Research indicates that traditions make the holiday season even more joyful; in fact, families that share rituals during this time of year tend to feel closer, regardless of the traditions themselves. It can be decorating the tree, lighting the menorah, or telling stories around the fire; it can be an old ritual or a newer one.

It doesn’t matter as much where the ritual came from or even why you do it; the simple act of doing something together is what counts. We asked artists working around the world about how they make the holiday season more special–both at home and in the studio. Here are some of their favorite annual traditions. 

Photo by Kara Chappell
Photo by Kara Chappell

Make a holiday bucket list. 

“One tradition in my family is to make a holiday bucket list,” photographer Kara Chappell tells us. “We may not get everything checked off, but writing down a colorful list of 20-25 items that we all want to do and hanging it up under the family calendar keeps us all on track and looking forward to family time. 

“From making gingerbread cookies with neighbors to singing carols to sledding and making snow angels or watching The Grinch while drinking Grinch-drinks (via Pinterest), we all have our favorite things we look forward to checking off each year. And all of the items include spending time together, which is the best gift of all.”

Host a craft party.

“Many of my friends are, in their hearts, a creative bunch, but as grown-ups, they don’t always have the opportunity to get their hands dirty or lose themselves in the simple act of putting a pencil on paper,” mixed-media sculptor Yasemen Hussein tells us. One year, she decided to change that by hosting an evening of art-making at her studio. 

“I gave my friends pencils, paper, paint, clay, glue guns, and anything I could find and sat them down,” she remembers. “I proceeded to blast a specially created playlist, climb onto my large studio table, and channel Freddie Mercury (outfit to match).  

“I told all my friends to use me as a life model and take any materials I had provided and just start creating.  As the night went on, after many costume changes and some dance moves no one needed to see, I noticed all my friends just got into their own zone and got lost in the art of making art. It was wonderful. Everyone loved it and keeps asking me to do it again.”

Image by Anna Bortsova
Image by Anna Bortsova

Make an Italian ‘Presepe.’

“Here in Italy, we have a strong tradition of nativity scenes made with small statues,” Bologna-based illustrator Davide Bonazzi tells us. “We call it the ‘Presepe’; born as a religious tradition, it swiftly became an opportunity for everyone to express their creativity and let loose. This year, my girlfriend, fellow illustrator Ilaria Urbinati, and I are going to do our own ‘Presepe’ with painted cork stoppers!”

Make your own menorah. 

Take a DIY approach to the Festival of Lights by crafting your own menorah out of clay, wood, or papier-mâché. If you’re feeling ambitious, try this marbled concrete menorah from Better Homes & Gardens, or try this sand art menorah for a colorful, kid-friendly craft. For a more traditional look, you can’t beat a classic olive oil menorah made with upcycled jars and floating wicks; this version is a good place to start. 

Have a Catalan Tió de Nadal (or Christmas log). 

“This year, with my one-year-old son, Christmas has taken on a new outlook for me–it now seems much more substantial and exciting,” Barcelona-based illustrator Irene Pérez says. “Since he was born in Catalunya (Spain), I want to follow the main Catalan Christmas traditions for him. Like the ‘Tió,’ a piece of magic wood that is found in the forest and is fed and asked for gifts during Christmas. I love folk traditions.”

Image ©    Lucila Biscione
Image © Lucila Biscione

Draw from life. 

Take advantage of the fact that your friends and family are under one roof, and jot down some seasonal sketches this year. “I usually spend the New Year with my family in Moscow,” UK-based artist Anna Bortsova tells us. “While I’m there, I try to capture moments through a series of drawings during our get-togethers. 

“I find that keeping a visual diary of people and places evokes much richer memories than scrolling through photos on the phone. Looking back at my sketches from previous years helps me to see my progress and encourages me to continue practicing.” 

Cook up some gourmet Hanukkah gelt. 

In lieu of the milk chocolate coins you can buy at every corner store during this time of year, why not make your own delicious gelt? You can try this dark chocolate version with cacao nibs and orange zest, or this recipe with crushed pretzels for a bit of crunch. 

If you don’t have time to make your own, there are also some great gourmet options available, including these organic, fair trade coins by Mama Ganache or dark chocolate and sea salt “Gelt for Grown-Ups” by Veruca Chocolates–which are modeled from real Jewish coins dating back to the 4th century BCE.

Decorate the studio.

“We decorate our shared studio space early at the beginning of December to make our work environment super festive before we are all away for the holidays,” animator and illustrator Yukai Du says. “Last year, we made paper stars and paper chains to decorate all our windows, and we had lights around our balcony so everyone could see us from a distance at night.”

Image © Lucila Biscione

Organize a workshop. 

The holiday season is about giving back, so consider hosting a course for your fellow creatives. “I have lived in Berlin for five years now, but at the end of the year, I always try to travel to my country, Argentina, to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my family and friends,” paper cut artist Lucila Biscione says. “When I visit my country for the holidays, I always organize paper workshops. These are the moments that I enjoy the most. It is the time when I can reconnect with my culture and my language. Teaching and sharing my work process is very enriching and fulfilling for me.” 

Count the weeks of advent. 

“When I was very young, my mom would take me out every year to gather items on our land (I grew up in rural Maine) that represented the four themes of Advent,” artist and designer Kate Martens remembers. “There is a Waldorf tradition that emphasizes gratitude at this time of year. 

“Each of Advent’s four weeks is assigned a category of the natural world: stones and minerals for the first week, plants for the second, animals for the third, and humans for the fourth. Every year, we would gather objects that represented these categories in order to honor each of these elements of the natural world. 

“As a very young child, I remember filling my pockets with rocks. In later years, I remember contemplating which leaves I liked best and selecting the most perfect-looking acorns and chestnuts I could find. 

“The weeks closer to Christmas were harder; if I found a feather (to represent animals), I felt lucky. The fourth week–which focuses on humans–is less about finding physical representations of humans and more about creating opportunities to make connections with those important humans around you. 

“As my daughter gets older, I find myself revisiting traditions like this one that reflect my memories of childhood. Being able to do this with a child helps me appreciate even the humblest rocks and sticks and feathers–and find some light on the bleakest and shortest days of the year.”

Mini box by The Wrapping Project
Mini box by The Wrapping Project

Wrap with care. 

When she was a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, artist and designer Emily Yuk Mui Ching was always keenly aware of the environment and the consequences of wasting paper.  

“The challenge every holiday was to create something new out of something old. We reused old wrapping paper and ribbons we had saved from the previous year to wrap new presents, make garlands, custom boxes, and paper origami ornaments for the tree,” she tells us.

This year, you can create your own recycled wrapping paper or browse Ching’s beautiful collection of reusable pop-up gift boxes over at The Wrapping Project

Image © Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza
Image © Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza

Give thanks. 

“Each New Year, we like to make a series of small handmade collages for friends and supporters that have fostered our work throughout the year as a small token of our appreciation,” artist duo Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza tell us. 

“It is a simple gesture that also creates a playful exercise for us; the process involves a collaborative back and forth collage building between the two of us and the works are not complete until we both agree upon an image. 

“Then we have great fun trying to select an image for specific people based upon our feelings about that person in relation to the compositions and colors. It feels like a nice way to start the New Year with gratitude.”


Looking for more ways to get creative this holiday season? Click here to explore our favorite Skillshare classes of 2019.

Cover/thumbnail image credit: Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza

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