20 Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with toys

Break out of the Santa-fueled rut and introduce your kids to meaningful holiday traditions.

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  • It's that time of year again.

  • Time to write the letters to Santa and pull out the Elf on the Shelf. Time for the kids to make their own Christmas lists (longer than Santa's) and check them eight, nine, 10 times. Time to fight the cold, snow and crowds at the mall in search of that one perfect present.

  • Are you starting to feel that your holiday season revolves around gifts? So many of our family traditions center around our kids' wants, but what kind of message does that send our families? The message of Christmas is about so much more than Santa or getting the latest, greatest toy. Rekindle the magic of Christmas in your home this year by trying out any of these twenty traditions, all of which focus on something other than presents.

  • Go caroling as a family

  • You can even make it into a service project by singing at a senior center, nursing home or children's wing of a hospital.

  • Bake cookies

  • Get everyone in the kitchen, then hit the streets to drop off your culinary creations to friends and neighbors.

  • Build a fire

  • If you have an appropriate place, sitting by a roaring fire is magical for kids and adults alike.

  • Listen to Christmas music

  • Make Christmas last all December long, and introduce your kids to some of the classics. Pop a few CDs in the car or plug in your iPod for month-long magic.

  • Decorate the tree

  • Make it a big family affair, complete with music, tinsel and lots of laughter.

  • Watch a holiday-themed stage production

  • Take the kids to a family friendly showing of The Nutcracker or a stage production of A Christmas Carol.

  • Get outside

  • Go sledding or ice skating as a family. Then head back inside for a hot cocoa party.

  • Read holiday books before bed

  • Pull out copies of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, The Night Before Christmas and others to read before bed the week of Christmas.

  • Drive around and look at lights

  • Check out the hard work your neighbors put into holiday displays.

  • Get a fresh tree

  • Whether you pick up a permit and head to the woods or only venture as far as your local tree lot, fresh trees are a time-honored tradition.

  • Make Christmas cards a family affair

  • Let everyone in on writing your family Christmas card, encouraging each child to include highlights from his or her year.

  • Watch holiday movies

  • The Grinch, The Polar Express, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown Christmas... the list goes on and on.

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  • Volunteer

  • Make time to serve at a soup kitchen, read to children in the hospital or take part in a canned food drive. This holiday season, give back.

  • Attend a religious program

  • Check out a pageant or musical devotional at a local church.

  • Make your own decorations

  • Bake cinnamon ornaments or create a nativity out of felt. Kids love getting in on the decorating action.

  • Find an advent calendar

  • Let kids mark the time until Christmas with one of the many advent calendars on the market.

  • Build a gingerbread house

  • Use prepackaged kits or go simple and use frosting and graham crackers.

  • Learn about Christmas around the world

  • Implement one traditional holiday practice from your ancestral homeland.

  • Light luminarias

  • Fill paper bags with sand and anchor in candles. These festive decorations look beautiful all lit up.

  • Have a Jerusalem dinner

  • Remind your kids about the original Christmas by opting for candlelight and eating traditional middle-eastern foods.

  • Make Christmas a truly magical experience this year—no expensive gifts required. Any of these suggestions are sure to create traditions that last for generations.

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Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys.

Website: http://moderatelycrunchy.blogspot.com

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