12 Days of Fun (and Cheap!) Christmas Activities for Kids and Families

by: Jennifer Caffelle
Looking for free or cheap Christmas activities to do with your kids? Check out 12 traditional holiday activities that children of all ages will love for years to come.

Editor’s Note: We know raising kids can be hard. That’s why we’re dedicated to making your life easier with the latest and greatest parenting advice and products. We wanted to let you know that if you chose to purchase one of the items featured in this post, we may receive a small commission for it.

With the holiday season quickly approaching many families are looking for free or cheap Christmas activities to do with their kids. Whether it’s the joy of sending Santa a letter, staring in awe at Christmas light displays or spending additional quality family time together, the holiday time can bring such fun at little to no cost. Check out these 12 traditional holiday activities that children of all ages will love for years to come.

Looking to start some simple yet heartwarming Christmas traditions with your children? These kid-friendly indoor and outdoor activities for all ages will help your family bond over the holidays — without breaking the bank. Also, find our printable Christmas Fun Checklist full of even more holiday activities!

More: 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas for the Whole Family

1. Holiday Light Tour

Christmas light show at house

There's bound to be a Clark Griswold wanna-be in your neck of the woods! Pile the kids in the car, put on some Christmas songs, and drive around to homes or neighborhoods known for their over-the-top Christmas light displays. While spending quality time in the car with your loved ones make a decoration scavenger hunt, tell the Christmas story, or sing Christmas carols along with the music.

Get festive (and stay warm!) with these light-up gloves perfect for a tour around the neighborhood.

Buy it here.

2. Wreath-Making

little girl making wreath

Everybody loves a festive wreath, and this is a great DIY Christmas decoration activity. Take the kids outside for a quick winter walk to gather evergreen branches and pine cones, trim some from the bottom of your Christmas tree or just buy some at the store. Attach your greens to a foam or wire ring (a bent metal coat hanger works well) and allow the kids to decorate it with Christmas ornaments and bows. Or make this preschooler-friendly paper wreath featuring tracings of your child's cute little hands.

Keep it simple with this foam wreath making kit perfect for kids and easy cleanup!

Buy it here.

3. Christmas Movies

mom and daughters watching Christmas movies

Spending an afternoon or evening watching Christmas movies is a must! (You could also spread out your movie marathon over the course of a week.) Let each family member choose a favorite holiday flick to watch with the family.  Cuddle up under blankets with a warm cup of cocoa and some popcorn to make it feel extra special.

Choose from five holiday movie favorites (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and Cricket on the Hearth) with this fun box set.

Buy it here.

4. Popcorn Garland

child stringing popcorn garland

Have some leftover popcorn from your movie night? Upcycle it! Make some homemade garlands for your family's Christmas tree, doorways, or mantle. All you need is a needle and some thread or fishing line. Try using fresh cranberries, too. Younger kids can count out the berries or popcorn to make a cool alternating pattern, and parents or older kids can do the threading.

You'll be surprised at how much popcorn you go through. Buy it in bulk and save the rest for movie night.

Buy it here.

5. Christmas Cookies

mom and daughter baking christmas cookies

Peanut-butter blossoms! Spritz cookies! Gingerbread men! There are just too many tasty holiday cookies to choose from. Here are some of our family favorites. Children of all ages can get involved in the kitchen on "cookie day." Younger kids can add pre-measured ingredients, stir the bowl and decorate cooled cookies. Older kids can pitch in at any stage.

Get the kids excited with these fun shapes including classics like Santa, Snowmen, Stockings, Christmas Trees and more.

Buy it here.

6. Cookie Swap

tin of Christmas cookies for cookie swap

After spending days in the kitchen baking up your favorites, why not organize a fun family-friendly evening with your friends?  Everybody brings some of their favorites to swap, and if it’s not a family secret include your recipe so they can be recreated for years to come. Not only will you get to share your favorites but you might find a new favorite while swapping with friends.

Hosting the cookie swap? Get this easy and convenient cookie swap party kit.

Buy it here.

*2020 might not be the year to host an in-person cookie swap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t brighten someone's day with a special delivery.  Prepare plates or decorative cookie tins paired with your favorite recipes and deliver a few dozen of your favorite cookies (homemade or store-bought), to neighbors, family or friends. 

Buy tins here.

More: 3 Easy Holiday Cookie Recipes

7. Gingerbread House Party

family making gingerbread house

Not a house party with gingerbread, this is a gingerbread house making party. Gather family or friends, some gingerbread walls and roofs and all the candy and frosting you can get your hands on. Set everyone up with their own house, or work in teams to see who can make the most colorful gingerbread house. The challenge is also in keeping your house intact without it falling apart!  Follow these instructions for an easy gingerbread house.

*If you’re socially distancing this year, a competition can still be fun amongst people in your home, or with neighbors.  If everyone displays their gingerbread house on a table outside, neighbors can walk the street and vote for their favorite!  A festive way to still share some joy with those close to you while remaining safe.

Looking for a fun twist on the classic gingerbread house? Try a gingerbread castle this year.

gingerbread castle

Buy it here.

If you’re looking for more gingerbread house kits, check out:

8. Homemade Christmas Ornaments

child making homemade ornament craft

Decorating a Christmas tree is probably already on your to-do list. Make this holiday tradition even more special by adding a new kid-made Christmas ornament each year. Mark the year on your ornaments so that you can keep track of when each cutie was created! We love a hands-on DIY christmas activity, and this one can easily become a family tradition that documents your child’s growth and creativity each year.

Keep the kids busy the whole Christmas season with this 40-piece ornament making set.

Buy it here.

9. Hot Chocolate Buffet

hot chocolate toppings buffet

There's nothing like a steaming mug of hot chocolate on a cold December night. Up your game for the holiday season with a buffet of toppings for your cocoa. Some ideas include whipped cream, marshmallows, crushed candy canes, shaved chocolate, chocolate chips and cinnamon dots. Get creative! The kids will love customizing their hot cocoa — a fun and easy activity for Christmas Eve.

Up the ante this year with these fun hot chocolate flavors including peanut butter cup, mint, Tootsie roll, and more.

hot cocoa k-cups
 

Buy it here.

10. Christmas Festivals

family at a Christmas festival

And speaking of coming together as a community, why not check out the local festivals? From tree lighting ceremonies in the town square, ugly sweater parties or church concerts, there's bound to be something happening in your area. There will likely be free fun Christmas activities popping up all over the place as organizations recognize that children and families need some holiday cheer.

**With many mask mandates in place this year, you can keep a special eye out for outside socially distanced events in your community that are still festive and fun.

Bring some holiday cheer with these Christmas-themed face masks for kids.

festive holiday COVID masks

Buy it here.

11. Donating to Charity

boy donating to charity

Show your family's giving spirit this holiday season by shopping for a toy or two to give to Toys for Tots or another local toy drive. Since your kids are the toy experts, let them do the picking. It will brighten your Christmas and someone else's, too, and can easily become a new family tradition for this time of year. Since the kids are also surely expecting new loot this year, go through their toy box together and find the (gently used) toys they're willing to part with for charity. It's a good lesson in abundance and selflessness.

12. Advent Calendar

wooden advent calendar

An Advent Calendar will last you 24 days instead of just 12, but it's a fun and visual countdown for kids who are anxious to engage in the Christmas spirit. Kids can have a mini Christmas party each day when they open a window and get a little closer to Christmas morning. Amazon has no shortage of choices from simple number Advent calendars, a small toy each day, or a fan favorite piece of candy each day.

advent calender

Buy it here.

COVID-Pandemic-Friendly Christmas Activities

2020 has been a challenging year for so many, which is why it’s important to make sure we spread extra holiday cheer and a sense of normalcy for kids.  Below is a list of pandemic-friendly Christmas activities you can participate in while remaining distant and safe.

  • Decorate and send Christmas Cards especially to older friends and family who may need some extra cheer.
  • Travel to your neighbors’ yards caroling from a safe distance
  • Use an online Santa tracker to see what Santa and his elves are up to all December long
  • Share Christmas stories with family and friends via Zoom
  • Set up lawn ornaments or lights and then go on a family scavenger hunt
  • Help put together pre-bagged Christmas treats and thank you cards for  your delivery drivers
  • Dress up in your ugly sweaters and wave to passers-by
  • Have a family game night with Christmas games - Pin the Star on the Christmas Tree, Candy Cane Catch, Stack the Snowman, etc.

All of these activities are free or pretty inexpensive. They just take a little creativity and get-up-and-go to get your family in the holiday spirit! After an especially difficult year, now is the time to be especially jolly and spread cheer wherever we can.