As parents, we experience the holidays through a double lens — how we celebrated when we were children and how we orchestrate festivities for our own families now. Sometimes, we replace childhood traditions with ones that resonate more deeply with who we are today, but the focus remains the same: spending time together to create memories full of love and joy for all.
And what do the kids think of our potlucks and parties and family activities? We asked 12 local kids to share — in their own words — one of their favorite holiday traditions. Perhaps they will be the ones that stick around for years to come, and maybe they’ll inspire you to incorporate something new into your seasonal celebrations.
12 Kids, 12 Traditions
Starting on Dec. 1, instead of using a chocolate advent calendar, my family and I use a kindness calendar. Every day in December, we pick out a card, then we read it, and there is a kind deed, like, “Bake sweets for neighbors” or “Call a grandparent.” The fun part is we all help write the cards. Each of us writes a few, then we shuffle the cards and put them in. This activity is really helpful, yet it is still fun. I would suggest it to families that love to help out or love the spirit of the holiday season. –Rose S., age 9
Every Christmas, my parents and I go to Mumbai, India, the place where my extended family lives. I spend the holiday in sunny 90 degrees Fahrenheit, not in freezing, white, [blanket of] snow. I eat saffron-cardamom-infused mithai (Indian sweets) instead of gingerbread cookies. But one common theme is making amazing family memories. Laughing around at dinner, eating saag paneer, playing cricket or watching Bollywood movies are all bonding moments. I look forward to India and Christmas, and I hope to continue this tradition for generations to come. –Shaan D., age 10
My favorite family holiday tradition is the food my family cooks, particularly the candied yams. Ever since I’ve been alive, I’ve remembered my mother or grandmother cooking this dish every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I truly feel like our family’s recipe is the best out there, and no soul food restaurants can compete. This recipe has been passed to family members throughout the generations. Earlier this year, my grandma flew from the South to California, and while she was here, she taught me how to cut and cook the yams. There is a special ingredient in the way we prepare the yams, the secret behind why it is so good. While I was born and raised in L.A., I always feel like I have dual citizenship because my mom and grandma are from Louisiana. –Solomon R., age 16
The night before Lunar New Year, we take out a special red dish that spins like a lazy Susan. We fill it up with candy, but it is not the candy you would see on Halloween, like M&Ms or Nerds; it’s Asian candy like White Rabbit, Hi-Chew and these Japanese rice paper jelly squares that are a personal favorite. In the morning, everyone wakes up to the smell of sweets, and me and my sister each take one candy (though it’s more like six) to bring a sweet start to the New Year. I really enjoy this tradition because it’s something that feels special to my family, and I get to start the day (and year) with something tasty and sweet. –Olivia L., age 11
My family celebrates Swedish Christmas with our grandparents and uncles and aunts because my grandfather, who I call PopPop, is Swedish. We get together and eat Swedish pancakes. They’re like a mix of the pancakes you know and crepes. We put whip cream and strawberries on top. My grandfather also makes limpa, a Swedish bread with raisins in it. It takes him days to make, and it’s very tasty with butter on top. It’s nice to celebrate his culture. –Ava C., age 12
One holiday tradition I enjoy is collecting handmade papier-mâché Santas with my mom. We started collecting them seven years ago on a trip to New York City. We saw a beautiful display of Santas in a shop. The first one we bought wore a pretty red velvet coat with faux fur around the edges. Every December since then, we have picked out a unique-looking Santa to add to our collection. I love this time of year because it’s fun to get the Santas out of the attic and rediscover the ones we picked from all the years before. We place them on the mantle or in the living room. –Ensley B., age 10
My family celebrates Chinese New Year every year, and before we celebrate, we clean our house. What I do to help Mommy and Daddy is to throw away trash and objects that we don’t need. By cleaning the house, we sweep away old frustrating problems. Also, it’s important to shower before midnight, because when your hair falls out, it means you will lose money (the Chinese word for “hair” also means “fortune”). If you’re bald, you’re considered safe because you have no hair. –Ayden T., age 10
This Japanese tradition at the new year is special to many Japanese people, including my family. It starts by buying mochi (not mochi ice cream) with a figurine on top. The figures change with each coming year; for example, the snake, cow, rabbit, et cetera. On Dec. 31, we stay up until midnight. While the anticipation rises, we cook soba, which is seen as a sign for a long life, and we cook mochi, douse it in a sweet sauce and wrap it in seaweed to serve. We have a late-night dinner and rejoice with the coming of the new year. –Olive S., age 11
In our home, there is always something new and interesting to read, and the majority of our free time is spent curled up on the couch with a good book. Our family tradition for Christmas truly showcases our love for reading. We have made a Christmas tree out of books for about eight years, first in 2015 because my mom didn’t want to buy a live tree. Instead, she suggested that we build a tree together out of something we already had plenty of, like books. Each year, our tree looks a little bit different, but walking into a room and seeing it with all of its shining lights and ornaments gives us so much pride and joy. It’s a tradition we are very proud to call ours. –Bodhi S., age 12
Dec. 5th is Saint Nicholas Day, and we leave wooden shoes by the fireplace. They are clogs from our amma (grandma), whose ancestors are from the Netherlands. Santa comes and stuffs the shoes with candy and toys. We usually get chocolate coins and a chocolate orange, and we like it because it is basically candy after Halloween! –Liam & Hunter P., ages 7 and 8
Every Hanukkah, my grandparents come to visit from New York. We have dinner, and it’s really fun, and my grandma from here comes, too. My favorite thing we eat is latkes. I put applesauce on top. Safta, which is “grandma” in Hebrew, makes them, and they’re so good. And on the first day of Hanukkah, I light the candle. I go first because I like to, and I help my little brother Dean “help” with the lighting. –Izzy M., age 10
One of my family traditions is the Greek Vasilopita bread. The Vasilopita is a New Year’s tradition, when a Greek grandmother bakes a sweet bread, placing a coin in the dough before the bread is baked. The bread is divided into pieces, starting with Jesus, then the house and then oldest to youngest. Everyone gets a piece, and they rapidly search through their piece of bread. Whoever has the coin is going to have a lucky year. If the house or Jesus gets the coin, everyone is blessed. I’m fortunate to have gotten the coin twice, and so far it’s worked out! –Madeline K., age 11
Chelsee Lowe is a travel and food writer and frequent contributor to L.A. Parent.