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Holiday Traditions From Toddlers To Teens

November 21, 2013

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Just because the kids are getting older doesn't mean you have to abandon your favorite holiday traditions. Here's how ours have adapted as our kids have moved from toddlers to teens.

Christmas Traditions
Holiday traditions are very personal and I hold many near and dear to my heart. They're the things I did with my family growing up, the things that made Christmas so special.

When my husband and I started a family of our own, we wanted the holidays to be as magical a time for them as it was for us.

And for many years, everything went according to plan.

Then everyone grew up.

While certain traditions were easy to carry on, others were feeling a little stale and still others were totally inappropriate for kids who were old enough to drive. And since that skill kept them out of the house and far from home for much of the season, I had to get creative.

I was a woman on a mission, determined to keep our holiday traditions alive and family time focused.

So as the kids grew, so did the way we celebrated. With a little bit of imagination, we have been able to keep just about all of our holiday traditions alive.

Even the elf...

Elf On The Shelf...for the older crowd

Who doesn't love that Elf On The Shelf? You know who? This girl! Years of staying awake and remembering to hide that elf has taken a toll! Just kidding~ I love Buddy, as he has been named in our house (and many others, I'm sure).

Buddy came to us years ago, before he was sold en mass. I bought him from a very pricey specialty catalog. I even made him a coat.

I debated the purchase, as I knew that the kids were on the cusp of believing and would lose interest when the true source of his magic was revealed.

I splurged anyway in the hopes that, in time, hiding him would become a family tradition/ game.

It did and it's worked out very well.

Each Thanksgiving, Buddy reappears and we take turns hiding him at night. It has become a contest to see who can find the most creative and unusual space for him.

I usually lose. I used up all my good ideas when the kids were small...but they are full of new ideas and it keeps a little bit of the Christmas magic alive in our home.

Of course, there are days when instead of saying, "I found him!", you can hear me yelling, "Who did this to the elf?"  But they are teens and if I want them to be engaged, I've got to take the good with the bad....and truth be told, those are the funniest mornings, but don't tell them that!

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar Beyers Carolers
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My mother bought me the most gorgeous Byers' Choice advent calendar years ago when the kids were young. It's shaped like a house with little doors in varying sizes, ready to be loaded with trinkets. 

I used to fill it up for almost nothing...I was able to make something like a bag of tiny erasers from the dollar store fill several spots and everyone was happy.

No more. Unless I want to fill each day with candy (I don't) or junky garbage no one really wants (again, I don't), it has become impractically expensive to find twenty five days of meaningful or appropriate tokens for almost adults.

The kids have also reached an age where our time with them is fleeting, we are always running in different directions. Family time has become very precious. In addition, as they have gotten older, they value the true meaning of the holiday.

It's not just about the gifts. So this year, with the help of Pinterest, we are making our own advent calendar and we are going to fill each day with fun activities, things to do together, a Christmas wish list of sorts. 

I am actually really excited for this one!  We are going to construct it Thanksgiving night, which leads me to our next tradition...creating!

Keepsake crafts

We have always crafted at Christmastime and as a former preschool and primary teacher I had a million craft ideas at the ready. Pop stick ornaments, handprint reindeer and cotton ball Santa faces were some of our favorites.

We'd set up the kitchen table, put on the carols and get busy.The kids had their projects and I had mine.

When the sparkly pipe cleaners didn't cut it anymore, we started heading to the craft store. I'd let everyone pick out a few treasures to make and they were hooked all over again, usually learning a new skill along the way.

Now the things we make together are truly stellar. It is a wonderful way to spend time as a family, in front of the fire or a seasonal TV favorite...talking and laughing while painting, stenciling, name it. Here's a whole page full of them.

Christmas Crafts

It's fast becoming my favorite tradition, second only to....


We bake all season long and, therefore, we eat all season long! We make cookies and cakes, gingerbread houses and pies. The kids make their own chocolate pops, we dip Oreos, pretzels, strawberries and graham crackers in chocolate.

Some days we bake from scratch, others are from the box. Although, that's usually me.

We make elaborate treats from secret family recipes and very basic cookies, like the ones above.  We're not picky, there are no rules and as long as the homework is done and everyone cleans up, the baking is on.

When the kids were small, they helped where they could. Today they plan the day, pick the cookies we're going to make and have even added a few new ones to the list. They're turning this tradition into their very own.

Visiting Santa

This was a huge deal when the kids were tiny. Everyone would get dressed up, have their biggest smile and the number one item on their wish list at the ready and we'd be off to the local general store for pictures and candy canes. 

Santa would hand out stocking stuffers and an assurance that if they were good, they'd be rewarded on Christmas morning.

Mrs. Claus rounded the day out with hot chocolate and a few carols. If were lucky, we were able to sneak in a little gift shopping for grandma. Lovely.

Of course, today, we still visit Santa, but in a different venue. And instead of getting gifts, we are giving them. We go to church or the local food pantry to help hand out tiny treasures to the kids and necessities to those in need alongside Santa.

They still get their visit and their picture, but now they're smiling for a whole different reason.

Watching Christmas Shows

This is one tradition that actually hasn't changed all that much in the many years between toddler and teen. Rudolph and Frosty are still the perennial favorites that the whole family sings along to, but as the years have gone on the list of must see Christmas tv has grown.

The Hallmark Channel rom-coms and classic movies like Elf and It's A Wonderful Life are always a big draw. Although, I think The Holiday takes the cake. 

The key to this one is letting the kids pick a few each year as their tastes' evolve even if they're less Scrooge and more Bad Santa...ugh, not on my keeps everyone interested and in attendance.

Which is the goal.

What are your favorite family traditions?

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  1. What a nice post, Kim. As a new blogger, I'm amazed at how fast things go and how organized the seasoned bloggers are! I've started some crafts for decorating, but these are bigger things for the house, and they won't put up until after Thanksgiving. The family does baking and kid crafts during the actual "season." And the great thing about teens is they actually help, so I'm not stuck with all the clean up and baking!! :)

    1. I'm loving the teen years, Dee. I know that a lot of people dread them and some enjoy the holidays more when the kids are small, but I have to say, we are having just as much fun now! Shopping for them is harder, for sure, and MUCH more expensive, but the clean up help makes it all worth it! :) Can't wait to see your decorations!

  2. Kim, I'd like to come and hang out with you and your family from now through New Years. Your family traditions are so special. I can imagine how much fun your teens have with Buddy, as it reminds me of how it was when our son was a teen. Loved those years. My mother was the queen of Christmas baking, and she introduced me to the chocolate kisses cookies. Those are soooo good. I enjoyed this post so much. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, Nancy

    1. I guess it's the kid in me, but I just adore Christmas and try to jam as much into the season as I can! I am trying to embrace the teen antics, because I know that it is short lived...and like I said, it is funny! Thanks for your super sweet comments as always, Nancy! :)

  3. Great post Kim, what a wonderful read. Blogging can be really tough around this time of year, with parties and dinners to plan, posting about it all is a big work in on itself! I love traditions too and would you believe, this year is the first year I've really understood what the elf on the shelf was all about? I grew up in the Philippines so we didn't have this and I recently just read the story about it, might be a good one to start with my own family! I do have an advent calendar, again, something that I started last year only, as you can guess, we don't have much traditions other than writing to santa and getting our gifts! Thank you for sharing your dear , relax and enjoy, you'll catch up to everything that needs catching up in no time!

    1. Vel, what a lovely heartfelt comment, thank you so much! Our traditions are nothing unique, just some activities that have been passed down from my own childhood! I found out about the Elf on the playground from some savvy moms. It really is a cute idea, I actually like it better now that we are all involved~ less pressure on mom! ;)

  4. Kim- What a lovely post. I, too, like to enjoy each holiday as it comes and because I am doing Thanksgiving here this year I am not putting Christmas decor out until the day after and then it is all hands on deck- which means MY two hands and anyone I can force to carry stuff for me. lol

    You are so lucky to have your kids home to share the holidays with- enjoy every moment of it. Last year we bought each family an Elf on the Shelf and it was so much fun. We made a night of it with a Christmas movie -Buddy the Elf one- and had dinner and opened the one present for everyone- the elf.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Kim. I am off to the Holiday Christmas walk tomorrow with two of my girls-the third is out of town this year- darn it all- xo Diana

    1. Diana, I know these moments with the kids are fleeting...I am trying to hold on tight! I think that is why I am so excited about our traditions! I am trying to block out the days when they may be out of town during the holidays!

  5. I just nominated you for the Sunshine Award! Don't feel pressured to participated, but I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and that it brings a little sunshine to my day(how corny right?) Anyway if you want to participate check out my blog post today for all the rules!


    1. Angi, you are ridiculously sweet! I just adore your blog as well! I read your own answers to your questions and we are so alike...I was also obsessed with Cinderella and can still repeat it verbatim! I love Adam Sandler, cry at everything and make lists in pretty planners all the time...I also love "corny"! :) I am truly flattered by your nomination!

  6. My family makes cappelletti soup each year. It is amazing and a lost art. Happy holidays!

    1. Totally get it Jennifer. My mom is first generation Albanian and my dad was first generation Italian. There was always lots of old world cooking going on in my house growing up. Today there is lots of pizza! ;)

  7. I love those cookies... they are kind of a tradition in my family, as someone brings them to the Christmas celebration every year. My moom and my uncle call them Boob Cookies. Which makes them a little less appetizing to me. But they're still good! Most of our traditions of my childhood have faded away, but it has been nice making new traditions... for instance, for some reason now every Christmas we play Monopoly and Yahtzee!

    1. I guess that is what happens sometimes, traditions evolve. I love the game idea~ especially when played with people you love! :)

  8. So adorable I love the mittens and those cookies are the best! :-)

    1. Thanks Crystal, I love those mittens, too...I'd forgotten how much I love to paint and the shaped slate was fun to work with!

  9. We did one tradition this past weekend....attended the "Nutcracker". It was perfectly performed and I can officially say that since one of my granddaughters was "Clara", and the other was "miss Mousie" :^) Too cute!!
    Since the family is all over the US, it is hard to do much together. I do some things that I've always done, and if I miss anything, I hear about it when they arrive for the holidays.....ooops....
    I have step kids, grands and great grands now, and the very ones who don't seem to pay too much attention to the "stepmother" are the ones who come in and say..."well, where is __________? Didn't you put it out this year???" Yep, it's a fun world....of course my story may be different next Monday after they have all (40ish) been around and in and out all weekend :^0....
    Have a lovely Thanksgiving!!!

    1. I love the Nutcracker! We try to go every year...although we don't know any of the performers, I can see how that would certainly make the show you saw the absolute best! I hope you do get to see the majority of your family this holiday, we have a big family, too and everyone is scattered! Thank goodness for Skype and Facetime!

  10. Hi Kim,

    I so enjoyed reading about your lovely family traditions during the holiday season! It is quite evident that you are very dedicated to creating a wonderfully cozy atmosphere, one which is unique to your own family. I like what you said about living in the moment, to really appreciate the nesting aspect of this time of year. I collect snowmen and Santas and your snowmen, both painted and crafted, are adorable! Your children have got your talent gene, indeed!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!


    1. Thank you so much, Poppy! As you can imagine, we hustle and bustle around a lot during the year, so if I can come up with things to keep them a little closer to home during the holidays, it's worth the effort! :)

  11. Great traditions. I'm looking forward to getting all the ornaments and decorations out. Thanks for sharing at Silver Pennies Sundays. x

    1. Danielle, we've been decorating all weekend and having a ball ~ hope you are too! :)

  12. Kim, your traditions will be carried into your children's homes someday. Most years we have a snack dinner/family party and attend late Christmas Eve worship at 11:00 pm. We're enjoying seeing our son with our grandson in his lap, just as Bob held him for those young years. And of course neither planned to fall asleep, because they were overjoyed to be staying up so late. And now our snacks continue along with opening of family gifts. And then Santa sneaks in after we're asleep and awaken to find that sweetie has arrived without us knowing a thing about him! I love Santa! Merry Christmas!

    1. Helen, I believe that you are right...I know that a lot of our traditions have grown out of things I did as a little girl ~ especially the baking! It must be lovely to be able to see your own traditions being carried on by your son with your grandson and to be a part of it all! Merry Christmas to you too, Helen!