Friday, December 13, 2019

25 New Christmas Traditions for Empty Nesters (and Everyone Else Too)

This is Brian and my second year as 
semi empty-nesters. 

Sunset at our home in New Hampshire

Early last fall, our son moved out without much notice. He was the last kid actually under our roof. Our daughter lives in the loft apartment over the detached garage, so she is not technically in our home anymore. She does all her own shopping, cooking, and laundry so I pretty much consider that on her own.  Even though she's only a short walk across the deck away, we don't see her very often. She's busy as a full-time nursing student and in the Air National Guard, and come January, she will be moving away for 6 months. She's been gone for long periods of time over the last 6 years with the Air Force as well, so we've had time to adjust to this empty nest season without it coming as a complete shock. Still, last year we were like deer in the headlights. 

Candles in the windows just say, "welcome home"

This year, we've not only learned to live in our empty nest, we're embracing it. Brian and I still love our family traditions, and when we can still make them happen, we do. But we've also decided it's time to 
create some new traditions that include just the two of us. 

 breakfast at The Butler's Pantry in Stowe, Vermont

So here are some of the new traditions we are enjoying this year. Most of these traditions are geared toward a couple, but they can also be done with a friend, and many can be enjoyed alone as well. 

vintage skis, snowshoes and skates adorning our 1830 colonial farmhouse

1. Decorate Early for Christmas
This is the first year we have ever done this.  I have always been a Thanksgiving traditionalist and wanted the house decorated so it felt like Thanksgiving.  With the holiday being so late this year combined with the fact that I had a 4-day weekend during Veteran's Day, we decided to start early. I realized there are only 4 weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and for one of them we would be away. It takes a few days to decorate, and if I spent all of Thanksgiving weekend decorating, that would mean only 2 weekends left to relax and enjoy our home before Christmas. There are so many events happening that I don't want to miss. This also provides time to tweak the decor and pick up items I may want to fill in with before everything is picked over. 

I use lots of vintage finds in our Christmas decor

2.  Redo your Master Bedroom with a Cozy Winter Theme
We did a mini redo of our tiny master bedroom and wanted to give it a warm and cozy lodge feel for the winter. We bought some good flannel sheets, added a cozy green plaid throw, a Christmas tree sign over the bed, and some greenery around the mirror. 

3.  Christmas Pajamas Aren't Just for Kids

Who doesn't love (or need) new pajamas. This is a fun gift to buy for each other and we like to give this gift early so we can enjoy it for the entire month (and beyond). This can be a way to kick-off the Christmas season.  On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, exchange your pajamas, and then settle in with Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner, followed by dessert and cocoa while watching a Christmas movie. This year we watched It's a Wonderful Life!

4. Seek out Beauty and Capture it in a Photo

We love to head out after a fresh snowfall and capture a red barn, a horse, or a lovely sunset. Sometimes it is easier to stay inside, but we are intentional about heading out to enjoy the beauty all around us.

5. Visit a Historic Home or Landmark

These are often decorated for the holidays and are lovely to look at.

Von Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont

Main Street, Stowe, Vermont

A Winter Walk to Gather Greens
We took the dogs and the loppers, and headed into the woods where we cut greenery and berries to decorate the outside of our home. We filled the wagons, window boxes, and wheelbarrow with the fresh cut greens, berries and pinecones. Then, they were promptly covered with 2 feet of snow.

7. Window Shop, then Work on a Project Together

  Last year we stopped at a lovely nursery and saw large rustic stars made from birch trees. We came home and Brian recreated a star to hang on our shed. This year we saw some window boxes we loved filled with berries and greenery, so my hubby made some for the house. This weekend we will gather more greens to fill them with.
The new window boxes waiting to be filled

8.  Advent Calendars

Buy a treat filled advent calendar for a child or dog in your life. This year we found advent calendars for our dogs at Trader Joes. Rey and Harley love them!

9.  Go Antiquing
At this time of year, the antique shops are filled with Christmas displays to get your creativity flowing. We love to look for a special vintage item we can use in our Christmas decor. We look for vintage skis, snowshoes, skates, sleds, lanterns, thermoses, wool blankets, old books, and anything else that might catch our eye.

10.  Small Shop Saturday
For years, my daughter and I loved to go out on Black Friday. It was festive and fun, and there were great deals to be found. That was before stores started opening on Thanksgiving. We would get up early, in the pitch dark and head out to the stores. This was so exciting for my young daughter and it was something we always looked forward too. Then she grew up and was usually away, or was with friends or her boyfriend so this tradition came to an end. This year, we decided to go out again. We went to one store and decided we were no longer Black Friday people. She was around for the whole Thanksgiving weekend and had tons of homework and studying to do, but I really wanted to do something special with her. I suggested Small Shop Saturday. It was delightful! We went to several small shops in New Hampshire. Each was unique and festive. There were snacks, decorations and music. The shop owners were friendly and talkative. We found some special gifts for several people and took lots of photos. I want to caution you here - you will find tons of things you will want for yourself! This is a new tradition we are keeping for sure. 

11.  Fireside Chats

We are lucky to have a woodstove which we love to sit in front of and chat over coffee, hot cider, or cocoa. There is no tv in this room, and the fire just brings out conversation. We intentionally spend time in this room to share about our week and often, once the room is decorated for Christmas, we reminisce about Christmases past. We also love a winter fire in our yard. If you are able, create a firepit or purchase a small one to enjoy. You can also find many restaurants where you can find a fireplace.

12. Create a Festive Coffee Bar

Create a coffee bar in your home. Set it up with coffee, tea, and cocoa, plus some fun jars of festive extras like marshmallows and chocolate stirrers.  My husband loves to buy some really good coffee (not the everyday stuff) to enjoy over the month of December. This will make your coffee extra special, and you will always be ready when guests pop in.

13. Take a Christmas Photo
Now that the family Christmas photo may be a thing of the past, we still want some Christmas photos of the two of us. While we are out and about, we often offer to take a photo of someone, and then ask them to snap a photo of us in return (this works out much better than selfies). Instead of worrying about getting a photo of all the family, I will try to get a photo of whoever is available. Not everyone has to be in every photo.

14. Visit a Tree Farm

Even though we no longer get a real tree, we love the atmosphere of a tree farm. We love to just go and take a walk there. We usually buy one large, live wreath for our shed from a local farm. Most tree farms will also have a shop where you can purchase other items, or just look around and take in the sights and smells.

15.  Have an Ongoing Christmas Puzzle

We love to have a 1000 piece puzzle going. Whenever one of our kids stops in, they can't help but linger over the puzzle. Our favorite puzzles are from White Mountain Puzzles in Jackson, NH. We do our puzzle on a puzzle tray, which we can slide under a sofa or the armoire to clear the table. We purchase a new puzzle every year and donate our old one.

16. Volunteer and Donate

The Salvation Army is always looking for bell ringers. This is something I would love to do but we haven't done yet. I have a friend with 6 children plus spouses and grandchildren, and every year they do this. They dress up in silly Christmas hats and baubles, and they sing and have a blast while volunteering for a worthwhile cause. We have volunteered at the local soup kitchen, sponsored families, filled shoeboxes, and donated to Toys for Tots over the years. 

17. Attend a Church Service

Almost every church has a special Christmas play or cantata. There are many choir performances and programs to be found. When our children were young, they were always involved in our church's production and this was the highlight of the Christmas season for our family.  Check the local newspaper for Christmas events at local churches and plan to attend one or several. 

18. Go to the Movies
We rarely go to the movie theater anymore, but it is something that is fun and nostalgic. This year, my daughter and I want to go see Little Women. We visited Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott grew up, and can't wait to see it!

photo credit 📷 At Home in New England

19. Go to a Tree Lighting and Holiday Stroll

We love anything with an old-fashioned Christmas feel. Go to your local holiday parade and tree-lighting, or find a town nearby that hosts one.

  20. A Christmas Weekend Away
We have started researching places that have special Christmas events within driving distance of our home and plan a special weekend there. This was our first year doing this and we stayed in Stowe, Vermont for their A Traditional Christmas in Stowe. It was truly magical and a weekend we won't soon forget. If you do your research and book early, there are many good deals to be found. We stayed right in the center of the village at the sweetest boutique hotel called The Butler House. The room was a studio apartment with a Murphy bed. It was warm, immaculate and comfortable, and very reasonably priced. They are also known for their delicious breakfast in house at The Butler's Pantry. If you are on a tight budget, there are many ways to save money. Plan on staying one night instead of two. We have breakfast before we leave, then stop for brunch which will carries us through to dinner. We usually have a nice dinner out that night, and a good breakfast the next morning. For lunch we might do sandwiches at a general store, and then have dinner at home that evening. Our room had a kitchen, so you could save a lot by making your own food too.

The Butler House

21. Christmas Cookie Swap
My friend Deb started a new tradition a couple of years ago. We have a mother/daughter cookie swap for our old homeschool group. The girls are all grown now, many with families of their own, and it is such a great time when we all get together. She also invites other women who may not have children or daughters, and everyone loves to come be invited! We all get a plate of cookies to bring home, and we make several plates to donate.

22. Read a Christmas Book 
I love to find a special Christmas series. Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer have a Cape Light series of Christmas novels. They take place in a fictional town in Massachusetts that sounds exactly like the town I grew up in on Cape Ann. I believe there are 19 books in the series. The first is titled Cape Light

23. Make a Christmas Play List 
We use spotify to make our playlists and listen at home and in the car. I love being able to have many different lists for every mood.

24. Make Maple Butter for the Neighbors
Every year, I make a couple of dozen jars of homemade maple butter to deliver to the neighbors. This helps keep us connected and in touch during the hectic holiday season.

25. Take time to enjoy the peace and joy of the season, remembering the reason for it all. A gift we have been given, to save us all from our sins. A debt paid on our behalf because we could never pay it on our own. Jesus, who was born to be our Savior.


  1. Gloria, how I enjoy your writing and your sentiments!! … And your gorgeous pictures and ideas for getting the most out of life during every season. So many wonderful ideas for making the Christmas season special… Especially for empty-nesters! I’m going to take you up on some of these suggestions, especially for next year! ! I simply love this blog and this particular post, and simply love you, of course! ��♥️

  2. This is such a fantastic list. I can relate on so many levels. Some traditions stay but many have run their course. Some get altered or tweaked a bit, but it's all good. Empty nest is really not that bad. Things change and that's ok. This is the very first year we didn't cut our own tree. Gasp! I'm ok with it. I love your encouragement to be purposeful or intentional. It's so true. And your photos are gorgeous. Merry Christmas Gloria! 🌲

  3. I Love this and Love that, even though your nest is empty, you are intentionally making new memories! My husband and I are in the throes of parenting a teen down to a toddler and a few in between. We’ve witnessed too many empty nesters allow their joy of being together be lost somewhere in parenting😢 Obviously, we haven’t reached an empty nest yet but, we often talk about what we might do when our kids are gone, knowing,that they will one day have lives of their own. Please continue to share and be an encouragement and light to those who find themselves in this place. Merry Christmas!!

  4. What a fun and creative and beautiful post. I loved every single idea* and will do a bunch of them
    thank you **


  5. I absolutely appreciate this post. I felt like it could have been written just for me. I used it as a check list to kind of see how I am doing with so many changes. I’m happy to say I do a lot of the things on your list! My hubby and I are really going to be ok!!! Thank you and MERRY CHRISTMAS!🙏🏻

  6. I'm loving your empty nest suggestions on new traditions; especially visiting a tree farm (even if not purchasing a tree). Our barn would look festive adorning a fresh wreath.
    Putting a puzzle together sounds relaxing, so I'm going to incorporate that into our holidays and thank you for the suggestions on shops to purchase items.
    My father & I had a tradition for many years; we would cut evergreen boughs to decorate our front porches and I truly loved that.

  7. Vickie feed sack farmhouseDecember 14, 2019 at 10:22 PM

    Great ideas, Gloria! Being empty nesters is def an adjustment. It’s great to find ways to “write” the rest of our story as a couple. ❤️

  8. I love reading "a Cup of Christmas Tea " , makes me cry every time ;-)

  9. I enjoyed reading your ideas and viewing your usual stunning photos! It is always fun to return here and visit the kitchen area with the cute coffee center and see those windows with cafe curtains. I like window boxes too. Great that your husband made some! Warm wishes. Alexine

  10. I'm a little late to this blog, but oh my goodness . . . .I'm in Christmas Heaven!!! The photos are beautiful beyond words, and the suggestions are perfect for empty-nesters like us! I love, love, love anything Christmas, and I have an unusual ally in that love - - - my son-in-law!! We are both enjoying the Christmas in July movies on the Hallmark Channel right now! Ho - Ho - Ho!!!


Thank you for your lovely comments - they make my day!