Let the Holiday Traditions Begin!

Note from Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family: Happy post-Thanksgiving to all of our American readers, and happy holiday season “kick-off” to all! 

This week, I’m turning over the pen to my wife, Ann, for our weekly blog post.  She loves Thanksgiving and all of the subsequent holiday traditions more than anyone I’ve ever met, so I invited her to share some thoughts with you on how to be intentional about creating meaningful and lasting holiday habits in your household. 

You can read more from Ann over at Keeper of the Home, including some of her favorite holiday snacks and recipes!

Thanksgiving is truly my favorite holiday. In fact, it is the one holiday my husband and I ask the entire family to come over and celebrate what we are most grateful for while eating delicious food surrounded by gorgeous and natural Fall decor.

It’s also the official kick-off to the holiday season.

When you have children, the holidays take on new meaning. Maybe you have memories of awesome traditions you had growing up.  These traditions made your holidays special, and you want to make the holidays just as special for your children.

Of course, Mom and Dad, you each likely had your own traditions growing up, too.  And they may have been different from each other’s, either in small ways (they opened all their presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning) or in major ways (your spouse is a different religion and celebrates different holidays altogether).  Regardless, you might have two sets of traditions to mesh!

Many young families, before they have children or when their children are first born, try to do it all.  They travel to every family get-together and try to do all the traditions from both families.  Or, they don’t do much of anything, because they’re just getting used to being a family.  Eventually, though, what needs to happen is starting your own traditions as a young, independent family.

First, both parents need to sit down and discuss what’s really important to each of you. What do you want to teach your children about the season?  Which traditions did you love as a child, that maybe you’d like to incorporate with your children?  How much traveling do you want to do?  How many holiday events are enough, and how many are too much (especially if you have a lot of family nearby)?  Which traditions are your children old enough to understand at this point, and which might need to wait until they are a little older?  Let’s look at these questions!


This is pretty important.  What are your beliefs about the holiday season?  What’s the focus of the season for you?  Is it family togetherness?  Is it the religious aspect of Christmas or Hanukkah?  Both?  How do you feel about presents?

For example, we have come to feel that the presents exchanged on the holiday are often too much.  I grew up with big Christmases, but I can’t see doing the same.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money buying presents I knew my kids wouldn’t play with two days later.  I didn’t want them to focus most heavily on what they’re “getting” each holiday.  I wanted the presents they received to be meaningful, appreciated, enjoyed.  We decided to keep Christmas small, getting each family member only a few small things that come from the heart.  As our children got older, we encouraged them to make or buy small gifts for each other, too.  Gift giving needs to be from our heart, out of love, not because it’s a season of “stuff.”  Other families may feel differently about this; this is just what works for us!

Some families may decide to celebrate Advent with candles, calendars, or other symbols.  Others will serve in homeless shelters together, teaching children about giving to those less fortunate.  Others will buy gifts for children in their community who are in need, or donate to Operation Christmas Child.  Some may do all of these things, or entirely different things!  It’s important to consider what you’re trying to teach, and choose your traditions based on this.


Maybe you always went to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner, and you still want to do that (either to your grandma’s, if you can, or to your parents’).  Maybe you always baked Christmas cookies with your mom, and you want to do that with your children.  Maybe the extended family always gathered and spent a long time in prayer, thanking God for each family member over Christmas.

If you have a tradition that you especially loved, one that really “made” the season for you, consider including it. Include your spouse’s favorite traditions too!  If you are really happy about the traditions you’ve chosen, and you go about them lovingly, then your children will love them too.


When you are newly married and don’t have kids yet, it’s not that big of a deal to travel from home to home for dinners and celebrations with every branch of the family.  But once you have small children, it becomes really tough.  Small children don’t do well with the change in routine, long hours in the car, and tons of attention from extra people. They get crabby, tired, and overwhelmed.  For your children’s sake and your own sanity, you’ll probably need to limit the traveling you do.

Can you host one holiday, so that you can still see everyone (assuming they can and will travel to you)?  Can you alternate where you spend a holiday, for example spending Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas is with the other? Or different nights of Hanukkah with different family members?

You also have to consider all the other events –  pageants, plays at school, friends’ holiday parties, etc. How many of these are too many?  Maybe you decide that you will only do one event per week.  Or maybe you choose only those which are most important to you (your best friend’s holiday party and the church pageant, for example).  Or, maybe you choose the ones that are the closest so that you don’t have to add travel on top of the event itself!

We’ve done a combination of these methods.  Some years we host, and some or all of the family comes to us.  And sometimes we have a holiday just to ourselves.  ?  That’s important too, so that you can start some traditions in your own home!  Luckily our family understands this and is fully supportive of celebrations at “other” times!


Although certain traditions may be important to us, they may not be practical in our current season of life. For example, if you have very small children, you may not want to light and keep Advent or Hanukkah candles out.  You may not be able to go and serve at a soup kitchen as a family.  These things may need to wait until your children are a bit older.

It’s okay to make a list of the things you’d like to include eventually and start just a couple of traditions each year. Maybe this year you’ll start by having a small gift exchange, including your child in choosing a present for a needy child, and having dinner at Grandma’s.  Next year you can start an Advent calendar.  Maybe the following year you can volunteer together at a soup kitchen.

It’s not all-or-nothing. Traditions evolve over time. They do require some purposeful planning and preparation (all that decoration and those travel plans don’t do themselves!), but you don’t have to go from nothing to every tradition you’d like to include in one year!  Go slowly, see what you and your children seem to really enjoy.  Some traditions that evolve may surprise you; traditions that you don’t choose may surprise you too.  If you plan, you can include the ones that are most important to you, and let the rest evolve spontaneously.

What are your traditions?  How have you started them as a young family?


One Comment

  1. […] In case you missed Ann Timm’s blog post at Ziglar Family on the topic of holiday traditions, you might be interested in checking it out here.   […]

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