One of our most favorite parts of the holidays (no, not presents, though we like those too) are the family traditions we celebrate year after year. There’s just something so special about looking forward to our annual holiday rituals, whether they started spontaneously one year and just kept going, or they’ve been passed down through the generations.
If you’re like us, one of the best ever holiday traditions for families is to snuggle up and watch your favorite seasonal movies and television shows, which is something our newest sponsor Amazon Studios knows a whole lot about. Their two newest holiday specials, If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie and The Snowy Day, based on two of our very favorite children’s books, will be available to stream and enjoy on Prime Video starting November 25. We’re so excited!
Perfect excuse for cuddling on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn and mugs of hot chocolate — and those kids of yours, of course. Whatever age they might be.
So on behalf of Amazon Studios, we’re so thrilled to offer up 10 of our favorite holiday traditions that our editors and staff enjoy with our own families each year. Maybe they’ll give you some ideas that you can borrow or adapt, or hey, come up with your own!
Here’s hoping that just thinking about them and starting to plan, will bring some of that wonderful holiday joy into your lives today.
1. A countdown to Christmas, with books
There’s no shortage of terrific advent calendars to help you countdown to Christmas, and each year we feature our favorite here on Cool Mom Picks. But we love the idea of using books to help countdown until December 25th, which is what our editor Kristen does with her four kids. Each year, she wraps 24 of her Christmas books (yes, she has a lot!) and always adds one new one to the mix, while retiring an older one back to the bookshelf. Then each night, her kids take turns opening a book for bedtime reading.
Yes, it takes a bit of time to wrap all of the books, but the excitement that the kids experience, even with familiar books right from the shelf, makes it all worth it.
Another take on a book Advent calendar comes from our clever editor Delilah. She calls it Rook with a Book (above), a clever alternative to the Elf on the Shelf. For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, the Rook — actually a ceramic crow she purchased a few years back — “brings” a new book for her children, which they’ll find hidden in a different place every day.
2. Use Christmas cards to teach gratitude
If you’re wondering what to do with all those holiday cards that arrive at your house throughout the season, our editor Kate uses them as part of a lovely lesson in gratitude for her children. She stashes all the cards in a special basket on her coffee table and each night, they select one family to be thankful for. Whether it’s sending them positive thoughts, or going around the table to say kind words and favorite memories about them over dinner, we think it’s a wonderful sentiment for the season.
The kids get a really sweet lesson about being grateful for those we love, and it’s kind of nice to put those wonderful holiday cards to use beyond decorating the mantle or the refrigerator door.
3. Pull out Christmas pajamas – and take photos!
We love the idea of Christmas pajamas, which so many families give the kids on Christmas Eve so that they have something photo-ready and festive for the next morning. Our contributor Georgette has turned this into an annual holiday tradition, buying a different pair of matching pjs for her girls every year, making sure to get some great shots of them together. Bring them all out each year to admire together, and you’ve got a wonderful way to reminisce about holidays past — and see just how your kids have grown. (Sniffle).
4. Bake cookies, and do more than just eat them
We know that baking holiday cookies is a tradition for many families, whatever your background and whatever you’re celebrating. But we love our sponsorship director Lisa’s idea, which takes it one step further. As a child, her family always made cookies and delivered them to their neighbors and now she’s brought the tradition to her own family to carry on. She recalls her mom making dough for her famous candy cane cookies, and then she and her five siblings would roll out the cookies before boxing them up to share with their friends.
Our food editor Stacie makes her own grandmother’s classic Greek cookies each year for her family’s holiday tradition — except the only problem is, her recipe cards for Melomakarona suggests measurements like “tea cups” and “little spoonfuls!” So, Stacie’s holiday tradition isn’t so much eating the cookies, but trying each year to get them exactly as her yiayia did.
She promises she’s getting closer.
5. Collect and display special ornaments
If you celebrate Christmas, you probably have no shortage of trinkets and ornaments for decking the tree. Our Editor Liz has collected them since she was a kid herself, adding new ones from every city she travels each year — ideally handmade by local artisans and reflecting the region, like Day of the Dead skeletons from Mexico, or big yellow taxis from her hometown of NYC. Each year as the family decorates the tree, it allows them to wax nostalgic about various trips and to express gratitude at some of the experiences they’ve shared.
Kristen adds a personalized ornament for each of her four kids to the tree each year, like the ones seen above from Baby Jives that bear her children’s initials. When they’re decorating the tree, they all talk about the highlights of the year those ornaments came into their lives, try to remember just what was under the tree that year, and of course, all the kids picks their favorites.
As for our account manager Colleen, she actually has a secret box of ornaments for her boys that she adds to each year. As in, they don’t even know about it! Her plan is to present them with the box one day when they’re old enough to have their own trees in their own homes with their own families.
6. Have a holiday movie round robin
Everyone has a favorite holiday movie or television special — you totally do, right? — but in our editor Liz’s family, they’ve avoided the debates with an idea that’s become a holiday tradition. Each person (kids and adults too!) gets to choose their favorite holiday movie, jots the name down on a piece of paper, and puts it into a bowl. Each night, they takes turns watching every single one over the course of the holiday so everyone’s happy. Oh, and no vetoing allowed!
If you’re looking for a couple of new additions to your long list of holiday favorites (because no family can live on Elf alone), our sponsor Amazon Studios is releasing two new original specials just in time for the holidays, each based on a classic children’s book that might be a fave in your home too.
In Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day, the beautiful imagery comes to life thanks in part to the vocal talents of Laurence Fishburne, Regina King, Angela Bassett, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, along with an original song from Boyz II Men.
And we bet you’ll recognize the iconic voice of cool mom and indie artist extraordinaire, Lisa Loeb, with an original song for If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie. Based on the book series by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond, it’s Christmas in Mouse’s house, which means Christmas cookies, caroling with friends, and…oh, just a nearly-destroyed holiday pageant.
Both specials are part of Amazon’s extensive award-winning Originals lineup, and can be streamed on Prime Video starting November 25.
We know what we’ll be starting to do Thanksgiving weekend!
7. Honor different cultures in your celebration
So many cultures have specific holiday traditions, and considering America is the great melting pot, it’s no surprise that so many of us bring our grandparents and great-grandparents’ customs and traditions into our family holiday celebrations today. Our coder and tech guru Kari and her mother dress up in bunads, traditional folk costumes representative of their Norwegian heritage. For Christmas Eve dinner, the extended family partakes in Scandanavian foods like lefse with gravlax, and pork with gingerbread.
Similarly, Stacie is all about baking her grandma’s Greek cookies, as we mentioned above. Liz’s mother has an annual Christmukkah celebration that includes latke making and gingerbread decorating for all the grandkids. Whatever your heritage, it’s a great way to make your holidays more personal, and honor your family’s heritage.
8. Read together, even if you’re not in the same room
We love how creative our staff is when it comes to incorporate reading into their family’s holiday traditions – and they’re definitely ideas you can put to use too! Our contributor Caroline’s family always assigns the Christmas Eve reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the child who has most recently learned to read. Our content editor Allison reads her own childhood copy of The Polar Express to her own children every year on Christmas Eve. In fact, it includes an inscription describing her parents’ hope that the book would be a keepsake to share with her own children — which indeed it is. So that’s something you could consider doing for your kids today.
And hey, you can even put technology to use if you’re not with everyone you love over the holidays. Since the kids and grandkids in Liz’s family are spread out in different cities, ever since she graduated from college, her father has read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas over the phone to her and her brother. Now that there are grandkids in the mix, they all gather together on one big conference call or Facetime call from the comfort of their own beds while Grandpa reads.
It doesn’t have to be serious, either. The best part of the whole tradition, Liz says, are the silly call-outs and ridiculous rewrites that everyone improvises between lines. With that, a whole new generation gets to giggle at “sugarplums tap dancing on their heads” year after year.
9. Fill your world with snowflakes
Whether you’re trimming the tree or setting up lights outside your home, decorating is a huge part of getting in the holiday spirit. When Liz’s kids were little, they started cutting free-form paper snowflakes to hang on the front door of their apartment. Now, friends and neighbors join in, so by the time Christmas and Hanukkah roll around, the door may be covered from top to bottom in snowflakes. It keeps going long after New Year’s, too! At least until it’s time to start putting the Valentine’s decorations up.
10. Host a Christmas sleepover
We know lots of families hop in their cars to gawk at all the outrageous Christmas light displays in their communities, but our Editor Kate takes it one step further. Each year, she plans a sleepover with her nieces and nephews. Just as all the cousins are about to climb in bed… they throw on the Christmas music, wake everyone up, and load them in the car with blankets. They grab a bunch of hot chocolates for the road, then drive around town to seek out the biggest, tackiest, and most spectacular Christmas light displays in people’s yards. Singing Christmas carols loudly as they drive ? Definitely a requirement for this family holiday tradition.
Our thanks to our sponsorAmazon Studios for bringing two beloved kids’ books to life this holiday season. Check out the trailer for their two new original specials. We’re all for more opportunities to celebrate the season with our families.