It’s December. A month of tradition and togetherness. Does COVID and the latest restrictions have you down? If you’re anything like me, I bet you’re ready for some semblance of normal and for things to be simple and happy again. When I looked at the calendar and thought about how I would make this year festive for my family, I was pretty disheartened by the fact that so many of our family’s beloved traditions were closed or drastically different. So, I composed a new list of COVID approved must-do Christmas traditions that will make the whole family forget about the negatives of this year and relish in our togetherness as a family unit. Read on for my top Christmas traditions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
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The Beyond (Top Christmas traditions and activities for anyone around the world)
Send Christmas cards
Now, more than ever, I believe that this one is important. If the budget is there, sending greeting cards is a great way to promote connectivity during this odd 2020 season.
Many people opt for the fancy, professionally-shot family portraits with the glitzy Tiny Prints cards. These do go on sale from time to time. However, if money is a concern or if you’re simply a budgeter, then, creating a cute collage of the family doing life throughout the year can be a fun way to go as well. I personally love ordering my photo cards from Costco. They arrive quickly and come in large quantities for small prices. Costco cards don’t typically come with print on the back options unless you upgrade. So, I simply type out a little annual recap and merry message and include it in the envelope with the photo cards. This approach gets the same sentiment across for a fraction of a price and it makes all of the recipients feel thought of.
I know that I will cherish each Christmas card I receive this year. Each card will represent way less face time and memories made then we all should have gotten in 2020.
Make holiday mix
Let me tell you, this is not your average snack. It’s not a standard holiday treat as well, but it is certainly a focal point and a top Christmas tradition in my family. Imagine a variety of crunchy cereals, delicious nuts, and savory pretzels all covered in butter, salt, and a few secret ingredients. This makes for the best, sit by the fire, and munch while watching Christmas movies, snack. Want the recipe, be sure to subscribe and fill out the contact form on my Contact page for the recipe.
Decorate gingerbread men
I typically opt for the premade, minimal-effort gingerbread kits. However, if you’re willing to put in the effort and value a delicious and much more edible creation, I recommend checking out Rosanna Pansino’s recipe for gingerbread men cookies.
This is the most delicious and soft gingerbread cookie, which can make it challenging to keep enough to actually decorate. I’m not quite sure how much cookies my husband and I ate before even decorating them last year. I love decorating gingerbread men versus gingerbread houses. The people shaped cookies are much easier to store and keep fresh. Therefore, it makes for fun, delicious treat eating throughout the season. And, it’s much easier to divide up the cookies among the kids to decorate instead of having to micromanage sharing and creative collaboration or making a bunch of elaborate gingerbread houses.
Sometimes, it’s worth picking your battles and saving other moments for teachable moments and holiday festivities for pure, no-stress fun. However, if a gingerbread house is preferred Christmas tradition, I’d imagine that there are some easy modifications to this recipe to make house shaped pieces. I’m sure that I’ll cave and be doing this modification some day.
Bake the Family Recipe Cookies
It seems that everyone has their top family Christmas recipes that have been collected over generations. For my family, it’s this vintage Betty Crocker Cooky Book. My great-grandma owned an original edition that has now been passed down to my parents.
It still has hand written notes and about which family member liked which cookies and if there were any modifications that my great-grandma made to make them just a little extra special. The chocolate crinkle, spritz, and Russian tea cake are to melt for. If you haven’t tried them yet and appreciate cookies, these are an absolute must and an instant Christmas tradition for any foodie.
Watch Christmas movies
Make it an event! Pull out the fuzzy slippers, blankets and put on the Christmas jammies. Rearrange the furniture to feel like a movie theater. Pop some popcorn and include your family’s favorite movie theater snacks. Also, this is a great time to pull out your holiday mix, gingerbread men or Christmas cookies. We have a long list of family favorites and a new growing list of toddler favorites as well. Those include:
Movies for the whole family:
Noelle – one of my new favorites found on DisneyPlus. This cute family movie takes a clever spin on the Santa story. It also includes lots of humor that is funny for the whole family.
The Grinch – the 1960s version.
The Claymations – Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and The Little Drummer Boy
Movies for when the toddler goes down (or when we are supervised viewing):
Drive to see snow
For many of you, this may literally be just looking out your window. But, for those of us in the west side of the Pacific Northwest, with the exception of the occasional winter storm, snow is a treat. Especially during the Christmas season. As a Washington native, I can count on one hand how many white Christmasses that I’ve experienced. So, why wait? Take yourself to that winter wonderland and the beauty that the mountains have to offer. Best part… COVID can’t close this one. We enjoy a nice snowshoe hike at Alpental at the Summit at Snoqualmie, because it’s easily accessible for our mini-van and is a short and manageable hike for the whole family. However, there are plenty of ways to view snow and enjoy a frozen paradise all over the Northwest.
Make a Christmas playlist
There’s nothing quite like music to put you in the Christmas spirit. Yet, finding tunes that are tolerable for an entire season can be a bit of a challenge. I have the paid for Pandora subscription, because I like to be able to listen to music without having to worry about inappropriate songs or ads playing. One wonderful feature about this service and many others out there is that I can create and save playlists. So, I started this playlist last year and have added throughout last season and the start of this season (which for me, started on November 1st – only a tiny bit of shame there).
My Christmas playlist includes my personal classics, such as Pentatonix, Mariah Carey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Relient K (One of my daughter’s favorites), Carpenters, Carrie Underwood, Lindsey Stirling, Michael Buble, Josh Groban, and many more.
Feel free to take a look at my Pandora Christmas playlist list here: https://pandora.app.link/a4T2KspC2bb
Attend a Christmas Eve service
This looks different again this year. However, it seems like many churches are striving to find ways to connect with the true meaning of Christmas. Our church is hosting a drive-in candlelight service. I’m not quite sure how that will play out yet, but we plan to make the 30 minute service a part of our Christmas Eve plans. We are grateful that this Christmas tradition doesn’t have to fall by the way side this year.
If you are in the Seattle area, New Life Church in Renton and it’s three other locations will be hosting a traditional candlelight Christmas Eve service drive in style.
Open one stocking stuffer on Christmas Eve
A fun, tradition for the impatient at heart, this tradition of opening one stocking stuffer on Christmas Eve was a tradition that we pulled from my husband’s childhood. The gist is that each of my family members has a stocking that’s been filled with little trinkets and treats picked by each family as well. Then, on Christmas Eve as we’re all winding down for the night, each family member gets to dig around (with their eyes closed) and pick one to open before the big morning events. It’s fun and light hearted and spreads the gift giving joy a little more.
The Christmas Pickle
This is a rather odd, yet, “cultural” activity. I actually found this fun activity from one of my 9th grade students while I was in the classroom. My students had an assignment to practice their informative writing skills. One Christmas-loving student wrote an informative pamphlet on the Christmas Pickle. She certainly did a great job with her informational strategies, because, now, my family participates in the Christmas Pickle tradition.
The basic premise is that parents hide a pickle shaped ornament in the tree on Christmas Eve and the first kid to find the Christmas pickle on Christmas morning is rewarded by either getting to open the first present or a specific prize. The cultural ties are vague, but it’s fun to think that it’s a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation.
A fun spin on the classic tradition
My family has taken it to a whole new level. We’ve made it a season long competition much like hide and seek. When the pickle gets pulled out of storage while the tree is being decorated, the winner from the previous year gets to hide it first. Then, for the entire season, the family will look for the pickle and if found, will move its location so only the one who is presently winning knows where it is hidden. Any “Christmas foliage” like trees, garlands, and wreaths are fair game, and the person who knows the pickles final location on Christmas morning is the winner. It always makes for fun surprises in the end because typically a couple family members are convinced that they know the pickles final location.
Decorate the Christmas tree
This becomes a walk down memory lane as we pull out the little ornaments of my childhood or the ones that I grew up seeing on my Grandma’s tree or my own childhood tree. I’ve always been an ornament collector and I personally believe that it’s one of the best types of collections to have if you must collect because it has a very definite purpose. It is displayed annually and doesn’t regularly clutter your main living spaces. It’s a great way for hodge-lodge decor to work in any style of home and isn’t out long enough to collect too much dust.
Another fun way to incorporate more festivities when it comes to décor is to purchase a pencil tree. I got mine on a super, crazy 90% after Christmas sale from Hobby Lobby. But, there are many great options at reasonable prices at any normal Christmas décor store. The reason that these pencil trees can be so wonderful is because they are slim, tall, and fit in random areas of the house that would otherwise go undecorated or unused. I tuck my pencil tree off to the side of my entry way. I try to decorate it as fancy as I can. It allows me to have my “Nordstrom” tree without the hassle and space of a regular tree. I also don’t have to sacrifice the nostalgic, everything, family main tree. Plus, because it’s small, I need less ornaments, so what I have purchased goes a long way.
Make it an event
As far as the main family Christmas tree goes, we make it an event for the family. Decorating our Christmas tree is as big of a deal for the family as opening presents on Christmas morning. The whole family gets involved. Even my toddler helped position our non-breakable ornaments on the first couple feet of the tree this year.
And, in order to make it such a nostalgic experience, read on for ways to make ornaments more meaningful in the coming years.
Collect Christmas ornaments while traveling
In fact, this is something that has to be done outside of the Pacific Northwest for my family. We started the tradition years ago. In each city, state or country we purposed to find an ornament that represented that destination.
This tradition makes putting up our Christmas tree a special occasion. Every day-after-Thanksgiving, when we are decorating our Christmas tree, we get to walk down memory lane as a family as we pull out the many ornamental souvenirs from our travels. In my mind, these beat other forms of chotskies and collectibles, because they serve a very important purpose without taking up space in and cluttering the home AND they make the tree decorations so much more meaningful. Plus, it allows my family to think about and anticipate Christmas throughout the year as we travel. How fun is that?
This does pose a bit of a challenge during some vacation destinations, especially the fast paced ones. Some destinations do not have as many Christmas ornament options. Some vacations take place during the summer when all of the shops store away their Christmas decor. However, it is so worth it to keep eyes out for souvenirs shops, local artisan shops, small craft fairs or even the airport as we travel. Many times, we’ve been surprised by what we find.
A quick note: in some locations and during some travel seasons, it can be quite difficult to find actual Christmas ornaments, so I’ve repurposed fancy keychains to look like ornaments. When looking at the tree, you can barely even tell!
My top Christmas traditions in the Northwest
Drive through Christmas lights
A much more popular activity in 2020, there are plenty of drive through holiday light display options and even more this year. We’ve enjoyed Fantasy Lights in Spanaway, which has been around for years. This long drive through light display features many visuals that are sure to entertain the children and adults alike.
There have also been many new pop up drive through options in various smaller cities. I know that my town has one at a local park and admission is free. All that was required was a sign up and food bank donations. Also, the Fair grounds is hosting the Holiday Magic light display, which apparently has 3D elements. We plan to try both and I’ll be sure to update after attending baring lo these events continue next year.
Tacoma Glassblowing ornament event/Malbecs
As you may remember from my fall activities list… I am a huge fan of the Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio in general. For fall, they have a festive pumpkin patch, in November, they have their Christmas Ornament Sale. Unfortunately, it happens early each year, so you have to be willing to do Christmas before Thanksgiving. However, it is worth it because they have beautiful, hand-blown in the PNW ornaments, snowmen, presents, and tree decorations. They’re pricey, but I find that there’s always reasonable options.
During normal years, various local nurseries host the event, which makes it even more fun because the nursery has all of their Christmas decor and displays as well. Even though it’s a drive for us, we make it a point to go to the Malbaks Home and Garden in Woodinville, WA Glass Ornament event because the Christmas selection of that particular store is absolutely amazing. We wander for over an hour and always come away with some fun, new additions to our Christmas home decor.
This year, Molbaks is offering shopping by appointment. It may be worth it for the festive environment of their store and displays.
Zoo Lights at Point Defiance Zoo
This is one family tradition that is still on for 2020! Tickets are now timed and face masks are required, but the same cheerful lighted animals and other attractions are still available to experience this year. We’ve enjoyed the zoo lights in the past as a couple, but have yet to brave the nighttime activity with our infant. Maybe this year will be the year by default of not having many other regular out and about traditions to partake in.
My top Christmas traditions that we will excitedly wait for next year:
The one Covid wrecked tradition that hit me hardest. We’ve grown to love this pricey Christmas maze. In my opinion, Enchant is unrivaled by any other Washington holiday light display. The attention to detail, intense light structures, and novelty of the location, all play into making this an absolutely unforgettable and instant Christmas spirit lifting experience. We took our 5-month-old last year, and she was just in awe of all of the lights and stimulus. She didn’t express much back then, but we knew she enjoyed it. We saw the wonder in her eyes. I wish we could take my now-toddler this year, but here’s hoping that next year is the year for Enchant to make a comeback!
Clam Lights at the Renton Ivars
This event has been cancelled, but in years past, the Clam lights were a fun, free family holiday activity that also involved yummy, soul-warming chowder and clams strips. It’s a relatively short walk. Dress warm as the restaurant is somewhat outdoors and there’s the pier to walk on that is peaceful yet chilly.
This year, there still are lights, but definitely nothing impressive. What was so impressive for us when we went was the fact that we accidentally stumbled upon the Lake Washington Boat parade. Or at least what I thought was the parade.
I can’t find any trace on the internet that the Argosy organized event was planned for this year. It could very well have been a group of Christmas cheer spreaders who dressed up their boats and went anyway. That was surprising, festive, and fun and everyone who was in attendance and participating with their boats were spreading cheer and saying Merry Christmas. The parade passed Gene Coulon Memorial Park around 7:30pm PST on Friday, December 4th. I have no idea whether or not that this is a recurring event, but would definitely recommend it if it is!
Snowflake lane in Bellevue
Another COVID closure, the Snowflake Lane parade and party is called for the 2020 season, instead there will still be lights, piped in holiday cheer, and periodic snow down the Main Street of the parade.
When it returns, I recommend getting a dinner reservation around the show, and plan to get there EARLY! This event draws a crowd, so traffic is usually pretty bad in and out, and finding a good viewing spot is equally difficult, especially on weekends. What we used to do is plan a family outing where we arrive anywhere from 1-2 hours prior to the parade and spend the time before shopping or walking around the mall. Then, we plan our dinner reservation for just slightly after the parade ends (typically 7:30pm). After the parade wraps up, we head up to our dinner and enjoy.
Bellevue Botanical Gardens
Unfortunately, the Bellevue Botanical Gardens were unable to open at all this season for their annual event. I loved this Christmas tradition and was excited to take my little one to it this year. We will just have to wait for next year.
Ice Skating in Bellevue, WA
This activity can be paired with Snowflake Lane or simply a fun evening out on the town. There’s something simply jolly about gliding around in circles with your mittens and smiles, or in some cases flopping around while everyone laughs. Still, it’s a great way to make memories, try something new, and activate your adventurous side during the holidays.
If you’re not into lines and crowds, then I’d recommend the Kent Valley Ice Arena, which usually offers public hours on weekends. There will definitely be less of the festive merriment, but a fall size rink, nicely cared for ice and slightly more comfortable rentals. This is our general go to when it comes to skating.
As is many indoor activities, this will have to be an activity to put on next years list.
Make it merry!
No matter what is on Christmas holiday to do list, keep the reason for the season at heart and no matter what happens, it will be merry and bright.
There have been so many horrendous things that have happened to so many families in 2020. But we are still here, we still persevere, and we have that to be thankful for. I encourage each and every one of you mommas to look at your busy calendar and write in some new and old traditions. Make time and space for it. Don’t have high expectations. Just the expectation that you’ll be able to make memories together. Our children look to us for how to handle tough situations. This is a fantastic opportunity to make a tough situation a great one with just a little bit of flexibility and creativity. Feeling stressed about the holiday stress? Check out my Mom’s Guide to Sanity during the Holidays.
If you enjoyed any of these traditions, please like and subscribe. I’d love to hear the traditions I missed in the comments!
The Mama behind Momma Life 2 the Fullest
Hi Mama! I’m so glad that you are here! My name is Ashlyn and I am a wife, full-time mom and full-time university faculty among other less important titles, such as coffee junkie, outdoor lover, craft and Pinterest enthusiast, energetic traveler, activities planner, and to-do list master. I find that my day sometimes feels like a swirl of diapers, meals, meetings, chores, etc. And, I created this blog as a landing spot to share my experiences and purpose to live this crazy mom life to the absolute fullest.
I was born and raised in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I was homeschooled for the majority of my childhood, which offered me some unique traveling and cultural opportunities. I earned my degree in English and my Masters degree Instructional Design. Before landing my current, work-from-home job, I also taught in the classroom as a 9th grade English-Language Arts teacher.
When we had our daughter, I knew that I wanted to do everything I could to be as present as possible for my little one, so that’s when I found my current flexible-schedule, work-from-home job at an online university.
Mom life is a true gift from God. We were selected to be our little humans mommies, and that is a tremendous blessing and a huge responsibility. This life isn’t meant to just get by. This life is meant to live to the fullest, and our children deserve the most present, life-breathing versions of us.
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