Earlier this week, I showed you the really easy way our family counts down the days until Christmas (see our Christmas Countdown Chain here). And while I certainly love this pretty paper project for what it is, the real “magic” in this family tradition are the holiday activities printed on the inside of each chain link. Yep – as a family, we do 25 days of Christmas activities…one each day leading up to Christmas morning. But before you roll your eyes or groan at the “extra-ness” of this concept, hear me out. In the four years we’ve been doing this, I’ve been able to streamline this process so that it’s not a lot of extra work (during an already really busy season!) but is still fun and fresh for our kids every time. Today, I’m breaking down exactly how I plan our “25 Days of Holiday Fun” without going crazy or breaking the bank!

Christmas Countdown Chain next to a silver tinsel tree.

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!

Reality Check

Before I dive into the actual process of how I plan out our Christmas activities, I want to first preface this with some reality. These 25 days of Christmas activities are the ONLY thing we do to countdown/prepare for the holidays. We don’t do Elf on the Shelf…we don’t do Chocolate Advent Calendars…we don’t do 25 days of Christmas LEGO builds. Removing the chain link each day (and doing the activity inside) is the ONLY thing I have to plan for and (more importantly!) remember in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Christmas Countdown Chain on a white playroom shelf.

Part of what makes this tradition so manageable is that I put 100% of my attention on it. So if you have other traditions that you do daily (and love!), then this might be a lot of added work. But if you don’t have a Christmas countdown tradition in place and are looking for a great way to not only do some fun Christmas family activities but also simultaneously plan your entire holiday season…this is a great system to try!

My Holiday Season “Planner”

Our Christmas Countdown Chain is more than some strips of paper linked together. The chain itself is actually just the pretty delivery method for what is our entire holiday “schedule.” Assigning a holiday activity to each chain link is my way of ensuring all the outings, events, and projects that we want to do actually get scheduled, AND that we aren’t overcommitted on any particular day too.

Christmas Countdown Chain Links with family activities printed on the inside.

The real “money” of this system is that our Christmas Countdown Chain includes “normal” holiday activities such as decorating the Christmas tree, hanging the outside lights, and the neighbor’s annual party on Christmas Eve. The gaps are then filled in with small, easy activities that really help the kids feel like this is an extra special time. This approach keeps the entire concept easier and more realistic to accomplish.

Now having done this for four years in a row, I can say that all those holiday “want to dos” and “should dos” actually become a reality…and we all have SO much fun in the process!

My Process for Planning 25 Days of Christmas Activities

Okay, let me fully break down exactly how I plan out 25 days of Christmas activities, and share why and how it all remains so manageable!

NOTE: All the printables featured in this blog post are from my FREE Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit!

Step 1: Look at the December Calendar

Printable December Calendar

Start by printing out a blank December calendar. Fill in any events that are already planned or have very specific dates. Here are some examples:

  • School holiday events (e.g., concerts, pageants, etc)
  • Annual parties with friends or family
  • Local Concerts
  • Local Parades
  • Nativity Plays or Pageants
  • Wreaths Across America
  • Candy Cane Runs
  • Deadlines for any local toy/coat/food drives (such as Toys for Tots)

Additionally, make notes about when certain seasonal events are open for business. These are activities that don’t need to happen on really specific dates; but knowing when they are/aren’t open can help you fit them in as needed. Here are some examples:

  • Visits with Santa
  • Local light displays (walking or driving)
  • Ice skating rinks
  • Christmas movies (new releases)
  • Walking Nativity plays

Printable December Calendar

Step 2: Make a Holiday Bucket List

Next, make a Holiday Bucket List of any and all activities you can or like to do each holiday season.

  • Start by listing out events you normally do such as decorate the tree, bake Christmas cookies, mail Christmas cards, and visit Santa.
  • Also include ideas you’ve seen, heard of, or always wanted to try such as a Christmas lights scavenger hunt, candy cane games, ornament making, or holiday charades.
  • Finally, don’t hesitate to make ANYTHING into a Christmas activity, even if you would do it normally this time of year anyway. Special events like “wear Christmas jammies for the first night,” or “drink Christmas hot chocolate” become more intentional and special when incorporated into the monthly countdown.

TIP! Keep this list printed out and add to it to your Holiday Planner so you can reference all the activities you like to do (and which ones were duds!) year after year. This will make assembling future chains so much quicker!

Holiday Bucket List Printable

Step 3: Schedule Your 25 Days of Christmas Activities!

Now that you’ve got a good sense of everything that needs to be done (or you want to do!) this holiday season, it’s time to assign a particular activity for each of the 25 days leading up to Christmas. This is more art than science, but here are some tips to guide you:

  1. Print out a fresh December calendar and work in pencil so you can re-arrange things as needed.
  2. Start by assigning events that have non-negotiable dates such as the neighborhood Christmas Party, the church Nativity Play, Santa Fun Run, etc. These things are technically “fun family events,” so use them to fill up your calendar; there’s no need to plan extra activities for these days!
  3. Next, add activities that have to happen in certain windows. For example: ice skating may only be open on weekends; your favorite light event might only run 1 weekend during the month; etc. Make sure you plan these events for days you can actually do them!
  4. Then, assign events that should happen during certain times of the month. For example, you likely decorate your tree toward the beginning of the month and bake cookies closer to Christmas Day. Place these activities accordingly on your calendar. Just like the pageants and parties, these “usual” holiday events still count as “family fun,” so there’s no need to plan anything extra!
  5. Finally, fill in all the remaining gaps with fun Christmas crafts and activities. As you do this, though, it’s REALLY important to keep track of what other things you have going on, for example:
    • Save short activities like “New Christmas Socks” or a “Christmas Music Dance Party” for busy school nights.
    • For time-intensive activities like “Gingerbread Houses” or “Ornament Making,” pick a weekend afternoon.

TIP! Make sure you run the tentative schedule by your spouse or partner to ensure they are on board. This helps set expectations and deconflict things you might have missed.

Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit

Step 4: Populate the Countdown to Christmas Planner

Once you have your activities planned out, it’s time to get yourself well organized to actually execute each activity. This step is KEY to keeping this entire tradition as stress-free and manageable as possible!

Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit

Using my Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit, you can easily plan your activities, make supply lists, and even print out your activity strips all in one step!

  1. Download and open my Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit.
  2. Populate the “Days” column with the correct days for this year’s December.
  3. In the “Activities” column, type in your assigned activity for that day.
  4. In the “To Buy or Prep” column, type in any supplies, printables, tickets, reservations, etc that you will need to complete this activity.
  5. As you type the activities in the Countdown to Christmas worksheet, notice that the activity strips auto-populate and everything is color coordinated!

Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit

Step 5: Make Your Christmas Countdown Chain

The next step is to make or assemble whatever Christmas countdown “mechanism” you want to use. We’ve found the paper chain to be quick, easy, and packs away really nicely. You can see my Cricut-made Christmas Countdown Chain HERE or make one with a pair of scissors using the templates included in the Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit.

Christmas Countdown Chain Links with family activities printed on the inside.

However, just because a chain works for us doesn’t mean it’s the only option! Once you print out the activity strips, trim them out and then slide them into little drawers, mini stockings, mini bags, tiny gift boxes, envelopes or whatever else you like to use to countdown until Christmas!

Step 6: Prep Your Supplies & Activities

Finally, with your activities all planned out and your chain (or other Christmas countdown system) created, it’s time to order and prep your needed supplies for all 25 days of Christmas activities at one time. Use your printed Countdown to Christmas Planner as a guide; work down the list chronologically so that you have supplies ordered and tickets reserved in a timely fashion for each activity.

Although you may be tempted to prep a little every day as the month goes on, I highly recommend planning and prepping your Christmas countdown activities all at once. I spend an afternoon (typically right after Thanksgiving) ordering craft kits and gingerbread ingredients, printing coloring pages, and reserving Santa visit times. I stage everything on a high shelf in my office. When the kids open a link each morning, I have everything I need to quickly and easily make that activity happen sometime before the day is through!

Christmas Countdown Chain on a white playroom shelf.

Step 7: Enjoy an Amazing Holiday Season of Fun with Your Family!

The final step is pure execution of festive family fun! On December 1st, open the #1 link on your Christmas Countdown Chain (or other countdown calendar). With your supplies prepped and waiting, all you need to do is find time during the day to complete the activity. Some things like “Read a Christmas Story” can be done first thing in the morning; while others like “Christmas Family Game Night” might be best after dinner.

TIP! I highly recommend keeping the printed Countdown to Christmas Planner in your daily planner or somewhere else you will see it regularly. It’s VERY helpful to be tracking on what’s coming up next each day instead of being just as surprised as the kids are each morning!

Countdown to Christmas Planning Kit

Once upon a time, I’d watch other families do all these cute and creative things all Christmas season long. And it would make me feel behind, stressed or “less than” because I just couldn’t get my act together to do the same for my kids. Once I came up with this system of incorporating BOTH our usual Christmas to dos AND some fun family activities into our Christmas Countdown Chain…everything changed. We are now getting ready for our 4th Countdown to Christmas, and the whole family is eagerly waiting with anticipation. I just know my children will look back on this with all the warm happy memories, and I hope what I’ve detailed out here can help you create a similar tradition for your own family!

See You Soon!