Traditional Ways To Celebrate Christmas In America: A Retrospective

by Benjamin Lewis

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go!  But, then again, what Christmas looks like depends on where you go.  The myriad ways in which people choose to celebrate Christmas varies starkly by country.  And, even within countries, you’ll find a lot of diverse traditions, customs, and novel ways to drum up some Christmas cheer.  And, the United States is no different.  So, how do Americans celebrate Christmas?  Well, here are some of my favorite, old-fashioned ways to celebrate Christmas in America:


One Gift on Christmas Eve

Opening one gift on Christmas Eve represents every kid’s favorite Christmas tradition.  The excitement and anticipation has built up to a crescendo and most parents simply can’t take it anymore.  Surely, tearing the wrapping paper off a single present will help release some of the suspense.  And, in some households, the night before Christmas in America means the kids get to open two gifts each…because pajamas don’t count!

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Leaving Cookies Out for Santa

For those kids who still believe in Santa, leaving out a few cookies and a tall, cold glass of milk for the big man is one of the top ten American Christmas traditions.  On the one hand, it’s a thoughtful gesture.  On the other, it’s a bribe.  If Santa particularly likes your cookies, then maybe you’ll find an extra toy in your stocking.  And, waking up to find an empty glass of milk and a partially eaten cookie really sells it to the kids.

Hanging Stockings

Christmas in America brings out the creativity of parents across the country.  And, nowhere is this more apparent than the custom-made stockings.  While some children hang the basic red and white stockings, other kids, such as myself, get to hang highly decorated keepsakes made with love.  Furthermore, the super-lucky little ones also use collectible stocking hangers in the shape of their favorite cartoon or fairytale characters.  Fun!

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Picking out a Christmas Tree

For many households across the country, picking out a tree marks the beginning of Christmas in America.  After the tree gets dragged through the house, shedding needles all over the floor and furniture, it’s time to decorate the house before hanging up tree ornaments.  But, picking out Christmas tree can prove stressful.  It is the right size and shape?  And, does it have any holes or bare spots?  There’s an art to the selection process.

Topping the Christmas Tree

Then, once the Christmas lights, wall decorations, and tree ornaments have been hung, it’s time to top the tree if you’re celebrating Christmas in America.  Usually, Americans place a Star of Bethlehem or an angel on top of their trees.  These items usually hold a special place in their owners’ hearts because they are often kept for decades.  And, the topping of the tree puts a punctuation mark on the decorating process.  It means the house now stands ready to receive St. Nick and his bag of goodies.

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Maybe I’m a Grinch or a Mr. Scrooge; but, I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of caroling, regardless of whether I’m the one listening or singing.  I don’t know.  I just feel uncomfortable with it.  If carolers come to my door, I feel awkward just standing there and smiling.  Plus, it seemingly creates an obligation to give them some eggnog and cookies or even pay them.  And, I don’t sing.  Nevertheless, it remains one of the cherished Christmas traditions in the U.S.A.

Driving around to See Christmas Lights

As a kid, my absolute favorite Christmas tradition in America was driving around the neighborhood to look at our neighbors’ Christmas lights.  Even before I could speak, I would “oooooh” and “ahhhh”, much to my mother’s delight.  Then again, I would get excited by the traffic lights for the same exact reason.  I also enjoyed seeing which houses won and displayed the awards for “Best Decorations”, “Most Lights”, and so on.  Now, that’s some wholesome family fun.

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Gingerbread Houses

My family probably constructed a Gingerbread house at some point.  But, this beloved American Christmas tradition definitely fell by the wayside when it came to the Lewis household.  However, many homes absolutely love getting the kids together to create an edible edifice.  All you need are graham crackers for the walls and roof, frosting for the mortar, and candies to decorate your miniature house.  Delicious!

Secret Santa

Most people understand the Secret Santa Christmas tradition.  But, for those who don’t, a group of Christmas revelers get together and agree that each individual will buy one gift for a randomly selected person.  That way, no one has to buy a gift for every person in the group.  So, you draw names and buy a gift for that person.  And, when the receiver of the gift opens the present, he or she has to guess who served as his or her Secret Santa.  It’s perfect for a office full of coworkers.

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Making your own ornaments

Christmas ornaments made by your children represent a keepsake that you can enjoy for years to come.  I remember making ornaments out of paper, food items covered in a sealant, and even trash.  It’s not about how it looks or the quality of the craftsmanship.  It’s truly the thought that counts when your kid brings home a custom-made ornament as a gift.  More recently, making homemade ornaments has evolved into a creative passion for many.  So, go out there and express your love of Christmas through crafts.


Notice something?  We intentionally left out some of the most beloved Christmas traditions.  So, in the comments, let us know which ones you expected to see.





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