Every year, our family counts down to Christmas with a simple paper chain. But my friends…this is no ordinary paper decoration! Because inside the chain links are fun Christmas activities that we do together as a family. Since we’ve been doing “25 days of holiday activities” for four years now, we’ve tried and tested a lot of ideas. We’ve found ones we can’t wait to do again; and ones we’ll likely skip next time! So if you are looking for awesome and simple ideas to fill up your own December calendar, this is my master list of our favorite Christmas activities to do as a family (and my best tips for making them happen)!

Rainbow Christmas Ornaments on a white table

Countdown to Christmas Series

This post is part of my Countdown to Christmas Series, where I share all the resources you need to create an amazing “Christmas Countdown” tradition your family will love (without adding stress or breaking the bank)! Be sure to check out each post in this series below!

Christmas Traditions

Don’t hesitate to build usual holiday “to dos” into your Christmas countdown or Advent calendar. These make for a great “daily” Christmas activity and knock some important tasks off your To Do list!

Decorate the Christmas Tree. Turn on some Christmas music and get the whole family involved setting up the tree!

Put Up Outside Decorations. Bundle everyone up (if needed) to decorate the outside of the house. Little helpers are great at fetching items, holding ladders, and providing “creative direction.”

Decorate Bedrooms For Christmas. Every year, our boys decorate small trees for their bedroom dressers. You can also add garlands over mirrors or festive pillows and sheets on beds.

Stuff & Stamp Christmas Cards. If you have a lot of cards to mail, get the family in on it! Set up a “stuffing and stamping” assembly line; and kids might even enjoy a special trip to the Post Office!

Wear Christmas Pajamas. The very first activity on our Christmas Countdown Chain every year is to open and wear matching Christmas jammies. Although some families save festive pajamas for Christmas Eve, we like to wear them all season long!

    • PRO TIP! Although many stores now carry jammies, if there is a brand or style you like, set a reminder on your phone to order jammies by Halloween. (I always order ours early from Carters because I love their patterns!)
    • PRO TIP! Keep the cost in check by just doing Christmas pajama pants (then pair them with simple solid t-shirts from the craft store!)

Wear Christmas Socks. Thanks to the Target Dollar Spot, snagging inexpensive Christmas socks for the whole family is quick and easy! I usually buy a fresh pair for each family member and we wear them on the first day together then all season long!

    • PRO TIP! This family set is a fun way to buy everyone matching socks at one time!

Collage of Christmas Cozies

1 – Red Reindeer Sheets | 2 – Christmas Truck Sheets | 3 – Blue Snowflake Sheets | 4 – Carter’s Family Pajamas | 5 – Target Family Pajama Pants | 6 – Family Holiday Socks Set

Christmas Movies, Music, & Books

Movies and books are already a common part of the Christmas season for many families, but here are some ways to make a new movie or book a little extra special this time of year!

Christmas Movie Night. If you do a standing weekly Pizza & Movie Night, this is an easy adaptation for the holiday season. Try to queue up a new release or a movie no one has ever seen…it might become a new family favorite!

    • PRO TIP! Adding in some festive popcorn can make this “usual” Christmas activity a little more jolly!

Read Christmas Stories. We keep all our Christmas books in a large bin that only comes out in December. We make a big “event” of bringing the tub upstairs, unloading the books, and reading our favorites the first time of the season.

Read the Nativity Story. Set aside a special night to read the Nativity Story. If you don’t have one, invest in a nice (kid-friendly) one you can read year after year.

Get a New Christmas Book. My sister gifts the boys new Christmas books every year; but if you don’t have a regular influx, take this opportunity to add a new holiday read (either purchased or from the library) to your collection.

Holiday Movie in the Theatre. There are often new movie releases around the holidays. Pick a festive family-friendly pic or snag tickets for a new release the whole family is waiting for!

Christmas Music Dance Party. Turn up the volume on the peppiest, merriest Christmas playlist you can find and have a dance party in socks and (holiday) jammies before heading to bed!

Collage of Christmas Books

1 – The Christmas Story | 2 – Jesus Calling | 3 – Little People Nativity | 4 – Rudolph Seek-n-Find | 5 – Grumpy Monkey Christmas | 6 – Olive the Other Reindeer

Christmas Crafts

Simple, low-maintenance holiday crafts are a fun way to wind down after the school day or before bed. Check out my tips for keeping the chaos and mess in check!

Christmas Coloring Pages. There are about a million different Christmas/holiday-themed coloring pages available on the web. Print out a stack and put them out with crayons after a December dinner. Even adults will enjoy slowing down and coloring a Christmas tree with carols playing in the background!

Christmas Word Search. This one is better for older kids, but even pre-schoolers can do it with help. I recommend Google-ing around for printables you like; this is the version I print out and have ready each year.

Make Paper Snowflakes. This one is among our favorites! The folded paper snowflake is an “oldie but goodie,” and the kids can never get over how magical it is to unfold the creation after snipping away. We set out plain white printer paper and kid-friendly scissors and usually get to work after dinner. As they’re done, we tape the snowflakes up on a big window for the rest of the season.

Make Ornaments. There are dozens and dozens of ways to make homemade Christmas ornaments, ranging in time commitment and difficulty. I keep it VERY simple by ordering some pre-cut ornament kits from the craft store so that everything is peel-and-stick and comes together in mere minutes!

Write Letters to Santa. Writing letters to Santa is something we often forget to do, so by adding it into our Christmas Countdown Chain, we are much more likely to remember to actually do it!

    • PRO TIP! While all you really need is some printer paper and pencils, I snagged this printable version that looks a little fancier and has a matching envelope (plus we can use it year after year!)

Make a (Popcorn) Tree Garland. Ready to keep those little hands busy for an afternoon? Consider making your own garlands with popcorn, paper links, paper shapes, beads, pom-poms, or other items!

Collage of Christmas Crafts

1 – Christmas Sticker Pages | 2 – Christmas Ornament Crafts | 3 – Christmas Bead Craft | 4 – Printable Santa Letter | 5 – Kids Scissors | 6 – Snowflake Templates

Christmas Food & Drink

Make Christmas Cookies. Since you likely have a few favorite holiday treats you make each year, go ahead and include this as part of your Christmas countdown activities! Let the kids help and make it into a fun afternoon event with music and taste testing.

Make Gingerbread Houses. Making Gingerbread Houses is fun for the entire family, and it is made all the easier with the abundance of ready-made kits. Here are some of my best tips for making this activity go smoothly:

    • Pick a weekend afternoon or evening to give ample time for this activity.
    • Although big houses seem like fun, we have much more luck doing the smaller houses with little kids.
    • Un-package the gingerbread house kit and pre-assemble the house(s) with the included icing a few hours before decorating, so they are firm and can withstand kids’ hand pressure.
    • Snag speciality sprinkles and decorations all year long and save them from year to year in a dedicated “Sprinkle” bin.
    • Place sprinkles and other decorations into small bowls onto a large lazy susan so everyone can easily grab what they need.
    • Keep Tootsie Rolls (logs), Twizzlers (fences), and Gummie Bears from the Halloween candy stash to use on your house creations.

Decorate Gingerbread People. If Gingerbread Houses seem like too much work, consider doing Gingerbread People instead! Our extended family decorates jumbo size Gingerbread People and turns it into a competition (with voting!). Don’t underestimate what frosting and sprinkles can do to a basic cookie!

Christmas Hot Cocoa Night. Dedicate an evening to make “Christmas Cocoa.” To keep it easy, we pair basic hot chocolate mix with some special marshmallows and candy canes spoons.

    • PRO TIP! If your family has special holiday or personalized mugs, this is a great time to use them!

Collage of Christmas Candies

1 – Gingerbread Village Kit | 2 – Gingerbread Cookie Cutters | 3 – Gingerbread House Candy Kit | 4 – Peppermint Hot Cocoa | 5 – Candy Cane Spoons | 6 – Peppermint Peeps

Christmas Games

With winter weather outside and darkness setting in early, the Christmas season is the perfect time to huddle together as a family and play a good game!

Christmas BINGO. Last year I made an awesome set of Christmas BINGO cards, and my entire family played along with us (virtually). I’ll be sharing exactly how I made these cards AND making my cards available for download on back here on Friday!

Jingle Bell Games. We LOVE all three jingle bell games outlined in this post (Jingle Bell Races | Jingle Bell Bowling | Jingle Bell Number Guessing). I usually lump them together into a single night’s activity.

Candy Cane Hook-Em. If there’s one game you need to add to your list of great Christmas activities for families, it’s this one. We laugh so hard trying to hook all the candy canes together without using our hands. Full instructions HERE.

Christmas Charades. This one is another family favorite we all look forward to every year. Have each person jot down 5+ Christmas/holiday-themed words. Toss them all in a bowl and take turns acting them out without using words.

Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunt. This activity is one of our VERY VERY favorites every year. Admittedly, sometimes we don’t want to get all bundled up after dinner, but it’s ALWAYS worth it because we have SO much fun exploring our neighborhood. We use THIS Printable Christmas Scavenger Hunt to help us!

    • PRO TIP! Consider brining along clipboard(s) to make it easier to check off items as you find them.

Build Christmas LEGO Sets. Every year, I try to scoop up the annual mini Holiday LEGO set (they are usually by the registers at Target)…one for each kiddo. We then pick a night to build our Christmas LEGOs! If you can’t find any sets (like this year!), consider going the DIY route with these fun Christmas LEGO projects using your own bricks.

Christmas-Themed Board Games. If you have older kids who love to play games, there’s actually a fun variety of Christmas-themed games you can add to your collection.

Christmas Joke Night. Hunt around online or use this Christmas Joke Book to make your own Christmas Comedy Night. Simply pass around the phone or book to rattle off jokes for the rest of the family to guess!

Collage of Christmas Games

1 – Christmas-Opoly | 2 – Rudolph Board Game | 3 – Santa Claus Go Fish | 4 – Christmas Trivia | 5 – Candy Canes | 6 – Jingle Bells | 7 – Hershey Kisses | 8 – LEGO Christmas Kits | 9 – Christmas Jokes Book

Christmas Giving

Adding in charitable giving, volunteer opportunities, and food/toy drives to your Christmas Countdown experience is a wonderful way to build holiday spirit and remember the reason for the season!

Toys For Tots. The United States Marine Corps Reserve collects brand new, un-wrapped toys every year for kids in need. Donating toys to this cause is not just near and dear to our Marine Corps family, but is also a really nice way for kids to learn the spirit of giving. We dedicate one of our activities every year to making a special trip to Target to specifically buy gifts for Toys for Tots. We then drive right to a designated collection point and have the kids place the toys in the box. While this can be a bit challenging for kids (it’s hard for little minds to fully understand why they don’t get to keep the toys), we always have great conversations about it and walk away with really full hearts.

    • PRO TIP! Find your closest and most convenient drop off location HERE.
    • PRO TIP! The cut-off is early (this year it’s December 12), so make sure you work it into your Christmas Countdown earlier than later!

Donate Old Toys. To make way for newer, fresher toys that come on Christmas morning, we will often spend an afternoon purging out toys that are broken, no longer needed, or ready for a new home. This is another great way to start conversations with kids about those who are less fortunate than we are.

Wreaths Across America. National Cemeteries across the country place evergreen wreaths on gravestones every holiday season…and you can volunteer to help! This is another excellent way to fill up a holiday activity slot while remembering and honoring those who serve. Use this website to find a National Cemetery near you and sign up for a 2-hour shift.

    • PRO TIP! This is another activity that is on a specific day and spots can be limited (especially for bigger, more famous cemeteries like Arlington National Cemetery). Sign-up for your volunteer window early!

Make Gifts for Teachers, Leaders, Coaches, Postal Workers, etc. Another great way to fill up a holiday afternoon is to DIY gifts for the special people in your childrens’ lives such as teachers, coaches, leaders…and even helpers such as mailmen, delivery workers, etc. Whether you make ornaments, cards, or even batches of cookies, this is a great way to get kids involved in their own gifting.

Shop for Siblings. We are often scrambling to find time to bring the kids out to find gifts for their siblings. Instead of trying to figure out who will run errands with whom, working it into our Christmas activity chain makes sure it gets done intentionally!

Deliver Christmas Cookies. After you make your favorite Christmas cookies for the year, designate a day to package them up into pretty boxes, tins, and bags for friends and neighbors. Kids can help load, decorate, and even deliver!

Christmas Outings

Finally, the Christmas Season is a great time to work in extra-special outings that can only be done this time of year. Watch local Facebook groups, ads, and fliers to find out what is popular in your area, but here are some things we love!

Ice Skating. Ice skating outdoors is always one of the highlights of our Christmas season. Although it’s not easy on the parents (especailly if you have little ones!), the kids always have SOOO much fun…making all the cold fingers, cold bums, and runny noses worth it!

    • PRO TIP! Paying for the child “assist” device is almost always worth it. Even if your child gains confidence half-way through your session, you’ll be happier with it than without!
    • PRO TIP! If you have babies, enlist a grandparent or other helper to sit with the child on the side so you can all enjoy the skating safely!

Local Light Displays. Local light displays abound this time of year and range from driving to walking, outdoors to inside convention centers, and more. These events do tend to book up closer to Christmas, so snag tickets now and work it into your countdown activities earlier than later.

Concerts, Shows, and Parades. Keep your eyes and ears open for various holiday-themed events in your area. Local high school bands might have holiday concerts open to the public. The dance studio might put on a production of the Nutcracker. The professional theatre downtown may do A Christmas Carol every year. Pick one or two and book your tickets early (as needed!)

“Jingle Bell” or “Candy Cane” Fun Runs. Although usually very chilly, we LOVE doing Christmas-themed fun runs with the kids! It’s a great excuse to wear reindeer antlers, striped socks, and elf hats; and at least here, the local firemen almost always make an appearance!

Pictures with Santa. Depending on the age and interest of the kids, this is one you may or may not want to include. We certainly love heading off to the mall to see Santa, but we’ve also learned that it sometimes creates more anxiety than it’s worth (for all of us!). If the kids are into it, go ahead and book those tickets early. If your kiddos are too scared or too old, it’s okay to skip this tradition until it’s more fun for everyone!

Nativity Plays/Walks. Call or check the websites of nearby churches to see if anyone is putting on a live production of the Nativity story. Not only does a live play bring this special story more to life, but seeing little kids with shepherd staffs and angel wings is sure to make everyone feel the Christmas spirit!

Christmas Caroling. Check to see if local churches or neighborhoods do annual caroling; it’s much less intimidating to join a group than set out on your own! If you can’t find a group to join, consider having your own Christmas “concert” in your home!

Collage of Christmas Wearables

1 – Elf Hats | 2 – Reindeer Headbands | 3 – Candy Cane Socks | 4 – Candy Cane Glow Sticks | 5 – Christmas Glow Necklaces | 6 – Christmas Lights Necklaces

Phew! I really hope what I have here gives you LOTS of ideas for great Christmas activities for families…as well as how to pull them off without going a little crazy! I for one am super excited to all have all this information in one spot (so I too can reference it year after year!). Be sure to bookmark or pin this post so you can find these great ideas and supplies when you’re ready for your next Christmas activity!

See You Soon!