Ed Elf: Can you have such a thing as a ‘new tradition’? Those two words don’t seem to go together at all.
Mrs. C: Well, if a person thinks of something new to do as part of their celebrations – then continues to do it year-on-year it becomes a tradition. So ‘new’ and ‘tradition’ together in one sentence. There you go clever clogs.
Ed Elf: I’m still not convinced.
Mrs. C: You’re failing to see the bigger picture. Maybe that’s an elf thing.
Ed Elf: That’s rather elf-ist of you, Mrs C. But go on – show me what you’re talking about.
Mrs. C: The How to Christmas team have come up with great suggestions for injecting some ‘new’ into the traditions and customs of ‘old’ as well as recommending other fresh and novel ideas you might wish to make annuals. There are 25 in all in the following list to entice you – with much greater detail on each item outlined below that, with full explanations. Why not give just a few of them a try and start – are you listening Ed? – a new tradition!
The Big List of New Traditions
1 – Create personal storybooks to accompany a special and unique evening of gift giving.
2 – Write poetic lines, clues and numbers on tags to turn opening gifts into a guessing game.
3 – Start a collection of tree baubles that will one-day form the “Flying the Nest” set.
4 – Make Advent crackers and help the countdown to Christmas Day go with a bang.
5 – Have a Zoom party for family and friends.
6 – Nominate a Random Acts of Kindness Day for the youngsters in your life. Let them do some good at home or in the neighbourhood, if you can do that safely – and you, your friends and family can hopefully join in too.
7 – Have a Great British Bake Off Day – going head-to-head with family or friends to determine who is champion cook of the Christmas grub.
8 – Make gift tags out of old Christmas cards or fashion new ones from household packaging.
9 – Create a magical movie night at home.
10 – Make pinecone garlands after a winter walk in the woods – as long as it is safe to do so.
11 – Allow Santa to put his foot in it. Check below for more details and you’ll understand we can’t give too much away on this one.
12 – Make Advent a play-on-words with the 24 Books of Christmas.
13 – Create gift cards with a difference – offering the priceless commodity of time.
14 – Hurray for pound shop presents! This will be an inexpensive test of humour and ingenuity for family and friends.
16 – Watch an online offering of a favourite festive theatre show.
17 – Why should Easter have all the hunts? We feel a Christmas treasure hunt coming on.
18 – Put old toys in a Santa sack ready for collection on Christmas Eve. Father Christmas will replace old with new – and you will de-clutter.
19 – Take just 15 minutes out for a special Christmas Eve night gift exchange. No kids, no noise, no interruptions.
20 – Cook a special Christmas Eve dish that will be replicated year after year, conjuring up mouth-watering smells and memories each time.
21 – Visit Father Christmas and get a family picture, not just one of Santa and the kids. Make this the must-achieve family photo each festive season.
22 – Camp out for Christmas. Well, camp in actually. Have a sleepover beside the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree – sleeping bags, barbeque food and all.
23 – Volunteer your services to charity and aim to make it a family affair.
24 – Find a gift that keeps on giving year after year.
25 – Amazon adventure anyone? Use gift vouchers as a pack of purchasers to keep the Christmas excitement alive.
1 – The Personal Storybook
Here is a delightful idea to bring fun, joy and laughter to any gift giving. It’s the notion of a personal storybook to accompany the opening of presents. For the special people in your life the likelihood is you will buy them more than one gift for Christmas. If you are anything like the How to Christmas team, you will shower your nearest and dearest with presents. If this is the case, you can now add to the experience by taking them on a storybook journey as they delve into their bag of treasures. It’s not so easy to achieve with children on Christmas morning, when all they want to do is tear into their gifts. But for Christmas Eve it is perfect, as you will discover. Just CLICK HERE and you will be diverted to our Personalised Gift Opening page for all the details.
2 – Poetic Lines, Clues and Numbered Tags
Another way of adding fun and intrigue to gift opening, especially when there’s a sack-full of items to unwrap, is by tagging each present with clues – some of them rhyming ones if you feel creative enough. There might be a particular order you want them to be opened in as you develop a certain gifts theme, so number each tag as well in this case. It turns gift opening into a kind of game. We have an example for whisky lovers on, you guessed it, our Personalised Gift Opening page. Just CLICK HERE to view the details.
3 – Flying the Nest Bauble Collection
If you have young children, buy them a special Christmas decoration each year. By the time they are ready to leave for university, college or fly the nest for good they will have their own set of ornaments for their own Christmas tree. Each year, take a photo of the youngster holding the new bauble and print it out. Create an album and write details of where the decoration was bought, with whom and on what day. In years to come you will have a magical book of memories.
4 – Advent Crackers
This alternative to a conventional Advent calendar is a cracking idea for youngsters. Buy a couple of boxes of inexpensive crackers, 24 small foil-wrapped chocolate treats and/or the same number of tiny trinkets. Open up one end of the cracker and upgrade the contents with one of your foil-wrapped chocolate pieces and/or one of the trinket gifts, like key rings, small decorations and mini sweet tins. If you wish, put in your own poem or trivia question on a small piece of paper. Close up that end once again and tie ribbon around it, making a big enough loop to hang it over a door handle. Repeat the process with all 24 crackers. Number 24 pieces of card or paper: 1 to 24. Stick a number on each of the crackers. Hang cracker number one from a door handle of a child’s room as they sleep on November 30, ready for them to greet the first day of December with a bang when they awake. Make sure any pets are out of earshot when the crackers are pulled.
5 – Have a Zoom Party for Family & Friends
Invite family and friends to join you in a Zoom party. One of the big virtual winners of 2020 was Zoom and its ability to keep us all connected, be it in work or play. Maybe we can keep this tradition going, if only with people in far flung places who we will not be able to see in person (even when things are back to normal). See your friends and family lined up on your screen, adorned with tinsel, party hats, fairy lights and more. And all raise a glass for staying connected…and for the invention of something that allowed such connection in the terrible pandemic.
6 – Random Acts of Kindness Day
Christmas is a great time to think of others so why not have a day sprinkled with acts of random kindness and get family, friends and neighbours to join in. It can be anything from checking on an elderly neighbour to letting a mother with children and a mountain of shopping go in front of you in the supermarket. One of our team did this not so long ago. The look on the woman’s face was priceless. She said it restored her faith in human kind. You might not quite achieve that standard of recognition, but it’s certainly worth a try.
7 – British Bake Off Day
Deriving inspiration from inside the tent of “The Great British Bake Off”, challenge family or friends to a cook-off. Choose a festive dish and meet up with your ‘rivals’ to prepare it (or even online in your respective kitchens). All dig in afterwards for the big taste test.
8 – Make Gift Tags Out of Old Christmas Cards
Dig out some of those old greetings cards and turn them into gift tags. Cut them into festive shapes, perhaps using crimping shears if you have them. If you don’t have old cards to hand, try using packaging from household goods like cereal packets. Crayons, paints or felt tips can add colour. Punch a hole, add a bit of string or ribbon and you will be tag-tastic. Get all the family involved. This could be a good money-saving exercise, too.
9 – Create a Magical Movie Night
The options here are plentiful. Watch the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” and celebrate your own life and loved ones by cracking open a bottle of champagne and toasting your blessings. Watch “Home Alone” (maybe I & II) with your family while eating cheese pizza and drinking Coca Cola. Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister is never happier in these movies than when he’s eating “a whole cheese pizza just for me.” His cousin Fuller drinks so much Coke that he’s a bit of a bed-wetter. Actually, maybe you should go light on the Coke. Is “The Grinch” more to your liking? Watch the cartoon version and Jim Carrey’s live action version in a double bill while eating bowls of popcorn and homemade cookies with green icing. For the grown-ups, a cheeky Sauvignon Blanc should ensure there is no ‘Grinchiness’.
10 – Make Pinecone Garlands
If you can safely get out to the countryside near you, collect as many pine cones as you can find on a winter walk through the woods, which will be an enjoyable pursuit with your family. At the same time, gather a few small cuttings from the pine trees – each piece just a few centimetres long. Using a length of garden twine, tie a knot around the top of a pinecone and then tie a knot around a pine cutting. Repeat the process until you have a garland long enough to hang on the tree or to drape across a banister, bed headboard or window. You can put any surplus pinecones in a bowl with pot pourri. If you are not able to get to the woods, revert to that childhood delight of making paper chains.
11 – Father Christmas Footprints
In the last few Christmases, there have been Santa-sized boot prints found around fireplaces all over the country. There’s just been a gentle dusting of white stuff outlining the prints – proof that Father Christmas had visited. Of course, this has to be snow from his boots and not, as has been foolishly suggested, talcum powder sprinkled around the stencil of a boot-print. There have been reports of reindeer oats, containing magic stardust glitter, being found in the general vicinity as well. Again, further proof Father Christmas and his reindeer friends have dropped by. Adults everywhere, you know what to do!
12 – The 24 Books of Christmas
This idea can be adopted for adults and children alike. Wrap 24 books in Christmas paper. They might be books you already own, an entirely new collection or a combination of both. Number two-dozen gift tags from 1 to 24 and attach to the wrapped books. Put them in order in a rectangular basket or container, with number one at the front and number 24 at the back. On December 1 open the first book and make that your reading material for the day. Continue the process through December until the 24, when our suggested read is the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”.
This is straightforward enough for youngsters, with so many children’s books to choose from that can be read in one, short bedtime burst. Think of books like “The Gruffalo”; “The Gruffalo’s Child”; “Room on the Broom”; “Father Christmas Needs a Wee”; “The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” and “The Dinosaur Who Pooped Christmas”. You can also include the enchanting books from our original stories section. Make certain you have enough stories for the collection of 24 well before December. Even if the books are not new, children will enjoy the unwrapping process – more an unveiling process really – and have fun guessing what that night’s bedtime story might be. For adults, bite-size books are the key: the kind of work you can easily digest in one sitting at night’s end. Carol Ann Duffy’s collection is perfect. The Poet Laureate has delivered a lovely series of Christmas poetry pamphlets in recent years entitled “The Twelve Poems of Christmas” and also “Bethlehem”; “The Christmas Truce”; “Another Night Before Christmas”; “Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem” and “Mrs. Scrooge: A Christmas Tale”. Other books for your consideration might be: “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekhov, “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans and “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen.
Once the books are wrapped, shuffle them before you add the tags. That way you (or the person for whom you’re creating this experience) won’t know what book you’ll be reading each evening until the wrapping has been torn off – so it’s a surprise whether or not the books are new. You can stick number 24 on “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” from the outset if you want to guarantee that’s your Christmas Eve read.
13 – Gift Cards to Buy Time
Include note-cards in Christmas stockings, sacks or envelopes offering the priceless gift of time to the youngsters in your life. Write something like this on the cards: “Stay up 30 extra minutes before bedtime”; “One late-night pass to stay up to watch the match” or “An hour of computer games after school”. You could even make it a Monopoly-style ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card with words like: “Get out of cleaning your room for a week”. It is then up to the youngsters when they produce the cards to their best advantage. This could work both ways if you encourage your children to write IOU gift cards to you for your stockings on which they spell out their intentions, like: “IOU one free car wash” for Dad or “IOU breakfast in bed” for Mum.
Elf Helper: Also visit our pages on Christmas Birthdays and Coping With Christmas (in particular the loss & bereavement section) for ideas you might want to bring into your holiday season and continue as family traditions.
14 – Pound Shop Presents
We are not suddenly turning Scrooge-like and tasteless – it’s just a bit of inexpensive fun and a test of ingenuity. If you are able to gather as a group of family and/or friends, arrange it so that each person attending the festive bash has to buy gifts for everyone else from within the couple of quid range. If there are six of you, for example, that’s five gifts for a maybe a tenner. Wrap each gift and attach nametags. Within the wrapping, include a Post-it size note explaining why that gift fits the recipient. Each person takes it in turn to hand out his/her presents. What kind of magic have they conjured up with their fiver? How well do they really know you? Have they bought you glue sticks when you’ve always been a sticky tape person? You’ll remember that next year! Oh yes, you’ll get ‘em back! Laughs – or maybe groans – should flow readily. This might not be workable on Christmas Day itself, when there is so much other serious unwrapping going on, but it could be a fun thing to do as a warm-up for the big day. It is also something that can be done remotely, online. Do I hear the word Zoom once more?
15 – Pocket Prize Pyjamas
It is a tradition across vast swathes of the western world: you have to receive new pyjamas at Christmas. That can also mean a new dressing gown and a new pair of slippers as well. Keep that delightful tradition going, of course, but add a twist by delivering a pocket prize surprise. In the pocket of a child’s pyjama top you might want to slip a final note from Father Christmas: “Sleep well young one this magical Christmas Eve – by the time morning comes I’ll have delivered your dreams. Love, Father Christmas”. Perhaps in a dressing gown pocket you can put a tiny guardian angel ornament they can place under their pillow – or an angel-themed tree decoration they can hang above their bed. And if you don’t already own it, buy a book called “The Pajama Elves” (American spelling) by Hayden Edwards to complement the whole PJ package.
16 – Watch a Favourite Festive Theatre Show
After all the excitement of the build-up to Christmas, then the explosion of delight and delirium on the day itself, there is the almost inevitable comedown. At least we in the UK are fortunate enough to have Boxing Day to keep the festivities and over-indulging going a little longer, unlike our American cousins. They are straight back to work on December 26. We also have the quintessentially British tradition of pantomime. Perhaps book in to see a panto – or other seasonal show – in the week between Christmas and New Year, to keep that festive feel going.
17 – Easter Egg Hunt Gone Christmassy
Why should Easter have all the hunts? Christmas can deliver a pretty darn special treasure hunt of its own, given half a chance. Wrap and hide some fun and festive trinkets – inside the house and even outside if the weather is cold, crisp and kind. Write clues on Post-it notes or print out more elaborate ones if you have time. Here are a couple of examples: “Start where you lay your head to sleep – but be careful where you creep.” This piece of treasure could be tucked just behind the bottom of a bedpost. That’s where the second clue can be found that reads: “Curtains hang at the windows but also in this place – somewhere you might brush your teeth and wash your mucky face.” The second treasure can then be discovered near the shower curtain. And so the treasure hunt can continue. Maybe conclude the hunt with Kinder Egg gifts: a nod to Easter. Oversee proceedings so everyone involved has a chance to win a piece of treasure. It isn’t a bad idea to have a couple of gifts hidden in one place and an extra little something in your pocket ready to surreptitiously hand to the crestfallen.
Have your children put old or unwanted toys and games in a Santa sack ready for collection on Christmas Eve. Father Christmas will replace old with new and you will de-clutter. Make certain the toys are of a good quality so they can be ‘delivered by Santa’ to a charity shop in the New Year.
19 – Take 15 Minutes Out for a Special Gift Exchange
Take just a few minutes of time on Christmas Eve night for a special gift exchange with your partner or a cherished loved one. No kids, no noise, no interruptions, just a wonderful moment to share. This way you get to savour your present and fully appreciate the look of delight on the face of the person receiving your gift.
20 – Make a Meal of It on Christmas Eve
Christmas Day might be the main event in terms of turkey and all the trimmings, but Christmas Eve is a special day as well and deserves its own culinary delights. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make something delicious and memorable on Christmas Eve and replicate it year after year? The cooking smells that fill the house that day will create a memory and whenever you get a waft of that lovely, home-cooked goodness in the future you will be magically transported back to that first time. The mother of one of our team always cooked a mouth-watering pork joint on Christmas Eve and carved it on slabs of white bread. ‘Pork Butties’ became the Christmas Eve tradition – chunks of crackling on the side and a glass of something fizzy. Lemonade in the formative years became Asti Spumante in later years and now its full-on, hardcore champagne. The smell of the pork joint cooking is an integral part of Christmas to him and his family.
21 – Visit Father Christmas and Snap the Family Photo
Find a photo-friendly Father Christmas. He could be in a shopping mall, wandering around a garden centre or in his Lapland base. Wherever you find him, gather all the family around and have a group photograph taken. It is ever so cute to see children with him, clambering on his knee and making their innocent gift requests. But what’s wrong with older kids and positively aged adults getting in on the act? Get Gran on his knee, Mum and Dad either side of him, the children at the front and a tall-ish elf to take the picture. Every year, aim to copy that exact photo: same poses, same smiles (or sulks), same poses – just different ages. We know of two brothers who’ve got 30 such pictures…and they’re now 35. What an album they must own.
The Christmas tree lights are twinkling away in all their glory and the living room never looked so festive. What a shame you have to turn the lights out and turn your back on the tree as you head upstairs to bed. Or do you? We suggest a family sleepover beside the beautiful tree, keeping the lights on all night. With LED lights these days, it’s safe. Get out the sleeping bags and fleece blankets, make flasks of hot chocolate and barbeque-flavoured food and tell Christmas stories by the light of flickering candles and a roaring fire. If you don’t have a fireplace, buy one of those virtual log fire DVDs so you can see dancing flames on your TV screen at least. It’s winter, but you can carry on camping.
23 – Volunteer Your Services to Charity
Aim to give something back to those less fortunate this Christmas and every Christmas. Donate tinned food to a nearby food bank and toys to a local toy-drive 0r volunteer at a soup kitchen for the homeless. Get the children involved in the packing of tins and baking of biscuits and inform them why their actions are so valuable and important.
24 – The Gift That Keeps On Giving
An adult has to start the ball rolling with this idea. He or she has to buy a gift – the key being it has to be something in which other gifts can be stored or around which another gift can be wrapped. For example, the chosen present might be a wooden music box. A smaller gift is placed inside the music box and the entire thing is wrapped. When family and/or friends gather, everyone has to put their name in a Santa hat. The gift giver selects one name at random and that person receives the gift. It could be a beautiful tree decoration suitable for all ages and genders. The recipient keeps whatever is in the music box forever but only keeps the music box itself until next Christmas, when they become the new gift giver. They might then choose to wrap Christmas-themed oven-gloves around the box and put just a token chocolate treat inside the box. It is their choice. And so the gift keeps on giving.
25 – An Amazon Adventure – the Search for More Gifts
Just when you think all the gift buying is done, an Amazon adventure comes along. Buy everyone in your immediate family a gift certificate from amazon.co.uk and print them off. There are several Christmas designs to choose from on the website. Choose a night in between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and gather together around a computer or tablet, then spend your vouchers together. You can help each other decide what to select. Did Santa forget something off your Christmas list? Now could be the time to plug that gap. Do this year-on-year and there will be a frisson of gift excitement in the air for you all beyond Christmas Day.
Elf Helper: Got youngsters in your life? Consider a book and toy combination known as “The Elf on the Shelf”. It was introduced in the United States in 2005, having been imagined over a cup of tea by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell. The scout elf sits on a shelf in the house to keep an eye on children and reports back to Santa Claus if they have been naughty or nice. Each elf obtains its magic when the new owner names it. There’s a registration certificate and all. After that, there are two rules in play: the scout elf must not be touched or he might lose his magic – and he only comes to life when everyone else in the house is asleep. There’s a whole website of products at elfontheshelf.com.