christmas eve traditions for families

25 Unforgettable Christmas Eve Traditions for Families

Christmas Eve is a magical night filled with beloved traditions that bring families together. From festive foods to meaningful activities, these traditions help make Christmas Eve unforgettable.

Here is a list of 25 Christmas Eve traditions for families that you and your loved ones will remember forever.

Traditional Foods

Christmas Eve dinner

Christmas Eve dinner is a cherished tradition for many families. The meal is often an elegant affair with candlelight, china, and holiday linens. Classic Christmas Eve entrees like baked ham, roast beef tenderloin, or rack of lamb are served. Side dishes may include scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables, and dinner rolls. 

For dessert, decadent treats like yule log cake, buche de noel, or chocolate mousse make the meal complete. Families dress up in holiday attire to partake in this meaningful dinner that ushers in Christmas. Lingering over candlelight and festive foods, the Christmas Eve dinner allows family togetherness and celebration before the big day. 

This special meal signifies the official start of Christmas.

Baking Christmas treats

The scents of cinnamon, gingerbread, and vanilla fill kitchens on Christmas Eve as families carry on the tradition of baking holiday treats. Cookie swaps are a popular activity, with friends and neighbors exchanging tins of homemade goodies like snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, and peppermint bark. 

Families may also bake trays of festive cookies to leave out for Santa or to give to loved ones. Old family recipes are passed down and enjoyed for generations. Hours are happily spent rolling, cutting, and decorating cookies, assembling layered peppermint fudge, and sampling the edible creations. 

The tradition of baking on Christmas Eve makes the home smell of the season and delivers sweet homemade gifts to share.

Hot chocolate bar

A highlight of Christmas Eve is indulging in festive hot chocolates. Families can set up a hot cocoa bar with a variety of flavors, spices, and toppings so everyone can customize their mugs. Rich chocolate, peppermint, and caramel hot cocoa options provide a decadent base. 

Mini marshmallows, crushed candy canes, chocolate shavings, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, whipped cream, and cherries offer endless mix-ins. The DIY bar fuels Christmas Eve creativity and fun for all ages. As carols play and the smells of chocolatey goodness fill the air, families laugh and enjoy creating their perfect hot cocoa creations while making memories together. 

The hot chocolate bar is a new Christmas Eve favorite.

Popcorn and Christmas movies

After the flurry of Christmas Eve activities, families often settle in for an evening of snacking on popcorn and watching classic holiday movies. Loved ones lounge in pajamas and curl up with cozy blankets, excited for this beloved tradition. Bowls are filled with fresh, warm popcorn tossed in melted butter and sprinkled with salt or sugary cinnamon. 

It’s hard to beat Christmas classics like  It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, and the Grinch when it comes to laughter and nostalgia. Parents reminisce about childhood favorites, while kids enjoy the magic. With lights from the Christmas tree twinkling in the background, the simple tradition of movies and popcorn makes Christmas Eve cozy and creates lasting memories.

Meaningful Activities

Reading the Christmas story

On Christmas Eve, many families gather to read the biblical account of the first Christmas from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Children listen with wonder as the story unfolds about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, Jesus’ humble birth in a manger, and the angels announcing the glad tidings to shepherds. 

Parents explain the meaning behind the story and the birth of Jesus Christ. Reading this famous story annually connects families to the origins of Christmas and its message of hope and peace on earth. 

For Christian families, reading the Christmas story is a sacred tradition that brings them closer to the heart of Christmas on the holy night before celebrating Christ’s birth. The telling of this ancient story renews their faith.

Christmas Eve box/basket

A new Christmas Eve tradition gaining popularity is the Christmas Eve box. Parents fill a wrapped box with cozy Christmas-themed pajamas, hot cocoa, and holiday books for kids to open on Christmas Eve. 

This special box contains exciting little gifts to enjoy before bed on the most anticipated night of the year. Kids gleefully unwrap their new pajamas, begging to put them on right away before snuggling up to read their new books with mugs of hot chocolate. 

The Christmas Eve box gifts create a meaningful bedtime ritual. Reading tucked in new pajamas ensures kids will have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads before Santa’s arrival. This new tradition adds magic and excitement to Christmas Eve night.

Christmas Eve crafts

On Christmas Eve, families enjoy gathering around the table for festive craft-making. Kids and parents let their creativity shine as they assemble homemade ornaments, wreaths, and cards. Popular crafts include decorating salt dough ornaments, building gingerbread houses, or stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree. 

Friends and extended family may join for a Christmas crafting party full of laughter, music, and tasty snacks. These handmade holiday crafts often become sentimental decorations for years to come, reminding families of treasured Christmas Eves spent creating together. 

The tradition of Christmas Eve crafting provides an opportunity to make meaningful decorations while building excitement for the big day.


Bundle up in scarves, mittens, and hats and go door-to-door caroling on Christmas Eve to spread holiday cheer throughout the neighborhood. Families choose favorite carols like “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Jingle Bells” to sing together, their luminaries lighting the sidewalks. 

Listeners answer with smiles, sometimes offering cookies and hot chocolate to keep carolers warm. Doors open to reveal families in pajamas, ready for Christmas morning. Caroling brings joyful music to all within earshot. Kids skip with excitement, proud to raise their voices. 

The sounds of carols fill the air, amplifying the Christmas spirit. Caroling on Christmas Eve fosters community and provides lasting memories for carolers and listeners alike.

Looking at lights

On Christmas Eve, families bundle up in the car and head out to look at dazzling neighborhood light displays. From simple white lights lining rooflines to elaborate animatronic scenes, each block shows off their decorative flair. 

Kids eagerly press their noses against the car windows, ooing and ahhing over inflatable Santas, glittering reindeer, and technicolor light shows synchronized to holiday music. Parents share memories of their own childhood displays. Spotting each new, creative display builds anticipation for Santa’s arrival. 

Ending at a local park or town square to admire an enormous tree draped in lights is the perfect finale. Driving around to admire Christmas lights is a magical family tradition on Christmas Eve.

Having a snowball fight

For families lucky enough to have snow on Christmas Eve, an epic snowball fight makes for a fun holiday tradition. Bundle up in snow pants, boots, jackets, and mittens and head outside to transform the front yard into a winter wonderland battlefield. 

Divide into teams or every-person-for-themselves and let the frosty flying furor begin! Snowballs soar through the air, hitting coats, boots, and the occasional cheek amid squeals of delight. Use snow to build forts and stockpile ammunition. After an exhilarating snowy spar, head inside to warm up with hot chocolate. 

A Christmas Eve snowball fight allows family and friends to embrace the holiday spirit and the childlike joy of playing in the snow.

Tracking Santa

A beloved modern Christmas Eve tradition is tracking Santa’s journey across the globe. Families excitedly log onto the NORAD Santa Tracker website, which follows St. Nick’s Christmas Eve travels in real time. 

Watching the map, kids yell out as the Santa icon zooms from continent to continent delivering presents. They keep vigil, determined to catch the exact moment Santa enters their city. With cookies and milk at the ready, families countdown to Santa’s arrival at their home. This interactive tradition builds suspense and captures the magic of Christmas Eve. 

Tracking Santa’s Christmas Eve adventure creates thrilling memories and helps impatient children finally get to bed before his visit.

Family Togetherness

Attending Christmas Eve church service 

Attending candlelight church services on Christmas Eve is a treasured tradition for many families. Bundling up against the winter chill, families head out into the dark, crisp night. Entering the church aglow with tiny flames, they join their community in sacred Christmas worship. 

Children gaze at the nativity scene setup near the altar as the minister leads readings, prayers, and holiday hymns like “Silent Night.” Candles flicker, symbolizing Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The service closes with “Joy to the World.” 

Families return home with hearts filled with the peace and promise of Christmas. For Christians, Christmas Eve services beautifully focus attention on the reason for the season – Jesus’ birth.

Christmas Eve photo

An endearing Christmas Eve tradition is capturing the night before Christmas with a family photo. After the flurry of activity subsides, gather everyone in front of the Christmas tree or fireplace for an annual holiday portrait. 

Get creative with festive props like Santa hats, reindeer antlers, snowflake signs, or Christmas sweater matching PJs. Each year records favorite holiday outfits and silly smiles as kids grow before your eyes. Displaying Christmas Eve photos chronicles your family’s history and memories. 

Younger generations will come to treasure these heartwarming photos documenting Christmases past. When the craziness of Christmas day approaches, take a moment on Christmas Eve to create lasting keepsakes with a family photo. 

Opening one gift

Allowing each family member to open a single gift on Christmas Eve builds eager anticipation for the next morning. After the hustle and bustle winds down, gather in front of the tree and hand out one thoughtfully chosen present to unwrap. 

Kids beam with excitement as they gently peel off paper and bows to reveal their new treasure, whether pajamas, a book, or a game. Parents and grandparents relish the joy of watching little ones open their gifts. Splashes of torn wrapping paper surround opened presents that will get played with immediately. 

This Christmas Eve tradition rewards patience, allowing just a sneak peek at the celebration ahead. Opening a present makes Christmas morning seem right around the corner.

Thankful circle

On Christmas Eve, gather loved ones in a circle for a meaningful tradition – going around and sharing things you’re thankful for this holiday season. Each person takes a moment for thoughtful reflection before expressing gratitude for health, family, friends, faith, and blessings over the past year. 

Parents articulate thankfulness for the light and joy their children bring. Kids share their excitement over Santa’s impending visit. Laughter fills the spaces between as each family member contributes. 

Ending the year reflecting on what matters most powerfully connects family and focuses hearts on the meaning of Christmas – goodwill and celebration of one another. 

The thankful circle fosters an atmosphere of love.

Volunteer together

A heartwarming way for families to give back is by volunteering together during the Christmas season. Look for opportunities like serving at a soup kitchen, donating gifts to children in need, or caroling at a nursing home. 

Discuss as a family why you feel called to volunteer and get excited about helping others. Arrive together to serve meals, wrap presents, or spread cheer through song to those who need it most. Volunteering as a family amidst the bustle of the holidays refocuses attention on compassion and giving. 

Driving home afterwards, kids beam with the spirit of Christmas. Volunteering together nurtures empathy in children and creates deeply meaningful memories.

Christmas Eve breakfast 

On Christmas morning, families often indulge in elaborate feasts and rich dinners. A meaningful tradition is also sharing a memorable Christmas Eve breakfast together. 

Rise early to cook up stacks of pancakes, waffles, or French toast topped with festive fruits, syrups, and whipped creams for a sweet start to the day. Bake a breakfast casserole or strata filled with eggs, cheese, and holiday flavors. Set the table with bright linens and fresh flowers. Lingering over steaming mugs of cocoa and treats, laughter and joy fills the kitchen. 

The Christmas Eve breakfast offers a peaceful oasis for connection before the exhilarating rush of unwrapping gifts begins. This new tradition starts Christmas on a cherished note.

Christmas Eve walk

For fresh air and exercise before the big feast, go on an evening stroll around your neighborhood on Christmas Eve. Don scarves, mittens, and winter coats to brave the chill. Step outside and admire dazzling lights decorated on nearby homes as you walk off some holiday indulgence. Wave to families enjoying their own traditions through warmly lit windows. 

Stop to chat with a neighbor or two bold enough to be outside. Gaze at candlelit windows of the local church. Thewalk highlights the community connections that make the holiday special. 

Return home ready to embrace the family festivities ahead with brightened spirits from time spent reflecting outdoors. 

Christmas Eve wishes

On Christmas Eve, gather loved ones to share personal wishes in a meaningful tradition of reflection. One by one, have each family member describe their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the upcoming year. Parents wish for health and happiness. 

Kids wish for new toys or a puppy. Grandparents wish for more time with family. Expressing these heartfelt wishes verbalizes dreams and goals. As each person describes their ideal future, bonds strengthen through vulnerability and trust. Close your eyes and imagine each wish coming true in the new year. 

Sharing wishes on the cusp of Christmas focuses attention on what matters most – warm relationships and bright tomorrows.

Bedtime Rituals

Hang stockings

On Christmas Eve, there’s no better final task than the tradition of hanging stockings above the fireplace. 

Families reverently hang the symbolic stockings marked with each person’s name, taking care to space them evenly. Kids joyfully decorate spare stockings for Santa and Rudolph too. St. Nick can then fill them during his visit. 

Stockings sway like chimes when they’re finished hanging in a row. In the quiet moments before bed, children beam looking at their personalized stocking, imagining the small gifts soon to come. 

This enduring tradition represents welcoming Santa into your home and kickstarts the magical anticipation of Christmas morning to come!

Sprinkle reindeer food

On Christmas Eve, help Santa’s reindeer easily find your home by scattering reindeer food outside. Make magical reindeer food by combining oats, edible glitter, and other crunchy snacks. 

After dark, head outside with kids to sprinkle reindeer food on the grass or driveway. The food trail will lead the reindeer and sleigh straight to your door. Kids excitedly use spoonfuls to make a glittery path to the front door. 

They giggle imagining reindeer munching the mixture as they land. This whimsical tradition fuels imagination and gets kids actively involved in Christmas Eve preparations. Sprinkling reindeer food on Christmas Eve creatively builds holiday anticipation.

Christmas Eve box

Continue the magic of Christmas Eve into the wee hours of the morning with a special box tucked by kids’ beds. After hanging stockings and before turning in for the night, lovingly place a wrapped box filled with new pajamas, holiday books, and cozy socks at the foot of each bed. 

Write a personalized note for extra joy. Come Christmas morning, children will wake to find their Christmas Eve box waiting to be unwrapped. Reading by the light of the Christmas tree in new pajamas enhances the excitement. This new tradition extends the holiday spell a little bit longer for kids impatient for Christmas Day. A Christmas Eve box makes waking up extra celebratory.

Set out cookies and milk for Santa

One of the most iconic and beloved Christmas Eve traditions is leaving out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. As kids, there was no greater thrill than carefully choosing our favorite holiday cookies – snickerdoodles, gingerbread men, snowball cookies – and arranging them perfectly on a festive Christmas plate. 

We’d set out a tall glass of icy cold milk alongside the cookies, hoping the treat would fuel Santa for his long night of gift-giving ahead. In the morning, we’d wake to find the cookies half-eaten and the milk drained, proof that Santa had stopped at our home. 

This small gesture of leaving something out for St. Nick is a way for families to participate in the magic and wonder of Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve night.

Read The Night Before Christmas 

After the stockings are hung and treats left out for Santa, keep Christmas Eve magic swirling by reading the classic poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” 

Gather young ones in front of the glowing Christmas tree and animatedly read about the arrival of Saint Nicholas on a snowy Christmas Eve. Watch their faces light up at descriptions of Santa’s miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. 

Have them chime in on the famous opening lines, “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…” 

As their imaginations soar, tuck little ones into bed with visions of sugarplums sure to dance in their heads all night. This perfect bedtime story sets the stage for sweet Christmas dreams.

Wait up for Santa

Of course, you could just admit the obvious and lean into it as a family. After all, everyone knows there’s no way kids can sleep when they’re waiting for Santa to show up!

So why not make a night of it and set up watch by the window to see who can spot the kindly old elf first? Check out the NORAD Santa Tracker to keep track of Father Christmas’s progress as he makes his way around the world.

Little tikes might eventually fall asleep despite their best efforts, and then you can carry them to bed. If you’re going to make a night of watching for Santa, though, be aware that he’s eventually going to have to show up, or the kiddos will be in for a big disappointment.

Plan accordingly!

The Magic of Christmas Is Up to You

However you celebrate, enjoy making memories with your loved ones on this magical night. Use these Christmas Eve traditions for families as inspiration for making your own holiday the best ever.

Merry Christmas Eve!






3 responses to “25 Unforgettable Christmas Eve Traditions for Families”

  1. […] carol holds a special place in the hearts of many, often accompanied by cherished memories and traditions. Whether it’s singing it with family by the fireplace, listening to a favorite rendition, or […]

  2. […] is the main Christmas Eve tradition, with fireworks welcoming churchgoers afterwards. Back at home, families share the traditional buñuelos treats and hot chocolate, open gifts, and let children play with new toys before getting […]

  3. […] Involving children in the ritual of stringing popcorn created lasting memories for many families. Kids took great delight in piercing each kernel and draping the finished product on the branches. The activity kept children occupied and gave them a sense of ownership in the family’s decorations. With inexpensive ingredients and simple instructions, popcorn strands brought an accessible homemade touch to even the most modest Christmas celebrations.   […]