38 Cheap or Free Family Traditions for the Holidays

Young family preparing for Christmas holiday


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Young family preparing for Christmas holiday

Family Values

The holidays are a time to give thanks, appreciate what you have, and (if the pandemic allows this year) spend time with loved ones. Creating and participating in family traditions can help nurture these sentiments and teach children what's important. Whether they involve inexpensive attractions or memorable holiday meals, family traditions need not cost much, if anything, to leave a lasting impression. Here are 38 classic ideas to bring the family together.

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Make a Gingerbread House
Novikov Alex/shutterstock
Cut Down a Tree
Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock
String Christmas Garlands
Marie C Fields/shutterstock
choosing christmas ornament
FG Trade/istockphoto
wrapped christmas door
Decorate the Yard
Outdo the Joneses

Outdo the Joneses

Arrange a friendly Christmas-decoration-and-lights competition with the neighbors. Ask friends on nearby streets to vote for the winner.

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Put Presents on the Porch
Joseph Sohm/shutterstock
christmas road trip
Post It
holiday gifts
family christmas picture
Do a Canned Food Drive
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Send Wish Lists to Santa
clothes donation
Let Kids Do Their Own Shopping

Let Kids Do Their Own Shopping

Take younger kids to the dollar store and let them pick out gifts for older siblings or supervise them as they shop online.

Christmas Gifts for Grandma and Grandpa

making christmas cookies
It's the season to give. Donation jar with money

Donate to Charity

Make a donation to a local charity in a family member's name.


toys in box
Choose Stocking Perennials
christmas caroling

Sing for Joy

Bundle up and go socially-distanced Christmas caroling with friends or extended family. Sing for the neighbors or serenade residents by standing outside a nursing home or retirement community.

Tour Local Light Displays
Kenneth Sponsler/shutterstock

Tour Local Light Displays

Drive around the neighborhood to check out the Christmas light displays. Ask family members to give each one a score and determine a winner.

Feed the Hungry
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock
See the Light

See the Light

If pandemic conditions and restrictions allow, attend an outdoor Christmas Eve candlelight service or attend the community's annual holiday tree lighting, which is usually free and open to the public.

See a Holiday Performance

See a Holiday Performance

While many performances have been canceled, some productions have become drive-in or drive-thru to fit with local pandemic regulations. Consider a socially-distanced high school production of a holiday play, such as "The Christmas Carol," or a local ballet school production of "The Nutcracker." Tickets are usually cheaper than professional stagings.

Cook Together
Order In
Read Together

Read Together

On Christmas Eve, read a holiday-themed book such as "The Polar Express" or "The Night Before Christmas."

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watch christmas movie together
SDI Productions/istockphoto
matching pajamas
Open One Gift Early
Signal the Reindeer

Signal the Reindeer

Leave reindeer food (e.g., oatmeal) in the front yard so the animals can find their way.

Be Kind to Santa
Leigh Prather/shutterstock

Be Kind to Santa

Put out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. Consider making them from scratch the day before to get the kids in your family involved in the fun.

Start Christmas Morning in Bed
KPG Ivary/shutterstock

Start Christmas Morning in Bed

Hang the kids' stockings at the end of their beds after they fall asleep on Christmas Eve. This will keep them occupied in the morning while parents enjoy a few more minutes of sleep.

Stocking Stuffers They'll Actually Use

Set Up a Gift Hunt
Minnikova Mariia/shutterstock
Pop New Year's Balloons

Pop New Year's Balloons

Fill balloons with candy, plastic rings, necklaces, coins, etc., on New Year's Eve. Label balloons for each hour of the evening and have children pop them at the appointed time.

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christmas table

Spread Out the Party

If you have a quarantine "bubble" of neighbors or friends, do a progressive New Year's Eve dinner with them. Each house can host one part of the meal (appetizers, salad, main course, dessert), so no one is responsible for the entire evening.

Attend a New Year's Celebration

Attend a New Year's Eve Celebration

Research family-friendly New Year's Eve celebrations in your community and, if pandemic restrictions allow, make it a tradition to go as a family. If you can, attend every year — at least until the kids are old enough to want to do their own thing.