Whether you want to host a party for all your family and friends or just spend Christmas Eve at home with your nearest and dearest, this special day becomes more memorable when you incorporate some traditions, old and new. Crafting, cooking, games, gift-giving and charitable endeavors, each with your own personal twist, can all be a part of the festivities. These traditions require only minimal planning, but the payoff is sharing the true joys of the season with everyone around you.

(Not So) Silent Night With Family

Your cozy, warm home, decorated for the season and filled with the happy commotion of your family, is probably the best place you can be on Christmas Eve. Create memories with some at-home traditions like baking, eating special treats, enjoying Christmas movies and prepping for Santa’s imminent arrival.

reindeer cupcakes for Santa

Bake a batch of your family’s favorite cupcakes to transform into reindeer cakes. Decorating the cakes is so easy even little kids can help. Spread the cakes with chocolate icing; use regular, chocolate- or yogurt-covered pretzels as antlers, chocolate chips for eyes and a round red candy, such as an M&M, for that very shiny nose. Serve these cute creations on a Christmas platter and they’ll be special enough to leave as a treat for Santa.

reindeer cupcakes for Santa

Open One Gift

Relieve a little of the kids’ anticipation for Christmas Day with a new tradition of letting everyone in the family open one gift — just one — on Christmas Eve. Make these items something cozy that you can all wear that evening, such as a pair of festive pajamas, a warm sweater or fuzzy slippers.

Make It a Movie/Game Night

christmas popcorn tin

Select one or two movies with a Christmas theme to watch together as a family. There are so many titles to choose from that are suitable for all ages and tastes that it should be easy to find a fitting movie for your family. Close the curtains, turn on the Christmas tree lights and prepare some drinks that go with tasty popcorn. Combine two traditions into one by making movie night a game night, too — as you watch, count the number of times the characters say the word “Santa” or “Christmas.” Make it a rule that everyone has to sing along loudly to any featured songs and carols, and maybe your best vocalist gets a small treat from under the tree.

christmas popcorn tin

Volunteer as a Family

Arrange in advance to spend some hours before Christmas volunteering together as a family. Inquire early about opportunities at food banks, shelters, charities, hospitals and veterans’ organizations. Check newspapers for upcoming fundraising events that might need volunteers. You could collect nonperishable food and deliver the donation when it’s most needed, mail care packages and cards to servicemen overseas or sing carols at a nursing home. Some churches and charitable organizations have “sponsor a family” opportunities, in which your family is tasked with buying gifts specifically for members of a less fortunate family.

Slow Cooker Eggnog

Warm, creamy eggnog and Christmas Eve go hand in hand, and a homemade version, kept steamy in a slow cooker, beats the store-bought variety any day. When it’s time to sit down to a movie, open gifts or just enjoy some cozy family time around the fire, serve eggnog in big mugs with a fragrant sprinkle of nutmeg. A swirl of whipped cream makes for an even more decadent treat, and adults might add a splash of whiskey, rum or brandy, too.

Order Take Out

With all the baking, prepping, decorating and gift-wrapping leading up to Christmas Eve, as well as having a major meal to cook the next day, Mom and Dad need a break. Make it an annual tradition to order take-out from your favorite restaurant, whether it’s Chinese, pizza or a deli. Serve the meal on fancy plates to acknowledge that it’s still a special occasion, but keep it casual and cozy by eating in the living room in your PJs.

Holly Jolly Holiday Party

Planning a jolly holiday party, whether large or small and formal or casual, can include some new Christmas traditions that embrace the caring, sharing spirit of the season. Gift exchanges, small-scale donation drives and, of course, a plentiful spread of great foods and drinks all encourage guests to eat, drink and be very merry.

Punch Please!

homemade holiday punch in mason jar glasses

A big bowl of punch makes a pretty centerpiece at a holiday party as well as a delicious drink for your guests. Make servings of your homemade punch extra special with frozen cranberry swizzle sticks. Skewer fresh cranberries onto bamboo skewers or cocktail sticks, run cold water over them, then sprinkle the cranberries with liberal amounts of sugar. Freeze the skewers for at least an hour, or until you’re ready to serve the punch. They’ll appear frosted, in fitting with the festive season, and are delicious. Set out mason jar glasses, each with a frozen swizzle stick, and let guests help themselves to the punch.

homemade holiday punch in mason jar glasses

Build a Bruschetta Bar

Bruschetta — both in its classic and nontraditional incarnations — makes an easy yet impressive appetizer that pleases everyone. Set up a bruschetta bar with a basket of crostini, various toppings, some cold meats and an array of cheeses and let everyone assemble their own custom bites. Offer a bowl of chopped fresh tomato, onion and torn basil strips and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Italian cold cuts, marinated mushrooms, roasted bell peppers, pesto, olives and pickles are all fitting options, as well as some fresh greens like arugula and watercress. Don’t forget plenty of napkins, little plates and serving spoons.

Ornament or Gift Exchange

mitten Christmas ornament

Talk to your party guests in advance or make a note on the invitations and ask everyone to bring an ornament or small gift for an exchange. Everyone can draw names from a hat to select the recipient of their gift, or you can put all the wrapped items in a pile and let everyone select a surprise. Make your own contribution a special ornament personalized with your family name and the current year — every Christmas whoever receives it will remember how much fun they had at your party.

mitten Christmas ornament

Helping Hand Donations

Select a charity to which you wish to contribute this holiday season and ask your party guests each to bring one item for donation. This could be unwrapped toys for a Toys for Tots campaign, nonperishable food items for a food pantry or clothing and other household items to give to a women’s shelter. Place a big red Santa bag by the door and start with your own donations. Ask guests to follow suit, voluntarily of course.

Christmas Recipe Exchange

Every family has a few favorite recipes that are showcased as a special treat at Christmastime. Discover your friends’ and families’ seasonal culinary specialties by hosting a recipe exchange during your party. Request Christmas dinner, brunch, dessert or cocktail recipes that each couple can submit in a sealed envelope. You can even issue challenges like “five ingredients or fewer” or “must take 30 minutes or less.” Guests can draw an envelope over drinks at the party, try the recipe out during the coming days and post their results on social media for everyone to see.

Your Own Christmas Eve Traditions

What are your favorite family traditions for Christmas Eve? Do you stay in with the kids, host a gathering or seek out a great party to attend? Share your favorites in the comments section below.