21 Free Winter Activities for Kids (and Adults) to Spread Christmas Cheer

Jennifer Geer

Because Christmas magic doesn't have to break the bank.


(Image by jty11117777 from Pixabay)

“Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”— Santa Claus, The Polar Express

Many of your usual family holiday traditions might be out this year. The visit to Santa, if you even partake, is likely to be masked and socially distanced. Experts recommend we keep the holiday gatherings to a minimum and preferably within our own households.

Also, many families may be experiencing some form of financial hardship this winter. There is no doubt, Christmas is going to look different. But it doesn't mean it can't still be magical.

What should I tell my kids?

You may be wondering, how can you explain to your children there may not be as many presents under the tree as usual. Or that you may not have your typical trip to Grandma's house. Kids are pretty observant, and they are already aware this is a different sort of year. Honesty really is the best policy. You can let them know, in an age-appropriate way, what they can expect.

And listen to them. Let your kids talk about their feelings without trying to immediately solve their problems. I'll admit this one is hard for me. I want to fix things, but sometimes, just letting them talk will help them understand that their emotions matter.

Spend time together

Psychologists say that time together as a family will help your kids feel connected and safe. Making things fun will go a long way to helping their mental health. And guess what, it will help you feel better too.

Here are some ideas for Christmas cheer that you can do for free:

1. Make hot cocoa. Be sure to add whipped cream or marshmallows. And candy cane stirring sticks are fun.

2. Drive to see holiday lights. Get the kids more involved by printing out a Christmas lights scavenger hunt for them to check off.

3. Watch Christmas movies. Some of my family's favorites are Elf, A Christmas Story, and a Charlie Brown Christmas.

4. Have a family game night. Charades, card games, Monopoly are all fun choices for ways to interact with each other. You can find online ideas too, like these free Christmas bingo printables.

5. Make family zoom meetings fun. You don't have to just sit and talk on zoom meetings. Play games, go on a scavenger hunt for household items, try to make it fun, and you'll have better luck keeping your kids engaged.

6. Bake and decorate Christmas cookies. Try painting your cookies this year with this recipe. Kids love to paint.

7. Involve your kids in planning a meal, and let them help you prepare it. Getting them involved has the added benefit of making it more likely they will eat it.

8. Play video games with them. It's okay if you're terrible at video games. Your children will think this is hilarious.

9. Have a dance party. Dim the lights and turn up the music. Let everyone take turns choosing the songs. For extra fun, pick up some cheap glowsticks at the dollar store for a glow stick dance party.

10. DIY Christmas crafts. Make them elaborate, or simple. Here are some ideas to get you started.

11. Make homemade gifts for each other. Here is a big list to choose from. Some fun ideas include watercolor bookmarks, felt coffee cozies, and painted picture frames.

12. Make a popcorn garland for your trees and give your birds a treat. Thread some air-popped popcorn onto a string and hang it outside. Be sure it's air-popped. Butter and salt are not safe for the birds.

13. Have kids make homemade Christmas cards for family members. Let them be creative, they can use markers, crayons, acrylic paints, or watercolors.

14. Make a gingerbread house out of graham crackers and icing. Graham crackers are the easiest way to make a gingerbread house without a kit. Glue it together with royal icing and decorate it with your kids' favorite candies.

15. Sing Christmas carols. As everyone knows, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." Buddy from Elf.

16. Donate old toys. It's a good feeling to help out others. Let your kids choose some gently used toys they no longer play with and donate them to an organization in your area, like Toys for Tots. This is a win-win situation for you, as it also helps you clear some space before Christmas.

17. Make chocolate covered marshmallows. This recipe has you dip giant-sized marshmallows (standard size works fine) in melting chocolate and then in your choice of toppings. You can set up a station and let the kids do the dipping. You could use popsicle sticks to turn them into marshmallow pops. Candy canes are a fun way to do this. But you don't need it. Kids will cheerfully eat these with their fingers. If you'd like to add a bit of health, offer strawberries and other fruits to be dipped in the chocolate and toppings.

18. Read Christmas books together. Kids love to be read to. Even if your kids are getting a little older and you've stopped reading to them every night, read them an old Christmas favorite. You may be surprised at how much they enjoy it.

19. Do some Christmas mad libs. Is it just my kids, or do yours also think mad libs are the most hilarious thing they've ever heard of? Here are some free holiday-themed ones you can print online.

20. Paint a Christmas scene with raised salt paint. Raised salt paint gives paintings a very cool effect. All you need are watercolors, table salt, Elmer's glue, and some sturdy paper to paint on. Get the directions here.

21. Have a cookie swap. Cookie swap parties may be out. But you can still exchange cookies with friends or neighbors in a safe way. You can drop cookies safely on a porch if it's in driving distance. Or ship your cookies if the distance is too far.

The true spirit of Christmas

Make some new holiday traditions and they may turn out to be traditions you follow every year. Yes, Christmas may be different. But, after all, it's still Christmas. And I will leave you here with a quote from my favorite holiday book of all time.

“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!


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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL

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