Darling Family Holiday Traditions

Once Palmer was born, it was really important to us to establish family traditions that we carry forward year over year. Yes, around the holidays, but also in general for our family. Most of our family traditions are still fairly new but others we’ve brought from our families growing up. [I mention a few birthday traditions in Palmer’s First Birthday post here.] This year our holiday traditions may look a little different due to COVID but we’re more excited than ever to experience all of them with Palmer again now that she’s a little bit older. Read on for more details or inspiration and feel free to share your own traditions via comments below as we’re always looking for new ideas!


  • Collect ornaments from our travels throughout the year. We’re not big into buying souvenirs or tchotchkes when we travel but we have started buying Christmas ornaments to commemorate our trips and have enjoyed reliving the memories as we unpack them and put them up on the tree each year.
  • Visit the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. It’s a little bit of a zoo to be honest but there’s a festive energy to the madness with the boots of mulled wine in each hand and the smell of candied nuts in the air. We usually grab a drink, walk around to the different vendors and pick up a few small gifts or stocking stuffers and ornaments each year. This year, due to COVID, it’s virtual so we probably won’t be partaking, sadly.
  • Pictures with Santa. Palmer met Santa for the first time last year and did great! We didn’t quite get a smile out of her but she didn’t erupt in tears either so I consider it a win. This year with COVID, I’m not confident we’ll visit Santa but perhaps we’ll go wave at him from a responsible social distance.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. Each year the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago partners with ComEd to put on a spectacular outdoor light display. It’s honestly the perfect COVID-friendly activity because you’re outside and able to keep your distance from others. This year we have tickets to go on the Sunday before Christmas and I’m so excited because Palmer is in a phase where she loves looking at the lights.
  • Cut down our own Christmas tree. We started this tradition this year and I’m so excited about it. Neither Kevin or I had done this before and it was so much fun to go out and pick our tree. It was a full family affair and we even got to bring Gus. This year we went to Richardson’s Christmas Tree Farm in Spring Grove, IL and while I thought they did a great job logistically, the tree selection was pretty limited and there was nothing over 6′ tall.
  • Advent calendars. We kinda fell into this tradition by chance this year. I didn’t grow up doing Advent Calendars but I saw a cute, inexpensive one at Trader Joe’s that I picked up for Palmer and she has loved it. More accurately I’d say she’s loved the chocolate inside of it but it has been a fun little treat to look forward to each night leading up to Christmas.
  • Fulfill Angel Tree Tag. Typically, I grab a tag or two from the Angel Tree at our local church but I know during the holidays you can find them almost anywhere. Honestly, it brings me so much joy to be able to share our good fortune with others in hopes that it will make their holiday just a little brighter.
  • Bake Christmas cookies. I had a German grandmother who was a skilled cook and baker. Each year, she made dozens of Christmas cookies of all varieties – ginger snaps, rum balls, butter cookies, lebkucken, sugar cookies, you name it! We always received a tin for Christmas and everyone would fight to get their favorites but all them were so delicious. Over the years, I’ve asked for quite a few recipes and this year I hope to replicate many of them myself to share with friends and family and, of course, leave for Santa on Christmas Eve.
  • Charcuterie & lasagna for dinner Christmas Eve. This is loosely a Vallari family tradition and something Kevin and I adopted. It’s ideal because you prep ahead of time, it comes out hot and ready to eat and feeds a large group. This year we’re planning to host Christmas Eve and will definitely be carrying this tradition forward.
  • Read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ before bed on Christmas Eve. We read Palmer bedtime stories every night but on Christmas Eve we swap our normal lineup for The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore.
  • Matching family pajamas on Christmas morning. Matching family pajamas on Christmas morning was a non-negotiable before we even had kids. This is probably one of my favorite family traditions and one I take very seriously each year. Last year, we all wore buffalo check and this year we’re going with the Holiday Journey print by Petite Plume.
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast Christmas morning. This is a Darling family tradition and one we embrace whole heartedly. Kevin’s mom makes a mean batch of these for Thanksgiving and Christmas and they are so delicious. In the future, I’d love to find and perfect my own recipe but in the interim, that certainly won’t stop us from keeping this tradition going.
  • Christmas mass. I love getting dressed up and going to Christmas mass. This year may look a little different because of COVID but we’re still planning to dress up and log on virtually.
  • New Years Eve travel. I list this more as an aspiration than a certainty as Kevin and I started this “tradition” about four years ago but haven’t been consistent since. I’m a big believer that what you’re doing at midnight on NYE dictates the rest of your year and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to spend it surrounded by mostly strangers, wearing an uncomfortable outfit and standing in line for drinks and the bathroom. This may only be a silly superstition but…last year we were sitting on the couch at home when midnight stuck so maybe it kinda explains how 2020 has gone…just saying! All jokes aside, it is still something I long to do each year but certain circumstances – life, work, finances, COVID, etc. – sometimes prevent us from always making it a reality. And even though this year looks like another that will be spent at home, I’ll never stop trying to make this an ongoing tradition. If you’re interested, you can read more about our previous New Years Trips to Tulum and Sedona in these posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s