12 Tips for Creating Meaningful Holiday Traditions

4087056046_daea0d10f7The holiday season is upon us. Are your family get-togethers full of meaningful traditions? Or, are they full of conflict? Perhaps they are just dull and boring. Whether you celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, New Year’s or another winter event, the holiday season is supposed to be a special time – a time to connect with family and enjoy each other’s company. Family traditions can help make the holiday season meaningful and fun. Practicing family traditions strengthens the bond among family members. Creating new traditions helps blended families feel more connected to each other.

If your holiday celebrations leave a lot to be desired or if your family conflict is interfering with the festivities, it’s time to make some changes. You can begin some new traditions that will bring the joy and meaning back to holidays.

Here are 12 ideas for new holiday traditions to make the holidays more meaningful.

Memory Jar –Have everyone in the family write down 1-3 of their favorite family memories. You might want to start this several weeks/days ahead of the big family get together so that people have time to spend with this. Have people put their memories in a jar or big bowl. When you are all together, each person takes a turn picking a piece of paper and reading the memory out loud. For newly blended families, each person can write down what the holidays mean to them. This will help you get to know each other so that you can build new traditions that are meaningful for everyone. Another variation of this is to have everyone bring a favorite childhood holiday photo and share their memories associated with the photo.

Candle ceremony – If you are unable to spend time with your loved ones during the holidays, this tradition will help you bridge the distance. You will need to pick a specific day and time that is convenient for everyone to participate. At the specified time, each person will light a candle and spend a few minutes thinking about the family – especially those who are absent. You might say a prayer for each family member or imagine sending love and peace to each person. Remember that thoughts, intentions, and prayers are not bound by distance. This means that you can make meaningful connections with each other even at great distances.

Wish list – This is a twist on the standard wish list that many kids create so their parents know what to buy them. This new tradition involves everyone creating a list of changes that would make the world a better place. Combine all of the lists together to create a master list. Then have each person in the family vote on their favorite 3 from the list. Spend some time during the holiday season taking positive actions that will help bring about the changes you want to see in the world. For example, if saving the environment is on your list, your family may decide to use a live Christmas tree that can be planted after the holiday is over.

Give – The holiday season is about giving. Create a tradition that involves giving to those in need. Your family could donate gifts to a local women’s shelter or volunteer your time to serve food at a homeless shelter. Have young children go through their toys and pick one or two toys to donate to a local shelter. This will help children participate in the joy of giving. There are a lot of ways that you and your family can help others. You might decide to give in the same way each year or come up with something new each year.

Play – Make some fun traditions that will bring joy and laughter to your family gatherings. Set aside time to play games. Or create a playful tradition of giving an award to the person who wears the funniest hat to the party. My family has a tradition of taking photos during the holidays and then editing them to make silly faces or put someone else’s hair on each person. We all look forward to this activity and the laughter that ensues.

Handmade gifts – Many people believe that the holidays have become very materialistic with a focus on buying more and more gifts. Rather than getting caught up in the commercial aspects of the season, your family can adopt the tradition of making gifts for each other. This requires a lot of thought and can make gift giving a very meaningful experience. Many people feel they don’t have time to make gifts because the season is so busy and hectic. If you decide to introduce a tradition of making gifts, you may want to start the process far enough in advance that you avoid feeling rushed at the last minute. Another way to make this process easier is to draw names so that each person is only making one gift. A gift made with love and care can be much more meaningful than a store bought gift. This is especially fun with young children. Making gifts helps them feel engaged in the holiday tradition.

Favorite movie – A lot of people enjoy going to the movies during the holidays. You could start a new tradition that involves movie watching. Have each person write down their favorite movie from the year on a small slip of paper. Place all the papers in a hat and let someone draw one slip of paper. During the holiday festivities have everyone gather around to watch the selected movie and eat popcorn.

Create a video or online photo album – This tradition is especially poignant for families with loved one’s who are away for season and unable to attend the family celebrations (for example – families with someone in the military). Set up a video camera and have everyone share a message for the absent loved one. If someone in the family is tech friendly, they can easily edit this video and add music to create a powerful movie to share via the internet with all family members. Another variation is to take lots of photos during the party and then create a photo album online that can be accessed by those who are not present.

Honoring loved ones – If you have experienced a recent death in the family, the holidays can be painful and sad. Focusing on the good memories of the person can help ease the pain. Perhaps you could have each person share a fun holiday memory of the loved one who has passed on. You might ask people to donate to the deceased family member’s favorite charity as a way to honor their memory.

Positive qualities list – Put everyone’s name in a hat and then draw names. Each person makes a list of the qualities they admire in the person whose name they drew. A variation of this is to have everyone tape a large piece of paper to their back. Each person writes a positive trait they admire on the back of every person in the room. After 10-15 minutes each person should have written one nice think on the back of everyone in the room. When everyone is finished, everyone takes the paper off their back so they can read what was written about them. You can take turns reading this out loud or people can choose to keep their papers private.

Gratitude box – The end of the year is a great time to stop and count your blessings. Think back over the year and remember the good things that have happened. Gather some supplies for each person in the family to create a gratitude box (photo storage boxes work well). Get creative as you decorate your boxes – use ribbon, buttons, beads, photos, etc. Then put a few special items or mementos in your box. Each year you can add to your gratitude box. You can each take turns sharing about your gratitude box and it’s contents.

Set intentions – A great way to end a holiday meal is to have everyone share one personal intention they have for the coming year. Be sure to put some thought into this so that you can use this intention to keep you focused in the coming year. My family has incorporated this idea into the peppermint pig tradition. The peppermint pig is a tradition that started in Sarasota Springs (you can order a peppermint pig pack online). The candy pig is placed in a bag and then each person takes a turn hitting the pig with the little hammer. Before striking the candy pig, people share their intention or wishes for the New Year. Then each person takes a piece of the peppermint pig to bring good fortune for the coming year.

This holiday season try some of these suggestions or create your own unique traditions. Having these meaningful traditions will give everyone something to look forward to year after year. It can turn your family celebrations from conflicted or boring to exciting and full of meaning.


  1. Everyone, everywhere in the world has their own way and belief on welcoming. Nevertheless, New Years Eve party, one thing that is common in every country. You can't throw the kind of New Years Eve parties you

  2. i have a tradition that has worked to resolve grief. I have an ornament for each member of the family on the tree. Each ornament has a picture of a family member in the center. I also have a picture of the whole family on the tree. This way I can remember those who have passed on.
    Barbara altman, author of recovering from depression, Anxiety, and psychosis