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When we asked you to send in your favorite holiday traditions, we never expected such a fantastic response. Dozens of you shared touching stories that prove family time is the true joy of the season.
If you're looking for a special way to bring your clan closer this year, try one of these creative ideas, or better yet, come up with one of your own. The best and most enduring traditions start in the heart and soul of your family.
Make Elf Footprints
"After the kids are in bed on Christmas Eve, we leave a trail of elf prints from our fireplace through the living room. To make them, cut two sponges in the shape of small shoeprints, then dip them in a plate of "elf dust" (flour, baby powder, carpet deodorizer). The prints always stop at the tray of cookies and milk left out for Santa and sometimes the elves are a bit naughty and play with the presents. Our children love to figure out exactly what path the elves took."
— Robert & Tania
Surprise Your Neighbors With Treats
"We do 12 days of secret surprises for a neighbor, bringing the appropriate number of goodies — one on the first day to twelve on the twelfth day. Recently we've been keeping our identity a secret. When the children were smaller we revealed ourselves on the last day because we thought they wouldn't keep it a secret anyway."
Start an Ornament Collection
"Every Christmas we buy an ornament to celebrate something that happened that year. When we got married, we bought a wedding ornament. The year we graduated from college, we got one with a diploma. This year we had our first baby. We plan to pick out an ornament for us, and start our daughter's collection. We look forward to unwrapping the ornaments every year and remembering why we bought them."
Pump Up Hanukkah Fun
"We play dreidel with jelly beans or other candies. When you get a "gimel" you win all the jelly beans in the pot. For fun, we act out the story of the Macabees with mock swords and all. (The Romans tried to capture Jerusalem but the Macabees thwarted the attempt.) When we light the menorah candles, we put our arms around each other and sing the Hebrew song about putting down your swords so there will be peace in the world."
Camp Out Under the Tree
"Every Christmas we spend one night sleeping on the living room floor under the lighted tree, listening to holiday music. We talk about Christmas, and the previous year. The kids look forward to it, and so do we!"
Help the Needy
"This year we're going to teach our children that there is more to life than getting a Sony Play Station. We're limiting gifts to one per child and one gift to share. We are going to donate our time to a charity or soup kitchen. It's our job to teach our kids that there are rewards beyond money or things. We hope we'll have fun in the process."
Tell Holiday Stories
"On our oldest daughter's first Christmas we read her the Christmas Mouse which is my husband's favorite childhood story. Now we read it to all our children on Christmas Eve before we tuck them into bed to dream of sugar plums."
Give a Christmas Eve Gift
"Every Christmas Eve, when the doorbell rings, the children run to answer it. They know Santa has left them their first present. Inside a brightly colored sack is a pair of new pajamas for everyone. This idea serves two purposes. It's easier to get the kids ready for bed because they can't wait to wear their new pajamas! And we all look great in the pictures the next morning."
Spread Out Your Celebrations
"Christmas is particularly difficult when stepchildren are involved. Both sides want the kids on Christmas day. We told the children that when parents are divorced, Santa adds a night to Christmas so he can finish his route. Now they wake up to presents at our house on the 24th and their mother's on the 25th. They love the idea of having two Christmases and they've learned that you can invent your own family traditions."
— Pamela and Steve
Put Out Snacks for Santa
"We leave out cookies and milk for Santa, and a spoonful of sugar (or carrots) for the reindeer. We make a big deal about this, counting the cookies, pointing out how full the glass of milk is, etc. While Nina sleeps we sip the milk and eat the cookies, leaving a few with bite marks. The next day she runs to the plate and is always amazed by the evidence that Santa was in our house."
— Jhoanna and Will
Let Santa Leave a Surprise
"For a reason still unknown to me I put balloons all over the floor one Christmas Eve after I put the gifts out. The next year as Christmas approached my oldest son told everyone, 'Santa will bring balloons.' And so the tradition began."
Relive the Year's Memories
"On New Year's Eve our family stays home. We have a buffet of hors d'oeuvres and sparkling cider. Then we watch the video of our family's past year. Each year we start a new videotape. Sometimes we watch several years in a row. It's great family time."
— Kerry & Craig
Prepare a Special Breakfast
"When I was in my twenties, I made a breakfast dish for my parents called Seattle Dutch Babies, a fluffy cross between an omelette and a pancake that you bake in the oven and then serve with lemon wedges, butter, and powdered sugar. My dad, who cooks only a few things, seized upon this recipe and started making it every year for Christmas breakfast."
Learn About Other Cultures
"The children and I go to the library and each picks out a story about Christmas, or holidays in other cultures. Then on Christmas Eve everyone reads (or has an adult read) their story, finishing up with the story of Christ's birth."
See the Lights
"In the middle of December we go on a family sight-seeing trip to look at all the Christmas lights and decorations. It's a wonderful thing, even for my six-month-old. What baby doesn't like to look at lights? On our way home, we vote on the best decorated house."