My Family’s Cherished End-of-Year Traditions

The air is filled with holiday joy, and as December unfolds its wintry embrace, my family and I eagerly dive into our beloved end-of-year traditions. These heartwarming moments not only bring us closer together but also infuse our home with the spirit of love, gratitude, and enchantment! Here are our favorite end-of-year traditions:

Deep Cleaning Our Winter Wonderland

As December approaches, our family unites for a collective mission – transforming most of our home into a blank canvas. All of our shared spaces and our guest room get a deep clean, making room for decorations, extra cooking and baking, and cherished company. Everything expired from our refrigerator and cupboard is thrown out, and we take extra non-expired non-perishables to the Food Bank or our library’s community pantry. It’s unanimous – a fresh, clean house feels so comfy, cozy, and relaxing.

Decking the Halls

With the “halls” freshly scrubbed, we begin to adorn our home! The Christmas tree, stockings, rooftop lights, and an array of decorations transform our space into our little holiday haven. Our coat closet door by our front door becomes a gallery of love, featuring the smiling faces and heartfelt messages from the Christmas cards we receive. I love the cards so much that I will often leave them up through spring!

Gingerbread Joy and Mimi's Milk Nog

Building gingerbread kits has become a delightful annual tradition for my son. We have tried so many different kinds of kits throughout the years – a mini village, football stadium, Mario house, traditional house, Oreo cookie house… This year was a Harry Potter Hogwarts cookie kit.

And what’s December without Mimi’s Milk Nog?? We can’t go a holiday season without finishing at least one carton! It takes a lot of willpower to wait until at least Thanksgiving to buy some.

Advent Calendars and Buddy's Mischief

Starting December 1st, our days leading up to Christmas are marked by the excitement of opening Advent calendar windows. My son gets two calendars each year – one has chocolates, one has toys or something fun. We’ve done several Lego Advents, a STEM kit Advent, and a fidget Advent; this year it was a Harry Potter Advent calendar.

And, of course, our mischievous Elf on the Shelf, Buddy, makes his grand entrance on December 1st, too, leaving a trail of silliness and surprises until his departure on the 24th. Buddy has been full of shenanigans over the years. One of our favorites is when he marked his height on the wall where we track our son’s height. It’s still there! In fact, we even painted around it when we repainted the walls.

Cozy Evenings with Records, Movies, and Susan Branch's Books

As the sun sets, our home is bathed in the warm glow of Christmas lights. We cue up our vintage Christmas record on the record player. (Our car radio stays on the station that plays Christmas music, starting on Thanksgiving Day.)

Evenings are often spent in the “snuggler” chair (a reclining chair-and-a-half) with our favorite plush blankets. Our senior cat purrs up a storm laying on the heating pad. I pull out my Susan Branch holiday books and spend days poring over every delightful detail (even though I’ve read them many times). We make time every December to watch our favorite timeless Christmas classics: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Home Alone,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Treats for Neighbors and 4-H'ers, and Santa's Mystery Deliveries

Every December for the past several years, I find a wrapped present marked “To Amber, From Santa” on our porch. This mysterious tradition makes me feel giddy and cared about! I put the gift under the Christmas tree and wait until Christmas Day to open it. This year Santa gave me some adorable garden-themed felted wool dryer balls. They must know how I love my plants and insects!

The Giving Spirit fills us too! We pick an afternoon or evening to walk around delivering treats and cards to our neighbors, always remembering to include baggies of dog treats for our neighbor pups!

Our 4-H club members always receive a little gift as well. This year we put together bags with “snowglobe slime” (see below!), a hot cocoa packet, and a pouch of marshmallows for them.

Piano Melodies and Maker Beehive Creations

Our home resonates with the cheerful notes of my son practicing Christmas songs on the piano, a melody that becomes the soundtrack of the season. He hasn’t been taking piano lessons for a couple of years, but likes to brush up on the Christmas tunes. There is really nothing like live Christmas piano music – do you know what I mean? It feels like my heart grows 4 sizes when I listen to him play.

I, personally, love to dive into holiday crafts and art, often inspired by the wonderful community of Jennifer Chamberlin’s art membership, The Maker Beehive, of which I’ve been a member for 2 years. This year I created four 5×7″ mixed media projects (one of them is below), 7 Artist Trading Cards, and 4 mini paintings, all winter/holiday-themed, all in December. Last year I painted a cute snow family inside of a snowglobe, scanned it, and had it printed as the Christmas cards we sent out this year. I hope to do the same for next year!

Essence Card Ceremony

As the year draws to a close, I engage in my annual Essence Card Ceremony. I pull oracle and Tarot cards to represent each month of the coming year as well as the coming year as a whole. It’s a sacred moment of connection and trust, a bridge to the future that awaits.

I use the Year card I pull as my theme for the year. This year my card of the year was “Throat Chakra,” and I let the messages of that card guide and enlighten me and the situations I encountered throughout the year. My card for next year is, “The Empress” represented by Archangel Gabriel. The key phrases for this card are abundance, giving birth to dreams, and nurturing yourself and others. I will use this to guide me through the coming year.

Goals and Strategic Planning

My family and I take time to review the goals we’ve achieved, and update or set new ones for the upcoming year. Trello provides a great platform for tracking the goals I’ve set inside of a “board”. My categories are set up as lists, such as “Creative Goals,” “Family and Relationships Goals,” “House Goals,” “Community Goals,” and “Health and Wellness Goals.” When I accomplish one, I move the card over to another list called “Completed Goals,” so I can look back through them at the end of the year and see all that I’ve accomplished!

I engage in strategic planning for my business. Some of what I do in my work is pre-planned, and some is created as I go, but I like to have a framework that serves as a focus for it all, leading back to my business’ purpose, vision, and mission. I also do my End of Year processes as part of the strategic planning so I can transition from this year to the next a little more smoothly. All of that is done on Trello too!

Games, Best Friends, and the Countdown to Midnight

Sometime in the space between Christmas and New Year’s, we gather with my family’s oldest and dearest friends for a game night (or afternoon) filled with laughter and food. This has been a regular tradition, weekly at times, since I was probably my son’s age. We play card games (Hearts, Seven Up, or Oh, Hell are our favorites) and board games (Telestrations, What Do You Meme?, Taboo, and SO MANY others are favorites).

New Year’s Eve is spent with family or friends. (This year will be with my husband’s family having a fondue party!) We stay up until midnight, watching the iconic ball drop in Times Square on TV. The year my husband and I were there on a bucket list trip – NYC on NYE, watching the ball drop on Times Square, is always brought up and recounted.

Photos and Journals

Throughout the year, I keep a journal of sorts (I call it my “daily check-in,” and before the end of the year, we read through each month’s documents, recounting significant events, favorite things, and inside jokes.

We also flip through pictures in the photo box I’ve worked on all year, reliving the memories captured throughout the year. The check-ins and the photos remind us how much we’ve done and shared this year, and how much our son has grown. This year’s photo box holds the loss of our dear friends’ husband/father, end-of-elementary-school activities, the joint birthday tea party for my best friend and me, the mini-reunion with 2 of my best college friends, our trip to visit my husband’s grandma for her 99th birthday, the girls’ weekend with my best friends growing up, and so much more. Our life, in photos.

Close friends and family members receive an envelope with a stack of photos from us – extras that I printed and collected for them throughout the year. These photo packets are a visual journey through the laughter, the tears, and the moments that defined this year. I love handing these out!

The Love Inside Traditions

In our end-of-year traditions, love, connection, and joy are woven into every moment. These rituals not only create lasting memories but also serve as a reminder of the magic that resides in the simplest of traditions. As we bid farewell to one chapter and eagerly turn the page to another, our hearts are filled with gratitude for the cherished moments that define us as a family and illuminate the path to a love-filled future.

May your end-of-year celebrations be filled with love, light, and the magic of traditions that truly matter.