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Non-Gift Christmas Traditions

Non-Gift Christmas traditions that keep the focus on Christ.

Non-Gift Christmas traditions that keep the focus on Christ.Post contains affiliate links.

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

Non-Gift Christmas traditions. Cookie decorating.

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.

Don't let your babies grow up to be kiwis.

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.

Non-gift christmas traditions

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.

Wassail is a fun non-gift Christmas tradition.

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.

Christmas morning in large family

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.

Silent Night is a beautiful Christmas book

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!


  1. Melpub

    Love the wooden figures in your nativity scene! We do have a tree—love trees–and I make Christmas cookies and send cards. My husband’s religious and I’m not and some of our kids are and some not, so we just have a nice day and eat and open presents. And sing carols.

  2. Tracie

    It might help your public school kids if you inform their teachers regarding your Christmas traditions. You might also think about preparing the kids so that when someone asks, “what did you get/do you want for Christmas?” they are prepared. And also “what did you ask Santa to bring/What did Santa bring you?” I think most teachers want to support different ways to celebrate, but it helps to know what families’ traditions are.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks for the suggestion. This isn’t the kids’ first year in school, so they have been though this before. They receive stockings with small gifts (which I’ve talked about on the blog here). I was just focusing on the non-gift traditions in this post. My big issue this year is trying to convince Apollo not to tell his friends Santa isn’t real 🙁

  3. thissquirrelsnest

    One of our favorites is choosing animals from heifer international to give and then keeping the family who get them in prayer throughout the year. It’s been a great way to start discussions about how Christ teaches us to serve others. Along with general kid excitement about animals!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      That is such a great organization! My in-laws take the money they would have spent on presents for our children and donate it to an orphanage in Mexico.

  4. anonymous

    LOVE the wooden nativity! We’re also reading Ishtar this year. Like you, I did not enjoy Voskamp’s Advent devotional, but I have heard that lots love it. Funny how lots of our traditions are similar. 🙂 For our cookie decorating, the oldest kids make the dough, roll it out, cut out the cookies, and put them on lined cookie sheets. Then, BEFORE they’re baked, the rest of the kids get to put chocolate chips (and other flavored chips), mini marshmallows (they get melted and toasty), red hots, sprinkles, and dried cranberries on the cookies. Makes them a tad less sugary w/o frosting. 🙂

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t care for her writing. I know she is gifted and has blessed many people with her writing. But I am not one of them 🙂 Great idea about the cookies!

  5. Deb

    My sister-in-law does this with her kids. They set up the nativity but put the wise men at the far side of the house and Jesus and Mary in another area, and through advent they move them close to the barn until Christmas day, so everyone arrives at the appropriate time, and Jesus never appears until Christmas morning.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      That is so cool. I have thought of doing this, but really want my kids to be able to play with and handle the nativity. Plus, I’m afraid over here the wise men would be lost before Christmas morning!

  6. amulbunny

    When my kids were little, our pastor had the creche set up but it was empty. He had the wise men placed far away (in the choir loft) on the first Sunday and each Sunday after during Advent they moved closer. Christmas Eve the Angels were around as were the shepherds and the wise men were. Christmas morning everyone was at the scene, Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child. The kids were so anxious to go to church to see where the players were each Sunday. It was magical.

  7. Erin

    Great list! Growing up I remember making cookies, decorating our tree, listening to Christmas music, reading Christmas books, and doing puzzles. More than I remember any particular toy I might have received as a gift!

  8. simonanderin

    We do a Jesse tree each year. So each day of advent we read a passage of the bible together and hang up a decoration that goes with it. We have ours premade, but I know some people make them as they go. It takes the kids from Creation to New Creation in Christ. It helps them to see that Jesus birth isn’t the beginning of a new story, but the beginning of the climax of a much bigger story. It’s more than just Jesus’ birthday. Last year we managed to find chocolate or lollies to go with each picture, but we won’t do that every year. We get our Jesse Tree guide from Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent and Barbara Hughes. There are some great online ones too.

  9. Jodee

    Have you ever taken your family to the Live Nativity at the Christian school off Smith Rd? We do that every year and my family loves it. I’m not sure when they start but it might be a fun outing.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      The one year we took the kids there was a huge windstorm and the little town of Bethlehem had been blown down and there were no animals left 🙁

  10. Kim Kroncke-Hamilton

    I made a Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus pillow people and we braided and made a manger for the baby. December 1st we put out the pillows and hide the baby. Every day my daughter puts something into the manger to prepare it for baby Jesus so His bed will be soft and comfortable for him…..(Cuz momma no baby should sleep on only hay but specially not my King….) on Christmas eve the baby is laid into a soft sweet manger (Basket) and we sing Happy Birthday when we get home from church. We also have the kids pick out a gift or two that they wrap and we take to the live Nativity and give Jesus birthday presents. (We put boy/girl and age on bottom and the pastor of the church will then get them to kids in the community along with a set of winter gloves, hat and scarf we have bought or made)….if we can’t find a nativity we let them pick off of a need tree at one of the local stores who support the local toy bank…..

  11. Marlene

    When our kids were small we had a dish with straw in it. Every time they caught someone doing something nice (or they did something nice for a sibling in secret) they got to put a piece if straw in the creche. They wanted the Manger to be full and soft so they did a lot for each other (and others) so it would be. Love your other ideas. We can do some with our grandkids!

  12. Debbie Prater

    All very good ideas. I try to do some of these every year. I normally put a tree up but didn’t do it this year. My son won’t be home for Christmas this year for the first time. (He lives far away). I just don’t have the energy or desire to do it. Have a great Christmas.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I totally understand not having the energy! Hopefully you can at least find a few fun ways to celebrate.

  13. Maria from Collecting Moments

    This is so perfect! I love the idea of non-gift traditions at Christmas and wrote about some ideas on my blog as well. That cookie decorating party sounds wonderful! Good call on pre-baking the cookies and just having the kids decorate. Saves time, and I bet you enjoy the decorating part with the kids even more without worrying about the oven and the batches of cookies in it.

    Thanks so much for sharing this on #SHINEbloghop, Renee. I’m definitely saving these ideas for my family for this year and years to come!

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