The EL team shares its favorite sights, sounds, and must-dos for a fun-filled and festive season.
What gets you in the holiday spirit? Is it a beloved meal, the smell of peppermint and cinnamon, a snowshoeing adventure, or a cherished film or song that takes you back to your childhood? Or maybe it’s the twinkling lights that give you that holiday delight.
We collected our favorite traditions below, and we hope it inspires you to explore the sights, sounds, and sweet memories that make for a joyful and loving holiday season. Share your favorite traditions with us in the comments section below, or on Twitter @ExperienceLife or Instagram @ExperienceLifeMag.
Cheers to a safe, happy, and healthy holidays!
“There’s only one Christmas album that really matters at our house: Gene Autry’s classic, pioneering album that included ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ (which he authored), ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (which he made famous), ‘Frosty the Snowman’ (ditto), and more. Yeah, he’s flat on most of the vocals, but he captures the spirit.” — Michael Dregni
“Listening to Christmas vinyl that I inherited from my dad a few years ago.” — Heidi Wachter
“On Christmas Eve, my husband and I, with our two grown daughters, head out to the barn and sing carols to the horses. Our final song is ‘Silent Night,’ which we sing as we walk back to the house under the stars with a candle lighting the way.” — Lydia Anderson
“My favorite music: She & Him: A Very She & Him Christmas.” — Casie Leigh Lukes
“On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we attend church service with my family. I never get sick of Christmas hymns.” — Carrie Stafford
“There’s something about Christmas and New Year’s and the closing of another year that makes me a bit wistful. No surprise, then, that I favor ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ — almost all renditions, but Judy Garland’s tenderness sticks out. Also, Robert Robinson’s ‘O Holy Night.’ I had the pleasure of meeting him several years back for a profile story I was writing, and every time I hear his sweet, heavenly voice, I can’t help but feel emotional recalling his warmth, kindness, generosity, and faith-filled spirit.” — Courtney Lewis Opdahl
“The Mariah Carey Christmas album on repeat; also ‘Feliz Navidad’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ sung at the top of my lungs when they come on the radio. I have no reasoning for this aside from they’re amazing and touch my soul.” — Maggie Fazeli Fard
“The best holiday album out there is Martin Sexton’s Camp Holiday!” — Jane Meronuck
“Driving around neighborhoods looking at the big light displays and listening to Christmas music.” — Laura Fogelberg
“My favorite movies: White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut, and The Family Stone.” — Casie Leigh Lukes
“My brother and I get together to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — it never gets old! Then, on December 23, before the family mayhem begins, my husband and I have a date night and drive around the suburbs listening to Christmas music on the radio and looking at Christmas lights (and also scope out possible neighborhoods to buy a house!). We end the night by going out for dinner — just us. It’s the most quiet we have for the next week.” — Carrie Stafford
“Going to a movie on Christmas day.” — Heidi Wachter
“My movie must-see list has varied over the years, but the two holiday-themed movies I need to watch in December are Elf starring Will Ferrell and It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything about it and Jimmy Stewart makes me smile.” — Courtney Lewis Opdahl
“The traditional holiday movie in my house growing up was National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Later, for reasons unknown, we added Disney’s Anastasia and Mulan to the list — my guess is that this was in an effort to stay up until midnight. Much to my younger sister’s chagrin, I always fell asleep during Movie No. 1 and to this day have never seen Mulan. But, I always wake up well rested on Christmas morning.” — Maggie Fazeli Fard
“The past couple of years, my husband and I have bundled our girls up, put hot chocolate in travel mugs, and drove around looking at Christmas lights. It’s so fun to see the magic of the holidays through their eyes!” — Jamie Martin
“The smell of pine instantly is the smell of the holidays to me — wreaths, a Christmas tree, garlands, etc.” — Michael Dregni
“The smell of Grandma Farley’s apple-cinnamon Christmas punch on the stovetop always makes me remember sleepovers at their house on Christmas Eve. And when my healthcare practitioner’s office switches over to Young Living’s Thieves essential oil on the diffuser, to help fight off those cold germs swirling around, I know winter is coming.” — Courtney Lewis Opdahl
“Oyster stew on Christmas Eve and cheese fondue on New Year’s Eve are our family’s traditions.” — Michael Dregni
“Getting together with my mom and sister-in-law for our annual cookie/treat baking day.” — Carrie Stafford
“My grandmother’s old-fashioned knot-rolls are a special treat this time of year. She’s passed away when I was 8 years old, but I have such fond memories of helping her frost these as a little girl. My aunt continues to make them every year and I enjoy a couple every year.” — Jamie Martin
“Quince jam, which my mom made every autumn/winter and a tradition I’ve carried on since moving away from home. Halvah and pomegranate, treats associated with the Persian holiday of Shab-e Yalda, celebrating the winter solstice. Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, which I only make this time of year.” — Maggie Fazeli Fard
Interested in the recipe for these treats listed above? Let us know on Twitter @ExperienceLife!
“My fave tradition: Our annual neighborhood cookie exchange.” — Jane Meronuck
TOUCH — AND WHAT TOUCHES OUR HEARTS
“I’ll go with literal here: The feel of soft cats curled up on my lap; the subtle warmth of candle flames, which reminds me of my childhood in Sweden celebrating Sta. Lucia on December 13; pine needles shed from the Christmas tree sticking to the soles of my bare feet; the nubby feel of the papier-mâché Christmas ornaments my sister handmade and painted years ago.” — Maggie Fazeli Fard
“This is the only time of year I am able to enjoy an extended amount of time with both my and my husband’s immediate families. We may be exhausted when we get back home, but being together with everyone for days is worth it.” — Carrie Stafford
“I’m not a fan of winter (or snow), but there are a few precious winter days where I appreciate the cold bite and bright white. I like to take a silent walk by myself through the city, soaking in the peace before people awake. It feels like a cloak of calm over my soul, and like a fresh start. Everyone’s lights on their homes make me feel grateful, cozy, generous and hopeful.” — Casie Leigh Lukes
TRADITIONS, ACTIVITIES & GIFT-GIVING
“Planning and making my homemade gifts, usually real vanilla extract and bacon jam.” — Laura Fogelberg
“I love a good ski.” — Steve Waryan
“For more than 15 years, we have met up with family friends on Christmas Eve, have dinner, and open gag gifts. We are all adults, and most of us have kids of our own, but we still watch Santa Bear. We split ways around midnight, and my brothers still sleep downstairs by the Christmas tree. The tradition has evolved as time goes on — like we get to drink delicious wine from our parents’ Tuscany wine vacations now — but I always feel a swell of gratitude being in the presence of so many wonderful, fun people.” — Casie Leigh Lukes
“Any year we can get dressed up and attend the Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol, it makes for a much merrier Christmas season.” — Courtney Lewis Opdahl
“One of my favorite things is the annual Hauling Out of Holiday Décor. My family keeps several plastic bins stored in the basement and bring them up the weekend after Thanksgiving. We’re not over-the-top decorators, but we do have a respectable stash of ornaments and lights, holiday towels, candles, Santas, snowmen, nutcrackers, and crèches, plus baubles to jab into wreaths and spruce-tip arrangements. Everything is wrapped in old faded tissue paper that gets softer and more fragile each year. In the bottom of one bin is our supply of Christmas CDs. In the bottom of another, like a buried treasure, are several years’ worth of Christmas cards from friends and family.” — Jill Metzler Patton
“I make and preserve homemade lemon curd every year and give a jar as a gift to family and friends — a tradition that I started in my broke graduate-student days, and have continued since because it’s always my grandpa’s favorite present.” — Kaelyn Riley
“I have kept a journal since I was 12. Every December I start reading through the previous year — seeing how things manifested, re-feeling struggles, and laughing through joy. I gather up all I’ve learned in that year, and set gentle and energizing goals for how I imagine the next year to be. It’s always an insightful and healing process for me.” — Casie Leigh Lukes