As a child who grew up in the Midwest, Christmas was always the same year after year. The snow would start falling in November, and one day we would come home from school to a house decorated for Christmas. The holidays would be a mix of playing in the snow and visiting with friends and family. It was a magical time, and I will always remember the holidays of my youth fondly.
However, as I aged, moved away from the Midwest, and had children of my own - holiday activities and traditions have drastically changed. While my childhood was spent playing in the snow on Christmas day, my children now walk the beach for shells or paddleboard in the Gulf. With no family living down the street to share cookies or enjoy a cup of eggnog with, we had to create new traditions and discover our own Christmas things to do.
As someone who has spent more than a decade living far away from my family, I have discovered how important it is to find the joy in the little things over the holiday season. While this year you may not be going to Grandma’s for that feast, that doesn't mean you still can't have a magical holiday season with your loved ones. With a little creativity and the willingness to be flexible, there are many holiday activities for kids and your family that you can do without traveling far. Maybe you do some of these already, or perhaps some of these are going to be such fun holiday activities for your family, that they will soon become part of your yearly tradition.
No matter what you are doing on the morning of your special holiday, start it out with a family breakfast. From a cup of fruit your toddler cut up to a massive spread of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, sharing a morning meal with your family will set a tone for the rest of the day. The big question you will face is...breakfast before presents or after presents?
Some people make cookies all season and give them out as holiday gifts, while others strictly reserve cookie making for the holidays. No matter how you approach cookies, making and decorating sugar cookies is one of the traditional holiday activities for kids. For us, we try to tackle a new cookie recipe each holiday season, but our favorite is this macaron cookie recipe my daughter requests every year.
Move over instant hot chocolate - the "real stuff" has entered the room! If you have never had homemade hot chocolate, you are in for a real treat. Check out our favorite hot chocolate recipe first, and make sure to prep your pantry before you begin. If you are feeling a bit "extra," you can also make homemade marshmallows! These snowflake marshmallows are one of our favorite winter activities for kids. If you don't have snowflake cookie cutters, any cookie cutter will do. One year all I could find was a set of dog bone cookie cutters I use for dog treats. Now, it's a tradition only to make dog bone marshmallows on Christmas!
When it gets dark, pile everyone in the car and take a drive around the neighborhood! There is always that one house that is amazingly decked out for the holidays. We love to do this in our Christmas pajamas while singing our favorite Christmas carols! (Pro tip: bring homemade hot chocolate. See above).
Growing up, we had the same holiday meal every year. When I moved away and spent my first couple of holidays without the famous "Christmas Dinner," I knew I would need to recreate it for my kids. After many phone calls and a few years of trial and error, I have managed to recreate the entire meal. When I can't celebrate in person with my family, I love knowing that we are all eating the same meal - just on opposite ends of the country.
This is one of the festive activities for families that we do before our big holiday. While the holidays are a time to give and show our love, it's hard not to get caught up in the material side. It is especially difficult for young children who may not understand the spirit of the season yet. For us, we make a point to go through all of our toys before Santa comes and find those that we don't play with anymore - but someone else would cherish. We donate these toys to a local charity, and then we have the kids pick out a few new toys to donate to Toys for Tots.
This is not just any old fort, but a holiday fort. Complete with holiday blankets, twinkle lights, candy canes, and presents - this fort is an explosion of holiday cheer! The holiday fort is where the kids go after all the gifts have been open, and it's time to check out the new toys from Santa!
While the activities you do together as a family will keep everyone engaged and together, it's also essential to have some downtime. With all the presents, food, and excitement of the day, take some time to slow down, appreciate each other's company, and do absolutely nothing! Maybe try to sneak in that holiday nap!
There are two ways to go about making a gingerbread house. Buy it, or build it. Most stores have kits that are complete with gingerbread, frosting, and candy. They are an inexpensive and fun way to get the kids creative and they make great holiday gifts. I am a firm believer that everyone should make a gingerbread house from scratch, at least one time. It is a time-consuming labor of love, but your kids can be so creative, and the results are that much more special. Plus, the kids love rolling out the gingerbread dough, cutting out the walls, and watching everything cook in the oven! Did I mention that the smell of gingerbread baking is pure holiday heaven!?
Depending on how old your children are and how many people in your family, your games will vary. From Go Fish with a toddler to epic Dungeons and Dragons games or battling it out on a video console, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are great times for trying new games and settling back into some old favorites.
Holiday activities for families need to be just that - active! Between your big family breakfast and your holiday feast, get outside and get moving. Try to make a tradition out of a family walk, run, or snowball fight! Incorporating a physical activity every year will make it easier to get out and to move. For us, we put Christmas sweaters on our dogs, reindeer headbands on our heads, and go for a family walk!
Our last home did not have a fireplace, and I always love to light a good fire on Christmas morning. Luckily, if you are a subscriber to any television screaming apps, you can find and play "crackling fireplace" or cue up a Youtube yule log. It is exactly what it sounds like - the streaming crackling fireplace is a long-running video of a wood-burning fire. Since one of my favorite holiday things to do is sit in front of the fire and read a book, having an option for a fake fire is a good compromise.
As a kid growing up, our grandmother would give us thank you cards every year. She would then come over and look through all our gifts while reminding us to use the cards we were given. Years later, the tradition lives on, and now that my children can write, they write thank you cards as well. While not their favorite holiday activity, it is important to instill in them the habit of writing thank you cards and showing gratitude.
This is a straightforward time-capsule idea that you don't have to think about until next year. Purchase a notebook and write "Holiday Memories" on top of it. Have everyone write down their favorite event of the year and what they want to accomplish by this time next year. Put it near your Christmas tree, menorah or kinara when you are packing everything away, put the notebook in with your holiday items. Next year, it will be waiting for you to review and discuss.
We are so fortunate to be in this digital age where your family is as far away as the touch of a button. With video conferences, you can see your family from across the country and still feel like you are a part of the holiday action. If you are not going to be spending this holiday season with your family, make sure to set up a video chat to catch up. For us, my children "walk" Grandma and Grandpa through the house. They show them all of their presents, the Christmas tree, and all of the food we are eating. While we can't be together over the holidays, setting up and chatting over video conferences sparks all the joy!
Growing up, my father was the king of the video recorder, and years later, we still have hours of video footage from our childhood. I love watching those old videos so much that I am trying to follow in his footsteps by taking great photos with my phone and recording as many videos as I can of precious holiday moments. When the videos and pictures are complete, I upload them into a program that will store and save them for years to come. The Rosy Home Console and Rosy Go app is the perfect place to protect and keep these memories. Instead of having my pictures disorganized and in multiple places, the Rosy Console stores, organizes and categorizes pictures and videos for me. Rosy will also let me share these moments with family members and add my voice memos and recordings.
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About the Author
Julie Simpson is a freelance writer and SEO consultant from Mobile, Alabama. She also loves paddleboarding with her husky and spending time in her garden. You can see her work at spilledcoffeecontent.com.