Whether you want to start a new holiday tradition with your kids or continue one from your childhood, we have lots of inspiration from parents who know how to get in the spirit.
1. Count your blessings
"Last Thanksgiving, guests wrote what they were thankful for and put the notes in a glass jar we used as the table centerpiece," says Kathy Cano-Murillo, a Mexican-American mom in Phoenix who blogs under the name La Crafty Chica. "Throughout the meal, people would take turns pulling out a paper and reading it out loud. It motivates everyone to put down their phone and talk to one another, and it teaches little ones the importance of sharing stories."
2. Shake What Your Mami Gave You
Guatemalan- Nicaraguan mom Susana Sanchez-Young, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, gets her shy Asian in-laws dancing with a game of musical chairs. "After Christmas dinner, we blast salsa and merengue and give everyone tambourines. The adults get so rowdy, we have to have a separate game for the kids!"
3. Welcome the Three Kings
"In Venezuela, kids leave their shoes by the bed with a wish list on top for Los Reyes Magos on January 6," says Desiree Lascarro, of Wyckoff, New Jersey. "My mom would sprinkle sand in my bedroom to prove that the camels had visited," adds Lascarro, who follows this tradition with her daughters—minus the dirt.
4. Fast Forward the Fun
"In Mexico, we had posadas [the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter before Jesus's birth] for eight nights. Now that I host them, we celebrate one evening only," says Mexican-American mom Telma Garcia, of San Antonio. "Once we're done with the chants, we burst open a piñata and light fireworks."
5. Have a Pajama Party
Vanessa Zahran, of Carmel, New York, outfits her family for some awww-worthy photos. "I buy us all matching Christmas pajamas, and I carry them with me to my aunt's house, where we celebrate Nochebuena," says the Cuban-American mom. "Before we leave, we change into our jammies."
6. Make Some Noise
Who says the kids have to go to bed early to wait for Santa? For Rayza Soto, of Brooklyn, New York, the real party starts at midnight. "When the clock strikes 12, everyone grabs pots, pans, and maracas, and we start making noise," says the Dominican-American mom.
7. Create Memories
"Every December, my 7-year-old son, Joaquin, and I bake Mexican wedding cookies to give away as gifts," says Mexican-American blogger Ericka Sanchez, of Los Angeles. "Joaquin's job is to roll them into little balls and dip them in the confectioners' sugar. I remember making them with my mom, and Joaquin gets excited to know that he's using Grandma's recipe."
8. Help Yourself
Playing hostess? Follow these tips for creating a great buffet.
- Make edible centerpieces. If pork shoulder is on the menu, let it work double duty. "Pernil is gorgeous, with its crackling skin," says Nuyorican lifestyle expert Alejandra Ramos. "After it roasts, place fresh cilantro and sliced lemons in the pan, and put it right in the middle of the table."
- Try a tropical touch. Bright-green plantain leaves aren't just for pasteles. "Use them as place mats for serving dishes," Ramos suggests.
- Give guests easy access. "Make sure people can serve themselves from both sides," says Cuban-American Sabrina Soto, a home-design expert in Los Angeles. She suggests setting up tiers: Just cover a sturdy cardboard box in festive wrapping, and put larger food platters on top.
- Spill the beans. Arrange utensils artfully by filling short vases (nothing taller than 6 inches) halfway with dried beans and planting forks and knives so they're sticking up, Ramos says.
- Use a slow cooker. "It will cut your prep time by a quarter and keep food warm," says Puerto Rican–Mexican party planner Xochitl Gonzalez, of New York City. She adapted her ropa vieja recipe so it stews all day and can be easily shredded before guests arrive.
- Add color with food. Serve classic guacamole in a molcajete surrounded by bright bowls of fruit, so guests can pick their flavors, Ramos says. Diced mango and pineapple work well with avocado. Add savory options, like crumbled bacon and queso fresco, and don't forget chopped jalapeño and serrano chiles, for an extra kick.
9. Turn on the Lights
Sandra Guevara, of Indian Land, South Carolina, ushers in the Christmas season as her relatives do back in Colombia. "December 7 marks the Dia de las Velitas, which celebrates the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception," Guevara says. "Homes are lit up with candles, so every year, the kids and I take LED lights and put them around the windows."
10. Mix it Up
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, makes a spiced Mexican punch that kids love. "Ponche Navideño is a staple at our house during the holidays. It tastes like an exotic apple cider," says the Mexican-American coauthor (with Vianney Rodriguez) of Latin Twist: Traditional & Modern Cocktails. "You simmer fruits like apples, pears, and oranges with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and tamarind pods in water, then sweeten it up with piloncillo."
11. Throw a Tamale-Making Party
Vianney Rodriguez, of Aransas Pass, Texas, turns a labor-intensive task into an annual blowout. "I invite 20 to 30 people, and we gather around my table, which my husband, Rogelio, custom-made specifically for my tamalada," says the Mexican-American mom. "The younger kids spread the masa on the corn husks while the older kids fill them with meat. When people leave ten hours later, I send them home with fresh tamales."
12. Muévelo Muévelo
For Nuyorican dad William Gonzalez (aka DJ WilliamCutting), of Valley Stream, New York, music is an integral part of any celebration. "I have memories triggered by certain songs, and I want to make sure my daughters have that same emotion when they think about the holidays." Here, Gonzalez gives us the ultimate playlist for getting everyone from Abuelita to the kids shakin' it on the dance floor.
- "La Fiesta de Pilito," by El Gran Combo
- "Aires de Navidad," by Willie Colón & Héctor Lavoe
- "La Dueña del Swing," by Los Hermanos Rosario
- "Tumba la Casa," by Sancocho
- "Rob-Rob's Boriqua Anthem," by C+C Music Factory
- "Can You Feel the Beat," by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force
- "Girl I'll House You," by The Jungle Brothers
- "Set It Off," by Strafe
- "Danza Kuduro," by Don Omar & Lucenzo
- "Feliz Navidad," by José Feliciano ("Kids love singing this one!")