25 Old-Fashioned Christmas Traditions We'd Like to Bring Back

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bowl of oranges studded with cloves in decorative patterns
Photo: Meredith

When I was a kid, my grandmother put an orange in the toe of our stockings. It was a special treat to find. She also didn't put up her Christmas tree until Christmas Eve because that was part of the celebration — a gift in itself. Some of those holiday traditions were out of necessity to save money; some were simply time-honored and passed down through the family. But they all created memories treasured to this day. If you're looking for ways to enhance your own family's celebrations, scroll through this advent calendar's worth of simple seasonal ideas and activities to find 25 ways to bring old-fashioned, no-tech or low-tech traditions to your holidays this year.

01 of 26

Advent Calendars

advent calendar assorted goodies in each drawer
Williams Sonoma

These 25 ideas for bringing back or introducing traditions at Christmas can also tie into another old-fashioned favorite: the Advent calendar. Made to countdown to Christmas and the advent of the season, these calendars can hide surprises like chocolate (Trader Joe's chocolate candies may be the best), wine and beer, LEGO toys, skincare and make-up, and unique options like hot sauce! While the packages on Christmas morning might be opened quickly, an Advent calendar opened one day at a time is a great way to draw out the magic of the season.

02 of 26

Orange You Glad it's Christmas

three Christmas stocking stuffed with presents and hung on a mantlepiece

Sending a citrus gift or produce subscription box is a lovely way to show you care. You might opt for small, easy-peel mandarin oranges, which are much easier to tuck in a stocking toe than a big navel orange!

03 of 26

Christmas Goose

a roast goose in a baking dish just out of the oven
Chef John

A Christmas turkey or ham are standard options at holiday tables, but a Christmas goose can feel much more old-school.

04 of 26

Fall in Love With Fruitcake

cupcake-sized fruitcakes decorated with smooth royal icing and snowflake designs

The fruitcake. A food pariah and source of debates: Is there really only one fruitcake that has been passed around forever? Yet there's something nostalgic about the dense, deeply flavored cake around the holidays. In the UK, they use fruitcake for wedding cakes (their first anniversary cake slice might taste exactly the same!) Still not a fan of fruitcake? Try an Italian pannetone instead with less fruit and no booze.

05 of 26

Make Some Snow Ice Cream

homemade Easy Snow Ice Cream recipe in a glass dessert dish with a spoon

When my mom sent us out into the snow with a bowl, food coloring, and flavoring, we knew it meant a fun winter treat was in the works. Making snow ice cream in colder climates can be a great outdoors holiday activity to bring back. Snowing outside? It's ice cream time!

06 of 26

Make Your Own Tree Decorations

homemade Christmas tree ornament shaped and decorated like a snowman
Melissa Goff

The image of a family stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands, and making dried orange and gingerbread or dough ornaments feels like a Norman Rockwell image or scene from "Little Women." Decorating homemade dough ornaments is an activity even the littlest of the littles can take part in.

07 of 26

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (or Air Fryer!)

roasted chestnuts on a wooden plate with a knife to the side
Buckwheat Queen

Pecans and walnuts may be the more common holiday nuts, but there's something extra special about chestnuts. Whether you're buying roasted chestnuts at a holiday market, roasting them over a backyard firepit, or using chestnuts in a recipe, the sweet, rich, earthy flavor of chestnuts is a wonderful way to bring get a taste of Christmas nostalgia.

08 of 26

Don't Forget the Animals

Sweet Potato Bird Balls
Melissa Goff

As temperatures drop and snow falls, consider making a holiday celebration for your feathered and furry friends outdoors. My grandmother always made suet wreaths for the birds in chilly Midwestern winters. Spending time with nature can be a lovely way to celebrate the season.

09 of 26

Snuggle up for Story Time

hot chocolate topped with whipped cream in a mug decorated with image from The Polar Express
Hannah Runia

If you're looking for inspiration to create or remember old-fashioned holiday celebrations, look to the bookshelf. Try creating Christmas treats designed around books or book settings such as the "Polar Express" or "A Christmas Carol," then settle in to read the story together instead of turning on the TV.

10 of 26

Get a Taste of Sweet Nostalgia

close up of 5-Ingredient Peppermint Bark recipe
Kat G

There's something about a candy thermometer and fudge in the fridge that sends me back to my childhood. From ribbon candy to a fun gumdrop tree, seasonal candies are a fun way to celebrate the holidays. Whether you make your own or buy options like traditional hard candies or peppermint chocolate bark, Christmas candies can make sweet memories.

11 of 26

Make Gifts From Your Kitchen

jar of homemade Cowboy Cookie Mix in a Jar recipe displayed with finish cookies, oats, nuts, and chocolate chips
Mackenzie Schieck

Returning to homemade gift-making can be a fun way to share a new tradition with friends and family. You can choose to make homemade presents to gift on your own or discuss with your gifting circle to make the entire holiday homemade.

12 of 26

Honor Family Heritage

Italian Cookies with Anise on a cooling rack

When I was a child, we knew it was Christmas because of the Swedish Angel Chimes with Candles and Christmas Pyramid that were unpacked carefully from their tissue-lined boxes. But they weren't the only things that came from our cultural background: Italian anise cookies were a holiday favorite too. As you make cookies and other baked goods at the holidays, consider adding holiday sweets from your own family's cultural heritage.

13 of 26

Merry Cloves to You!

bowl of oranges studded with cloves in decorative patterns

The sensory experience of the holidays drives many of our memories — from fragrant pine boughs and evergreen trees to aromatic spices like cinnamon and cloves. Cloves not only help create familiar holiday scents, they can also make fun patterns on everything from Honey Glazed Ham to unpeeled oranges. Consider assigning the clove patterning to the kids as you do other holiday cooking and baking.

  • Discover 500+ recipes using cloves.
14 of 26

Quick Bread, Quick Gift

whole and slices loaves of homemade Moist Cranberry Orange Bread recipe on a serving plate

One of my favorite childhood memories was having our neighbor pass foil-wrapped zucchini bread over the fence. The still-warm bread was a gift that lasted beyond a plate of cookies. Sharing quick breads (over the fence, in person, or on a porch) is a great option for holiday gifting. A loaf of quick bread can be sliced to serve with breakfast, lunch, tea, or dinner. Wrap it up in cellophane and put it in a festive holiday box for a great holiday gift.

15 of 26

Make a Gingerbread House

homemade gingerbread house decorated for Christmas with candy, toys, and lights
Vanessa Greaves

Every Christmas season, we make and decorate a gingerbread house as a family. Whether you buy a premade gingerbread kit or make your own gingerbread, half of the fun is eating the candy off it during the holiday.

16 of 26

Open House, Open Hearts

cookie tray with candles in background
Getty Images

The easiest way to gather with friends and family is with a holiday open house. Whether you host a drop-in holiday party on your own or have a progressive holiday party at several houses, everyone can enjoy the festivities of the season without a lot of fuss. If you're not comfortable with indoor gatherings outside of your safe circle, consider an outdoor party around a crackling firepit.

17 of 26

Celebrate With Caroling

people singing Christmas carols outside at night

In the immortal words of Buddy the Elf, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." So bundle up and gather with friends and family to sing old-fashioned Christmas carols together. You can join in with caroling events in your town or simply serenade your block. If walking the neighborhood isn't a go, consider hosting friends for cookies and caroling in your home. Keep it cozy with mugs of steaming hot chocolate or apple cider.

  • Buy it: Christmas Carol Lyric Book $6.95; amazon.com
18 of 26

Light Up the Holidays!

Christmas luminaria decorated with Christmas tree motifs lighting a stone stairway

Christmas lights seem to go up sooner and sooner every year, but who's complaining? They do their part to make the season bright. Going around looking at fancy lights or visiting large-scale organized light displays is fun, but sometimes simple is best. My city does an annual event where most houses have luminaria at their curbs for that one night, and residents drive around looking at the softly glowing lights. Consider adding luminaria to your own driveway or porch; battery-powered tea light candles make it easier and less messy.

19 of 26

Oh Christmas Tree!

child and grownup with freshly cut Christmas tree in the snow

My first job was at a Christmas tree farm, helping families choose and cut down trees. Although grocery stores and roadside stands have trees now, there's still something special about tromping through a forest to find your own tree, but you might need a permit if you're on public land. The next best thing to a forest is a tree farm. The National Christmas Tree Association is a great starting point to search for a tree farm near you. Dress warmly and search for your own special tree — a Charlie Brown version or one big enough to touch your ceiling. I know from experience that choosing the right Christmas tree stand is important for the health of the tree. And as an alternative to cutting down (and throwing out) a Christmas tree, consider getting a "balled" living tree to plant in your yard once the holidays are over.

20 of 26

Hot Drinks to Warm Holiday Spirits

Three women with hot chocolate mugs
Getty Images/svetikd

Sipping something hot and steamy after playing in the snow or while you're decorating the tree is a great way to celebrate the holidays. Sure, you can snag a beverage through the drive-through, but there's something more satisfying to the senses when you're all snug at home warming your hands around a mug with the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling away.

21 of 26

Christmas Has Gone Crackers

Christmas crackers decorated to look like elves and Santas

For Christmas and New Year's celebrations, crackers or poppers are a fun way to celebrate everything from midnight countdowns to dinnertime fun. The decorative paper cylinders usually include a fortune or joke, small toy or gift, and a paper crown. Popping or cracking them open, donning the paper crowns, playing with the tiny gifts, and reading the jokes aloud is always a highlight of the festivities. Note: If you buy crackers or poppers online, they will come without the popping sound because of shipping regulations. If you want the version that makes a sound when it's pulled open, you'll need to buy them in a store.

  • Buy it: Set of 8 No-Pop Christmas Crackers, $14.99; amazon.com
22 of 26

Snow Day!

child sitting down in the snow wearing ice skates

Whether or not you grew up where lakes and ponds freeze over, there's something nostalgic and Christmasy about skating and sledding in the snow. Even if you're in a warm location, you might be able to find local ice skating rinks or temporary rinks set up for the season. You can also check with hockey rinks to see if they have public skating times. If you live in a colder climate, a snow hill nearby is an option for easy sledding.

23 of 26

Decorate Christmas Cookies

Soft Christmas Cookies in gingerbread man, candy cane, and tree shapes on a white plate

Baking Christmas cookies to eat or share checks off several items on the old-fashion traditions list. Family activity: Check! Homemade food gifts: Check! Filling your home with holiday aromas: Check and check! Don't worry about making picture-perfect Christmas cookies, either. The simplest cookies and decorations will be just as well-received as the most elaborate productions.

24 of 26

Trimming the Tree

overhead view of homemade Grinch Kabobs made of green grapes, banana slices, strawberries, and mini marshmallows threaded on toothpicks
Juliemar Rosado (Jmar)

At my grandmother's house, the tree was decorated on Christmas Day morning. There was something special in that moment. Decorating the tree together as a family or with friends can be an event in itself: Gather together, spin the Christmas tunes, and make make snacks and drinks to fuel the fun. While someone unscrambles the lights and others sort out the ornaments, the kitchen can be a merry place to prep the treats!

25 of 26

Giving Back to the Community

young volunteers packaging produce at a community kitchen garden.

Maybe the biggest and most meaningful traditions at the holidays are all about giving back. Whether you volunteer at your local food bank or gather donations during the Christmas season, joining with others to give back is a holiday gift that keeps giving. As you consider how to serve others during the holiday season, there are tangible ways (food gifts, serving food, gift cards, Angel Trees) but there are also ways of giving that are closer to home, like shoveling a neighbor's snowy driveway.

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