7 Fun and Inexpensive Family Traditions Full of Holiday Spirit

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My favorite childhood holiday tradition was born out of necessity.

With six small kids, another on the way and Christmas gifts to wrap, my mom was going a little crazy. On Christmas Eve, she locked herself in her sewing room. We hovered around the door, whining about being hungry.

Around five, my mom swung open the door, and demanded that my father order pizza. “I’m not cooking and sewing all day!”

Every Christmas Eve since that day, my family has either ordered or made pizza.

Most holiday traditions worth keeping are a mixture of fun, necessity and a little dash of crazy. Best of all, they need not cost a thing.

Here are our seven favorites, culled from real parents:

1. Coded Christmas Gifts

Like all children around the holidays, the Larson kids were anxious about their presents and often took to snooping. So their mother resorted to a creative solution, putting their names in code and only giving them the clues they needed to crack the mystery the day before Christmas. Myka, the oldest, notes, “Our aunt would number the stockings 1-9 and the order was based on age or birth month or something similar. I think Mom adapted that, making it trickier so we’d quit snooping.”

As the Larsons have grown older, the codes have grown more complicated. Last year, the code was the childrens’ names spelled out on a phone. For example, Myka was 6952.

We like this tradition because it builds suspense before the holidays, but also involves creativity, problem-solving and working together as a family.

2. Loose Change

Every year, Gabrielle Karol’s grandmother saves up the loose change that accumulates in purses and coats in preparation for her family’s Hanukkah celebration. Then she has her grandchildren (15 in all) guess the amount–the child who guesses correctly receives all of the change. The tradition continues to this day, even though Gabrielle and many of her cousins are now adults. She notes that the tradition is “always a highlight–despite the fact that the same cousins seem to win each year!”

3. Comfort Food

Holidays are a celebration of family–and that often involves making and baking customary dishes. From traditions in my own family to culinary classics culled from other people, here’s a sampling:

  • Three years ago, my husband’s grandmother taught me how to make Norwegian lefse and now I help Grandma Betty roll them out every year and coat them in butter and sugar. She recently gave me my own lefse rolling pin and griddle, so I can teach my daughter how to make them, too.
  • For Kim Roher of KimsKitchenSink.com, the best part of the holidays is making latkes with her family for Chanukah.
  • Ashley Baranowski loves to make traditional Scandinavian food with her family, like krumkakerosettes and kumla.