15 holiday traditions to start with your kids that aren’t the damn Elf on the Shelf

If there’s one thing about the holidays that makes the stress and the cold weather worth it, it’s the memories we make when we spend time together. Plenty of Christmastime traditions are no-brainers – getting a tree, going to see Santa Claus, road trips to Grandma’s. But while those are special and ingrained in all of us, it’s the traditions unique to our own little clans that bring extra warmth to the holiday season.

It’s never too late to instill a new family custom that can make your for years to come. Here are just a couple of ideas sure to put a smile on everyone’s rosy faces.

1. Designate a holiday recipe you only make together

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Cooking Classy

Gingerbread cookies, frosted treats, or fruitcake; your kids will love the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the kitchen with you, and a special recipe that you only make once a year builds anticipation.

Try this recipe for Frosted Peppermint Brownie Cookies from Cooking Classy

2. Get or make a new ornament for the tree

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Momma Melly

Each member of the family will love hanging their own ornaments from years past on the tree, as well as selecting a new one to honor the year. Creative types can pick up a kit to make their own, or use this recipe to make cute cornstarch ornaments so they all match every year.

3. Wear matching Christmas Pajamas

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Burt’s Bees Baby

How cute would it be for everyone to be wearing matching PJ’s on Christmas morning? It makes for a very Instagrammable moment, and a photo op for next year’s holiday card! Plus it’s an early gift everyone can look forward to.

Get a pair for the whole family here.

4. Go on Santa’s Treasure Hunt

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It’s a Mom’s World

Send your kids on a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning, or break out each clue into 12 days of Christmas to spread the festivities out a big longer. You can come up with your own rhymes, or print off these free clue printables.

5. Do a Letter Writing Exchange

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This one is kinda like a Secret Santa – but instead of a gift, each participant selects a member of the family to write a letter to. They can write about their favorite memory with them over the past year, or what they admire or cherish about the other person. The letters can go into a scrapbook to treasure for years to come.

6. Create a Christmas Song Collaboration

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Designate a different part of one Christmas song to each family member (even those far away), and request that they send back a clip of them singing/acting it out. Once you get all the clips, combine them into one mashup and send it out to your entire family on Christmas Day. This one requires a lit bit of understanding or editing software like Adobe Premier, or you can download an app on your phone to edit the clips together.

7. Go on a Christmas light scavenger hunt

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Lev Radin/Pacific Press | Getty Images

If you’re planning to look at your neighborhood lights already, make a fun game out of it by checking off designs. First one to check off all the items wins!

8. Go ice skating

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Even if you can’t remember the last time you put on skates, your kids will get a kick out of seeing you wobble around and try to keep up with them. Ask Grandma or Grandpa to get a couple of pics on the sidelines for mementos.

9. Make a gingerbread house village display

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Everyone gets a chance to decorate their own gingerbread house with one of these pre-made kits. Or if you’re really into baking, try your hand at creating the gingerbread pieces yourself.

10. Volunteer or do charity work

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Check out an online service like Create The Good, which searches your location for activities and services where volunteer work is appreciated. Get the kids to read to kids in a children’s hospital, set up bingo in a senior home, or get the family to make sacked lunches at a soup kitchen.

11. Campout around the Christmas tree

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Break out the sleeping bags and keep the tree on all night. You can even make a couple batches of popcorn and turn it into a movie marathon. Just don’t do it on Christmas Eve if you’re keeping the idea of Santa alive in your family.

12. Take turns reading Twas the Night Before Christmas aloud

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Lambert | Getty Images

Reading to your children is one of the most important activities you can do together, not just at Christmastime but at least 2 books per day year round. Swap out your regular reading for Holiday-themed stories, and pass the book around so everyone gets a chance to do the voices.

13. Make personalized snow globes

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Our Best Bites

These would be great for your family to display every year to compare how you’ve all changed.

14. See your local ballet or symphony perform live

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Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Children elementary age and up can see how much you appreciate the arts when you take them to see a performance of the Nutcracker, or a holiday-themed concert of the city symphony or chamber music program.

15. Make paper snowflakes for the windows

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Childhood 101

Let the kids get in on helping you decorate by contributing paper snowflakes. They can do their own design work, or make these cute name snowflakes (via Childhood 101) that’ll have them showing off their handiwork to the neighbors.

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