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41 Old Fashioned Christmas Ideas & Traditions to Bring Back

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Decorated Christmas tree next to a fire in the fireplace

Perhaps you, like I, are getting weary of the stress and bustle of the holiday season. In our modern world, Christmas has become a consumer’s holiday rather than the meaningful celebration it used to be. How about we trade in our to-do lists for a new tradition? Or maybe I should say old traditions.

Old-fashioned Christmas traditions often involve the whole family and can help us focus on the meaning of the season. These old fashioned Christmas ideas may be the inspiration you need to make room for more simple things this year!

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Christmas Gifts the Old-Fashioned Way

Make your own gifts

One year, my family and I decided to exchange only homemade gifts. This was mostly an effort to save money, but it also allowed us all to give extra time and thought to each family member to choose the perfect gift.

One of my favorite books I’ve read with my kids, Little House in the Big Woods, has a chapter all about Christmas. Ma makes gifts for each of the girls because they didn’t always have access to or sufficient income for store-bought gifts.

With so many options available to us now with online and in-store shopping, we have moved away from making gifts for one another. We spend so much more time and love on each gift when we have to go through the process of coming up with an idea and then make it from scratch.

These gifts are so personal, and hopefully meaningful to those who are receiving them as well. It’s a fun way to get to know each other better too!

We’ve decided to make this a family tradition in our house. Sometimes we still purchase gifts of course, but we always try to incorporate thoughtful handmade gifts into our holiday traditions.

Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

Five gifts wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine, and decorated with fresh Christmas greenery

If you’re tired of so much waste every year or want your budget to be a little extra tight, it’s the perfect time to try something new for gift wrapping this year.

You could use materials you have around the house like newspapers or paper grocery bags and kitchen twine. You could buy a roll or two of brown craft paper and fill the space under your tree with “brown paper packages tied up with string.”

My favorite idea is to use fabric. You can incorporate lots of different colors and patterns this way. You could use safety pins to hold the fabric together, or you could simply tie a bow around it to hold it together. Fabric can be used year after year.

It doesn’t need to be perfect – everyone will be pulling the wrapping off before you know it!

Buy fewer gifts

This is something my husband and I have always tried to do since we had kids. We live in a small apartment, and one of our kids especially gets extremely attached to just about everything that has ever belonged to him – including packaging and scraps from things he’s opened! Because it’s so hard for us to get rid of things, we are very careful about what comes in.

While not everyone has our particular challenges, it’s good to limit the number of gifts for lots of reasons. It keeps the budget in check, it can make room for more expensive gifts if desired, and it can help kids not to get too greedy at this time of year.

It’s no guarantee of course of preventing greediness of course. My kids can be plenty greedy with three gifts each! But I think that managing their expectations for how much they will receive is good for them.

Each year we purchase one clothing item (usually needed), a toy they really want, and a book gift. If you ask me, you can’t have too many books so I’m always ready to bring more into the house! The kids also end up getting several things from grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc. so they usually end up with lots of loot in spite of us. 🙂

Old-fashioned Stocking Stuffers

Needlepoint Christmas stocking stuffed with oranges and peppermint with beaded garlands and assorted candy and decor surrounding it

Remember when an orange was a treat for Christmas morning? This tradition may go all the way back to the legend of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas would help his neighbors by leaving food, clothing, and money anonymously. There was one family in particular with three daughters, and their father feared he would not have enough money for their dowries.

It’s said that St. Nicholas threw gold spheres down the chimney, and they landed in the daughters’ stockings, which were drying by the fire.

Not only did our tradition of hanging Christmas stockings on the mantle start this way, some say that oranges became a traditional stocking gift to replace the golden orbs that St. Nicholas threw down the chimney.

Oranges used to be expensive and exotic in most of America, so they were an extra-special treat. These days, the kids probably won’t get overly excited about an orange because it may even be something you keep around the house regularly.

You could put a real orange in the stocking if you like, or you could put in a chocolate orange instead as a nod to the old tradition.

Aside from fruit, you might also find assorted nuts and candies in Ye Olde Christmas Stocking. If your family doesn’t have any allergies, maybe invest in a good nutcracker and put some mixed nuts in the stockings to crack open later in the day. Even if they decide they don’t like most of the nuts, they will probably love cracking them all open for you!

My favorite candy to include at Christmas is peppermint. Candy canes taste like Christmas because I don’t eat peppermint candy at any other time of year. My favorite peppermint stocking stuffers are these soft peppermint sticks. The brand has been around for a long time, and the tin still has the same vintage look.

Related post: The Best Gifts for Bread Bakers

Food!

Bake cookies together

Cutout Christmas cookies on a floured black countertop sitting next to shelled walnuts, fresh pine, and pinecones

This is a favorite Christmas activity for many families. I usually see people making the classic cut-out sugar cookies in various holiday shapes, but I don’t love sugar cookies so we don’t usually make that kind. My kids get to decorate cookies when they go to my mom’s house!

We have discovered a few favorite cookie recipes over time, and I usually only bake a couple of batches. This ginger sourdough cookie recipe is one we make every year!

You could also make traditional gingerbread men if that sounds like more fun. Do some experimenting until you find recipes your family loves, save them for Christmastime, and bake them year after year. It’s a great way to build anticipation and start a tradition.

Try Homemade Egg Nog or Wassail

Glass of Christmas wassail with a star anise, cinnamon stick, and apple and orange slices. Glass is sitting on a woven coaster surrounded by cinnamon sticks and pine sprigs,

Want to serve an extra special drink for Christmas dinner? I used to enjoy store bought egg nog, but I discovered that it often contains corn syrup, thickeners, and artificial colors and flavors. That didn’t line up with my health priorities, so I have since limited myself to homemade egg nog.

Traditional homemade egg nog uses raw egg, which is important to know if you don’t want to consume raw eggs. If you’re concerned about that, you can be sure to use pasteurized eggs, or even add alcohol.

Rum and brandy are common additions to holiday egg nog. The alcohol acts as a preservative for the egg, preventing the development of salmonella or any other bacteria. If you’re interested in making your own this year, check out this recipe for homemade egg nog.

Another Christmas drink I discovered recently is Wassail. I was curious after hearing the song “Here we come a-wassailing” what wassailing even was! Apparently it has to do with blessing and toasting one another at Christmas time. And the punch traditionally used to do this was appropriate called “Wassail.”

Wassail is a bit like mulled cider, but you add fruit juice (most often orange juice) to the cider base. It’s very tasty – and a little less heavy and caloric than egg nog. If you’d like to try your hand at this old-fashioned Christmas drink, check out this recipe for homemade Wassail.

Gingerbread Houses

Whether you buy a kit from the store or go all-out and make your gingerbread from scratch, building a gingerbread house is a super fun project to do with the kids. And it makes a great centerpiece for the table when you’re done!

Christmas Teas

White tea cup with tea in it set on a wooden surface. Cup is surrounded by fake snow, pine cones, pine sprigs, and a red Christmas ornament ball.

I love having hot drinks all through the winter. During the Christmas season, however, I like to enjoy a little extra something added in to make them feel festive.

In order to avoid all the extra sugar, calories, and money involved in enjoying regular peppermint mochas or gingerbread lattes, I found a tea that does the trick. The first time I tasted it, I thought it was just like Christmas in a mug.

You can also make your own orange peel tea, which is a great option if you’re looking for creative ways to use up your food scraps. You can add a cinnamon stick for some extra holiday flavor.

Christmas Breakfast

Two waffles topped with almonds on a plate with apple slices. Plate is surrounded by dried orange slices, pine sprigs, and lit candles.

When I was growing up, we had waffles and bacon every Christmas morning. The waffle irons only came out at Christmas. Waffles don’t have to be your family’s tradition, but having a special breakfast to enjoy every Christmas morning could be really special.

Some ideas are gingerbread pancakes, waffles, French toast, or cinnamon buns. I also like the idea of mixing up a breakfast casserole the night before and putting it in the oven when you wake up. By the time everyone finishes opening their stockings, breakfast is ready!! Very little effort and time the morning of, so you can kick back with a cup of coffee and enjoy opening gifts in a leisurely manner.

Christmas Dinner

Many people may already have some kind of tradition surrounding Christmas dinner. But maybe you can find a way to put your own twist on it!

You could really try and make Christmas old fashioned and track down a Christmas Goose. Or, if you want to go the ham or turkey route, you can come up with some great side dishes that you enjoy making every year. My favorites are mashed potatoes, rolls, and roasted brussels sprouts.

While this tradition is perhaps thought of as more British than old-fashioned, it does have its roots in the Victorian era. It could be a fun new tradition to try if you don’t already do it!

At Christmas dinner, folks open Christmas crackers (named for the sound they make when pulled apart) and inside is usually a cheap toy, a riddle, and a paper crown. It’s traditional to wear the paper crown or silly hat throughout dinner.

Traditions!

Decorate as a Family

This is the first tradition we have every year. The weekend after Thanksgiving, we put on some Christmas music and take all the bins of Christmas decorations out of storage. My favorite part is decorating the tree with all our favorite ornaments. We separate them into piles so that everyone has their own ornaments to hang. It’s special family time together that gets us in the mood for the season.

Send out a Christmas letter

A right hand writing on two pieces of brown paper on a wooden desk with dried orange slices, candy canes, candles, and fresh pine boughs

When I was growing up, my parents would send out a Christmas letter to friends and family giving them an update on our family’s news for the year. It would usually have a picture of all of us from that year’s family vacation, or maybe our Thanksgiving celebration that year. This is a great way to stay in touch with loved ones, and to reflect on and remember how your family has grown and changed through the last year. And what a great scrapbook addition – Christmas letters through the years! You could also try and involve the kids in making your own Christmas cards to send out to everyone on your mailing list.

Take a Family Photo

I love a yearly family photo taken in front of the Christmas tree. It’s a nice thing to send to friends and hang on the fridge, but it also gives you a great visual for how your family changes from year to year.

Play in the Snow

A wooden sled with metal runners sitting in a pile of snow.

If you live in a climate where you have snowy Decembers, then this is a great time to enjoy time playing in the snow. Sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or even just building snowmen and making snow angels. My daughter likes to make pictures in the snow with sticks. It’s a great opportunity for exercise, quality family time, and soaking up some elusive Vitamin D.

Advent Calendar

A wooden box with Christmas gift bags labeled with different numbers. Box is surrounded by pine needles, pine sprigs, and hazelnuts.

For our family, Christmas is not only a nostalgic time of enjoying family and gifts. For us and many others, it’s a time of reflection, meditation, and celebration of the birth of Jesus. An advent tradition helps my family stay focused on why we are celebrating so that the true meaning of the season doesn’t get lost.

Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas. Many advent calendars mark the days of December with some kind of gift or activity. You can enjoy an advent calendar whether you are a Christian or not. There are wooden advent calendars with drawers for small gifts, and even Lego Advent calendars with different things to build each day! My favorite is a Jesse tree. The kids hang a small ornament after a story or bible lesson each day leading up to Christmas.

Another fun advent tradition is to read a Christmas book with the kids every night before bed! We have a large stack of Christmas books that we keep in storage all year, and the kids are always excited to read them again when the Christmas season starts.

Watch a holiday movie

This is a tradition we enjoy all throughout the Christmas season. We have lots of favorites, and we save them for December. The kids love Charlie Brown, The Grinch, and Frosty, but my husband and I always watch The Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life together. And Elf. 🙂 So many options, and so many opportunities for fun family time.

Go look at Christmas lights

A Christmas lights display on a snowy night. Red reindeer in foreground.

Every year when I was a kid, our church would load up a bus with kids to go see a Christmas light show nearby. This is one of my favorite memories of Christmastime as a kid. It’s a great way to spend some family time in the car. If you don’t have a holiday light show in your area, you can drive around area neighborhoods that have good light displays. Be sure to play some Christmas music while you’re driving around!

Go caroling

A wooden star lying across the sheet music for Christmas hymn "O LIttle Town of Bethlehem."

Christmas caroling is a tradition I think we should bring back. It’s a great way to bless friends and neighbors. Even for those people who don’t want to open their front door to listen, it can be lovely to sit quietly in your home as you hear friends and neighbors sing Christmas carols outside.

In our day and age, you might want to consider video chat caroling! Get a group call going and sing to your loved ones far away. (add paragraph about yule log tradition)

Yule Log

The burning of the Yule Log has been used both by pagans to mark the beginning of Winter Solstice and by Christians to represent the birth of Christ. For those with fireplaces, this could be a fun tradition to incorporate to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.

If you don’t have a fireplace, you have a couple of options: you could select one of the yule log programs that are designed to be played on your television, or you could bake a Yule Log. Often called the Bûche de Noël, this cake is similar to a Swiss roll and is shaped and decorated to look like a log.

Make Christmas Day a Family Day

Make a priority of spending quality time with your family all day Christmas Day. Turn off all the phones and tablets and focus on one another instead of retreating to individual screens. Use the time to play new (and old!) games, make food together, and maybe watch a Christmas movie.

Decorate the Old-fashioned Way

Cut down your own tree.

Christmas tree farm with hundreds of trees covered in snow

You can turn acquiring your Christmas Tree into a fun yearly tradition! Real Christmas trees are a great way to embrace a more old fashioned Christmas. The pioneers didn’t have aluminum trees!

Instead of buying your tree at a roadside stand or a lot with pre-cut trees, consider finding a tree farm that lets you choose and cut down your own tree. It can make the process of finding that perfect tree all the more special. And, it can be a special rite of passage for the kids when they get old enough to help with the saw.

Another benefit to cutting down your own tree is that it stays fresh for much longer. You won’t be vacuuming up dead needles before Christmas day even arrives!

Decorate the tree with a popcorn and cranberry garland.

Homemade popcorn and cranberry garland with sprigs of pine lying on a wooden surface

This is a great craft idea to try with the kids – or even enjoy yourself. String your own popcorn and cranberry garland to wrap your tree with this year. Get creative and use your favorite combination of popcorn and cranberries to make it stand out just the way you want it.

Hang homemade ornaments on the tree.

What better old-fashioned Christmas decor is there than pieces that are actually old? Nothing feels more special to me every year than taking out the homemade ornaments my grandmother and mother made.

Each ornament is tied to so many memories of Christmas during my childhood. We have crocheted snowflakes, felt cutout ornaments, cross stitch, and various knitted ornaments as well.

This year I will be starting the tradition of making an ornament for my kids that they’ll hang on the tree on Christmas morning. When they move out of our house, they will leave with a box of special ornaments they can start their own family trees with.

It’s a wonderful way to connect with past generations and pass the tradition to future ones.

Set up a train track at the base of your tree.

Bottom of decorated Christmas Tree with train track around the bottom. Red steam engine pulling two cars is on the train track.

When I was a kid my father told me that there was an electric train that would run around the tree every Christmas morning. That actually seemed pretty random to me as a child, but as an adult I have considered bringing back the tradition. Especially since my son loves trains!

The book The Polar Express was a favorite when I was a kid. It’s a little out of our family’s budget, but this train is my dream for setting around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning!

Candles on the Christmas Tree

The old tradition of putting candles on the Christmas tree is unfortunately a fire hazard, and one that I wouldn’t recommend trying. The good news is that you can find battery operated candles that clip to your tree branches to get that old-fashioned tree atmosphere!

Fresh Greenery

a framed border of fresh pine and evergreen boughs with pine cones and holly berries

One of the best ways to decorate your house for Christmas the old-fashioned way is to use natural decorations! There are a lot of options for purchasing fresh greenery, but if you want to keep that budget in check, go for a walk in a woodsy place.

You can collect pine and other odd evergreen boughs, pine cones, and maybe even holly. You can make your own wreaths, place pine boughs on banisters and mantles, and use pine cones and holly in a centerpiece arrangement for your holiday table.

Handmade Stockings

You can make stockings very simply by sewing them with your favorite Christmas fabric. Personally, I prefer knit stockings because you can incorporate intricate patterns and textures. But best of all, knit stockings STRETCH! You can cram lots more goodies into a knit stocking than you can into one made of fabric. But if it’s your goal to have a more minimalist Christmas, a sewn stocking may be the way to go. 🙂

Christmas Table Runner

Do you want to have a stunning Christmas table for the holidays? You can make a simple table runner by sewing one out of a beautiful Christmas fabric, or you can knit or crochet one to lay across a plain white tablecloth. Finish off with a clear vase with pine cones and holly branches and a couple of candles, and you have a gorgeous place to serve Christmas dinner!

Christmas Card Garland

Every year I take a length of yarn and tack it to the top corners of our dining room entryway. I hang favorite Christmas cards from years gone by, and always a card or two from the current year. It’s a great, festive way to decorate that reminds us of our loved ones.

Window Dressing

An outdoor window box filled with fresh greenery, berries, branches, balls made of twigs, and bows

If you want to go even more vintage than a mid-century Christmas, then you may decide not to hang lights outside. In that case, you’ll want to take full advantage of your windows! If you have window boxes, you can arrange pine boughs and pine cones to create a cozy Christmas look.

You can set out battery-operated candles on your windowsills to light your windows at night. Many of these candles also come with ways to adhere them to the window pane itself if you don’t have a deep enough sill for decorating.

And, of course, wreaths hung on the door and in the windows is a timeless Christmas decoration. The only thing is, you’ll probably want them hung on the outside of the windows. You’ll need someone brave enough to climb that ladder if you have a second floor!

Vintage Chunky Christmas Lights

If you’re looking to decorate the outside of your house this year, consider using the chunkier multi-colored lights. These kinds of lights were popular in the mid-twentieth century. They can be used outdoors, or even inside on your Christmas tree.

Old-fashioned Sled

Wooden sled draped with ice skates leaning up against a brick wall

This last decor idea reminds me of a Norman Rockwell scene. Remember those old-fashioned wooden sleds with metal runners? You can still purchase them, and they make a great decorative addition to your porch at Christmastime. Just prop it up next to the front door for an old-fashioned Christmas vibe.

I hope this inspired you to think outside the box with your Christmas decorating this year! The way we experience the holidays can be changed dramatically simply by changing our atmosphere and surroundings. Slow down, light a fire (or put a Netflix fireplace on TV!), and enjoy.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to have a more old-fashioned Christmas this year! However you decide to celebrate, I wish you all the joy, peace, and comfort of this season. Merry Christmas!

Do you have more ideas for celebrating an old-fashioned Christmas? Leave a note in the comments and let me know!

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