We’ve got ideas for kid-friendly holiday activities and sweet surprises to make this your family’s most meaningful season yet.

By Caylin Harris
Updated November 05, 2019
Seth Smoot

Any one of these whimsical ideas will make the holidays more jolly and joyful. But why stop at trying one?!

1. Take a holiday trip to the library.

Check out books like Angelina’s Christmas, Little Robin’s Christmas, and Mice Skating, which all emphasize the spirit of giving. Gift an eggnog latte to your favorite librarian on your way in.

2. Download Christmas audiobooks.

Get the original Walter Matthau narration of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and an exclusive Tim Curry reading of A Christmas Carol at Audible.com. Listen to them on the drive to Grandma’s.

3. Try an Icelandic tradition.

Give each family member a book on Christmas Eve, and spend the rest of the night reading.

4. Read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

Catherine Hong, who writes about children’s books as @mrslittlebooks on Instagram, recommends finding the out-of-print edition illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa. “Her elfin, jelly-bellied, soot-smudged Santa is my favorite Santa,” says Hong.

5. Play “I spy” with the ornaments on your tree.

To start the game, flick off the overhead lights and keep only the tree lights on. For an additional challenge, hide a favorite ornament and see who can spot it first.

6. Gift your child an ornament every year.

(Or ask a grandparent to do it!) Make it a small nod to a big moment or interest of the last year. When your child grows up, he’ll have a collection started for his own family.

Anthony Masterson

7. Keep special ornaments safe.

If trimming the tree with your great-grandmother’s baubles seems too risky with a toddler running around, try these techniques that display your treasures farther from little hands and curious pets. Some ideas: on the chandelier, on branches in a vase, or on wooden dowels hung on the wall.

8. Start a silly ritual.

Holly Charlesworth, the blogger behind My Sister’s Suitcase, holds an annual Santa-beard contest for her brood. Every family member makes a “beard” with shaving cream on his or her face, no mirrors allowed. When they’re all done, they take pictures, then hold a secret-ballot vote to determine who has the best beard.

9. Remember their inanimate friends.

If your child has a beloved stuffed animal or doll, pick out a present for the toy or doll together, wrap it up, and put it under the tree for Teddy to open on Christmas morning.

10. Play tourist in your own town.

Load everyone into the car in their pj’s with a thermos of hot cocoa, and go on a holiday-lights tour of the neighborhood. Take it to the next level by giving each house a score of 1 to 10 and choosing your family’s favorite front-yard display!

11. Watch the same holiday movie every year.

The family of Parents contributor Jodi Levine loves the movie Elf and established a policy to watch it only once a year, with cousins, right before Christmas. To make it even more fun, they serve goofy Elf-themed foods and decorate.

12. Write a letter to Santa.

With some help from the United States Postal Service, he’ll write back, complete with a North Pole postmark! Find details for the Letters From Santa program at the Postal Service’s website, including Saint Nick’s mailing address.

13. Make your own Advent calendar.

Gather some crafty supplies and DIY any one of these fun Advent calendars. Below are 15 ideas for tiny treats. (Psst ... save the candy for the last few days, since anything other than that may register as a disappointment once your child has gotten one piece!)

  • Silver dollar or Sacagawea dollar
  • Mini LEGO figure
  • Shopkins toy
  • Tiny toy car or truck
  • Small toy animal
  • Wooden top
  • Wrapped candy
  • Temporary tattoo
  • Sticker
  • Lip balm
  • Tiny button or pin
  • Fortune Teller Miracle Fish
  • Scratch-off lottery ticket
  • Costume jewelry
  • Fancy hair elastic or barrette

14. Spice up the air.

For an instant holiday mood booster, brew an easy five-ingredient stovetop simmer like this one from blogger Jamielyn Nye, of I Heart Naptime. Combine cranberries, orange peels, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and nutmeg in a small pot and fill it with a few inches of water. Simmer on the stove, adding more water throughout the day when it gets low.

15. Let it snow—in color.

Make paper snowflakes and use them to decorate the windows, but try making them with colored tissue paper instead of the usual white for a festive twist on the traditional craft.

Use two wagon wheels for the shammes (helper candle).
Peter Ardito

16. Raid your pantry for this Hanukkah project.

The base of the menorah above is a spaghetti box painted blue. Once it’s dry, have your child glue on wagon wheels as the bottom of each candleholder, then add large rigatoni or ziti pasta. Decorate with any additional small pasta you have on hand. To make candles, cut paper straws down to size and twist small pieces of yellow tissue paper to form flames.

17. Craft a cute surprise.

Dress up your kids’ favorite toys with homemade seasonal outfits like felt scarves, elf hats, and reindeer antlers. Here’s how:

  • Scarves: Cut a strip of felt that’s sized for your toy, and snip a fringe at each end. Cut rectangles of felt the same width of your scarf and glue them to the scarf to create stripes.
  • Elf Hats: Cut a 2 1/2- to 5-in. triangle with rounded corners out of felt. Roll the triangle into a cone shape; secure with hot glue along the edge. Optional: Glue the point of the hat to the side of the hat. Decorate with strips of felt for cuffs and pom-poms.
  • Antlers: Download the template and print, scaling the size to fit your stuffed animal. Cut out the template and trace onto scrapbook paper; cut antlers out. Hot-glue them onto a strip of felt, then glue strip ends together to form a band.

18. Adopt a family through a charity.

Many local nonprofits run programs that let you give things to a needy family like new clothing, toys, household items, and food or grocery-store certificates. Take your kids along to shop and have them help you wrap too.

19. Make an ornament for a cause.

Visit a LEGO Store between November 1 and December 31, or use your LEGO bricks at home to build a holiday ornament. Display it in-store, or share online with the hashtag #BuildToGive. For every ornament built and shared, LEGO will donate a LEGO set to a child in need of play.

20. Create holiday cards for hospitalized children.

You can send your homemade greetings to the nonprofit Cards for Hospitalized Kids to distribute (full guidelines at cardsforhospitalizedkids.com).

21. Bake a signature sweet.

Pick a cookie recipe your kids love and claim it as “your” cookie. Give it a goofy name, hype it like it’s a Girl Scout cookie making its annual return, and then bake it only at the holidays to keep it special.

22. Enjoy a fancy lunch.

Get the kids all dressed up and take them to eat somewhere nicer than usual, suggests Kate Smith, a mom of two in Lexington, Kentucky. Not only will they look forward to it as a special occasion where they’ll have a chance to drink out of wine goblets, but they’ll also get to practice their fancy table manners for the holiday meals to come!

23. Use food as a tribute.

Honor family members who are no longer with you by making a favorite recipe, drink, or dessert that they used to cook or enjoy. While you’re preparing the recipe with your kids, take the time to tell them about the person you miss.

24. Whip up reindeer food.

Have your kids work with peelers to shred carrots and celery into a fancy salad. Let them shake on a little “reindeer dust” (aka sprinkles) for extra magic.

25. Start with a surprise.

Hang a mini stocking at the foot of your child’s bed for Santa to place a tiny present in. He might also leave a clue about a bigger gift that awaits your kid downstairs. Wake up to squeals of delight!

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