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Adjusting to having your own family is hard. For one, adulting sucks. I’m a mom of two boys and I generally agree with Hudson (age 9) and Asher (age 6) regarding what is hilarious; but society doesn’t always agree with us. So I’ve had to grow up just a little bit in order to help our children learn society’s rules that I typically still can’t follow. Maybe there’s hope for them. For two, it’s really difficult to keep up with all those holiday traditions you want to keep, don’t know how to keep, don’t want to keep at all, or feel badly for not keeping.

I grew up with a lot of awesome traditions, and so did my husband. So for the first few years after we had our children, we desperately tried to keep up with all of them. Our hearts were in the right place, but it. was. exhausting. We drove across the state on Christmas in ridiculous traffic. I wanted to cook for my husband just the way his mom cooked for him, but I also wanted to have my own favorite foods that I grew up with. I wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve, and Jeremy wanted to wait until Christmas morning.

We had so many discussions regarding which was the “right way” that it took us years to figure out there is no “right way,” there is only “our way.”

Being a mom has taught me a few things – just a few. But my favorite lesson has become the importance of simplicity. I have come to cherish and seek out opportunities to keep life as simple as possible. And I have found my boys truly appreciate this; they don’t even realize they are who actually taught me the lessons in simplicity. $350 toy? Awesome. But wait! There’s a BOX it came in!!! Rock on!!!

Now that our boys are 9 and 6, we have established our own family traditions – all based entirely on simplicity and being our own family. I know how hard it is to come up with your own traditions, or even to realize you have made traditions, so I thought I would share some of ours in order to make your life more simple this holiday season! Feel free to share, steal, tell me I’m completely insane, over complicate, make your own – hey, sky’s the limit here.

1. The Elf on the Shelf –

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Estes loves it when I make brownies with chocolate frosting. Stinker.

It’s number one on the list for two reasons: one, it’s the first step to take to begin bringing that Christmas cheer in to your home; two, it’s awesome. When you purchase your elf, he or she comes with a wonderful book that you read as a family. At the end of the book, you give the elf a name and vow to never touch him or her again. At night, your elf flies home to report to Santa what he saw during the day in your home. So every morning when we wake up, our elf has moved to a new, and often silly, location in the house. For a month, our boys run around the house trying to find our loving family elf, Estes, when they wake up. They LOVE seeing what shenanigans he has been doing. Estes has done everything in our house from snow angels on the kitchen counter out of sugar to toothpaste messages on the mirror. This morning, we found Estes surrounded by friends (our boys’ stuffed animals) at the kitchen table playing poker and enjoying some milk with straws.

2. The Christmas Eve Box –

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Our Christmas tree goes up early and stays up late!

As I said before, I always wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve and Jeremy wanted to wait until Christmas morning. I’m so glad we have figured out a compromise. Every year under our tree, we have one huge box clearly marked, “OPEN ON CHRISTMAS EVE!” In it, both boys find a pair of warm jammies. But wait, we can’t leave mommy and daddy out. We always have a nice pair of warm pajama pants as well. Last year, all four of us received footie jammies; that was nothing short of hilarious. Also in the box are hot chocolate Keurig K-cups (packets would work too if you don’t have a Keurig), four mugs (one special for each of us – see #2 on the list for more info here), a Christmas book (always cute Christmas books coming out), and a family game. So over the years, we have built up an adorable collection of mugs, Christmas books, and family games. It’s a tradition I’m thrilled we began.

3. Personalized Mugs for the Christmas Eve Box –

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Paint your own pottery camo mug for daddy!

Okay, I get that we have an advantage here, but it’s still easy for you to paint your own mugs! We live in Cozad, Nebraska and own Natural Escapes, a landscaping and greenhouse services business turned paint-your-own pottery and canvas family art studio in the winter months! While we will do pottery and canvas year-round in our retail store, the busy season is certainly this time of year. You cannot beat the family activity of painting your own mug every year. Then once fired, wrap that mug up and put it in the Christmas Eve box; it looks so different from the freshly painted version (since after glazing and firing all the colors are gorgeous and mug is food and drink safe) that the kids are thrilled just to see how it turned out! So paint your own mug every year and start making memories! Not to mention – you just gave yourselves an awesome family activity a couple of weeks before Christmas while you sit down and paint together! Then enjoy your hot chocolate in your mug with your family on Christmas Eve while you play a family and read a Christmas book just before tucking in for bed to prepare for Santa.

Note: Check out Natural Escapes on Facebook if you want to know more about paint-your-own pottery and canvas in Cozad, Nebraska.

4. Snowflake Ceiling –

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Easy and fun decorations since we can all do the activity as a family!

Putting up decorations is something we all love to do together, but there’s just something super special about displaying proudly all of our artwork all over the house! So last year, we all started making snowflakes out of plain white computer paper. Then we attached each to a piece of yarn and hung from the ceiling! Our home is a winter wonderland and it’s an activity that continues to thrill the boys all through December! They continue challenging themselves and each other to create new and amazing pieces of artwork to hang!

 5. The Kid Tree –

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
It’s so fun to take out their handmade projects year after year and hang them up!

Does the tree look a fabulous mess? That’s because it is, and every year it becomes more and more messy and fabulous. You saw my tree up in #1. You saw I have MY tree. I like it decorated with my silver and black ornaments and lots of bright white lights. My kind of Christmas tree is very plain, but it’s very beautiful and matches our family perfectly. But don’t our boys deserve to be able to decorate too? Don’t get me wrong, they help me with the big tree. And when they fall asleep, I move all the decorations where I want them. (Don’t judge me, you know you do it). But this tree – this tree I don’t touch. I’m going to have to upgrade to a larger tree next year because this one is full! Each year, the boys bring home such adorable Christmas decorations they made in school! Of course I want to display them! Of course I want the boys to be able to hang them on the tree! So every year, we set up this tree with beautiful and colorful lights! I hand them their box full of items they have hand-made through the years and tell them to go nuts! They get to decorate that tree however they want and enjoy the memories of when they made each treasure. And all month long, they continue to bring home adorable hand-made items from school. And all month long, they continue to add to their very own tree. They love it. We love it. And walking past all those memories every day is just so fun.

6. Angel Tree

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Be somebody’s angel.

As the years pass, I find it easier to help my boys understand the importance of giving, but I must admit that I don’t think it’s an accident. While we have absolutely no idea what we are doing as parents and generally are pretty sure we are messing everything up, there is one area where I know we can be proud. For the past few years especially, we have tried extremely hard at every opportunity to help the boys truly understand the importance of giving of ourselves in many ways in order to help others. Jeremy, my husband, was in a severe car accident in 2012 and suffers from depression. After five suicide attempts and the near-death accident, we learned how to ask for and accept help. But we learned it’s hard; it sucks. But it grows faith and true empathy for others more than anything else we have ever experienced. We came out in the open about our reality; while some ran away out of plain fear or lack of understanding, most ran directly toward us. Most wrapped us in their prayers and arms and supported our reality. Now, we are blessed to have become an inspiration and a safe place for many suffering in silence from unseen illnesses as we once did. We want to give back because we believe God kept Jeremy here on this earth to do His good. While we don’t have a lot to give, we can give of our time by sharing our reality to help others, and we can afford to purchase two extra gifts for a family who needs help. So every year, we find an angel tree, take two candy canes (one for each of the boys), and purchase for the children listed. This year, since nobody in town had one after our Alco closed last year, we set one up in our own store. So now we are seeing the side of “managing” the angel tree. We are getting to talk to and reach out to the families who need help; we are getting to spread God’s good even further.

Note: Find more about our story in our book. “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith” is available on Amazon in eBook format and on in paperback (directly through us and personally signed).

7. Cinnamon Roll Christmas

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Mouth watering? Good. You’re healthy and human then. Congrats!

There is nothing better than waking up on Christmas Day to breakfast already prepared and ready to make your house smell amazing. On Christmas Eve, I get my cinnamon roll sauce prepared and my frozen Rhode’s cinnamon rolls laid out in the pan with sauce all over them. They rise overnight and I put them in the oven first thing in the morning. The boys happily unwrap presents and squeal with excitement as the scent of freshly baked cinnamon rolls dances through the house. In fact, I asked the boys what they wanted for Christmas morning breakfast – just to test this tradition of course. Our oldest’s response was, “You aren’t going to make our cinnamon rolls?” Oh yes, my love. I sure am.

And for your convenience, here is my recipe. You’ll be the most popular person in your house when you make these. And again, it’s all based on simplicity – gooey, yummy, amazingly awesome simplicity.

Bailey’s Cinnamon Rolls (passed down from my momma – Peg Kugler)

Ingredients – 1 stick butter, 1 cup white Karo syrup, 1 heaping cup brown sugar, 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 T cinnamon, 1 package frozen Rhode’s cinnamon rolls (12 rolls…picture shows the giant ones as that’s all my store had this time around. Those are okay to use but you’ll only be able to use 6 for this recipe if you get that kind.)

Do this the night before…

Melt together:
1 stick butter
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 heaping cup  brown sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 T cinnamon

Place some of the mixture in the bottom of a 10″ x 15″ cookie pan just so the rolls don’t stick. Place 12 Rhode’s frozen cinnamon rolls evenly throughout the pan and cover cinnamon rolls with the rest of the melted together yummyness. Cover with plastic wrap by sticking toothpicks in cinnamon rolls so wrap does not lay on the rolls. Let sit overnight to rise so the rolls soak up the ooey goodness.

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Place toothpicks in the center of the rolls so the plastic wrap doesn’t lay on the rolls as they rise overnight.

Do this when you wake up…

Uncover the cinnamon rolls and take toothpicks out. Rolls should be risen (just like Jesus) and will likely be touching. Place in oven at 350 degrees for around 35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool a little. I like to cover the pan with aluminum foil and flip the rolls over onto the foil so the bottom comes to the top and it’s easy to get lots of yummy sauce on the rolls. Then I cover the top with aluminum foil too so leftovers don’t get hard. In the Rhode’s pack of cinnamon rolls, there is a package of white frosting. I allow guests to decide if they want it on their roll or not so I sit it out. 🙂

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Morning…just before putting in the oven. Be sure to take out the toothpicks!

8. Christmas Day = Jammie Day

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
Hahahaha. Those fit too.

We understand not everyone is blessed to be only 10 miles from all grandparents, but we are. There were two years when we drove, in ridiculous traffic and weather, on Christmas Day across the state to see other family. We learned our lesson and put our foot down. No more. We made our home back home for a reason; our boys wake every Christmas morning in our own home and they get to stay in jammies and play with their gifts all day long. On Christmas Eve, we go to my parent’s house 15 miles away. On Christmas Day, in order to allow our boys to stay in their jammies and enjoy down time, we invite Jeremy’s side of the family to our home. Often, we are ALL in super comfy clothes and just genuinely enjoy each others’ company while we watch the boys play. While we know traveling to see family is a very real reality for many, adjust this tradition to make it a jammie day for your whole family, no matter where you are! Having grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins all in jammies makes for a relaxing a fun environment. And it’s a day everyone can look forward to. Let’s face it, Jesus doesn’t care what you wear, and those expandable sweatpants are a must for Christmas meals!

9. Red Hot Cider & Polar Express Cocoa

9 Family Christmas Traditions to Make Your Own
This our oldest and I enjoying a hot treat!

Christmas means celebrating Jesus’ birth by hanging out all day long while we eat, drink, unwrap, laugh, and generally enjoy each other. While we always have our adult choice beverages at the ready, we also have to have something fun for the kiddos (and we partake as well). So we have two awesome drink choices in two different hot beverage dispensers. (I love my Genuine Joe 2L carafes…have two of them.)

In one, we keep red hot cider. Yes, red hot cider. Get pre-made apple cider in a container from the store, heat up, and add candy red hots to melt (add as much as you want depending on how cinnamon you want it). YUMMY! FESTIVE! A kid and adult favorite.

In the other, have your Polar Express Cocoa. I like this recipe from It’s 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk, 6 cups milk, and 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips. Of course my oldest is allergic to milk – thank God he loves the cider!


So there you have it. No matter what, make your own Christmas traditions, but hopefully our list will get your wheels turning and you can begin making them all yours! Feel free to contact us on our website at, follow us on our blog at, and like our Facebook page. Our book is also available on Amazon.

Bailey Koch

Bailey Koch is an advocate for those who can't easily advocate for themselves in every way. Married to her hottie hubby, whom has survived 5+ suicide attempts, and mom to two teenage boys, the oldest with High Functioning Autism and youngest with Epilepsy, Bailey is passionate about mental health and parenting through the messy realities. Additionally, Bailey is a Doctor of Special Education and works as an instructor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney preparing future special educators to be advocates for the learning of all. Bailey and her husband, Jeremy, have written and published two books. "Never Alone: A Husband and Wife's Journey with Depression and Faith" details their struggles with severe depression and the journey toward understanding their purpose, accepting help, and finding faith. "When the House Feels Sad: Helping You Understand Depression" is written for families, at a child's level, to open up a conversation about the reality of Depression. Follow their journey, the triumphs and the challenges, on Facebook at and Instagram at @anchoringhopeformentalhealth.

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