When our kids were little we did ALL of the family holiday bucket list things. Our December days were filled with markets and festivals and holiday crafts galore. Now that the kids are older it has become a LOT harder to enjoy all of the holiday things because we are just so dang busy with sports, school activities and long standing commitments! Can you relate?
This year we are trying to embrace the holiday as much as possible, even if it means doing more things at home rather than being out and about more that we already are.
I wanted to come up with a holiday bucket list that didn’t involve Santa for those families who don’t do Santa, those whose kids no longer believe, or for anyone just wanting some unique, budget friendly ideas they can do at home and in their community.
21 Budget-Friendly Christmas Activities to Try This Season
The thing I love most about a holiday bucket list is that its a guide of possible activities that the family can do to celebrate the season. It feels casual and attainable, yet its a great reminder of all of the fun things to do as time allows during the season.
Here are some of our favorite things to add to our family holiday bucket list in December.
Make a Homemade Gift
We love making homemade gifts in our house for teachers and neighbors. Most of the time we make a big batch of our HOMEMADE HOT COCOA and divvy it up into small glass jars. Wrap a ribbon around it with a gift card (if applicable) and it’s ready to give!
Do a Holiday Paint by Number
I love holiday projects that can be completed over time rather than all at once. A paint my number is a great month-long activity that you can work on for 10 minutes here, 1 hour there. There are a TON of inexpensive paint by number options for both adults and kids HERE.
Make a Holiday Simmer Pot
Nothing screams HOLIDAY like a yummy smelling house! A holiday simmer pot is a quick and easy way to get your house smelling amazing, FAST! To make one fill a medium sized pot 3/4 full of water and add a sliced orange, a cup of fresh cranberries, a few cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer for as long as you like but make sure to check back and refill the water as needed.
Take a Family Photo
The holidays are the BEST time to snap an updated family photo. If professional family photos dont fit in the schedule (or the budget) consider grabbing an inexpensive tripod with a clicker and take them yourself! Sit in front of the Christmas Tree, on the front porch or head to a park. Set up the tripod and snap away!
A few quick photo tips: An overcast or cloudy day (or morning or sunrise/sunset works best for outdoor photos as direct sunlight can end up being to harsh. Make sure to face the direction of the sun when taking photos outdoors so the light is hitting your face.
For Indoor photos, again, light toward the face will eliminate shadows. Sit facing a window or open door with a wall behind you for the best result. Turn off all of the interior lights and let the natural light from the outside illuminate the photo. A bright sunny day works best for interior photos, just make sure the sun rays are not coming directly through the window you are facing.
Put up Outdoor Holiday Lights
I have always loved the look of holiday lights outside. We have never been the family to go all out but a simple lit wreath on the front door and a few small lit Christmas trees can do wonders for adding holiday magic to your home! The kids love it too!
Draw Names for Sibling Gifts
There are 4 kiddos in out family. A few years ago when they wanted to start exchanging gifts we decided to have them draw names. They would give one gift and receive one gift from a sibling. This helps keeps us in our holiday budget AND is a fun way for the kids to play secret Santa.
Make Paper Snowflakes
Paper snowflakes are an easy, inexpensive and can make a huge impact in a space. They can also be used as holiday decor and then continue on into the winter months. The kids will love to help too! You can find a simple paper snowflake tutorial HERE
Make a Hot Cocoa Bar
A hot cocoa bar is our families favorite holiday tradition. We love it so much that it typically goes up the week before Thanksgiving and lasts well into the winer months. I have perfected my cocoa recipe over the years and we love giving the dry mix as gifts to teachers and neighbors every year. You can see our full Hot Cocoa Bar setup HERE.
Go for a Hike – Dress Festive
The ability to go hiking during the Holiday season will obviously depend on your region and weather but where I live in Phoenix, hiking is abundant and the weather if beautiful! We started the tradition of hiking as a family on Christmas Day in 2022 and it quickly became one of my favorite things about the day! Add a festive headband or wear holiday colors to add to the fun!
If hiking isn’t possible because of where you live or the weather, consider going for a family walk, building a snowman or going sledding instead.
Do a Drive Through Christmas Light Show
Usually once during the holidays we will scour the best drive through light shows in the area and choose one that has the best bang for the buck! There is something so magical about Christmas Lights that are synced to the beat of holiday music.
Have a Family Game Night
While we do these regularly year round we LOVE doing a family game night the week after Christmas where we try out ALL of our new games in one shot. Our kids love to play cards so a new game usually ends up in their stocking as well as a few others from family or sibling gifts.
Decorate Gingerbread Houses
Whether you do it for fun or make it into a competition, decorating gingerbread houses screams holiday fun. I love how its a good slow day activity that can be put on display for the whole month. We typically purchase pre assembled houses because we don’t have time or patience for the falling apart nonsense!
Sort & Sell (or Donate) Old Toys
There is no better time than the holidays to clear out the clutter and make space for new gifts that will be coming into the home. I love putting gently used items on Facebook Marketplace during the holidays becuase people are looking like craxy! It’s also a great time to recoup some extra money and use it for other bucket list activities!
Have a Pajama Day
I feel like a pajama day is mandatory during the holiday season, Especially in the days between Christmas and the New Year when the kids are content with new things and the parents are ready to rest. We especially like to use this day to knock out any remaining bucket list items or to watch holiday movies we haven’t gotten to yet.
Bake Holiday Cookies
Do a Holiday Puzzle
We love doing a HUGE 1000 piece holiday puzzle in the month of December. Like the paint by number this is another activity that can be done here and there throughout the month as there is time. My 11 year old son is super into puzzles right now and we cant wait to gift him THIS puzzle table this Christmas to free up our kitchen table again!
My husband and I will usually have a few movie/gift wrapping nights thoughout the month of December. We always open a bottle of wine start by watching Four Christmases!
Go to a Holiday Show/Concert
This one is super easy to accomplish if you have kids in school. The month of December is typically filled with band concerts, theatrical performances and cute sing-a-longs.
Grab Hot Drinks & Drive around to see Neighborhood Lights
A few times in December we will have an early dinner, get the kids into PJ’s and drive around nearby neighborhoods with a cup of hot cocoa. It’s a really fun way to kill some time on a slow evening and we love talking about our favorite houses at the end of our self guided tour.
Deliver Teacher & Neighbor Gifts
Grab your homemade gifts and a plate of cookies and take them around to teachers and neighbors. Our kiddos love celebrating their educators and we love sharing treats with our neighbors and friends!
Host a Holiday Themed Movie Night
This year I thought it would be fun to do a few Holiday themed movie nights as bucket list options as a fun way to not only watch some of our favorite holiday movies, but also eat a food or have an activity related to the movie. (THINK: having a pizza picnic on the living room floor while watching Home Alone)
I came up with 16 SIMPLE ideas among 3 holiday movie categories and each can be used as a themed night with friends or simply at home as a family or couple or solo night in.
What should I put on my Christmas bucket list?
I have created a printable with all of the above ideas as well as a few blank spaces to add your own! But what else could you add to your families holiday bucket list? Im glad you asked!
- Consider holiday traditions that are specific/special to your family. Do you let everyone choose a new ornament every year? Is there a special holiday meal you enjoy or volunteer activity that you participate in? Add those to customize your bucket list!
- Ask each family member to contribute a few ideas. My kids always have different ideas of what makes the holidays special. Allowing them to each contribute a few ideas takes more pressure off of me as a parent and also ensures that they have activity options that are appealing to them!
- Add ideas that include family values/interests. Does your family enjoy experiences or physical gifts? Do you like to do local activities? Do you enjoy local or regional activities like holiday markets or playing in the snow? Make space for these types of things.
Ready to get your holiday started with a bang?
Grab my FREE Family Holiday Bucket List printable collection HERE!!
There is a pre filled option with a few blank spaces if you want to push the easy button as well as a blank option to make your list completely custom!
JUST TAP THE PHOTO BELOW!