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Early in our marriage Chuck and I decided we would celebrate Christmas without putting up a tree and exchanging gifts. As we raised our children, we knew we wanted the focus to be on the birth of Christ and not gifts. As they grew older, we began to add in traditions that didn’t have anything to do with Jesus (cookie decorating, hot chocolate bar) but gave us ways to celebrate the season and anticipate Christmas day, without involving gifts.
Here is a list of some amazing Non-Gift Christmas Traditions
Host a cookie decorating party.
We have been doing this since our kids were tiny. This activity appeals to any age! The secret to having a cookie decorating party and staying sane? Pre-bake the cookies. When my children were younger, I would bake a few batches at a time and freeze them. By the time our cookie decorating party rolled around, all I had to do was make the icing and set out the toppings! If you are hosting a party for others, don’t hesitate to have your guests bring sprinkles, candy canes, etc. Sort the toppings into muffin tins and let the kids get creative.
Watch a Christmas Movie and have a Hot Chocolate Bar
We have done this for the last three years and it is one of my children’s favorite traditions. Pinterest is full of hot chocolate bar ideas. We also put out a spread of snacks and the kids all get in their pajamas and pile on the floor with blankets while we watch a Christmas movie.
Read an Advent book together.
We have been doing this since our oldest was only four years old. We read Jotham’s Journey for many years. Then the author came out with Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels. This year we are reading the fourth book in the series, Ishtar’s Odyssey. Each of these books follows a child through a life-changing journey and ends on the morning of Christ’s birth. You read one chapter out loud each night of Advent and the final chapter on Christmas morning. We love this tradition!
Last year we read Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this book. Voskamp’s writing is way too flowery for me, but I know lots of people who love it, so I’m sharing it here.
If you are looking for something with more than a story, Heather at To Sow a Seed just released her new Advent book Are You Ready? This book is filled with activities, scripture memory, lessons and more.
Another idea is to buy the Your Story Hour set that includes the Christmas story. I bought this and can’t wait to start listening to it with our children.
Set up a Nativity Scene.
Growing up we had a beautiful ceramic set that my mom hand painted. I always loved the day the set came out. For our children, I wanted one they could play with. When they were younger we had three or four sets, some plastic, some ceramic. I would set them out for the kids to play with the whole month of December.
There are some great hands-on Nativity sets out on the market. We have this Playmobil Nativity. Fisher Prices has a great Little People Christmas Story set. Melissa and Doug has a wooden nativity. This year, after years of drooling over it, I bought this Nativity set from my favorite Esty shop, MamaMadeThem. We have other animals from the same Esty shop, which have joined Mary and Joseph in the stable.
Make traditional Wassail.
I spent two years of my childhood in Kodiak, Alaska which has a large Russian Orthodox population. Every Christmas event we were served traditional Wassail. Wassail is a type of hot cider with apple juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and spices.
Visit local holiday events.
Most communities have a variety of free events from caroling, to looking at gingerbread houses. Most of these are even free!
Put together bags for the homeless.
Our MomSpot group at church does this every winter. We take gallon sized bags and fill them with: jerky, protein bars, candy, hand warmers, pop-top cans of soup, sanitary items and more. These are distributed to the homeless who come to our church. You can keep a stash in your vehicle to hand out.
Other ideas for Non-Gift Christmas Traditions:
Go Christmas Caroling.
Put on Christmas music and do a puzzle together.
Make paper snowflakes
It’s Always Autumn has a great video tutorial and free template for making paper snowflakes. Perfect if you are just getting started on making snowflakes.
Read Christmas books
My post, Ultimate Guide to Christmas Books from New and Diverse to Old Classics has an amazing list of books to read as we lead up to Christmas.
Make a nativity scene out of felt, play dough, pretzels, clothes pegs or paper!
I created this Pinterest board Non-Gift Christmas Traditions which is a great resource and full of ideas and inspiration. Feel free to follow.
How do you celebrate the Christmas season? Do you have any great non-gift Christmas traditions? I’d love to hear about them!