Developing Christmas Eve family traditions gives everyone special activities to look forward to before Christmas Day.
A few things to keep in mind.
- Some of the best family traditions are the simplest ones. Most likely, your kids will be more excited about driving around and looking at Christmas lights than anything else on Christmas Eve.
- You don’t have to do every tradition every year. Some years will be more hectic than others, or you just don’t feel like doing much. Don’t force it. Family traditions should be fun.
- Allow traditions to evolve over time. The traditions your kids will enjoy when they’re little may not be exactly what they want to do when they reach elementary school or middle school age. Adapt activities or start new traditions as it makes sense to do so.
I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas holiday!
1. Attend a Christmas Eve Mass or service
Christmas Eve Mass is one of my all-time favorite Masses and a part of the holidays that I look forward to all month. Even when you attend church together as a family every week, there’s something so special about being at the Christmas Eve Mass.
2. Read the Christmas story in the Bible
Reading the Christmas story in the Bible is another special holiday activity that the whole family will look forward to every Christmas Eve. If you have young children and want an illustrated Bible, the Saint Mary’s Press The Catholic Children’s Bible is a great option.
3. Read A Christmas Carol or another favorite Christmas story
A Christmas Carol remains an enduring classic, and it’s not hard to see why. The story resonates strongly with kids of all ages. The Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Polar Express are other timeless options. I’m linking a few more popular Christmas kids’ books below.
4. Visit a living nativity
Living nativities, complete with live animals, are such a neat one-of-a-kind experience that will complete any Christmas holiday. Google “living nativities near me” or “living nativities in the [x] area” to find one within driving distance. If the closest living nativity is a ways away, you may want to make an excursion during one of the weekends before Christmas Eve.
5. Drive around and check out Christmas lights
Hopping in the car and looking at the local Christmas lights is the perfect low-key holiday activity. The kids will quit running around the house and still get to do an activity that they really enjoy. Give everyone a comfy blanket and switch on Christmas music. For older kids, bring along hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, and a Christmas lights scavenger hunt printable.
6. Watch a Christmas movie
Christmas Eve is an ideal day to have a Christmas movie marathon. When you’ve been watching holiday movies all month, save your favorite or a couple of your favorites for Christmas Eve. Sit down together in the evening or at another time of the day when you’ll all be able to watch a movie together.
7. Play a board game
Once your youngest kids hit around kindergarten age, family board game sessions can become a regular activity. Holidays and vacations are always a good excuse to get in a few extra rounds of board games.
8. Bake cookies
Sometimes it’s nice to wait until Christmas Eve to bake when you have free time instead of fitting it in around lots of holiday commitments earlier in the month. Choose a few recipes that you love. There’s no pressure to make complicated recipes or to spend hours doing elaborate cookie decorating.
9. Bake a cake
Personally, I would rather make one cake on Christmas Eve than dozens of cookies, even when it’s a more involved cake recipe. Baking a cake for baby Jesus is also a beautiful tradition. Kids will love getting to sing happy birthday and blow out the candles.
10. Make a gingerbread house
A gingerbread house is another fun holiday kitchen activity to save for Christmas Eve. I recommend the Baketivity Gingerbread House Kit or the Create-A-Treat OREO and Sour Patch Kids House Kits, both of which are extremely well-rated. It’s not worth the stress of building a poorly-designed kit.
11. Make stovetop potpourri
I don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining that a good stovetop potpourri smells absolutely amazing. A full day at home in winter is always a good excuse for stovetop potpourri. I recommend How Sweet Eats stovetop potpourri in a glass simmering pot.
12. Enjoy a special Christmas Eve dinner
I love having special meals for certain holidays. A special meal doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. With Christmas Day often being a special meal day as well, for Christmas Eve, many people opt to do a snack dinner, something lighter like salmon, breakfast for dinner, or Chinese takeout.
13. Make a mocktail
You know how much I love mocktails anyway but especially for occasions when you’re celebrating at home with kids. I’m sharing just a few Christmas mocktails below.
- Christmas sangria mocktail – Inspired by Charm
- Holiday mojito mocktail with cranberry and pomegranate – Pretty Life Girls
- Peppermint mocktail – 3 Boys and a Dog
14. Prep an overnight Christmas breakfast dish
I love making a special breakfast on holidays. My personal choice for Christmas is The Pioneer Woman’s overnight French toast bake. I only make it for Christmas, and everyone looks forward to it. Cinnamon rolls are another classic choice. Jessica of How Sweet Eats always makes her croissant bake.
Prep your breakfast on Christmas Eve for an easy meal on Christmas morning. You’ll also have delicious leftovers for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
15. Open one Christmas present
Opening one Christmas present each on Christmas Eve is a fun way to kick off the present opening. Kids will look forward to their one present and have time to enjoy it before the big present opening. It also takes off some of the pressure of Christmas morning in a good way. Choose a small present for each person that they’ll have fun with on Christmas Eve.
16. Have a dance party with kids in Christmas pajamas
Nothing burns off energy and keeps kids from getting into trouble like a dance party. Crank up their favorite tunes and have them let loose in the den, finished basement, or somewhere else that it’s safe to be a little crazy. Dancing to Christmas music is great but don’t feel limited to this option if your kids would prefer something else. Wearing Christmas pajamas, Santa hats, and/or other festive items will make it that much more fun.
17. Sing Christmas carols
Singing Christmas carols together is such a lovely holiday activity. Singing timeless carols, such as Silent Night and Joy to the World, helps kids learn all of the verses. If your family is musical, sing along to the piano, guitar, or another instrumental accompaniment. You can also do Christmas karaoke. Pick up a wireless karaoke microphone for regular family karaoke sessions.
18. Have hot chocolate
There’s nothing cozier than a mug of hot chocolate. High-quality hot chocolate, such as Lake Champlain, and 2% or whole milk are all you need for delicious hot chocolate. Go all out on Christmas Eve with marshmallows and chocolate spoons.
19. Host an open house
It’s nice to have a little gathering with friends before everyone gets busy with family or heads out of town. Host a casual open house in the afternoon, so people don’t feel pressure to stay for hours and can still get to church and family dinners that evening.
20. Take the same picture of your kids every year
Taking the same picture of your kids every Christmas Eve can be as simple as snapping a quick shot in front of the Christmas tree. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to make the shot complex or to dress your kids in coordinating outfits or anything like that. The simpler the shot, the more successful it’ll be.
21. Video chat with family members or friends you won’t be seeing in person
Make time before or after Christmas Day to Skype or Zoom with family members and friends you won’t be seeing in person this holiday season. Schedule a call ahead of time, so you won’t intrude on their other holiday commitments.
22. Have a white elephant gift exchange
A white elephant gift exchange is such a fun tradition during an annual Christmas Eve holiday party and for gatherings with extended family, especially with lots of adult children and older family members. Set a price limit and any other parameters you’d like for the gifts (i.e., no alcohol).
23. Open Christmas crackers
Kids will look forward to opening Christmas crackers every year. It’s a fun item to set on the table for the holiday meal. You can also open Christmas crackers as part of your Christmas Eve night routine. Christmas crackers are available for purchase, or you can make your own.
- DIY Christmas crackers – So Much Better with Age [includes free printables!]
- How to make Christmas crackers – Little Dove Blog
24. Wear ugly sweaters
Everyone will look forward to wearing their ugly sweaters on Christmas Eve. It makes for some great photo opportunities. There are a wealth of for-purchase sweaters as well as DIY ideas.
25. Play Christmas movie trivia
Put your classic Christmas movie knowledge to the test with a trivia game. Be ready with a small prize for the winner.
- 130 Christmas movie trivia questions and answers – Reader’s Digest
- 54 Fun Christmas movie trivia questions and answers – Ice Breaker Ideas
26. Look through old family photos from past Christmases
Family gatherings are always a good excuse to look through old family photos. Dig through your archives to find pictures of your immediate family as well as extended family. If you need to scan, print, or organize your photos, the upcoming holiday is the perfect opportunity to make it happen.
27. Go for a hike
When you’re spending hours indoors and eating lots of rich holiday food, make a point to get outside for some much-needed fresh air and exercise. Take advantage of the day off to visit a favorite hiking trail or explore a new area.
28. Take a carriage ride
There’s nothing that will get you into the holiday spirit quite like a horse carriage ride. If you don’t live near a major city that has downtown or city park carriage rides, look into offerings at local farms and orchards.
29. Make an end-of-the-year donation
Getting in a donation before the end of the calendar year will allow you to include it in your taxes for that year. Consider how many donations you’ve made throughout the year and what sort of donation you’d like to make during the holiday season.
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What are some of your favorite Christmas Eve family traditions?
I’d love to hear what you and your family do to celebrate Christmas Eve!