Fun Family Christmas Traditions

I we could enjoy the Christmas season with our family year round! Of course, logically, I realize that what makes it special is that it's just one month each year... but it's such a magical and wonderful time, especially with young kids!

It was important to me that we start establishing holiday traditions with our boys from an early age, so that they would grow up with cherished memories of those traditions. I love hearing about other family's traditions, so today - as we officially start the Christmas season - I thought it would be fun to share some of ours with you!


Our tree trimming tradition is a hold over from my childhood. We start the evening my baking cookies, popping popcorn, and pouring up our special holiday drink, which my family has always called a "Fresh Lime." Its a quarter of lime squeezed over a glass of ice, a few maraschino cherries with some extra juice splashed in, and Sprite.

Tree Trimming Traditions

Scott and I usually set the tree up the night before after the kids go to bed. We fluff the branches and wrap the garland to get it ready for the ornaments. Since that part is a bit more time consuming, and frankly a lot less fun, it allows the kids to get straight to the part the enjoy - hanging the ornaments.

Sometimes we put on a Christmas movie while we decorate, but this year the boys requested that we bring our Amazon Echo downstairs so that they could request that Alexa play all of their favorite Christmas songs. This turned tree decorating into a dance party, made even more fun by the silly photo props that I made this year.


In addition to the big tree in our basement family room, the boys each have a mini three foot tree in their rooms that they get to decorate themselves. The first year, we bought them about a dozen soft ornaments to start, and now the boys get to pick one new ornament from their trees every year. 

Kid's bedroom Christmas trees

The glow of the trees serve as their night lights during the Christmas season, and I just love the thought of them falling asleep surrounded by the magical glow of the season.


Sitting on Santa's lap is a staple of the Christmas season, but waiting in long lines at the mall can really take all the fun out of it! After waiting and waiting, the kids only get a moment to sit with Santa while being told to smile for the camera, not allowing them to really get a special moment with the man in red. After going through this routine for the first two years after Beckett was born, we found a better way!

Santa photo mini-sessions

We discovered a photographer here in Denver - Blomquist Photography - who sets up the most special private meetings with Santa. We are able sign up in advance for our designated 15-20 minute photo session, and when we arrive at her studio, Santa is waiting to greet the boys. They then have all that special time to sit with him and talk or read books together. All the while, the photographer is snapping photos and capturing both candid and posed moments. We always do a full family photo at the end, before bidding Santa adieu. 

Each year, the photos we've gotten from this mini-session are truly priceless, and I display our favorite from each year in a row of frames on our entry table. Best of all, we end up paying about the same as we would at the mall while skipping the lines and getting tons of extra quality time with the big guy!


We are always looking for ways to encourage our boys to love books and reading {in fact, I recently wrote a post full of ideas for just that}. I especially love incorporating books into all of our holidays by not only giving books as gifts, but also making the books part of the celebration. We've accumulated a small collection of books for each holiday, but rather than leaving them on the bookshelf year-round, I instead store them away with our seasonal decorations so that when we unpack them each year they feel new and exciting to the kids again.

For our Christmas books, we take it a step further. Each year, I wrap up twenty-four books - mostly the same from year to year, with a couple of new ones mixed in. Our Elf on the Shelf, Luke, always makes his first appearance at our house on December 1st, and when he arrives he delivers the stack of wrapped books.

Christmas Book Advent

I create a Christmas countdown calendar on the chalkboard in our kitchen, and each night before bed, the kids cross of the next number and find the book with the matching number label to open and read before bed.

We keep the Elf on the Shelf tradition really simple in our house, and never have our elf doing anything elaborate, and definitely never naughty.  Delivering the books to kick off our Christmas book advent is the highlight of our Elf on the Shelf tradition. Beyond that, our elf just moves to a new location each night and the boys look for him in the morning. The boys enjoy searching for him as soon as they wake up, and have also been known to whisper a few secrets in his ear when they want a message delivered to Santa.


Rather than sneaking outgrown toys out of the house when the boys aren't looking, we like to involve the boys in the process of choosing toys to donate in order to make room for the new gifts they'll receive for Christmas. We talk a lot about the importance of donating toys to other children who are not as fortunate as we are, and the boys really take a lot of pride and ownership in looking through their toys and selecting things to donate.

Let kids help choose toys to donate

We always donate our toys to the Arapahoe Santa Shop, where I've began volunteering when I was in high school. Up to this point, I've just taken the boys with me to drop of the donations so that they really understand where their toys are going, but I think they are old enough now that we can get even more involved. I'd like to start having the boys volunteer with me at the Santa Shop to help clean and sort the toys, and set up the "toy store" where parents can come and "shop" on designated days.


Listening to Christmas music is a great way to get into the holiday spirit, but for our boys, music takes on an even more special role in the season, because their dad sings with a professional Christmas caroling company. Scott has been singing with Denver's Original Dickens Carolers for more than a decade, and taking the boys to see some of his gigs is one of my absolutely favorite parts of the holidays! Nothing beats the look of wonder and pride on the boys faces while they watch dad, in full Dickensian garb, sing with a quartet of carolers at Union Station and other festive spots around town.  

Christmas music

At home, our Christmas music listening spans the decades. We fill one section of our jukebox with Christmas records, and the boys have a collection of kid's music and story books on record {some from my childhood, some from my parents} which they can listen to on their Fisher Price record player. The jukebox is the site of regular family dance parties in the living room, and we also move our Amazon Echo around the house with us so that the boys can make Christmas song requests.


We love taking the boys to see Christmas lights all over town. We never miss Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo, and this year we're hoping to also check out Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Gardens. Denver does Christmas lights right, and the display at the City and County Building and Union Station never disappoint.

Denver Christmas light displays

We also pick at least one night each Christmas season when tell the boys to put their pajamas on to get ready for bed, and then surprise them by packing them into the car with some snacks and drive around various neighborhoods to look at lights on houses. It's always such a fun and special family evening!


I'm not a coffee person, but give me all the hot chocolate! I especially love trying different flavors and experimenting with different mix-ins. A few years ago I created a hot chocolate bar in the kitchen so we could keep all the ingredients on hand, and last year we updated it with the "Happiness is a Hot Drink on a Cold Day" sign and my favorite stacking mugs {affiliate links}.

Hot chocolate bar

We also love gifting hot chocolate to others, and putting all the ingredients into clear ornaments and packaging them in a pastry box is one of our favorite holiday gifts for neighbors and co-workers. Grab the ornament supplies and details here.


This is a new one for our family, but I can guarantee that it will become an annual tradition! This year, I was offered free tickets to take the boys on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad's Santa Express Train so that I could help spread the word about this awesome holiday event!

I had heard of the Santa Express Train before, but it's about a two hour drive south of Denver in the town of Canon City, so we had never made the trek before. But now that we've done it once, I realize that it's worth EVERY single minute in the car to see the looks of joy and wonder on the boys' faces!

The night before our train ride, we had a family movie night and watched the Polar Express. We didn't tell the boys why we picked that movie, but we wanted to make sure that the story was fresh in their minds for the next evening. The day of our train ride, we picked each boy up early from school and had them change into pajamas right there before getting in the car. We told them that we received a special invitation from Santa, and that he'd given us an address to go to, but we didn't give them any more info.

When we pulled up at the train station, the boys were in awe!

Santa Express Train Royal Gorge Route Railroad

We boarded the train at dusk, and each car was completely decked out in red Christmas lights. We ordered dinner, and used the provided paper and crayons to write letters to Santa while we waited. Once the train started on the path to the North Pole, we were served hot chocolate and cookies, and the boys were in heaven! Along the way, the Santa Express team also led the kids in singing Christmas songs and playing fun games in the train car.

When we arrived at the North Pole, Santa boarded the train and made his way through each car taking time to read each kid's letter. Cooper wrote in his letter that he wanted "hugs and cuddles from Santa" and he got his Christmas wish right there on the train!

Riding the Santa Express Train Royal Gorge

The ride back to the station included more songs, a fun game of Christmas Bingo, and more hot chocolate and cookies. Before leaving the train, we were able to get a family photo with Santa. 

The boys are already asking if we can ride the train in our pajamas again next year, and that's an easy yes from mom and dad! It was a magical experience, and one we'll look forward to for many years to come! Space on the train is limited, and I have a feeling it will sell out very quickly, so if you're in Colorado, be sure to book your tickets right away! No matter where in the state you call home, this experience is worth the drive!

Ideas for Family Christmas Traditions

Now I want to hear about your family Christmas traditions! We're always looking for new ways to enjoy the season with our kids, so leave me a comment!


  1. Ok, these are all fab, but the train ride...that looks like SO much fun.

  2. The train ride sounds absolutely magical. I wish they had something like that in my area. As far as a few traditions we do of course there's the decorating of the tree. We also attend our town's Christmas parade and my daughter and I see the Nutcracker (can't get the boys to go with us).