100 Fun Things to Do At Christmas

There's a reason so many people feel like the holiday season is an impossible whirl of activity, errands, and obligations: took me less than an hour to brainstorm the following list of 100 traditional ways to celebrate the Christmas season.

Perhaps this list will help remind you of traditions you might otherwise overlook ... or inspire you to build new holiday traditions with the people you love.
  1. Find the Perfect Tree.  Nothing gets my family in the Christmas mood like our annual trip to the local Christmas tree lot in early December.  The smell of fresh-cut evergreen, our breath emerging in puffs in the chill evening air, little kids playing hide-and-seek among the stands, the thrill of finding the perfect tree and tying it onto the top of the car ... all of these make this one of my very favorite Christmas rituals.
  2. Slay your own Christmas tree. Or, look up Christmas tree farms, load up your handsaw, and get the freshest tree there is.
  3. Decorate the tree (or trees!). You can use the same ornaments every year, or get creative and create a new tree every year with decorations you collect and/or make yourself.  (See Theme Christmas Tree Ideas.)
  4. Make Christmas Tree ornaments.  Check out any of the hundreds of websites, books and/or magazines packed with homemade ornament ideas: there's something for every taste, price, and ability level.
  5. Set up a train around the base of your tree.  All the kids in your family will flock to your house to play with it.
  6. Create a Wreath.  Choose from dozens of ideas: floral wreaths, grapevine wreaths, holly wreaths, fruit wreaths, candy wreaths, jingle bell wreaths, etc. (See Wreath Ideas)
  7. Deck the halls with boughs of holiday. Channel your inner Fezziwig and drape festoons of pine and holly from the rafters or doorframes.  (Those 3M wall hooks with the removeable two-sided tape work well for this.)
  8. Don't forget the poinsettia. Every part of the house looks more festive with forsythia.  Grocery stores often sell small pots very inexpensively - as low as $1/plant - so buy a bunch!
  9. It Takes a Village.  Set up one of those store-bought holiday villages on a nice crisp piece of white felt to simulate the season.  Kids particularly enjoy the sets that feature moving parts.
  10. Light a candle.  The tradition of placing a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas eve harks back to the day when it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter.  
  11. Go retro.  Revive bygone holiday traditions such as draping your tree with tinsel, spraying your windows with fake snow, or draping popcorn/cranberry chains over the doorways of your house. 
  12. Countdown to Christmas. Advent calendars come in all sizes and shapes, but the idea is the same: starting Dec 1, members of the family open one door each day until they reach Dec 25.  My favorites are the advent calendars with a little gift (a piece of candy, a candle, an ornament) behind each door.
  13. Create an Outdoor Display. Share the joy of the holiday with your neighbors.  Feel free to do this tastefully (modest white lights along the roofline, perhaps a grapevine deer grazing in the yard) or dazzle them with a display of lights gaudy enough to humble Chevy Chase's character in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
  14. View Outdoor Christmas decorations.  The internet has become a great source for finding local houses and neighborhoods that stage particularly beautiful and/or tacky displays
  15. Decorate the table for holiday dinner. The holidays are the perfect opportunity to show off your best china, linens and glassware.  This year, consider leaving the table set so others can admire the finery.
  16. Enjoy a traditional holiday dinner.  Prepare a traditional holiday dinner, complete with roast beast (beef, duck, goose), robust side dishes (pumpkin, potatoes, carrots), and festive desserts (plum pudding).
  17. Enjoy Christmas Day breakfast. Christmas dinner may be more traditional, but don't overlook the opportunity to establish Christmas day breakfast/brunch as a family favorite.  We make the meal special for the kids by serving pancakes in the shape of snowmen, with chocolate chip eyes, mouths, and buttons.
  18. Prepare traditional foods.  Many families use the holidays as an opportunity to incorporate foods that reflect their racial or cultural heritage.  For instance, it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without the Baking of the Pasca, a traditional Slovak bread that's served with ham and pounds of butter.  (See It's Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Christmas.)
  19. Get nutty.  Back in the day, nuts were called "sweetmeats" and were a major holiday tradition.  So pull out your favorite nutcracker and indulge.
  20. Bake cookies. Perhaps the most traditional of holiday traditions!  To make this traditional activity more fun, my BFF and I always get together to do our baking at the same time, then we swap half of what we make so that each of us ends up with twice as many varieties.
  21. Give cookies.  Cookies are a great way to spread cheer to coworkers, teachers, neighbors and others who are an important part of your life.  My second favorite thing to do with cookies (besides eating them): cookie exchange parties! 
  22. Create with gingerbread. Make gingerbread cookies, gingerbread people, or gingerbread houses.  (One of our family customs is an annual gingerbread house decorating contest.)  It's festive and it smells great!
  23. Enjoy holiday libations. Enjoy any of the many libations - wassail, egg nog, hot chocolate, mulled wine - traditionally associated with the season.
  24. Eat fruitcake.  Do yourself a favor - bypass the store brands and spend a little extra to purchase a gourmet version from one of the better outlets: Macys, Harrods, etc.  Your stomach (and your teeth) will thank you.
  25. Go to church.  Remember the reason for the season.  Give thanks to God for all His blessings.
  26. Host a pageant. Sunday schools are the absolute best place to recruit for actors to reenact the night of Jesus's birth.
  27. Display your creche. Remember Christ's birth with a creche inside or outside your home.  Stores sell nativity scenes ranging from traditional to art deco, from tabletop size to larger than life.  The one we display is really quite simple - curved grapevines arching over unpainted creamy ceramic figures - but suits our decor, and our faith.
  28. Listen to the pealing of bells.  For me, there's no sound more associated with the holidays than the sound of bells - from the great booming peal of church bells to the hearty music of sleigh bells to the tinny clatter of jingle bells.  I like to hang sleigh bells from my doorknobs so that everytime I go in or out, I get to enjoy their heartening cheer.
  29. Light candles.  Christmas is best celebrated by candlelight, from chandeliers alight with candles at ancient churches to the flickering glow of cinnamon-cented tea candles glowing through festive hurricanes at home.
  30. Put on a pot of potpourri.  Christmas is also a season of delicious smells - evergreen, clove, frankenscence, cinnamon.  Fill your house with pretty bowls of potpourri or a leave a teapot filled with fragrance heating on your stove all season.
  31. Put on a play.  Challenge the kids in your family to stage their own version of A Christmas Carol or The Night Before Christmas, or to invent a script of their own that celebrates the magic of the season.
  32. Go wassailing.  Go caroling around your neighborhood, or carol in front of a local church or landmark.  (See Most Popular Christmas Carols)
  33. Burn a yule log.  One of my favorite pagan traditions is the burning of the yule log.  The Druids would bless a log and keep it burning 12 days during the winter solstice; part of the log was kept for the following year, when it would be used to light the new yule log.  At the 400yr old college I attended, a yule log was burned in the largest, most ancient of the school's fireplaces: students would then file by hurling sprigs of holly into the fire for good luck.  (Predictably, there was always a rush to fit this in before taking finals.)
  34. Roast things over the fire. All you need is a fireplace to indulge in such seasonal favorites as making popcorn over a live flame, roasting chestnuts, or melting marshmallows for homemade s'mores. 
  35. Hang stockings.  Just make sure you use hooks sturdy enough to support a weight of coal ... just in case.
  36. Go shopping. It's a shame this is the tradition most people probably think about first, and devote the most time to.  Which isn't to say that shopping isn't wonderful fun, especially that warm glow that comes from finding the perfect gift for someone you care about.
  37. Enjoy the last minute panic. I have my grandmother to thank for introducing me to this seasonal tradition.  The idea is to finish your own shopping, then sit yourself up at a small table in the middle of your local shopping mall (preferrably with a cup of coffee to sip and perhaps a couple of gourmet chocolates to nibble on) and enjoy the energy - and occassional panic - of folks rushing by who aren't yet done.
  38. Plan your Day After Christmas holiday shopping.  As you are shopping, make a list of items you'd love to purchase but that are to extravagent - or pricy - to justify.  Then use the list to guide your "day after Christmas" shopping, in hopes the items you covet will be on sale.
  39. Indulge your inner child.  It is said that Christmas is a holiday for children: fortunately, all of us are children inside.  So go ahead!  Give yourself permission to visit a toy store; linger at a storefront to watch the toy train wend their way through tunnels and around bends; gape at gingerbread house displays; or thumb through the Sears Holiday Giftbook and figure out what you'd ask for if you were a kid.   
  40. Make wish lists.  Someone's sure to ask you what you want for Christmas.  Be ready!  Online stores are especially convenient for windowshopping, and often offer "wish lists" where you can store your favorites.
  41. Gape at shopping mall decorations.  Malls typically pull out all the stops to turn themselves into festive destinations during the Christmas season.  (Don't feel bad - they have a lot more money to spend than you, and professional designers to help them.)
  42. Visit historic houses. Hunt out historical/notable homes in your area and enjoy the period decorations.  I'm fortunate enough to live in  the Virginia/D.C. where it's possible to visit a different historic house, mill, estate, or manor every day.
  43. Take a hay ride/sleigh ride/horse-drawn carriage ride.  There's something magical about feeling the crisp air on your face and looking up at the stars as the rhythmic clop of horse's hooves keeps time.
  44. See a show.  Local theaters often perform holiday-related works.  Here in D.C. it's not really Christmas unless you land tickets to see A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theater.
  45. Take in a concert.  Local choirs, symphonies, bands and performing groups all traditionally perform during the holiday season.  I'm a particular sucker for chorus sing-alongs, acapella groups, big-band swing Christmas celebrations, and handbell concerts. 
  46. Messiah sing-along.  Tradition has it that upon finishing the final note of his Hallelujah Chorus, Handel burst out of his study, tears streaming from his eyes, exclaiming: "I think I did see Heaven before me, and the great God Himself."  Join a few dozen of your fellow citizens to perform this amazing work of music live and I dare you not to experience a similar sense of the miraculous.  
  47. See The Nutcracker. Another holiday tradition, and who knows? Maybe you'll witness the next Gelsey Kirkland making her 12-yr old debut as Clara Stahlbaum.
  48. Attend (or watch) a holiday parade. If your community doesn't host a holiday parade, then be sure not to miss the granddaddy of them all - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - on television.  
  49. Visit holiday destinations.  If you're lucky enough to have one in the area, take a roadtrip to a holiday destination such as Santa's Village (many states have them) or specialty Christmas super-stores.  Large amusement parks like Busch Gardens, Six Flags and Kings Dominion sometimes also open their gates for the season, highlighting holiday entertainment, decorations, and activities for the kids.
  50. Visit a holiday craft festival.  Lots of local organizations (churches, schools) raise money by selling crafts during the holiday season. Or attend one of the larger, more commercial craft fairs that often rent out expo or conference centers at this time of the year.
  51. Go ice skating. Strap on a pair of skates and remember that no matter how many times you fall, there's always the consolation of a steaming cup of hot chocolate at the end of the outing.  I have a particular affection for outdoor skating rinks because I like to pretend I'm gliding through the stars above.
  52. Order a holiday beverage at Starbucks. It's simply not Christmas until I've had my first gingerbread latte of the season!
  53. Dyour car.  Favorites around here include mounting wreaths on the front grill and/or affixing red rudolph noses between the cars' headlights.  However, I save my highest praises for those who figure out how to actually drape their cars with Christmas lights!
  54. Decorate your pet. Buy your dog/cat/bunny/etc. a santa suit/hat, take their picture, and then use it as your Facebook picture for the rest of the season.  You know you want to.
  55. Watch holiday movies. So many to choose from! But we have certain favorites that we watch every year, always in the company of the same traditional group of family/friends.  (See 60 Favorite Christmas Movies)
  56. Watch holiday specials on television. I know that these days you can buy just about any holiday special on DVD, but there's something special and a little magical about checking each weeks' television listings to see when ACharlie Brown Christmas is due to air, and then counting down the days to it's arrival, that can't be matched in video format.  Or perhaps for your family it's How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or The Little Drummer Boy.
  57. Listen to holiday music. You can create your own holiday playlist on iTunes or tune into a local radio station that plays holiday music 24/7 throughout the season.
  58. Enjoy old time radio holiday broadcasts. Go to the Library of Congress audio site and download the Campbell's Playhouse version of A Christmas Carol, with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge.  Or download Lux Radio Theater's radio version of the movies It's A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, featuring the original actors.  Or if you're in the mood for something really sentimental, download the Command Performance Concerts that were beamed to our troops oversees during WWII, featuring guest appearances by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and a bevy of starlets. 
  59. Play. Take advantage of time with your family to bond over board games, card games, jigsaw puzzles.  Or, make like Scrooge's nephew and amuse yourself with such Victorian favorites as Blind Man's Bluff, charades or 20 Questions.
  60. Tell stories. Share stories about Christmases past: long past or your past. To this day one of my most treasured holiday memories was listening to a friend's grandfather recount his memories of the Christmas truce of WWII.
  61. Christmas coloring. An activity everyone in the family can enjoy, and when you're done you can cut out the pictures and hang them on walls or windows as decoration.
  62. Show off your tackiest holiday sweater. Embrace this unfortunate tradition by embracing "Your Tackiest Holiday Sweater" as a theme for a holiday gathering. I particularly enjoy the ones that manage to work in kittens, gold lame, and/or flashing lights.
  63. Show off your tackiest holiday jewelry. I'm always amazed at what otherwise fashionable people will wear in their ears, around their necks, or pinned to their sweaters over the holidays.
  64. Wear your Santa hat in public. It's the one time of the year when you can wear a goofy hat out of doors and no one will think any less of you.  (Additional advantage: Santa hats tend to be wonderfully warm, which makes them perfect for outdoor holiday events like caroling or ice skating.)
  65. Christmas on your computer. Download a Christmasy screensaver, send ecards, hunt for holiday recipes, look up craft ideas, and/or visit holiday websites to enjoy such games as "Rudolph the Redneck Reindeer."  
  66. Take a walk outside on a brisk winter day (or night). Especially when things start to get crazy busy, it's important to spend quiet time alone with all the good things He created, like brisk winter air, brilliant stars, bare limbs scratching in the breeze, and the whispering hush of falling snow.
  67. Write a letter to Santa. One upshot of this wonderful tradition (besides helping you figure out what your children want for Christmas) is that it creates a wonderful annual snapshot of your child's handwriting, priorities, and temperament.  Now that our kids have grown, they love chuckling over the letters they once wrote.
  68. Hang with Santa. No matter where you live, Santa is sure to be making a guest appearance somewhere, so drop by and pay your respects. 
  69. Track Santa.  Every Christmas Eve, NORAD (the U.S. North American Air Defense facility) uses its high-tech radar and satellite resources to provide real-time tracking of Santa's sled as it criss-crosses the globe.  Kids love this and, frankly, even most adults find the site charming! 
  70. Pop holiday crackers. You can buy them at nicer department stores or make your own.  The little prizes help keep kids from growing too impatient at the sloooow passage of time Christmas Eve.
  71. Lighten up.  Don't stress out!  Give yourself permission to laugh at stupid Christmas carols (The Ten Pains of Christmas is a personal favorite); make fun of over-the-top holiday decorations; invent goofy holiday traditions (ex: dangling a stuffed santa suit from your roof so that it looks like he's falling); or participate in Santarchy, a national event with celebrations in most major cities.
  72. Celeberate with Family.  Don't get so caught up with the superficial stuff like shopping and cooking that you forget one of the main reasons for the season: spending time with family. Be sure to find a way to include distant relatives, whether via a phone call, photos, or a holiday visit via Skype.
  73. Celebrate with friends. Make time to share holiday traditions with friends, attend parties, and entertain: it's the one time of year when it's considered perfectly appropriate to throw your house open and allow friends from all your different activities and venues to meet and mix.
  74. Celebrate with your co-workers. Assemble for an office party, cookie exchange, or Secret Santa gift exchange. A good office party is one that allows folks to feel able to relax and share their warmer, more human sides with co-workers.
  75. Celebrate with your neighbors. Have a decorating contest, host a progressive hors devours party, or go carolling as a group.  Christmas is a great time to reach out to new neighbors and reconnect with old friends.
  76. Pose for a family portrait.  Christmas is a great excuse to coax the family into posing for an annual photo, whether your goal is to create a customized Christmas card or to discretely slide the result into the family photo album for posterity.
  77. Create holiday cards.  Holiday cards are easy to make, and family/friends won't soon forget the care you took to create something customized and special just for them.
  78. Send holiday cards.  I have little patience with people who complain: "I stopped sending cards out because it was too much bother/It's a waste of money/I never got any back."  This is the one time of year when it's appropriate to reach out to the people who have made your life special; the point isn't to solicit thanks or responses, but to make sure they know that they remain in your thoughts and prayers.  So suck it up and start licking envelopes: this is one lovely tradition that should never be allowed to lapse.
  79. Send holiday letters. I confess I'm also a fan of the much-maligned Christmas letter.  True, I've read some pretty awful ones.  The trick, I think, is to (1) only include the news people besides yourselves will care about, (2) avoid sounding pretentious, and (3) be sure to include anecdotes and stories that remind folks why they like you.
  80. Entertain.  There are so many seasonal-themed party ideas to choose from!  So there's no excuse not to get together with family, friends, "the girls", "the guys", "the kids", or your community.  (See Fun Themed Christmas Parties)
  81. Make homemade gifts.  Not only do homemade gifts show that you care enough about someone to spend time on them, but they can also be a frugal option if you have limited resources and/or a big family.  For ideas, see 90+ Homemade Gift Ideas.
  82. Exchange gifts.  The trope may be aged but it's true: there are few joys to match the pleasure of picking out the perfect gift for someone, then watching the smile of delight light up their face when they open it.  Feel sorry for folks who think of exchanging gifts as an obligation rather than as an opportunity.  
  83. Tag it.  Gift tags make a great mini-craft project.  Create them out of fabric, cookies, ornaments, tinsel, pictures trimmed from Christmas cards left over from past years, novelty papers, fabric ... pretty much anything!
  84. Dressed for success.  Wrapping can be a lot of fun if you let it.  Experiment with different papers, tags and bows.  My mom is a brilliant wrapper who likes to take her inspiration from the pattern of the paper: snowy paper sporting a festive paper ski jump; evergreen paper lapped by popcorn-cranberry "ribbon"; teddy bear paper topped by a brown felt bow.  Or consider wrapping a small gift card in an enormous box, just for the reaction you get!
  85. Work It Out.  Many stores take on extra help at Christmas, which makes the holidays a great time to earn a little extra money.  If you don't like the idea of standing behind a cash register all day, consider a job stocking shelves, pushing carts, wrapping gifts, or working as a Santa's helper.
  86. Give.  Donate money, toys, food or gifts.  There are a wealth of organizations that rely on holiday donations to see them though the year ... and, unfortunately, a wealth of families who rely on holiday food baskets to last them through the month. 
  87. Volunteer.  If you can't afford to donate money, toys, food or gifts, donate time.  There are plenty of organizations looking for help collecting donations, wrapping/packaging donated gifts, and preparing/serving food to those in need.  (See blog entry, Community Service Project Ideas)
  88. Visit shut-ins. They don't have to be your shut-ins ... most communities have a retirement center or other facility for senior citizens.  Nor do you have to make a big production out of it: just stop by to share a meal with someone, or watch television with them, or listen to their stories.  (Senior citizens always have the best stories.)  
  89. Say Thank You.  Distribute cards, small gifts, or tips to people the people who you are grateful for - teachers, the paperboy, the postman, the garbageman, that checker at the grocery store who always gives candy to your kids and brightens your day.
  90. Make Amends.  Take advantage of the general goodwill of the season to make amends for any wrongs you've done during the past year.  It's the perfect season to ask for forgiveness, and your last chance to wipe the slate clean before starting the new year.
  91. Engage in Random Acts of Kindness.  Clip coupons and leave them next to the items they discount. Offer free babysitting services to a stressed-out friend or colleague. Randomly pick a kettle and stuff a $20 through the slot.  Turn someone's car headlights off.  Let someone squeeze into traffic ahead of you.  Who knows - maybe they'll pass it forward and your small act of kindness will end up benefiting dozens of others.
  92. Count your blessings.  I've seen this done various ways: create a blessing jar, write them on pretty paper and hang them from a tree.  Or you can do this the old fashioned way by getting down on your knees and giving thanks.
  93. Be Kind to Critters.  Winter is a hard time for nature's untamed creatures.  Give them a hand by setting out seed for the birds, sharing a loaf of bread with your local ducks, or spreading pinecones with peanut butter and hurling them into the woods for smaller creatures to enjoy.
  94. Share Traditions.  Christmas is a wonderful time to share your family's cultural, racial and/or religious traditions with new generations.  For instance, though my husband's family is 3rd generation Czech, we remember the past through traditions such as baking Czech dishes and hanging traditional Czech ornaments on the tree.  If you haven't preserved any traditions, it's never too late to start establishing new ones.
  95. Remember Christmases past.  Remembering Christmases past - the bad ones along with the good ones - is an important way to refresh family memories and solidify family traditions.  This works best if you can find a way to involve multiple generations in the reminiscing.
  96. Kiss Under the Mistletoe.  'Nuff said.
  97. Celebrate All 12 Days. I don't recommend regalling your true love with 11 pipers piping (noisy) or 10 lord's a-leaping (destructive).  But do recommend allowing the holiday to extend the 12 days after December 25.  Often the run-up to the holiday becomes so frantic, there's little time left to fit equally important but less time-sensitive things like volunteering, spending time with family, and giving thanks.  Give yourself the gift of time: 12 extra days to enjoy the best things the season has to offer. 
  98. Shop 'Til You Drop. Take advantage of the post-holiday sales to stock up on steeply discounted wrapping paper, cards, ornaments, and gifts for next year!
  99. Create a Christmas scrapbook.  Gather together all your photos, momentoes (programs from concerts/shows, sheet music, party invites, shopping lists, letters to Santa, christmas cards, family newsletter, etc.) and Christmas memories and preserve them in a scrapbook.  If you use the same scrapbook every year, it will eventually become a treasured family heirloom, a record not only of Christmases past but of your family's history.
  100. Start planning your New Years Resolutions. Because it's never too soon to figure out what resolutions you'll be breaking by the second week of January.

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