The ’90s Holiday Traditions We’re Bringing Back for Our Kids

90s traditions for the holidays"
90s traditions for the holidays
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

The holidays tend to spark a lot of nostalgia. Whether watching a favorite holiday movie, making a family recipe, or decorating the tree—many of us have core holiday memories captured and held close—and not saved in our phone’s camera roll. In that vein, we wanted to celebrate some of the special ’90s holiday traditions many of us probably remember from our own childhoods, before anyone felt pulled to create Insta-worthy decorations or capture TikTok-worthy moments. So we’re taking it back to simpler times and celebrating the decade that gave us Kevin McCallister and Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. Here, our editors are sharing some of their favorite childhood ’90s holiday traditions.

Using Colorful Holiday Decor

“I love an aesthetic Christmas when it comes to my holiday decor. I maintain a color scheme and curate my Christmas decorations to fit with my home’s existing style. But I can’t give up one tradition from my own childhood, even though it doesn’t fit my aesthetic—colorful Christmas stockings hand-knit by my mom. I still have my bright green and red stocking with a giant Santa face my mom made for me when I was born. She also knitted one for my husband when we got married and for each of my kids. The stockings don’t match any of my holiday decor—or each other—but they remind me of being a kid at Christmas, so we’ll continue to hang them up year after year.”—Kathy, Editor

Other ways to evoke the colorful ’90s Christmas aesthetic? Use colorful Christmas lights, make your garland out of paper rings or popcorn, and deck the tree with handmade ornaments from your kids—or have a second tree dedicated to the handmade ornaments if you can’t quite go all-in.

90s christmas traditions
Source: Joni Lay

Taking a Christmas Lights Drive

“I grew up in one of those neighborhoods that went wild with Christmas lights. They held a contest every year for neighbors to vote on the house with the best decor. One year, the winning house spelled out ‘Bah Humbug’ in their windows. My family never competed, but it was a fun ’90s holiday tradition to drive around the neighborhood and pick out our favorite houses, while listening to Christmas music in my mom’s minivan.”—Kathy, Editor

Few ’90s holiday traditions are simpler than a drive—or a walk—to take in the Christmas lights. Many communities have streets known for going all-out on Christmas decorations you can seek out—or you can simply enjoy the lights around your neighborhood.

Plus, because it gets dark so early in the winter, it’s easy to pile the kids into the car before bedtime.

90s holiday traditions christmas lights
Source: Canva

Circling Wishlist Items in a Catalog

Growing up, we might have circled items in the Toys ‘R’ Us or Sears catalog. Today, you can find tons of helpful holiday gift guides to make your holiday shopping easier (shop The Everymom’s here!) but for kids, there’s something special about paging through an actual catalog. With Target, Amazon, and other retailers still sending out paper catalogs, our kids can experience a similar excitement.

Reading Vintage Christmas Books

“In our household, we have many sacred Christmas traditions, but the one that takes the cake is our annual reading of The Night Before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Grandpa gathers the grandkids on the couch (we don’t fit as well as we used to) and gives us his best dramatic reading in the way only a former elementary school teacher can. It includes anecdotes such as “laying a finger inside of his nose” and “tore open the shutters and threw up!… the sash” and, as any good storytime does, ends with a chorus of “and that’s the truth!” Not only do we look forward to it every year, but we have pictures that document growing up through the lens of storytimes with Grandpa.”—Abi, Social Media Assistant

Some of today’s favorite “vintage” holiday books came out in the 1980s and 1990s like The Polar Express and Christmas in the Big Woods.

90s holiday traditions
Source: Abigail Moseman

Watching ’90s Holiday Movies

Nothing says ’90s holiday traditions to me like cozying up to watch Kevin McCallister and all his shenanigans across Home Alone 1 and 2. Besides prompting an outrageous amount of laughter, quotables noteworthy enough to pop up all year long (need I say, “Buzz, your girlfriend, woof!”?), and reflections on what makes being a family challenging yet irreplaceably lovable. The movies always sparked activities for us, too. My family loved drawing our own versions of colorful maps of our home like Kevin’s—in case we ever needed to booby trap bad guys, or try to set up our own ambushes (with our parents’ permission, of course). Surely we can thank some of our adult cleverness and resilience to Kevin McCallister!”—Katherine, Editorial Intern

In addition to Home Alone 1 and 2, the decade also gave us these ’90s Christmas movies you can stream now:

  • All I Want for Christmas (1991)
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
  • Miracle on 24th Street (1994)
  • The Santa Clause (1994)
  • While You Were Sleeping (1995)
  • Jingle All the Way (1996)
  • The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
90s holiday movies
Source: @alainakaz

Wearing “Ugly” Christmas Sweaters

Moms in the ’80s and ’90s had a few holiday wardrobe staples: denim shirts with holiday embroidery, Christmas sweatshirts with iron-on details, and Christmas sweaters. Although ugly Christmas sweater parties have been around for quite a few years, with the ‘90s aesthetic back in a big way, it feels like the perfect time to wear them as legitimate wardrobe choices for the holidays.

Whether your dad had a striped “Cosby Sweater” or your mom donned a festive 3D knit Christmas sweater, consider giving their vintage pieces a second run this season. Or if you’re looking to start your holiday wardrobe traditions, there are plenty of festive holiday clothing options out there your kids might end up wearing to throwback parties when they grow up.

Source: Julia Larson | Pexels

Capturing Candid Christmas Morning Videos

“My mom recently had our family home movies converted to digital copies where we discovered a Christmas clip none of us remembered: My 1-year-old brother getting candy cigarettes in his stocking. It doesn’t get much more ‘90s parenting than that!”—Kathy, Editor

If you had a parent who set up the camcorder Christmas morning, you likely have some dusty VHS tapes with priceless moments captured on film too. Take a page out of the ’90s parenting playbook and set your phone on a tripod to capture the candid moments on Christmas morning. They may not be perfectly framed, but you’ll get to be more present and you might actually make it into some of the family videos.

Attending the Children’s Holiday Concert

One of my favorite ’90s holiday traditions growing up was going to church with my family on Christmas Eve. The tiny rural church we attended was as picturesque as can be—a proud white building tucked back between pine trees, always covered by a thick blanket of Wisconsin snow this time of year. As a kid, I especially loved that the church would put on a play each Christmas Eve, and one year I even got cast as a sheep! When I wasn’t donning a lamb costume, it was a fun tradition to get dressed up in our holiday best before returning home and cozying up in our PJs. Though we don’t live near that church anymore, I still have the sweet memories we got to make together way back when.”—Brett, Editorial Assistant 

If you celebrate the Christian Christmas tradition, few things are more precious than the annual children’s Mass, where you can witness sweet little voices singing Christmas carols or adorable little ones dressed up as angels, stable animals, and (if you saw this adorable viral video) even door holders in a live nativity play.

Embracing Your Family’s Unique Holiday Traditions

Of course, every family has their own unique traditions that may not be tied to any decade, but still evoke nostalgia. Lean into the ones that are uniquely meaningful to your family. Like these holiday traditions from our editors below:

Christmas Tree Traditions

Growing up, my family always went to a Christmas tree farm to select and cut down our own tree. My younger sister and I were obsessed with the 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! TV special and started a family tradition where we all joined hands and sang the “Fahwho foraze, dahwho doraze” song once we found the right tree (despite us never really knowing the correct lyrics). That tradition still lives on today, even though we’re now adults—when my husband and I put up and decorate our artificial tree, we sing the song to ‘welcome Christmas’ and kick-off the holiday season.”—Julia, Senior Managing Editor

The Christmas PJ Fairy

“For as long as I can remember, my mom has let us open one singular gift on Christmas Eve: a pajama set from the ‘PJ Fairy.’ She’d pick out new sets each year, and they’re always matching (or at least coordinating). We then wear those pajamas to sleep in on Christmas Eve and keep them on for Christmas morning. Even now that my siblings and I are in our 20s and 30s, we still can’t wait to see what pajamas the PJ Fairy brings us on Christmas Eve.”—Jess, Commerce Editor

90s childhood holiday traditions
Source: Steph Alleva Cornell

Annual Christmas Competitions

“My family’s motto for Christmas has always been: Go big or go home. It’s a yearly tradition for us to dress up according to a specific theme that we vote on a month in advance (last year’s theme was Western). And after our potluck style feast, that’s when my favorite Christmas tradition takes place. We split into teams, create team names, and go head to head in an intense series of minute-to-win-it games fighting for first place. While we have the tendency to get a bit rowdy and competitive, it truly is the highlight of my Christmas each year. Regardless of how old we’ve all gotten, this Christmas tradition makes me feel like a little kid again. Plus, after every Christmas Eve, we’re left with tons of photos, videos, and memories that will last us a lifetime.”—Gianna, Commerce Intern

Celebrating Dia de los Reyes

“Dia de los Reyes is a holiday Puerto Ricans (and other Latin countries) celebrate on January 6. It’s a more religious observance based on the bible story of the Three Wise Kings who visited baby Jesus after his birth and brought gifts. The night of January 5, kids fill a box with “hay” to feed the camels of the three kings, store it under their beds, and when they wake up, they’ll have a gift from the three kings. For my kids, we simplify it a lot. We talk to them more about the cultural importance of Three Kings Day by reading kids’ books about the tradition and the island itself. They still fill up a box with grass, but we leave it under the tree, and they wake up to a couple of small gifts. But they know mom and dad did the gifting.”—Steph, Branded Content Editor

New Years Eve Good Luck Traditions

“New Year’s Eve is a big holiday for Brazilians. We are very superstitious, so any opportunity for traditions that bring good luck, we take—including wearing white on NYE to usher in peace and wearing new underwear at midnight: the color symbolizes what you wish for in the new year (pink means love, yellow for money, blue for friendship, white for peace), jump over seven waves at midnight, and making an offering to Iemanjá.”—Robi, Editor-in-Chief

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