I'll probably end up reposting this idea every year in December- just because it's been such a meaningful, unique tradition for my family for so many years.
A lot of people try to imagine what the first Christmas must have been like. Not as often, I imagine, do people think about what the first Christmas Eve was like. One of my family's Christmas traditions centers around that very idea.
Every year since I was little, my family has held a "Journey to Bethlehem" dinner on Christmas Eve when we think about Joseph and Mary's long trip before Jesus was born. We try to only eat foods that would have been available to them at that time and that people might be likely to eat when they are traveling and don't have time for a lot of preparation. For example, figs, dates, olives, goat cheese, nuts, grape juice, dried meat.
We also turn off all of the electric lights and use only candles and lanterns for the rest of the evening. Not only are the lanterns a good reminder of Mary and Joseph, but they also set a certain atmosphere that is very conducive to family-togetherness. Usually, after we are done reading the Christmas story from the Bible and sing some Christmas hymns, we spend the rest of the dinner talking about old family memories. It's always a special time.
A couple of years when all of us kids were little, we actually filled the basement with straw and slept on it overnight. Now THAT was a memory- very messy clean-up afterward though, as I remember!