Christmas traditions in the United States

traditions Noel

Here we are! I am in a Christmas state of mind, again! Like every year after Thanksgiving, I am tricked by the spirit of Christmas which overflows everywhere, whether it is in stores or streets or restaurants. My neighbors just bought their Christmas tree, some houses are already decorated, stores have decorations, how to resist?

And in the United States the Christmas spirit it is not just an expression, it is a state of mind , people really enjoy this time of the year. So I decided to talk in this post about Christmas traditions in the United States.


One of my favorite Christmas traditions is to stuff the stockings with  small presents. First it is beautiful on the fireplace or anywhere else in the house, and second the stoking themselves are gorgeous, I have to refrain myself from buying a new one every year . And I love to shop to find small surprises. Stores have special cheap “stocking stuffer” sections that helps a lot. And my daughters love discovering what “Santa” put in their stockings. A tradition which I definitively adopted 20 years ago when I first found out about it in Montreal.

Secret Santa swap, Yankee swap and White Elephant swap

At Christmas, co-workers or friends often organize a Secret Santa Swap. The idea is very nice, you pull the name of a person and you have to give him a present. Generally  there is  a maximum amount to spend on the gift so that it remains reasonable and funny. The exchange is usually made just before Christmas during Christmas Parties. It is also organized at school, my daughters had Secret Santa in their class when they were at the French American School.

With our neighbors we had a different version of Secret Santa, the White Elephant swap. You have to wrap something that you don’t want anymore at home and which according to the tradition costs you more to keep that to get rid of it. You put the presents in the middle of the room and someone starts to pick the first present. When you pick your present, you can decide to keep it or “steal” another person present. The same present cannot be stolen more that three times. And everyone takes its turn and choose a present until there are no more presents. You may end with interesting things. We came back home with a clock in the shape of a camera, very useful 🙂  But it does not cost anything and we had a lot of fun.

The Yankee swap is almost the same thing than the White Elephant swap except that you buy a present .

“A Christmas Carol” and ” The Nutcracker”

a-christmas-carolA Christmas Carol which is a real English tradition or the Nutcracker ballet are played every year during Christmas season. If you like ballet The Nutcracker is a must-see the Nutcracker and even if we do not like ballet, just go to enjoy the atmosphere.

As for Charles Dickens’s story” A Christmas Carol ” with his character Scrooge who hates Christmas and the ghosts of the past, present Christmas and Christmas to come who haunt him is simply THE Christmas tale. My older daughter watched it this year with her school and loved it. It is in the Christmas spirit, how can you not love it?!

Christmas cards


Americans like family portraits a lot and at Christmas they usually send Christmas cards customized with their family photos. It is must-do things to take her family picture with or without Santa and send its wishes.

There are a lot of website with Christmas cards ideas, they are really beautiful but I have to admit that we never fell for the family Christmas portrait. I prefer being behind the camera that in front of it.
And in the US  you send Christmas cards to wish a Merry Christmas and not particularly to wish a happy new year like we do in France . So we receive cards in December.

The Elf on the Shelf


I already talked about this Elf in another post but as it is a Christmas tradition I have to mention it again. This tradition comes from a book which explains to the children how Santa Claus knows if the children are nice or naughty. The elf starts visiting the children after Thanksgiving and until Christmas. So when you buy The Elf on the Shelf you put him on a shelf, obviously, and he watches the children. The idea is to move him every day. My neighbor starts  getting crazy after 15 days, having no more places to put this damned Elf! I so understand her!

“Pay it forward”

Finally and even if this has nothing to do with Christmas I wanted to talk about this concept that people implement in the United States and which is completely in the Christmas spirit.

Maybe you watched  the movie “Pay it forward” and if not I recommend  it, it is a very beautiful movie and you will understand what I mean. “Pay it forward” is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor.  It can be Just  paying a coffee to the person in the line behind you  for instance or  invite an unknown person for Thanksgiving as we watch it on the news this year.

And I discovered this weekend that this concept exists not only in a movie. We were at the toll in the New Hampshire and the car in front of us pay for us. I could not believe it and my husband then told me that it was something that people do. And then I remembered the movie. I think it is amazing. I have already given to the Red Cross or a non profit organization  but giving to a  unknown person who is not necessarily needy, just for making a free act of generosity, that blows my mind.

If the spirit of Christmas turns people into better and happier person , I am in at  200 %.

So I wish you all a very Merry  Christmas and happy holidays.
And you? What your favorite  traditions for Christmas ?


  1. Salut
    Bon nous ils ont mis les décos de Noël dans les magasins après Halloween. A ma grande surprise il y a déjà pas mal de maisons dans le quartier qui ont décoré leur façade avec des guirlandes lumineuses, des objets décos ! etc. Mais cette fête n’est pas fêtée comme nous avec les cadeaux pour les petits et les grands. Je te tiens au jus ! La suite au prochain épisode !

  2. Noel est un véritable état d’esprit ici aux Etats Unis, c’est vraiment dingue de voir tous leurs préparatifs et décorations!! Merci pour toutes ces précisions concernant leurs traditions!

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