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Great Christmas Traditions for Dads and Their Families


I have to admit; I love the holiday season. Maybe I'm just a romantic, or maybe the fun of the holidays overcomes all the challenges associated with them. But it is my favorite time of year.

One of the things that makes it so is our commitment to family traditions that we enjoy during the holidays. I spoke with a number of fathers whose families feel the same way about holiday traditions, and I asked them to tell me about the unique things they do with their families. If your family might enjoy some fun family traditions that dad can be involved with, then maybe this list is for you.

Decorating Traditions. A number of the dads I spoke with have a great time with the kids decorating. It seems that the trend of these dads is that the fathers take responsibility for the outside decorations and the mom focus inside. So, if you have some outside decorations, consider involving the kids. My youngest children are teenagers now and they have taken over hanging lights on the roof (I never liked ladders anyway but I used to do it when it was only me who could). But we also have lights around a couple of shrubs in the front yard, and we also put up a nativity scene and some cool holographic light displays (a train and a seesaw) in the front yard. The kids have fun placing them, testing the lights, and finding creative ways to safely hide the extension cords.

Christmas Trees. I suspect that there are as many ways to secure and decorate Christmas trees as there are families. Some prefer the artificial tree; for some nothing but a freshly cut or living tree will do. We have moved to having three trees in our house-one in the living room, a tall but skinny tree in our great room, and a freshly cut tree in the downstairs family room. Some families take off into the mountains nearby to cut their own tree down. In our family, we have a favorite tree lot nearby and the kids rotate each year getting to come with mom and dad to pick out the tree.

Also, some families have a tradition with tree ornaments. Ours tend to be pretty traditional; one tree has ornaments cut out of wood and given to the children every year by their grandparents. The other trees in our house have sentimental ornaments-ones kids made at school or that were gifts from others. Some dads I talked to had a "formal" tree in the living room and a second tree with the sentimental ones. Other dads liked the more homespun trees with popcorn and cranberry strings. But making your Christmas tree unique to your family can be a fun tradition.

Serving Others. Many dads I talked to had traditions around serving others. One family makes Christmas bells out of red and green construction paper using cookie cutters as a pattern. They then write down a "gift of service" for each member of the family on a bell and hang them on the Christmas tree. Another family we know volunteers each year at a local homeless shelter to serve Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. Another one visits a local merchant with an "angel tree" and picks children for whom they buy gifts anonymously. Others have a "Secret Santa" plan where they take gifts and food to a family in the neighborhood who might be struggling. But traditions involving service are an important part of many families' holidays.

Favorite Activities. Our family has a pretty unique activity tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve afternoon, we take the kids swimming at a local recreation center. It's a fun activity when it is winter, and we learned many years ago that a couple of hours swimming led to an early bedtime and quickly going to sleep. Other families I know drive around and look at Christmas lights and stop for hot cocoa. Still others traditionally go to a concert with a favorite local singing group or choir. My wife's family had the tradition of all the kids sleeping in sleeping bags on the balcony outside their bedrooms on Christmas Eve. Some families in our area go skiing or sledding together once during the holidays. When we lived in Kansas City, we used to go down to the Country Club Plaza for the lighting ceremony every year. Whatever the activity, the most important thing is that you do it together and do it every year. That's what builds traditions and fond memories.

Meal Traditions. This is a big one for us. On Christmas Eve, we order pizza for dinner, mainly because we are too busy to cook. But if we ever brought home Chinese food, our kids would think we had lost our minds. And Christmas morning is always cinnamon rolls and an egg and sausage strata. I know one family who has a dutch oven breakfast every Christmas morning.

Reading Traditions. For our family, books are important all year long. But during the holidays, we read a lot. One of our traditions is to invite other families in our neighborhood over on a Sunday evening before Christmas and have them bring a "potluck" Christmas treat and a favorite holiday story. Then we all sit down together and read the stories aloud and then enjoy treats. And there are some books we read every year, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas (complete with my famous Grinch-impression) and The Little Shepherd Boy. On Christmas Eve, before going to bed, we also read the Christmas story from The Bible.

Traditions are important to children. When I asked dads why they had holiday traditions in their families, the answers were varied. Some said it was just fun. Others said it gave them something to do with the children. Others thought the traditions helped them look beyond themselves during the holidays. One dad reminded me of the sentiment expressed by Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof-that traditions define who we are and help us understand our place in the world. As dads, we can find traditions that establish that kind of identity in our children if we work at it.

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