31 Christmas Eve Traditions That'll Make Your Family Feel Very Merry Indeed

by Clint Edwards
Children reading in front of Christmas tree — Christmas Eve traditions
Elizabethsalleebauer/Getty Images

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 Christmas 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 tired eyes from taking on a second (or sometimes third) 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 of years for me) and drifted off to sleep, riding on Santa’s sleigh and dreaming of dancing sugar plums. (Or not.) As Christmas Eve traditions go, it may not have been the most exciting, but it was ours.

As a parent now, my family does 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.

So, in the spirit of claiming the makeshift customs you call your own, ScaryMommy 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. With that said, here are a few of those ideas you may want to borrow come Dec. 24.

Christmas Eve Traditions to Make Dec. 24 Even More Magical

  1. Read The Night Before Christmas as a family.
  2. Bake cookies for Santa.
  3. Sing Christmas carols. Or, if you want to make it more fun, have your own special Christmas karaoke in the living room.
  4. Order takeout. There’s actually a lot of fascinating history behind Chinese food on Christmas!
  5. Attend mass or read scriptures.
  6. Go to a local Christmas pageant or parade.
  7. Make a last-minute gift run. One couple said they pull straws to see who has to go to the store for emergency presents or forgotten ingredients.
  8. Drive around looking at all of the Christmas lights. Does this ever get old? Nope. It doesn’t matter what your age is, you’ll feel like a kid again.
  9. Pick a new spot for your Elf on the Shelf. Yes, I know that I, along with many other parents, complain about that little red hat-wearing, Orwellian 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.
  10. Gift your kids a cozy Christmas Eve box. Each year’s box might include things like a new pair of pajamas (thanks, Mom), a mug for hot cocoa, and a Christmas DVD. Then, as a family, you can put on your new PJs and sip hot chocolate while watching the new Christmas film.
  11. Or just let your kids open one gift of their choosing.
  12. Call Santa Claus or track him using the official NORAD Santa tracker.
  13. Adopt Jólabókaflóð into your Christmas Eve traditions. 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.
  14. Make homemade apple cider.
  15. Play DIY Christmas games.
  16. Host an ornament exchange. Ask your close friends or family to pick a few ornaments, either from the store or their own stockpile. Then, you’ll meet up to make swaps so that everyone winds up with a new ornament or two for their collection.
  17. Put together a care package to send to troops deployed overseas.
  18. Play ding-dong ditch — the holiday way. Ring a neighbor’s doorbell and run, leaving behind a sweet treat or Christmas card on their stoop. (Definitely only do this with neighbors you feel would appreciate the sentiment!)
  19. Have a Christmas Eve campout. Set up a tent in your living room, make s’mores, and snuggle.
  20. Bust out the crayons and get creative with free printable Santa coloring pages, gingerbread man coloring pages, and elf coloring pages.
  21. Make “reindeer food.” This sparkly treat for Santa’s hooved team is super simple. Just mix raw oatmeal and colored or glittery confection sprinkles (glitter isn’t safe for wildlife), then let the kids scatter it in the yard.
  22. Complete a Christmas Eve scavenger hunt. Make a list of traditional Christmas things, and see who can spot them all first. Ideas might include Christmas carolers, someone in a Santa hat, a popcorn garland, etc.
  23. Decorate gingerbread houses.
  24. Have a movie marathon and introduce your kids to all of your favorite ’80s Christmas movies and ’90s holiday classics.
  25. Host a kid-friendly Christmas Eve party.
  26. Play Christmas bingo (don’t worry; you can find boxed sets online).
  27. Make candy cane castles using a whole lotta candy canes and icing for “glue.”
  28. Ask Alexa to play Christmas music. Then, have everyone try to guess each song as it comes on. The first person to name it correctly gets a point.
  29. Sit around the tree telling Christmas jokes and Christmas riddles.
  30. Volunteer together.
  31. Pull everything off at the eleventh hour. 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 presents, 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. If you’re out there pushing the cart on Christmas Eve as a family, enjoy!

The Most Important Tradition of All

If there’s a takeaway from all of this, it’s that each family has its own traditions for Christmas Eve. Some of them got passed down from one family to another. Some were developed on the fly, while others developed to remember a lost loved one. Some revolve around the elf, and some are yet to be. But what’s important is that you do them as a family.