10 Timeless Christmas Eve Traditions for Families

The holiday season is synonymous with joy, togetherness, and time-honored traditions. Christmas Eve is one of our most anticipated nights of the year. In that spirit, I have some timeless Christmas Eve traditions for families that you can begin incorporating into your holiday celebrations making it a memorable time for everyone involved.

1. Cozy Christmas Pajamas

A cozy and universally loved tradition among many families is gifting pajamas. When our children were young, we let them open one present on Christmas Eve. As they’ve gotten older, the presents they’ve received are bigger and not as optimal for opening on Christmas Eve. The anticipation of a game or toy may be high but a new pair of pajamas, (Christmas-themed or not) never fails. If you go for the Christmas-themed pajamas they make for adorable family pictures and add a festive ambiance on Christmas morning.

1.1 The Tradition’s Origin

As I was digging around for the origins of this tradition, I found that it is rooted in practicality. Parents wanted to make sure their children got a good night’s sleep before the excitement of Christmas Day. Over time, this simple act evolved into a family tradition. If your children are like most, one gift to open on Christmas Eve is an early reward for the long wait to open gifts.

1.2 Variations on the Classic Christmas Pajama

You can add a unique twist to this tradition by incorporating elements specific to your family.

  • Homemade Pajamas – If you are ambitious and crafty, this is a great option.
  • Personalized Pajamas – You could choose pajamas that reflect each family member’s personality or interests.
  • Pajama Separates – If your family has an abundance of pajamas (Christmas-themed or not) a pajama separate such as shorts, pants, or shirt may just fit the bill.
  • Fuzzy Christmas Socks – A budget-friendly idea in this same vein is to gift fuzzy Christmas socks along with a package of hot cocoa and a snack item for each family member.

2. Food ~ the Key to Christmas Eve Traditions for Families

Food is often at the heart of many Christmas Eve traditions. Whether it’s baking cookies for Santa or preparing a feast for the family, some form of cooking activity is a great way to bring everyone together. Some of our favorite ideas for Christma Eve dinner are:

2.1 Homemade Pizza Night

A fun tradition is to make homemade pizzas for Christmas Eve Dinner. Everyone gets a special personal-size pizza with toppings of their choice. You can make fond memories of preparing and baking pizzas together. (TIP: Use the leftover pizza dough and fry donuts in the morning)

2.2 Pancake & Hot Cocoa Bar

Another fun idea for Christmas Eve is to enjoy pancakes with all the topping options and a hot cocoa bar. This is a great option just be sure to include some protein in the lineup so you can balance out the sugar intake.

2.3 Christmas Sweets

Another sweet tradition is to make holiday cookies, and snacks, or decorate a gingerbread house or Christmas cookies. Your family can bake together, with each member getting to be a part of the process. The result is not just delicious, but also the memories built together.

3. Add a Read-Aloud for Christmas Eve

Nothing says Christmas Eve like a family huddled together, listening to a parent or grandparent narrate the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth (found in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke, verses 1 – 20), the classic poem The Night Before Christmas (originally called A Visit from St. Nicholas), or some other beloved Christmas reading. This tradition is a beautiful way to bring the family together for a few calm moments amidst the holiday frenzy.

3.1 Making it Special

  • Take Turns – To make this tradition even more special, you could take turns reading the Bible passage or poem, making it an engaging activity for everyone.
  • Get Out the Voice Recorder – Record Grandma or Grandpa’s reading this year. That way, you’ll have the priceless memory of their voice for years and years to come.

3.2 Other Read-Aloud Ideas

A Christmas Story (Abridged)
Snowmen at Christmas
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

4. Make Merry Music ~ Christmas Eve Traditions for Families

Music is a vital part of the holiday season, and Christmas Eve is a wonderful time to fill your home with festive music. Whether it’s setting up karaoke on YouTube, investing in a karaoke machine, or simply singing along to classic carols, incorporating music into the family Christmas Eve tradition can bring out the holiday spirit in everyone.

4.1 Christmas Carol Sing-Along

One way to incorporate music into your Christmas Eve traditions is by organizing a carol sing-along. Family members can take turns singing their favorite carols, or everyone can join in for a harmonious rendition. To enhance the experience, you could use songbooks or print out the lyrics.

4.2 Christmas Karaoke

For a more modern twist, consider having a Christmas Eve karaoke night. This is a super fun activity that lets everyone show what their vocal cords are made of. I LOVE this Christmas Karaoke playlist that has the added convenience of not needing a karaoke machine.


5. One Gift-Opening Teaser

The anticipation of opening presents is a highlight of the holiday season for many children. As we talked about earlier, many people see gift opening as a central part of their Christmas Eve traditions for families If pajamas are not your thing, you could have that gift be a snack, game, movie, puzzle, etc. One thing is for sure, there are some fun teasers to incorporate into the tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve.

5.1 Gift-Opening Teaser Ideas

  • Guess the Gift – You can make this tradition unique by having family members try to guess what their present is based on the shape and weight of the wrapped gift. This happens often regardless of whether it is a Christmas Eve gift and is always fun.
  • Write a Riddle – Writing a simple riddle on wrapping paper is another way to turn the gift opening into a fun guessing game.
  • Scavenger Hunt – Set up a simple scavenger hunt for each member. Older family members can be assigned a younger family member, this way you can share the wealth. To start the scavenger hunt, each family member should get the first clue that leads to finding their Christmas Eve gift.
  • Multiple Wrapped Boxes – My favorite “trick” to play on my family is to wrap a present inside multiple wrapped boxes. This makes the one gift opening last longer and usually gets some chuckles from the family.

6. The Fun of Santa Tracking

In the age of technology, one of the most exciting Christmas Eve traditions for families is tracking Santa’s journey. With platforms like the NORAD Santa Tracker, children can follow Santa’s every move, adding an element of anticipation and excitement to the night before Christmas.

6.1 The Magic of Santa Tracking

Tracking Santa can make the magic of Christmas come alive for children. Watching Santa’s progress around the world can build anticipation and reinforce the belief in the magic of Christmas.

6.2 Enhancing the Experience

To enhance the Santa tracking experience, you could incorporate additional activities like making Santa dust, making sure Ole Saint Nick eats some Santa Cookies, or leaving out reindeer food (like a carrot). This all adds a touch of whimsy and fun to the tracking tradition.

7. Have Fun with Christmas Games

Games are a fantastic way to bring everyone together and create unforgettable and non-media memories. Whether it’s a family board game, a Christmas light scavenger hunt, or a round of Christmas bingo, games can add a fun and playful element to your Christmas Eve traditions.

7.1 The Appeal of Games

Games can bring out the child in everyone and they can be a hit with both children and adults. Games provide a perfect opportunity to bond as a family.

7.2 Making it Unique

You can put a unique spin on this tradition by introducing new games each year, or by adding a Christmas twist to classic games. This could involve playing a Christmas-themed board game or turning a regular game of charades into a Christmas carol guessing game. TipJunkie has an awesome post with 40 free printable Christmas games.

8. Serving Others on Christmas Eve

The holiday season is a time of giving and spreading joy, making it the perfect time to engage in acts of service. Whether it’s volunteering at a local shelter, delivering gifts to neighbors, or sending care packages to soldiers overseas, service activities can be a meaningful addition to your Christmas Eve traditions.

8.1 The Importance of Service

Service activities can help instill the importance of generosity and empathy in children, making them an important part of any family’s Christmas traditions. They can also provide a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, making the holiday season even more meaningful.

8.2 Christmas Eve Community Service Ideas

These ideas are strictly for Christmas Eve. No matter what you decide, be sure to tailor them to your family’s capabilities. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Make Christmas cards and deliver them (along with some sugar-free Christmas goodies) to a local nursing home.
  • Create care packages for the homeless in your community and deliver them. (Our Father’s House Soup Kitchen has loads of ideas for what to include in the care packages.)
  • Deliver homemade goodies to neighbors, especially those you know who do not have family nearby.

9. Santa’s Magical Key

For families without a chimney, the tradition of Santa’s key can add a touch of magic to Christmas Eve. This involves hanging Santa’s special key outside on your doorknob on Christmas Eve. This key is for Santa’s use only and it makes sure he can deliver his gifts regardless of the architectural constraints of your home.

10. Christmas Eve Worship Service

For many families, attending a Christmas Eve worship service is a cherished tradition. Whether it’s a midnight mass or an early evening service, these gatherings can provide a time of reverence and peace. Worship services can help families focus on the spiritual significance of Christmas. They bring beautiful worship music, community, and important focus and reminders for life.

10.1 Bringing it Home

You can make your worship tradition unique by incorporating elements like family prayers, scripture readings, or singing carols at home before or after the service. This can make the experience even more personal and meaningful.


Christmas Eve traditions for families are as diverse as the families themselves. They can range from cozy pajama gifting and special dinners to tracking Santa’s journey and playing festive games. The key is choosing traditions that resonate with your family and help create lasting memories. After all, the holiday season is about spending time with loved ones and celebrating the joy and warmth of Christmas. Whatever traditions you choose to incorporate, remember that it is okay to not do everything every year. Whether you’re continuing long-held traditions or starting new ones, make this Christmas Eve a special occasion filled with love, laughter, and festive cheer.

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