We Asked, You Answered: Christmas Eve Traditions

Here Are Some Popular (And Some Unique) Christmas Eve Traditions

December 20, 2018 Updated October 13, 2020

worst christmas
lisegagne / Getty

When I was a child, my mother allowed us to open one gift the night before Christmas, and it was always pajamas. Every time. I always hoped it would be something else: a new movie, or video game, or three pounds of candy and a liter of soda, but it was always pajamas. She was a single mom, and each year, when I’d open my pajamas and look up at her with disdain, she’d look back at me with cold tired eyes from taking on a second (or sometimes 3rd) job to pay for Christmas that seemed to say, “Take the hint kid. Go to bed. I’m done.”

Naturally, my brother, sister, and I slid into our stretchy jammies with whatever character we were into that year (Hulk Hogan lasted a couple years for me) and drifted off to sleep, riding on Santa’s sleigh, and dreaming of dancing sugar plums. (Or not.)

As a parent now, we do things a little differently. We ditched the pajamas and added wooden shoes. My wife’s family is Dutch, so we put out wooden shoes next to our stockings. We picked them up in Iowa, and although I don’t believe Christmas Eve is the right day for wooden shoes according to Dutch traditions, it doesn’t matter because this is our family and these are our traditions. We put out wooden shoes, so deal with it. My kids dig it. They try the shoes on for a moment, realize they aren’t comfortable at all, and then we laugh, fight the kids to wind down, and eventually put out the gifts before going to bed.

We recently posed the question: What are your Christmas Eve traditions? And we got some wonderful responses that probably sound a lot like what you are doing now, and others that make me feel like adding something new to our Christmas Eve offerings.

Lots of folks mentioned traditions that are pretty standard, like reading The Night Before Christmas as a family or making cookies for Santa or eating Chinese food or pizza. Some families go to mass, some read scriptures, and some are more secular.

A surprising number of families bundle their little ones up and go out into the cold for a Christmas pageant.

One couple pulls straws to see who has to go to the store to buy emergency presents or ingredients that were forgotten. This is a much more civilized way to handle the situation. My wife and I just argue, and eventually one walks out with a nice slam of the door.

Obviously my mother wasn’t the only parent letting their children open one gift that happens to be pajamas. It’s incredibly popular. However, some families are adding a little more to it, and including the elf. And yes, I know that I, along with many other parents, complain about that little red hat wearing, Big Brother watching, demon in red pants, but he has become part of my children’s Christmas experience, so we might as well make the best of it.

One family in particular said that when their elf says good bye on Christmas Eve, there’s a knock at the door. Their kids answer it, and find that the elf left a box for each child and a note that reads: “It’s time for me to go and let Santa know you’ve behaved, enjoy your Christmas Eve boxes.” Inside the boxes are pajamas, hot chocolate, a treat, and a Christmas movie. Then, as a family, they get in their new pajamas and have a hot chocolate while watching the new Christmas film.

Now listen, I’m not trying to make the holidays any more hectic. I’m not even saying I would take the time to do this with everything else I have going on Christmas Eve, but I must admit, this is a pretty adorable and family oriented idea that kids will totally remember.

Now just to be transparent, I am not Icelandic, nor have I ever visited Iceland, but I am seriously considering adopting Jólabókaflóð into my holiday tradition. One family brought this up, and I’m in love with the idea. Jólabókaflóðið (Icelandic for “Yule book flood”) is the annual release of new books in Iceland occurring in the months before Christmas. The whole tradition centers on giving books and reading books around Christmas time, particularly on Christmas Eve. As an author and certified book nerd, this is pure gold! I fully support and endorse this tradition.

And since we don’t want to leave out the Christmas procrastinators, if you are the kind of person who waits until Christmas Eve to do your shopping, you aren’t alone. In fact, for more families than you’d think, the day before Christmas is spent shopping for gifts. And not just one or two, but ALL the gifts, along with the tree. Just writing about this is making my palms sweat. I shop online, weeks in advance, because it’s just so much easier on my anxiety, and I don’t have to wear pants. But hey, to each their own, and if you are out there pushing the cart on Christmas Eve as a family, enjoy!

If there’s a take away from all of this, it’s that each family has their own traditions for Christmas Eve. Some of them were passed down from one family, to another. Some were developed on the fly, while some are to remember a lost loved one. Some revolve around the elf, and some are yet to be, but what’s important is that they are done as a family.