• My family loves looking for our Christmas tree together. My husband grew up on a Christmas tree farm, and it means a lot to him, sharing that part of his childhood with us. When we go, the kids take turns perching on his shoulders because it gives them the best vantage point for spotting the perfect tree. I like fuller ones, but my husband prefers the orphans that no one else wants. In the end we always find a tree that everyone agrees on, and with a few quick strokes of the handsaw, the tree is ours. For us, bringing home the tree is the true start of the holidays.
Katie Craig Florence, Ma
• As a single mom with a 5-year-old daughter, I sometimes feel conflicted about joining in the plans of my sisters, mother, and friends. I want my daughter to feel part of a large family. At the same time, I really love the often-impromptu times when just the two of us do something fun during the holidays: driving around looking at lights, riding the local carousel to Christmas music, staying up late, and breaking whatever traditional Christmas "rules" we want to! I've learned that our two-person family is complete and at its best when we celebrate in our own way, and the memories we create are what both she and I will cherish forever.
Jill Miranda Birmingham, AL
• To head off a gift-unwrapping frenzy on Christmas morning, we put a family trivia card on each gift. Before it's opened, someone tries to answer the question. The kids learn fun and interesting things about their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles (and even about themselves when they were little), and it keeps the focus on family on Christmas Day.
Alayne Randall Idaho Falls, ID
• At the beginning of every December, my kids choose which of their toys to donate to a local women and children's shelter. This not only makes room for new toys, but it also teaches my kids to be thankful for what we have and that it feels good to help others.
Christina Worman Litchfield Park, AZ
• My family enjoys watching old holiday TV specials and movies, but with our hectic schedule, it's hard to find the time to watch our favorites and to visit with friends. So 12 years ago, we began hosting an annual Christmas video party. Adults wear comfortable clothes, and the kids wear pajamas. We pull out the sofa bed for the youngest guests to lie on, and we have movies playing in several rooms of the house. Our eldest child is now 17 years old, but she and many of her teen friends and cousins still wear pajamas to this traditional holiday kickoff event.
Anastasia Scheper Cockeysville, MD
• Before we wrap the kids' Christmas presents, my husband, my mother, and I remove most of the packaging from the toys and put in batteries, if needed. Then on Christmas morning, the kids can start playing with their toys right away.
Stephanie Eige Parrish, FL
• My mom and mother-in-law have a tradition of taking the grandkids for a night or two and making crafts and gifts, which gives us parents time to organize ourselves for the holidays. Each grandmother gets to have fun and make special memories with her grandkids, and the parents get a little sanity!
Erin Pakney Auburn, WA
• I like to wrap presents in brown kraft paper and put the recipient's name on the bottom. Then, during the season, we use various art supplies to decorate the presents or add decorations to ones we've worked on. My daughter, Isia, really enjoys making them into works of art; plus, the activity keeps her busy and helps her feel involved in the holidays.
Cassidy Sevier Indianapolis, IN
• Instead of putting a toy or candy in each compartment of our Advent calendar, I insert little slips of paper noting an activity that my husband, my daughter, and I can do together. Ideas include making hot cocoa, reading a Christmas story, baking gingerbread, and making a gift for someone in our family. We find that it's a great way to stay close to one another during the busy holiday season.
Cherice Quackenbush Vista, CA
• When shopping for the holidays -- which I start doing as soon as I see good deals or things my kids will like -- I keep an index card for each child in my bag. On one side of the card, I write down that child's wish list. On the other side, I write down what I buy and how much it cost. This way I don't forget what I've purchased, and I know about how much I spent.
Beth Gould Schwenksville, PA
• We have an annual tradition we call Gifts From the Heart. Each of us selects the name of another family member, then figures out a present for that person that doesn't cost any money. We gather on Christmas Eve, and with the video camera running, we sing songs or recite poems that we've written or give other presents, such as portraits and handmade coupons and books.
Marci Cole Spanish Fork, UT