50 Christmas Eve traditions to start with your family
Want to do something a bit special with the family on Christmas Eve? Something you can repeat year after year as a family tradition? We've got 50 amazing, creative, magical, funny suggestions for you to try
Spending time together as a family is what Christmas is all about and, while Christmas Day itself is full of traditional things to do, it's lovely to have some special Christmas Eve traditions, too.
They may be some festive customs for December 24th that you treasure from your own childhood and want to repeat and pass down to your own family, now you’re a parent. But it’s also fun to create some new family Christmas Eve customs of your own.
We've collected some great ideas to inspire you here. Many of them are sourced from our MadeForMums parent communities on Instagram, Facebook and our Top Testers Club and they include everything from Christmas crafts and seasonal bakes to card making, Santa prep, decorating ideas, singing, stories, dressing up, festive outings – and something a little bit silly with Christmas crackers.
Take a good look; we're sure you can find lots new here you can use to add sparkle to your 'night before Christmas'.
Here's our pick of 50 Christmas Eve traditions to start with your family
1. Have a special Christmas Eve breakfast
Get the day before Christmas off to a memorable start with a family breakfast of something a little out of the ordinary. We're not talking anything expensive or time-consuming to cook: just adding a little festive twist to your usual brekkie staples.
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So, you could, for example, use cookie cutters to serve up Christmas tree-shaped toast or pop edible Christmas sprinkles into the cereal packet or even dish up warming bowls of reindeer porridge.
2. Make some reindeer food for Santa's helpers
Get your children to help you make something special to keep Rudolph and his buddies fuelled for their long night they've got ahead of them at the sleigh.
Just mix up some oats, seeds and dried fruit in a a big bowl (see our magical reindeer food recipe). Steer clear of glitter or other non-biodegradable ingredients, though, as these aren't good for birds and other wildlife.
Then divide the mixture up into small-handful-size portions and stash in little bags near the door, ready for each child to sprinkle in the garden or on the doorstep before bedtime.
3. Put the star on top of the tree
When you trim your tree earlier in December (or November, if you're keen!), keep the very top bauble-free. Save your tree-topping star or angel for Christmas Eve, when you can all gather round and make a real occasion of putting it on with a properly festive flourish.
4. Meet friends for a runaround in the park
In the late morning or early afternoon, meet up in the park with other families you know and let the kids run around and wear off some energy.
"Every Christmas Eve, a whole bunch of us play a Lads and Girls vs Dads and Mums footie match in the local park," says Emma in our MadeForMums Top Testers Club. "There's lots of laughter and running about – and loads of hot chocolate in flasks. And the kids troop home happy but exhausted: they always sleep well that night!"
5. Play a board game together
Who said family games are for Christmas Day? Why not make a family games night a Christmas Eve tradition at your house? You could play classic board games like Monopoly or try some family card games suited to the age of your children. Or you could get creative and make up your own games: we reckon you could have lots of fun with Pin the Carrot Nose on the Snowman, for example...
6. Write a letter to Santa
No, it's not too late! In fact, it can make for a sweet Christmas Eve tradition. Get out the paper, pens and pencils – and stickers, of course – and let Father Christmas know who you are, where you live and what you're hoping he'll stash in his sleigh just for you.
Obviously, normal post won't get there in time but you can leave your letter on the mantlepiece or wherever you hand up your stockings. Or, if you have a working fireplace, send it the old-fashioned way – into the flames and up the chimney.
7. Bake Christmas treats
Get the pinnies on and the measuring spoons out and settle in for a Christmas baking session. You could make festive classics, like Gingerbread Stars cookies to hang from the tree or Gingerbread Friends, or go for something that'll make everyone smile, like Rudolph cupcakes with Curly Wurly antlers or Chilly Penguin cupcakes with Oreo wings.
Whatever you choose, get everyone involved in the mixing and spooning out and then, after a wee break while the oven's doing its thing, in the icing and decorating and (more or less) precise placing of sprinkles/M&Ms buttons/sultana eyes/glacé cherry noses.
If your bakes aren't all gobbled up straightaway, they can make great gifts to package up and give to family and neighbours.
8. Make everyone wear a Christmas jumper
Yep, Christmas Eve dress code = festive jumpers. If you don't already have one to wear, that's no excuse. You can just accessorise any plain old jumper you do have with tinsel, pompoms and ribbons.
9. Go to a panto
An afternoon of "He's behind you! Oh no he isn’t!" can be just the right kind of knockabout, happily-ever-after, festive entertainment for the day before Christmas.
Find out what pantos are on near you each year – and book up early to get your Christmas Eve slot. If pantos aren't your family's thing, then look for child-friendly Christmas plays – most venues put on shows like this in the run-up to Christmas.
10. Keep track of Santa
You can track the progress of the big man in red as he drives his sleigh across the sky on the NORAD Santa tracker. You can keep see how many presents he has delivered, and more importantly, find out how far away he is from your house. Alternatively, you can catch a sighting of Santa's sleigh (aka the International Space Station) as it passes over your house early on Christmas Eve morning.
12. Take a Christmas lights walking tour
Once twilight descends, wrap up warm and get everyone outside to take a twinkly lights tour.
"We like to have a tour of the Christmas lights people in our neighbourhood have put up," says Laura Jane from our MadeForMums Top Testers Club. "You can spot some funny ones and some really beautiful ones. To add to the fun, at the end of the tour, everyone has to pick their favourite house."
13. Sing When Santa got Stuck up the Chimney
At some point in the day – or indeed at several points in the day – everyone has to stop, gather together and sing along out loud to this epic Christmas song. Extra points for enthusiastic actions.
Oh, and if you need a reminder of the words...
When Santa got stuck up the chimney,
He began to shout,
"You girls and boys won't get any toys,
If you don’t pull me out.
My beard is black,
There's soot in my sack.
My nose is tickling too."
When Santa got stuck up the chimney
Achoo, achoo, achoo!
14. Wave goodbye to Elf for another year
If you're a family that does Elf on the Shelf and plays host to an pink-cheeked elf who gets up to all sorts of interesting stuff every night, Christmas Eve is the day your elf is due back at the North Pole to let Santa know how good the children have been this year.
Gather together to bid a fond farewell to your family Elf before they leave for another year.
15. Let each child open one present
Oh look, there are some little presents under the Christmas tree already! Maybe the Elf on the Shelf (see number 14) left them there?
We quite like the idea of each child getting to open a little gift on Christmas Eve. (After all, in some countries, Christmas Eve is the day all presents are opened.) Make sure it is just the one though...
16. Make Christmas cards for close family
Make it your family tradition that each child gives members of the family you'll be seeing on Christmas Day a handmade Christmas card. We can guarantee you that there aren't many Grannies, Gramps, Aunties or Uncles around who wouldn't be touched by the gesture.
They don't have to be anything grand; just folded card with a drawing and some lettering on the front (if your child's old enough) or (if you have younger children) with something Christmassy stuck on the front.
Prep a table with card, glue, felt-tips or paint and some festive stickers/stick-ons from a craft shop – and let them get creative.
17. Go for a sparkly Christmas Eve scoot
Is there a scooter fanatic in your house? If they have a scooter with LED light-up wheels, an after-dark Christmas Eve ride is a special thrill.
The park will be closed but you can stick to the streets around your house – obviously taking care not to mow down any passing pedestrians! Wear Santa hats and decorate the scooter handlebars with a tinsel bow for a finishing festive touch.
18. Tell stories about Christmasses past
Snuggle down together – maybe with the family photo album – and tell your children all about Christmas when you were a child: what you did, what you ate, what you wore, what presents you loved the most, what your little brother spilt on Great-Granny's best coat. You get the idea!
You could tell them stories about, and show them pictures of, their very first Christmas: how old they were, what the weather was like, how different Mummy's haircut was...
19. Give everyone new pyjamas – and put them on
Christmas PJs have become a bit of a thing in recent years – with some families really getting into matching Christmas PJs look, too.
Whether you're a matchy-matchy family, a onesie family or a strictly-everyone-in-different-shades-of-tartan family, Christmas Eve is a lovely time to present everyone with a new pair of PJs and – best of all – insist everyone changes into them that very mixture. There's something sneakily thrilling about wearing jim-jams in the middle of the afternoon.
20. Deliver Christmas cards to neighbours
Coats, hats and gloves on for a quick walk around the block delivering Christmas cards to your neighbours. It will give everyone some much-needed fresh air and it's a simple way to spread some festive cheer and show your children the value of community ties.
21. Decorate your pet's collar
Get your cat or dog into the festive spirit – if they'll let you! – by adding a sparkly bow or small twist of tinsel to their collar.
22. Make a pine cone Rudolph
We love this simple Christmas craft activity that creates the cutest tree decoration: all you need to do is collect some pine cones from the park and assemble some glue, ribbon/string, red pom poms and googly eyes. And then the crafting can begin! For easy-to-follow step by step instructions, watch our how-to video.
23. Read The Night Before Christmas
"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"
So begins the classic Christmas poem by Clement Clark Moore. We all know it by its opening lines but it's properly called A Visit from St Nicholas and it's all about Santa driving his sleigh across the night sky and coming down the chimney with a sackful of presents.
It's also the first recorded mention of all the names of Santa's reindeer!
Lots of the parents in our MadeForMums communities make a point of finding time on Christmas Eve to read the poem out to their children – it has a lovely, attention-catching rhyme and rhythm and sets the scene beautifully for the magical overnight present arrivals ahead.
You can find an online version of the poem at the Poetry Foundation or you could buy a prettily illustrated book. Or, if you'd prefer to listen to the poem, we recommend this UK audio version (lots of the audiobooks of the poem feature US voices as the narrator) which also has some orchestral accompaniment. If you like the idea of the poem but would prefer more modern language, try this modern audiobook version, created by children's authors Kes Grey and Claire Powell.
24. Open a Christmas Eve box
"We give the children a Christmas Eve box each," says Charlie in MadeForMums Top Testers Club. "Inside are Xmas PJs, Xmas socks and some hot chocolate – and then we sit and watch a Christmas film with these.
"The children also get a note from Santa in their box, letting them know if they're on the naughty or nice list."
As for the box to put everything in, there are lots of fancy, schmancy Christmas Eve boxes to buy, if you'd like to; or, like us, you could re-use small boxes from online deliveries and cover them in Xmas wrapping paper.
25. Go carol singing
"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." So says Buddy in the film Elf, and we agree!
Gather the family together, get your coats on and treat your neighbours, local friends or Granny and Grandad, if they're nearby, to an enthusiastic rendition of We Wish you a Merry Christmas!, Away in a Manger or Silent Night. And if you forget some of the words or decide to throw in the not-strictly-carolly Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, no one's going to mind one bit.
26. Give each child a new tree decoration
"My mum did this with us and we now do it with our child," says Eden in our MadeForMums Top Testers Club. "You basically buy a small tree ornament every year and give it to your child on Christmas Eve for them to hang on the tree.
"Over the years, you build up this collection of baubles that spark memories of different Christmasses past every time you bring them out to dress the tree.
"When I set up home on my own, my mum came over in early December and gave me 'my' collection of ornaments for my first Christmas tree. I burst into tears, it was so lovely!"
27. Make paper snowflakes
Here's another simple Christmas craft activity that keeps little fingers occupied and produces really pretty festive decorations that your children can help you stick to your windows for a special wintry Christmas Eve display.
You'll need A4-size pieces of white paper and craft scissors. Cut a sheet into a square, then fold it into quarters, give it to your child and show them how to make little cuts at various points along the folds. Unfold the square and – ta da! – there's your snowflake.
Repeat as often as you like (and have paper for), and encourage your child to make the cuts in different places and of different depths/sizes each time. Then, just like in real life, every snowflake will have a different pattern.
28. Pick out toys to donate to other children
Teach your children that Christmas is about giving as well as receiving. Spend a little while every Christmas Eve, helping them pick out toys they've outgrown or no longer play with. Explain that some children don't have as many toys as they do and how kind it would be to give some toys to them.
Bag up the toys you pick out, discarding any that are broken or incomplete, and store them somewhere out of sight (if you don't do this straightaway, we can pretty much guarantee they will 'somehow' creep back into the toy box). After the Christmas break, take your children to drop the toys off at your local charity shop.
29. Have a festive movie night
"We always watch Christmas films on Christmas Eve," says Crystal in our MadeForMums Top Testers Club, "sitting close together on the sofa with hot chocolate and marshmallows."
Top festive picks include Elf, Home Alone, The Polar Express, The Grinch and The Muppet Christmas Carol – plus of course, Raymond Briggs' classic animated shorts The Snowman and Father Christmas.
30. Facetime friends and family
Christmas Day is always super-busy for everyone, so Christmas Eve is often a better day to have a virtual get-together with family members and other special friends who won't be able to tuck into the turkey with you.
We'd suggest you impose a festive dress code: jumpers and Santa hats at the very least...
31. Give some food to the birds
Spare a Christmas Eve thought for the birds in gardens and hedgerows who can struggle to find enough food in these cold, dark midwinter weeks. Your children can help them out by scattering breadcrumbs, porridge oats and even small veggie food scraps in your garden or nearest green spot.
You could also buy seed balls or fat balls and attach them to trees – or even make your own fat balls with this 'recipe' from Gardeners' World (be warned, though: these fat balls need to set in the fridge overnight, so if you make them on Christmas Eve, the birds won't get their treat till Christmas morning).
32. Make a gingerbread house
This is a fun and ultimately spectacular multi-stage Christmas Eve project for older kids. Younger ones probably won't have the patience for such a long bake or the fine-finger control for all the fiddly icing – but they will definitely enjoy the spectacle and the eating part at the end!
There are lots of complicated recipes and kits to buy but we like this straightforward Homemade Gingerbread Cottage recipe from BBC Good Food, which comes with downloadable templates for the house shapes.
Alternatively, if you'd rather skip the gingerbread baking and get straight on with the construction and icing, we've had several recommendations for this Utena Gingerbread House, which arrives ready for you to assemble and decorate. The pack include icing sugar (you'll need to add egg white), an icing bag and icing pens in blue and green. You may want to add some extra sweets to finish it all off in style.
33. Go to carols by candlelight
Even if you're not a practising Christian, you may like to take your family along to a local church's Carols by candlelight Service to listen to traditional carols and the nativity story, surrounded by twinkling fairy lights and candles.
It can make for a memorable time of pre-Christmas reflection and calm.
34. Make a hot chocolate station
In a corner of the kitchen, lay out a tray with mugs, spoons, different flavours of hot chocolate and all the yummy bits and pieces you can add or sprinkle on top: marshmallows, mini chocolate buttons, cinnamon, crushed peppermint sticks, white chocolate shavings, caramel syrup. Let everyone customise their own drink (you'll obviously have to oversee the boiling and pouring of the hot milk).
- Try Annabel Karmel's Hot Choc Snowmen (pictured above)
35. Take a family selfie by the tree
Use the (relative) calm of Christmas Eve to get everyone looking presentable (and Christmassy) and then use your self-timer to take a group shot of your family by the Christmas tree. If you do this every Christmas Eve, you'll stack up a lovely set of pics to look back on as the years pass and your children grow.
36. Visit a Christmas market
Yes, they're still going on Christmas Eve! In fact, it's often the very best day to visit a Christmas market, as everyone's in such a good mood. Take your family on a stroll through the stalls, sample some of the festive food and generally soak up the 'It's nearly Christmas!' vibes.
37. Make homemade wrapping paper
For special presents for relatives, homemade wrapping paper adds a lovely personalised twist – and Christmas Eve can be just the day for a little paper-decorating creativity.
Find some old newspaper or paper bags or smooth out brown paper and tissue paper that’s included in online deliveries and put it on a table for the children to adorn with crayon, paint, paint-stamp or even (if you're feeling brave) footprint patterns.
38. Wrap presents
Now the wrapping paper's sorted (see above), you can all get cracking wrapping up those presents for relatives (Santa does his own, obvs).
Getting children to help with this can be a double-edged sword, particularly if you're all about neat corners and ribbons arrange just so. But, with a wee bit of prep and strategic placing of materials, it can all work out.
Here's how: seat yourself at the table with scissors, pre-cut lengths of sticky tape and the presents to be wrapped; stow rolls of paper in a waste paper basket at some distance from your table; spread your ribbons and bows on a tray some distance away from the table in another direction; put on some Christmassy music.
Now take your first present, ask your child to fetch the 'red paper' (or whatever) and bring it to you. Cut off the amount you need and ask your child to put the paper back – and then fetch the 'red' ribbon (or whatever) While they're doing that, you can wrap and stick. Once you have the ribbon, send your child off to get the paper roll for the next present – and so on. If your child is too nippy for your wrapping speed (or you have a particularly hard to wrap present), ask your child to do their fetching and carrying like a Christmassy character: so hopping like a robin, or waddling like a penguin. Or use your pause button to stop/start the music and say your child can only move when the music's playing – a bit like Musical Statues.
39. Go on a family ice skating trip
This one takes a bit of pre-planning, as most Christmas skate rinks operate a booking system and tickets can sell out weeks in advance – especially for Christmas Eve. But it's a lovely family tradition to start – and a great way to work off small-person energy so that they're nicely tired out at bedtime. Most venues will have special stabilisers to help younger children take to the ice.
40. Make your own paperchains
Everyone can make paperchains! And they'll add a sweet, vintage festive feel to any room. Get the adults and older children measuring and cutting strips of coloured paper about 15cm x 2.5cm, and children can grab them, add a dab of glue at the ends and thread them together before sticking the loop closed.
If you're really organised and have already done all your present-wrapping, making paper chains is a clever way to use up all those annoying little bits of wrapping paper you have left over.
41. Do a family secret Santa
Bring the office present swap ritual back home and institute a family Secret Santa on Christmas Eve. Announce it about a week before, tell everyone who their Secret Santa is, and establish a spending limit of just a couple of pounds. You'll have to help smaller children choose and wrap their gift.
42. Make place settings for the Christmas dinner table
Hand out small folded card oblongs and ask your children to decorate them with Christmassy patterns and pictures. With younger children, you'll need to write the name on each card but, for older children, you can write the name on a separate piece of paper and get time to copy it onto the card in their best writing.
43. Go to the cinema
Lots of cinemas do Christmas Eve showings of family films: have a check to see what's on near you. It can be quite magical to step away from all the bustle of Christmas prep and watch a movie on the big screen – often without many others in the audience.
44. Look for Santa in the night sky
While it's fun to track Santa online, you can also look for him in the night sky. Put wellies and coats on over pyjamas and stand outside to try and spot his sleigh among the stars.
45. Pull all the crackers
We know you're supposed to keep the crackers for pulling during or after lunch on Christmas Day but there's so much else going on then – and so many plates, bowls and glasses to knock over – that we think it's fun to make it a tradition to pull them all on Christmas Eve. And you can all wear the paper crowns at teatime.
46. Have a picky tea
Tomorrow's all about a big meal and lots of cooking, so make Christmas Eve tea a low-key, low-effort meal. Put bread, chunks of cheese and ham, sliced fruit – picknicky stuff – on the table and let everyone help themselves. Or, if even that's too much faff, order a takeaway: lots of parents in our MadeForMums communities say Christmas Eve is always a takeaway Indian for them.
47. Hang up stockings
Obviously Santa needs to be able to see the stockings he's going to fill. So make a little ritual of getting them out and hanging them by the fireplace or placing them under the tree or at the end of beds – whatever works for your family best.
48. Leave food out for Santa...
You may have sprinkled your reindeer food for Rudolph and his friends but don't forget to leave something for Father Christmas to eat too. Traditionally, that's a mince pie but you could start your own tradition with something different. We don't want to out them but we happen to know that, at one MadeForMums team member's house, Santa gets his very own bowl of Coco Pops...
49. ... and a note
Along with Santa's snack, you could leave a note. In it, your child could simply wish Santa happy Christmas or maybe they'd like to add some more detailed instructions – or even a diagram – about the exact location of their bedroom, in case Santa loses his bearing after coming down the chimney.
50. Read a bedtime story by the tree
Wind down after tea and a bath with a cuddle and story under the Christmas tree. You never know, it might actually make them sleepy enough to fall asleep as soon as they get into bed...
Pics: Getty Images
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