What’s in a Tradition? 15 Stories of Holiday Habits

What’s in a Tradition? 15 Stories of Holiday Habits

Holiday traditions
ShutterstockZivica Kerkez

Have you ever wondered why traditions are so prevalent and feel so important around the holidays? As it turns out, traditions reinforce important belief structures. They comfort us with a sense of belonging, and help us express gratitude! Traditions cement existing bonds, and create new ones. If those aren’t reason enough for you to hop on board the Tradition Train, consider it this way: traditions usually involve food, and are usually just plain fun.

Christmas traditions vary in their details but the reasons behind them are remarkably similar. Read on for fifteen real-life stories on the importance of tradition, from my community to yours.           

On maximizing the holiday season:

My son is obsessed with Santa and all things Christmas all year long. His birthday is in early November, and his main birthday request is that we decorate. So, weeks before Thanksgiving, you will find us and the birthday boy stringing lights on the porch, putting up multiple Christmas trees, and running cords across the lawn for giant inflatable snowmen. Some might shake their heads but if you saw his smile, you would understand. 


Quotes about holiday traditions
Shutterstock / Jag_cz

On sweet fathers:

When my dad had to work Christmas morning, he would always come home with gifts that he said Santa had dropped out of his sleigh or forgotten on the roof. Usually they were one of our big wish items. 


When I was young my dad would create a trail of peanuts for me to follow to my stocking. He said that Santa must have had a hole in his pocket and the peanuts that were kept there for the reindeer fell out.


My dad always made a big Christmas breakfast for us. Last year, our first Christmas without him, my husband and son got up and make everything my dad had always done. It was delicious. 


On giving back together:

Every year we go to a Hospice House with friends and bake cookies. Our kids make cards and deliver them along with the fresh-from-the-oven cookies. It always smells amazing. The families there are going through sad circumstances but this gesture always brings them genuine smiles. 


Quote about Christmas tradition
ShutterstockZivica Kerkez

On movies:

Every Friday night of the season we watch a Christmas movie and eat a special snack that has some tie-in with the movie. For instance: bright green punch with the The Grinch, cocoa and candy canes with Elf, trail mix with The Polar Express, and cookies with The Santa Clause. A brief internet search will set you up with all kinds of ideas. 


We watch Christmas movies like Elf and Home Alone but also, in an attempt to fight back against the semi-feral natures of our tween boys, I force them to watch some older classics like White Christmas and attend a play or musical each year.  This year we did A Christmas Carol


On tree decorating:

We listen to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album every year while we decorate the tree. Mistletoe and the Holly is one of my favorite songs from that album.


Every year my family would make a certain chocolate cookie that we snacked on while decorating the tree. I can’t fathom eating that particular cookie at any other time. 


Holiday Tradition

On Christmas Eve:

My dad was a pastor and every year we would have a candlelight Christmas Eve service.  Afterwards we would keep our candles burning as long as we could and snack on candies while we drove through the night to my grandparent’s house. 


We always give new pajamas on Christmas eve and everyone looks especially cute in their new jammies in the next morning’s photos.


We always drink ice cold Coke out of the glass bottles on Christmas Eve!


On Christmas Eve when our kids were small we did “The Gift That Doesn’t Cost Anything” to emphasize that something need not cost money to be valuable. Each of us would read something meaningful (Remember Chicken Soup for the Soul?) or play their latest recital piece on the flute or piano. When the kids grew into adulthood they also grew into sarcasm and renamed it “The Gift That Isn’t Worth Anything.” Thus, it faded from our holiday routines. I’m thinking of bringing it back for the grandchildren’s enjoyment! 


My kids love putting out vegetables or other treats in the yard for Santa’s reindeer. I so clearly remember my oldest yelling, “Come and get it, Reindeer!” with his dear little face scanning the sky. That sweet memory made up for how ridiculous I felt later when I was outside in the middle of the night nibbling on carrot pieces to leave as evidence. 


On accidental traditions:

Shutterstock / Maglara

We had just moved back to the U.S. after several years in South Africa and my preschool-aged son was so thrilled and overwhelmed by the tree and the giant pile of presents that he got sick to his stomach. The next year, to make sure we wouldn’t have to clean the carpet again, I gave him a banana and we read the Christmas story upstairs. Getting something in his stomach and easing into the celebration worked. Somehow it became a tradition. This year, before we go down to the tree, my three kids will sit at the top of the stairs and eat a banana while we read the Christmas story together. 


Let this be an encouragement to embrace your existing traditions and consider establishing new ones! We all want to celebrate our story and recognize that we belong to each other.  Traditions are key to doing just that! Happy holidays, everybody.

Making your own Christmas ornaments every year is a great opportunity to create tradition.  Check out this list of over 150 DIY ideas for some inspiration! 

Today’s Homeowner Radio Podcast | November 26, 2022

Today’s Homeowner Radio Podcast | November 26, 2022

This week, we’re featuring some of the best segments that have aired over the past year on the Today’s Homeowner Radio Show. Listen to hear some of our favorite segments, as well as these Simple Solutions.

Simple Solutions

How to Condition Leather: Leather shoes, boots and furniture take a beating from moisture so it’s important to treat them with mink oil or leather conditioning cream.

The problem is that these substances are very thick and difficult to absorb into the leather.

The solution is to heat the leather with a blow dryer before rubbing in the conditioner.

The oil/cream liquefies as soon it hits the heated surface, which helps drive it deep into the leather grain.

Watch: Easy Tip for Leather Conditioner

How to Easily Spray-Paint Small Parts: Spray-painting small parts is much easier with an inexpensive plastic turntable.

Just place the object to be painted in the center of the turntable and rotate the turntable with one hand as you spray the revolving item.

Want more? Watch ‘How to Spray Paint Screws, Latches, Braces and Brackets’

How to Get the Most Out of Your Nail Apron: Here are three ways to improve the simple cloth nail apron.

  1. When using a hammer holster, thread the apron string through the holster slot twice; that way, it won’t slide off the string every time you take off the apron.
  2. Before tying off the apron strings, thread them through the belt loop on the back of your pants. That will keep the apron from slipping down.
  3. Attach a key fob onto your utility knife so it’ll be easier to grasp and pull from the apron.

Best New Products

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Further Reading

Radio Show & Podcast: Send us your question!

If you have a comment, general question about home improvement, or something we’ve featured on Today’s Homeowner, please fill in this form:

Creating Custom Storage With Ikea Bestas

Creating Custom Storage With Ikea Bestas

Want to turn simple store-bought cabinets into custom built-ins? “Hacking” something that’s already made is so much easier than building something from scratch, and it can look really custom in the end. Built-in storage is universally helpful (especially in a smaller home – but really, anywhere), and things like the floor-to-ceiling closets in our bedroom, the desk & bookcase we added to our son’s room, and the wall-to-wall media cabinet in our family room have made such a difference. But one built-in that we’ve barely mentioned since we added and upgraded them are the Ikea Bestas flanking our fireplace:

The good news is that it took just a few fairly easy steps to make them look a lot more custom than they look on the showroom floor in Ikea. So let’s get into the details.

Why Did We Choose Ikea Bestas?

The photo you see above is the view directly across from our bed. You may recall it from inspiring photos like the one below, taken right after we moved in and were still in the thick of unpacking. Like, quite literally THE THICK.

Messy bedroom right after move in with boxes and junk everywhere

Once we were fully unpacked, it became clear that this area was begging for some matching storage on either side of the fireplace. We knew some sort of cabinetry would nicely flank the fireplace, sit right under those matching windows, and wouldn’t take up much floor space while adding a lot more concealed storage. Because let’s face it, what we had on hand wasn’t going to cut it for the long haul:

Bedroom Fireplace After Moving In With Random Objects On Either Side

Lucky for us, Ikea’s Besta system sold a 47″ wide cabinet that just about perfectly fit in that 50″ space on the left side (we added some filler pieces for a wall-to-wall look – but more on that in a second). Paired with some basic legs, the height of a Besta also fit perfectly under each window. So it was basically a no-brainer to start with those and then add custom details to them for a built-in look. We actually bought them way back in fall 2020, which is why you might’ve noticed them in the background of our holiday decor post that year. This is a photo from back then, minus the actual holiday decor:

Bedroom fireplace view with two chairs and Ikea Besta cabinets sitting on either side of fireplace

At this point, they weren’t really “built-in” – they were just sitting there. But we were so grateful to have earned more concealed storage that we didn’t rush into the rest of the makeover. But I’m glad we have these photos because it shows how much more upgraded the same basic cabinets can look with a little extra work.

White modern fireplace with Ikea Besta storage cabinets sitting on either side

Over the next year, we got them looking a lot more custom. And now we can’t really even picture them looking like the two photos above.

It’s worth noting that the reason the right one doesn’t terminate into a wall is that we haven’t added a wall there yet – but someday down the line we plan to make a bathroom right at the end of that built-in, so it’ll terminate into a wall and look completely balanced from the bedroom.

Wide View Of Fireplace Flanked With Ikea Besta Built Ins

How We Customized Our Bestas

There are lots of ways you can “hack” Ikea pieces to make them your own – paint, add trim, install hardware, wallpaper them, etc. But for these, we really just did three simple things to make them look more built-in:

  1. Added baseboard
  2. Added filler trim on the sides
  3. Added a butcher block counter

Adding Filler Trim & Baseboards

We’ve covered how to add filler trim and baseboard to Ikea pieces a few times for other built-in projects. So check out our son’s nursery built-ins or our walk-in Ikea closet for a more specific step-by-step on that process (I fully walk you through the entire process – I promise you can do it).

Side By Side Of Adding Filler Pieces To Ikea Furniture

The main thing to remember – which I labeled below when doing our last closet – is that you may need to account for TWO LAYERS of filler trim. A bottom layer will be secured into the side of the cabinet box, while the top layer will sit on top of it, looking flush with your door.

Labeled Image of filler trim with one flush with door and other flush with box

That way when the doors are closed, it should look something like this – with the filler piece flush with the front of our door.

Close up detail of trim added to side of Ikea Besta cabinets to look flush with doors

To add the baseboard, we just used the same baseboard and quarter-round trim that we have around the rest of room and literally nailed it into the basic square legs that came with the Bestas. It was that easy!

After the filler pieces and baseboard were attached, we caulked all of the seams and nail holes, then painted everything to match. We’ve had decent luck color matching “Ikea white” paint (although not even Ikea uses the same white on every piece). For these we realized that our wall color (SW Pure White) was a close enough match, so we just used that.

Adding Butcher Block Counters

You’ve now seen us use this butcher block countertop material for 2 other projects – our utility closet makeover and our DIY wood nightstands – but these Bestas were actually the place we first used it! We love how chunky it is and how the color works so nicely with our floors, so we thought it’d be a great way to make these cabinets look more custom.

Ikea Besta Built In Storage On Left Side Of Fireplace

We used our circular saw to cut it to size and then sealed it with a coat of cutting board oil, both to protect it and to bring out the color a bit. It dries much lighter than it looks below, so don’t panic.

Butcher block counter being coated with cutting board oil sealant

To attach it we simply screwed up through the top of the Besta right into the wood (just make sure to use screws that aren’t long enough to poke through the top!). Sherry sits on it and I screw up from below (yes, I am aware of how that sentence sounds and I’m waiting for Michael Scott himself to say his well known Office catchphrase). It’s pretty heavy so it stayed in place well on its own, but the screws make sure it won’t drift over time.

Close Up Of Butcher Block Counter On Ikea Besta

The other thing we did was drill holes for various cords so things like our tabletop lamps could go through the top and be plugged in below. Both Bestas have a wall outlet behind them (we’ll show you how we maneuvered them to be exposed behind the cabinet in a second), but adding these access points for plugs in the countertop was a really great upgrade. We had to buy a special 2″ drill bit to make the hole (it took some patience to get all of the way through the butcher block AND the top of the Besta). Once it was done, we capped it off with these brass desk grommets to make it look tidy and professional. They go in with the light tap of a rubber mallet.

Detail Of Electrical Cord Hole Cover Drilled Into Butcher Block Counter

The cords just snake into the Besta and sit unceremoniously on one of the shelves. You can also see how we cut out a hole in the back of the Besta to access the outlet. It’s not very pretty, but who cares? It’s hidden inside the cabinet and you have to crouch down about 10″ from the floor to see it even when the door’s open.

Detail of Plugs And Wires Within Ikea Besta Storage Unit

Speaking of the inside of our cabinets…

What We Store In Our Customized Bestas

Adding these cabinets was a game changer for our storage in this room. It turned the dead space on either side of our fireplace into super functional spot to conceal a ton of stuff that woud otherwise look a lot more cluttered. Sherry actually filmed a quick video to give you a closer look at how they look all upgraded in our space & to show you what’s inside (including more about how we wired up the lamps):

Note: You can also watch this video on YouTube.

For those who can’t watch the video, here’s a quick photo tour. The cabinet on the right side stores a bunch of miscellaneous stuff like spare paint (as you can see above in the outlet photo), camera & podcast equipment, and some random journals and stuff. There’s even a fair amount of extra space that we can expand into when and if we need it (watch the video to see what we mean about that).

Ikea Besta Storage Unit Door Open To Show Camera Equipment

The cabinet on the left side is a bit more hardworking. It contains a bunch of overflow books, gift bags & tissue paper, plus some overflow candles, vases, and other knick-knacks that Sherry likes to rotate in and out. We’ve definitely cut down on our excess “decor stuff” since moving, but it’s nice to have a spot for this smaller grouping of items that we kept and still use on occasion.

Ikea Besta Unit Open To Show Book And Decor Stroage

And I know from the photos it looks like it’s really tough to access this cabinet, what with the table and the chairs in front of them. But don’t worry, it’s definitely fully accessible in real life. That table is heavy, so I certainly wouldn’t want to have to move it every time we needed to wrap a gift! You can see Sherry easily walk in there and open the cabinets to show you what’s inside on the video in this post.

And here’s a photo of Sherry grabbing a candle from in there (but definitely watch the video for a more real-life-usage POV).

Sherry Getting Candle Out Of Ikea Besta Storage Unit In Bedroom

Overall, we’re so happy with how they turned out, especially considering how simple our “hacks” were to make them feel like custom built-ins.

Other Ikea Hack Projects

Wanna see some other Ikea hacks? Here are some of our other favorite Ikea furniture customizations:

Side by side of built in book case Ikea Hack and brass spray painted glass shelf

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher

Ever since I built a mantel a couple of years ago, I’m always on the hunt for fun new ways to decorate it. So as I browsed the paper aisle at my local craft store, it hit me – a folded paper tree forest! I’m a big fan of non-traditional colors, so I bought a few of my favorites and got to work. Click through to check out the full tutorial.   

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Begin by drawing tall triangles on the back of a piece of cardstock. They should be about 4 inches wide at the bottom, so if you have an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of cardstock, then you should make a mark at the 4 inch point along the bottom edge, and at the 8 inch point. Along the top edge, make a mark at the 2 inch point and the 6 inch point. Connect the dots from top to bottom and then cut out the triangles. 

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Each piece of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper should make 3 triangles. Fold them each accordion style as shown above, making sure that each fold is about 1/2 an inch wide. Repeat this process on all of your triangles.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Next, punch a hole through the middle of the first couple of layers as shown above. 

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Make a mark inside the lowest hole and then punch through that spot to make sure that all of the holes are centered. Repeat this until you have made holes through the entire tree.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher

Alternate method: If you’re impatient like me, you may want to use your drill to make the holes instead. They do come out slightly ragged this way, however, whereas the hole punch method cuts very crisp holes. But it also takes much longer. You decide.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Drill a hole through the center of a piece of wood, stopping about half way through.


Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Put a tiny dot of glue in the hole and insert the skewer so that the pointy side is on the top.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher


Fold a paper tree back up and slip the skewer through the holes. Spread out the accordion folds so that everything looks even. Set it aside and repeat the process as many times as you like, depending on how big you want your forest to be.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher

The end result is super unique and festive, thanks to the glitter paper and bold colors. I love non-traditional colors, but if you’re more of a traditionalist, you might want to experiment with greens and reds.

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher

Or if you like more of a neutral look, you might consider all white and beige papers with different textures. You could use them throughout the winter if you opt for less of a holiday color scheme. 

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher

They look quite impressive lined up all together, but you could also scatter them around the house where ever you need a bit of extra holiday cheer. Happy crafting friends!

Easy Mantel Idea: Colorful Paper Tree Forest | By Curbly #diy #paper #christmas
Photo: Faith Towers Provencher
How to Make a Sweet Modern Advent Calendar Village

How to Make a Sweet Modern Advent Calendar Village

Wood Block & Test Tube DIY Advent Calendar Village
Photo: Bruno Bornsztein

It’s advent calendar time! As I write this post, the Midwest is being walloped by a snow storm. Nothing inspires holiday decorating like many inches of snow, and to stave off decking all the halls, I created a little diy advent calendar village for our children. Read on for the full tutorial.

Using blocks of wood and test tubes, I assembled a village full of tiny treasures to help our family celebrate the season. The great thing about using test tubes is that it ensures each day’s surprise is small.

advent town

Creating your own diy advent calendar village is simple. We originally created 24 houses for this project, but the result was overwhelming, so we scaled back to a set of seven houses (to represent each week leading up to Christmas).

Wood block advent village
Materials for DIY wood block advent calendar


  • Wood: We used Basswood carving blocks.
  • 24 Test Tubes + Cork Stoppers
  • Drill + 3/4″ Forstner Bit
  • Miter Saw
  • Acrylic Paint: We used gold and white.
  • A set of number stickers.
  • Tiny treats to fill your tiny test tubes.

Make Your DIY Advent Calendar:

  1. Cut your wood to size. Our houses ranged in size from 3.5″ to 6″ tall, and were about 2″ thick.
  2. Drill your holes into the blocks of wood. We used a 3/4″ bit. It’s important to drill the holes before you create your angled roofs because it’s much easier to keep your holes plumb this way.
  3. Cut angled roofs on your houses. I think it works best to create a variety of peaks, slants, angles. Because, you know, houses come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. Lightly sand your houses.
  5. Using painter’s tape, mark off the areas you’d like to paint on each house.
  6. Paint your houses. We used white paint on the faces of the houses and gold paint on the rooftops.
  7. Fill your test tubes and place them in their homes!

"Wooden block with hole painted in white paint."
Painting a woden candle holder gold.

I used a variety of small treats to fill my tubes, and I’ll share some of my favorites with you because it was a challenge to find goodies small enough to fit inside a standard test tube. 

An advent calendar village with candy.
Small galls cylinders with cork lids filled with candy and candles.

What to put in your DIY advent calendar?

  • Edible Treats: Candy like M&Ms work well. Hot cocoa with marshmallows is another winner.
  • Crafts: I filled many tubes with beads and ribbons that came in $1 craft store sets. Some of these sets were too big to fit the test tube, so I placed only a part of them in the test tube (e.g. mini colored pencils).
  • Notes: In a few tubes, I placed a note indicating a special thing we’d do together as a family (e.g. “Bake cookies.”, “Wrap presents.”, “Take an evening drive to look at holiday lights.”). Notes are also a great way to incorporate a service component into your calendar (e.g. “Shop for gifts for children and donate them to Toys for Tots”). I filled the tubes containing notes with confetti to make them more festive.
A small miniature set shows a white deer near pine trees and wooden blocks.

The final result is a sweet village to help us count down the days until Christmas.

A Christmas village sits on a small table near a grey wall.

If you like this how-to, do us a favor and share it on Pinterest:

Pin this! DIY Wood Advent Calendar Village
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Show off your Holiday Cards in Style with this DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

Show off your Holiday Cards in Style with this DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

Every winter, it’s the same story. I get a handful of thoughtfully selected, lovingly written cards for the holidays…and, I have nowhere to put them.

Tacked on the fridge with the grocery lists and unpaid parking tickets? Jammed on a shelf between the dusty knick-knacks and piles of unopened mail? Ok, my house isn’t THAT disorganized (most of the time), but I’m sure you feel the pain of receiving beautiful mail and having nowhere to display it.

This year, I decided to take matters into my craft-loving hands and make a simple, pretty DIY branch holiday card display. It only requires a few basic supplies to make, can be made as small or as large as you want, and will make your home smell like a pine tree, which is obviously the best reason to make your own. Keep reading to see how to make a DIY branch holiday card display!

DIY branch holiday card display


DIY Branch Holiday Card Display


DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

Cut a piece of cord to hang your branch, and tie the cord to the branch at two points.


DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

Attach string to the branch to hang the cards. 

If you receive lots of cards for the holidays, simply scale this project up with a larger branch and more string!


DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

Trim all the string ends, then hang the branch (Command hooks are great for temporary projects like this!). Attach the cards to the string with mini clothespins.

Finally, tie beads to the ends of the strings so they hang straight.

And that’s it! Now you can see and enjoy all that lovely holiday mail for the season.

DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

DIY Branch Holiday Card Display

DIY Branch Holiday Card Display
Don’t forget to pin this project to Pinterest!

Where would you hang your branch holiday card display? Do you have other ideas for showing off your holiday cards? Let us know in the comments!