a baby then, i didn’t know to paint the whole bauble’. i made him a stocking with his initial on, i need to make one for his baby bro’s first christmas.

  8. We do Angel chimes! My dad had them as a kid and the set we light is about 75% the one he used as a boy. We had to get another set sometime when I was a kid to get some replacement parts. Now that I have a little I’ll have to get some for us too!

  9. My nephew is in love with Elf on a Shelf, i can tell he’ll remember it when he’s old and grey!

    The best thing ever though, was when we would wake up in the morning to find the cookies and milk we left have eaten and drank, with crumbs everywhere. And then on the note we left for Santa, writing in soot from the fireplace. My dad would get soot on his finger and write us a note. I was so sure it was Santa, and now looking back have such fondness for the effort my Pops put in to make it special. :)

    – caroline @thecopperavocado

  10. Two traditions that have really stuck in my mind from my childhood were getting to pick out an ornament ourselves each year of christmas that would be added to our collection. When I got married and had my first christmas with my husband I had a box of ornaments to put on our family tree that I’d been picking out since I was 2. It was really special to have all those memories. Another tradition is that when we open presents on Christmas Eve one person opens at a time to really savor the moment. When my sister and I were little that was super hard but as we grew older we both really appreciated that tradition. It instilled gratitude, patience, and a sense of happiness even just watching another enjoy their Christmas gift. And Angel Chimes of course! What wonderful photos of you both with Toby watching the angels. Such a wonderful time to share with little ones.

  11. Each year every member of the family gets a new pj to wear on Chistmas morning, while drinking eggnog and unwrapping present, and listen to The Sound of Music, wich is exactly what I was doing as a kid and it’s where my favorite Christmas memories came from. It just makes me happy ! My husband’s family tradition is at midnight, they all sing Holy Night all together !

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  12. Reading the Maurice Sendak illustrated version of the Nutcracker! I just wrote about it here: My brother and I would snuggle into sleeping bags in front of the fireplace and take turns reading out loud with my Dad. We started the tradition when we were tiny and fell asleep quickly, so it took all month, but we always made it to the end on Christmas Eve, just in time for dreams of Santa and sugar plum fairies. The book, a survivor of puppy teething and countless moves is tattered and worn, but I can’t wait to read it to my (future) kiddos.

  13. I love Christmas time. I give out fresh cut greenery-wreathes and bouquets and anything else to people that I know don’t really get too into the Christmas Spirit. I’m also pretty religious, so I love to listen to the LDS Christmas Devotional about the true meaning of Christmas and sharing the love of the season with those around us. My family also goes bowling on Christmas Eve and out to pizza. I have no idea where this tradition started, but we love it. It’s really the only time I bowl all year, and it’s fun to see how awful we all are, but how much we all enjoy it.

  14. Since we always host our gigantic for Christmas, on Christmas Eve our small family of 3 makes hot cocoa, lays out blanket by the tree and takes out the special Christmas books that are hidden under the tree skirt. Dad reads through eat book as we lay on the floor in a house only lit by the lights of the tree and then its bedtime. Every year our daughter is so excited to take out the books and hide them under the skirt.

  15. I love the angel chimes, never heard of them! My family has given an orange in our stockings since they moved from (originally Czechoslovakia) Ohio to California. My great-great grandparents were so marveled by the fact that “gold” grew on trees here that it has served as a reminder of what we came from and where we are going. Even as a 28 year old woman living on my own away from my family I will be so sad if I dont get an orange on christmas.

  16. This reminds me of winters in Bavaria. Many of us had angel chimes and some were quite large and intricate.

    You can find chimes like these at, I believe.

    Lovely photos.

  17. Those are so pretty!

    One of my favorite family traditions is the stockings we use. When I was three we had a house fire that torched most of our possessions, sadly including many family heirlooms and all of our holiday decorations, although luckily we were all safe. My mom had a friend who owned a children’s clothing consignment store at the time, and she sweetly gave us baby onesies to use as stockings that year!!! They are perfect for stockings – especially the bag ones without legs, so I quickly claimed one of those as my own when I was old enough to realize it would hold more goodies :) – and although they are so untraditional for every other family, they are one of the longest running holiday traditions for mine! We still use them today – only some of the original ones have lasted (21 years later!) so we’ve had to add new ones to the bunch, especially as the family expanded. But nothing signifies Christmas morning to me more than seeing all of the stuffed baby onesies, filled with goodies like Ben & Bills heavenly Buttercrunch, arrayed on the couch waiting for us in the morning!

  18. When I was a child I had a great book of DIY Christmas decorations and each year before Christmas I would have a look at it and chose something to make.

  19. I am from Austria so I never believed in Santa, but in the Christkind. Also we don’t celebrate on the 25th but on christmas eve. So on the morning of the 24th my mom always made the best breakfast with white bread, cheese, meat and even caviar. Then my father and I visited a christmasmarket while my mom helped the Christkind to decorate the tree and cooked our dinner. Usually my father took me to a mc donald’s for lunch, which was a huge treat and then we would go to the movies to watch the newest christmas movie. Around five pm we would come home to change into more festive clothes. My grandparents and my great aunt would be there too and we would sing infront of the christmas tree and exchange presents and eat and celebrate. Now since I am with my boyfriend I go to the christmasmarket with him and he celebrates with my family. Greetings from Vienna, Charli

  20. We enjoy picking an evening, preferably a cold one (we don’t get a lot of them down here in south TX), to drive around our town neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights. My mom used to take my brother and I when we were younger, with Christmas music playing on the radio. It’s now something I enjoy with my son.

  21. I forgot all about this! My mom used to bring Angel chimes out at Christmas, too… I loved them! Now I want to run out and get one! So pretty and a perfect holiday tradition!

  22. We do Christmas Eve pajamas. And have been having dinner with the same family friends for 10 years now, a couple of years ago they even moved half a mile down the road! For a while when we were younger, I was the ringleader in getting my brothers up around 4 or 5 in the morning, and we were only allowed to look through or stockings until 7, when we could go wake up our parents. But that was a long time ago :) Though my youngest brother still asks when we will be getting up in the morning, while some of the rest of us struggle to get downstairs by 8. After our guests leave on Christmas Day, and the dishes are all done, we all watch It’s a Wonderful Life. And my mom’s birthday is the day after Christmas, so we always have an early dinner at the Russian Tea Room and then go see the tree. Unfortunately things like advent calendars and advent wreaths have fallen by the wayside as we’ve gotten older, but that’s ok.

  23. So many traditions! We always decorate on the same day and then on Christmas Eve we eat grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup before opening gifts to each other. We will also watch “White Christmas” on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was for Santa and a big traditional meal but we also usually see a movie that evening.

  24. My family always has fresh cracked crab for dinner on Christmas Eve – we pull apart the shells and squirt lemon on top and eat it with salad and bread and olive oil&vinegar. I don’t remember how it started and it’s a very non-traditional holiday meal but it is delicious AND fun!

  25. As a new tradition, my husband and I sing/record a Christmas song every year. I am not a singer – but he loves recording things and playing guitar. We pop a bottle of wine, pick a song, and do it. This will be our fourth year – we’re thinking about Blue Christmas. It’s a fun thing to send to our family members to wish them Merry Christmas and a way for us to be creative and spend time with each other during the holiday. We don’t have family that lives nearby – just each other. I’m secretly super excited to have enough songs for an “album.” ;)

  26. Oh my god, we had these too and I only remembered when I saw this post. I wonder if Mum still has them somewhere (probably not, she is not one of life’s hoarders)? I remember being fascinated with how fast the angels spun around. Thank you for reminding me of such a treasured memory.

  27. We have lots: like most families, some are ones I grew up with, others from my husband and then there are ones we adopted on our own. I really enjoy the holiday season and doing something every day to celebrate, be it wearing egg nog mustaches or making the children look like Santa using bath bubbles, or going ice skating or taking them to see the Christmas tree in Union Square in San Francisco. I’ve noticed my children have different favorites, one loved the gingerbread house this year while another child could care less (except for eating the candy, that is). So you find what works and continue to do that. Some things I’ve kept, others I’ve tried and tossed.

    Some favorites: dressing up fancy to visit Santa at Macy’s in Union Square (six year tradition, my oldest is 5!), getting hot cocoa from a chocolate cafe, reading Christmas books each night by the Christmas tree, playing music and singing/dancing, making sibling gifts, sending/receiving Christmas cards.

    Last year we got an Elf on a Shelf and my children love it. I think it’s so fascinating that something relatively new has become so mainstream so fast – it’s now become a tradition and many of my relatives/friends have an Elf too.

  28. Oh my goodness! Angel chimes! Those were my very favorite. It actually brought tears to my eyes to see them. My parents lost them when I was in college and I haven’t seen them since.

  29. Santa always leaves a small gift right outside our bedroom door Christmas morning. It’s usually pajamas or socks or something minor, but it kept my brother and I busy until we could go wake up my mom. We weren’t allowed to wake her before 8 am, ha! Then we’d all open the presents on her bed before going downstairs to see the tree and our stockings. It’s a nice way to really savor that Christmas morning feeling.

  30. Well, we used to have traditions when my sister and I were younger, but for several reasons (One of them my mom and I becoming celiac) they got lost. Although I remember one of them was buying chocolate coins and hanging them on the tree and one Christmas my sister decided to eat them all and placing the empty coins again in the tree. By the time my made took them from the tree to give it to the whole family, there were no chocolate coins left Hahaha And the only tradition left is while decorating the tree we listen to Christmas Carrols and ask for someone’s health and well-being every time we place a new decoration on the tree.

  31. My daughter Phoebe is just a bit older than Toby (3 in January), and we too are just starting our holiday traditions with her. I LOVE any excuse to celebrate so even though we aren’t religious, we love the festive nature of holidays and celebrate many of them. I fully expect to get lots of inspiration from all your comments here, but I’m writing specifically to thank you for reminding me of angel charms!! I enjoyed them growing up (probably thanks to my French mother?? Not sure…), but haven’t thought of them in years. I’m ordering some immediately! Happy holidays and thanks for the inspiration! xx

  32. my sister and i always had to go to my parents room when we woke up [obnoxiously] early christmas morning. my dad would check to make sure that santa had had time to visit [since we were up so early]. we had no idea that meant he was actually turning on the christmas tree lights, christmas music, and starting the coffee pot. we were always so excited to hear that santa had visited and we had permission to rush into the living room.

  33. we continue some of the traditions my family had when i was little… my husband’s family is less about traditions, so my family’s traditions win :)

    we always get our christmas tree with my parents after my son’s birthday party.
    we listen to john fahey’s acoustic christmas songs while we decorate the tree (it sounded even better on my dad’s static-y reel-to-reel when i was little but spotify will do).
    the kids get a new ornament for the tree every year.
    we usually have panettone eggnog french toast one morning.
    the kids do trader joes gingerbread houses (they really are hands down the cutest houses out there).
    on christmas eve, we set an extra seat at the table (to symbolize that we would have room at the inn, even though we are not religious) and have tamales with black coffee. we light lanterns that my daughter made in preschool and take birdseed out to the birdfeeder in the dark in the backyard (when i was little, we took treats to the goats and ducks, but we’re in the city so birdseed it is).
    and then the kids get to open one present under the tree on christmas eve (pajamas! always new pajamas!)

    i absolutely adore christmas traditions, and hearing about everyone else’s! i’d never heard of the angel chimes before. so sweet!

  34. oh we too did the angel chimes. In fact, when my mom died and I couldn’t find her angel chimes I went out and bought more (not easy to find). I was going to write more about our traditions but I see this was so popular that over 100 already did so :)

  35. My sister and I always open a gift on Christmas Eve, a pair of pajamas that we wear that night. My mom would wash them that night and take them out of the dryer right before wrapping them so they were warm and cozy when we put them on.
    On Christmas morning we have a big breakfast after opening a couple of presents. The main part of the meal changes from year to year, but we always have puff pastry angels. We cut the angels out of puff pastry with a cookie cutter. But we also bake the scrap pieces and set them aside. Before you can eat one you have to say what it looks like.

  36. Christmas Eve caroling on our block…this year we are inviting our friends who live on the block, so there will be about 20 of us singing our hearts out to about 5 or 6 parties happening on our block. Tonight my daughters piano teacher asked to join in the fun. We have song books that are red leather bound and everything…I’m still thinking of a yummy cocktail to bring along.

  37. Christmas Eve caroling on our block…this year we are inviting our friends who live on the block, so there will be about 20 of us singing our hearts out to about 5 or 6 parties happening on our block. Tonight my daughters piano teacher asked to join in the fun. We have song books that are red leather bound and everything…I’m still thinking of a yummy cocktail to bring along.

  38. we started celebrating the Dutch Sinterklaas on December 5th and 6th. Both my husband and I grew up opening gifts on Christmas eve and that was a bigger celebration than the 25th…so to keep a bit of “santa clause” mystery fun we decided on Sinterklaas (my husband is Dutch) for the beginning of the month and our other celebrations on the 24th.

  39. toby’s babyness is going away!

    i can’t wait to start traditions with my little one once he comes out.

  40. I’m 21 years old, still spending my holiday with my parents even though I do have a boyfriend and we have been living together for almost 2 years now. I would really like to be together with my bf but we live abroad and he goes home to his femily to Italy and I go to HUngary to my parents. So it is a bit difficult. And I just simply can’t imagine the holidays without my folks.

    With my boyfriend we already created some little holiday traditions. Every year before December we visit Germany and we buy a beautiful advent calendar with good German chocolate inside. Then in December we open a window every night (actually we open two windows every other night so than both of us have chocolate:) Then I also prepare an advent wreath with 4 candles so we would light up 1 every Sunday before Christmas.

    Than with my family we have traditional Hungarian Christmas. We only decorate the tree on the 24th afternoon. We have a huge dinner with fish soup (Hungarian specialty) some meat and lot of dessert. My mom is actually a chef so she always comes up with something nice but the fish soup is always there. After dinner we open presents and than we chat or play cards. Usually we have my grandparents over (both my grandmas and even my great grandma is alive, I love them around us). The following 2 days we visit relatives.

  41. My siblings and I open our presents from each other on Christmas Eve. It’s a great tradition because we don’t spend a lot and the presents are’t over shadowed by Santa’s. So every Christmas Eve my mom makes/heats up all different kinds of appetizers and we eat and bond as siblings. We are all in our 20+ but Christmas Eve is always special.

  42. Our order on Christmas morning is to see what we got in stockings first. In the toe of our daughters’ stockings is a clue that leads them on a scavenger hunt for a gift. My parents started this for us. Then we eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then open presents. We also have an advent calendar. The calendar is full of magnets that together make a nativity. My girls alternate days to open each door and put a different character into the nativity. There is candy or money with each character.

  43. On Christmas Eve my brothers, sister and I open one gift – a pair of pjs from our grandparents. I’m 22 years old now and I STILL get pjs! I was the first grandchild but now my grandparents buy pjs for all 7 of their grandchildren. It’s a great tradition for young children because having new pjs to put on makes them excited to get into bed and sleep so that Santa can come! I think because of this tradition my parents and now aunts & uncles have never had a problem getting us to bed this one night of the year!

  44. As children me and my siblings always decorated the tree together. Being the youngest child meant I always had the very important job of decorating the back of the tree, the only problem is that now I still take ages decorating the back of the tree, the front – not so much.

    Love your blog xx

  45. Joanna, I’m a little freaked out by this post… I just wrote yesterday and posted today my thoughts about holiday traditions we’d like to perpetuate for our own son! Funny, we must have had the same dreams.

  46. My paternal grandmother knit stockings for each of my family members with our names on them. It’s so special for us to have those stockings with the designs we’ve come to love over the years (mine has a snowman on a blue background :)
    And ever since I was little the tradition has been that me and my siblings open one present on Christmas Eve, and that present is always new pajamas. It makes Christmas morning special and we have a lot of good pictures in all those pajamas! And for Christmas breakfast we always have monkey bread, which is awesome. I keep thinking of more traditions, haha! You get the picture though. ;)

  47. What a wonderful tradition. We always had a big family breakfast on Christmas morning and watched the parades and opened presents. It’s one of the traditions I miss most since my father died.

  48. We too had angle chimes. My Mother had them as well, I love this tradition, and it is really special to see someone else does this too, I never knew anyone else who did this!

  49. I grew up with that exact same angel chime set! It was my Nan’s and I used to love pulling all the pieces out of the box, assembling them and lighting the candles.
    I am going to call my mum right now and get her to get them out this minute!!

  50. My family always opened gifts on Sinterklaas, the Dutch holiday on December 6th. Then on Christmas Day we all went to church, and then to my grandma’s for dinner. There were of course gift-oriented parties around the 25th because of extended family, but my family opened all of ours on the 6th to separate the gift-giving aspect from the Jesus aspect of the holiday. And all my friends were totally jealous that I got to open presents early :) Now that we all live farther apart it’s much more difficult to get together for Sinterklaas, so we just do it on a day when we’re all home closer to Christmas Day.

  51. We had the same set growing up. When I moved out I took them. Its on my to-do list to pick up new candles tonight after work. I like the idea of lighting them at a certain point in time though. Need to figure out that new tradition.

    On Christmas Eve after church we’d meet my Dad’s family at our favorite Chinese place and have a big feast. Anytime I hear Christmas music I start craving Chinese food.

    One new tradition my husband and I created is on Christmas morning we wear our matching Christmas jammies, drink coffee and eat monkey bread in front of the tree as we open presents. Its a nice calm moment before all the family craziness.

  52. Growing up we always went to my dad’s parents house on Christmas day and went to my mom’s parents house on Christmas Eve. Ever since I can remember Christmas Eve at my grandparents house, we have ALWAYS made homemade tacos and enchiladas. Everyone pitches in and helps cut up onions, tomatoes, lettuce,etc. and of course we have to have our special sweet sauce from the local taco place, which is amazing. It’s really laid back, we drink beer and wine and it’s nice to have two Christmas meals that are completely different. My family and I always look forward to homemade taco Christmas Eve!

    The amazing sweet taco sauce I’m talking about.. so good!

  53. We had brass angel chimes when I was a kid. Unfortunately, the edges on ours were extremely sharp, and when I was two I grabbed the chimes and ended up covered in blood. Ahhh, Christmas memories!

  54. Shoot, I don’t have time to read everyone else’s comments about their traditions, but we’re looking for new ones too. Post your favorites, would you?

    Our favorite tradition that we’re starting this year is gratitude/kindness notes. Throughout the month we’re writing notes and slipping them into one another’s stockings, and we’ll read them on Christmas Eve.

  55. That pictures are so tender!

  56. Joanna, my parents have those EXACT SAME angel chimes! And I think I have a very similar photo of me admiring them as a toddler, just like Toby is. Aw, brings back sweet holiday memories :) xo

  57. Every year for as long as i can remember my mom, sisters and I would pick a night and sleep under the Christmas tree. We’d pull out sleeping bags, drink eggnog, and tell our favorite Christmas memories. Then we’d all fall asleep under the twinkling lights and shiny ornaments. This will be the first year that I haven’t done it, since I’m 8 months pregnant and living 3 states away. It’s killing me, but I get so excited thinking about how next Christmas, I’ll have a daughter to start the tradition over with.

  58. LOVE this! I had completely forgotten about these angel chimes. My grandmother had these in her house for years…but then disappeared at some point. Thank you for the memory jog!