Whether you're swapping out the chocolate advent calendar this year or just looking for some fun festive activities to do with your kids in the lead up to the big day, here are my favourite ideas for the countdown to Christmas.
1. Decorate the tree If you're super keen, you may have already put up your decorations, but for those who wait until December, decorating on the first of the month is a great way to kick off your festive calendar of activities. 2. Make your own Christmas tree decorations You've got the classic tinsel and baubles on the tree, so why not make some of your own decorations to add that extra special touch? This article has loads of ideas for festive arts and crafts.
3. Write a letter to Santa Get out the pens and paper, and help your kids write their letters to Santa. Not only does this keep the magic alive, but it also gives you great ideas for friends and family who may like to buy gifts for your children. A pony was at the top of my list for many years! When the letters are ready, write Santa's address* on the envelope and pop them in your nearest post box.
*Check out the Royal Mail page for details of sending a letter to Santa.
4. Make mince pies You can't have Christmas without baking. Personally, I'm not a fan of mince pies, but they are a classic crowd pleaser. Why not make some for friends or neighbours, especially if you know someone who lives on their own. Pop them in a nice tin with a handwritten note to make it a super special gesture. You may have your own favourite recipe, but if not, I find BBC Good Food a great resource for recipes I may not find in my cookbooks. Here's a standard recipe, here's a gluten free one and here's a vegan one.
5. Write and send Christmas cards Don't pack away your pens just yet. Sending Christmas cards is a great way to stay connected with loved ones who live far away and who you may not see over the festive period. Whether your kids create their own masterpieces or sign off their own name, get them involved and keep this lovely tradition alive.
6. Go to a Christmas market
There are always loads of markets at this time of year, usually with small local businesses selling unique, handmade items. Often, they have craft activities, games or a Santa's grotto set up for the kids, so you can make a day of it. As a small business myself, I know we really appreciate your support at this time of year, so if you can shop small rather than going to the big boys (*ehem* Am*zon) you'll be making a lot of small business owners very happy.
7. Make paper snowflakes to hang in your windows
It's not often we get snow in the UK, especially not in December, so get creative and make your own snowflakes instead. All you need is a square piece of paper and a pair of scissors (plus an adult to help little ones with the scissors!).
• Fold your piece of paper in half diagonally to make a triangle
• Fold it in half again to make a smaller triangle
• Fold the triangle into thirds • Cut off the points to make a flat bottom on the triangle • Draw a pattern on the paper and cut it out • Unfold to reveal a beautiful snowflake
Here's a step-by-step walkthrough with pictures, in case the above isn't clear!
8. Go on a winter scavenger hunt
The festive season can mean your kids consume a lot more sugar than usual (pass the chocolate tin!) so get them outside and burn off some of that energy with a winter scavenger hunt. Go searching for holly, robins and even animal tracks – although these might appear in the mud rather than the snow! You can download Dave and Darcy's Winter Scavenger Hunt here.
9. Make a charitable donation or give your time
Christmas is the season of goodwill. I often give to charity instead of buying Christmas cards, but any act of giving – whether time or money – is a really generous thing to do. You could offer to do an elderly neighbour's Christmas food shop for them so they can avoid the busy shops. Or why not buy some items for your local animal shelter so that those animals who won't have a home for Christmas still get a little something to enjoy.
10. Have a clear out and donate If you can't afford to give a monetary donation or buy new items, why not have a clear out of your kids' old toys and donate them to a children's charity? Not only will you clear out space so your house isn't taken over by toys when this year's presents are opened, but you'll be able to give a gift to children who may not get anything else for Christmas.
11. Watch a pantomime My family used to love going to see a pantomime at Christmas when my brother and I were young. With music, comedy, silly characters and audience participation, it's the perfect entertainment for both children and adults alike.
12. Read a Christmas story
Snuggle up and read a festive story – and pop on the fire if you're lucky enough to have one! I'm obviously going to be biased and suggest my Christmas book, but if you want to browse a wider selection, check out my list on Bookshop.org. Their mission is "to create an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support independent bookshops at the same time". Another great way to support small this Christmas!
13. Colour or paint a nativity scene
Another idea for decorating your home, you could place your children's masterpieces in the window along with their paper snowflakes, or pin them on the fridge.
14. Visit Santa's grotto
Visiting a grotto is a great family outing. For a small fee, children can meet Santa, tell him what's on their Christmas list and receive a small gift to take home. Lots of grottos also offer craft activities to encourage you to stay for longer, especially if they're held at garden centres or local attractions.
15. Make Christmas pudding cookies
For my fellow mince pie haters, here's a chocolatey alternative Christmas bake that should go down a treat! Make your favourite triple chocolate chip cookie recipe, then decorate them to make them look like Christmas puddings. Melt white chocolate for the 'brandy sauce' and cut out holly leaves and berries from green and red fondant. Here's a recipe we posted on my family business's website years ago.
16. Make a Christmas scrapbook
Start a new Christmas tradition by making a festive scrapbook. You could include family photos, drawings and your favourite Christmas card that you received, and write down funny/sweet things that happened or the best Christmas cracker joke. Each year, you can dig out your scrapbook, reminisce on years gone by and add your latest photos and keepsakes.
17. Go for a walk and check out the festive light displays
With just over a week until the big day, most people will have their Christmas lights and decorations up. Why not go for a wander around your village or local area to see the displays people have set up outside their houses? When I was younger, there was a house in Charlton Kings that was well-known for its amazing light displays and people would go back every year to see what the residents had created. In 2020, a big white house in Cheltenham was decorated with a huge red ribbon, which also caused quite a buzz in the town.
18. Watch a Christmas film
My favourite festive film is The Holiday – I love it so much that I don't just watch it around Christmas. Other favourites include Love Actually, Elf and, one that is more for adults than children, Die Hard (yes, it is a Christmas film!).
19. Learn about Christmas traditions from around the world
Here in the UK, we have some amazing Christmas traditions – from decorating trees and kissing under the mistletoe, to watching this year's Christmas adverts on the TV and wrapping sausages in bacon (whoever thought of this is a genius!). But other countries have some equally great traditions.
In Sweden, they construct a giant goat out of straw, known as the Gävle Goat. In Mexico, they start the Chrismas season with Las Posadas – a religious parade where they re-enact the journey of Mary and Joseph. One of my favourites is the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod – the giving and receiving of books on Christmas Eve and reading them as a family. Just search online to find out more about other countries' traditions.
20. Reflect on what you're grateful for this year
We often get caught up with the fun and frivolity of Christmas, but practicing gratitude can teach your child empathy and compassion. It's also good to explain that not everyone has as much as they might have. Sit down together with a hot chocolate and festive music on in the background, and write a list of what you're grateful for. It could be anything from their friends and family, to being able to go on a special trip. The list doesn't have to be long or contain extravagant things – sometimes recognising the small things can be just as powerful.
21. Go to a carol concert
We all love a good sing-song at Christmas, so wrap up warm and head to your local carol concert, or join a group in your village that sings on doorsteps.
22. Wrap presents
The big day is nearly here, so make sure you're ready by wrapping your Christmas presents. Obviously, you'll keep your children's presents a secret, but if you've bought gifts for their other parent(s), siblings or grandparents, you'll probably need to help wrap them. For a personal touch, buy brown paper (also eco-friendly!) and get your kids to draw their own festive design. Finish by wrapping with string.
23. Track Santa
You can track Santa's journey from the 1st December on the Norad Track Santa website. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) stimulates Santa's journey from the North Pole as he travels around the world, delivering presents to children on Christmas Eve. While you can visit the website from the start of the month, the actual Santa-tracking simulation starts at midnight on the 23rd December.
24a. Prepare Santa and Rudolph's refreshments The Christmas Eve activity has to be getting a mince pie, carrot and glass of milk (or something stronger!) ready for Santa and his trusty reindeer. If you want to go one step further, you could make your own reindeer food. Following advice from the RSPCA on how to make wildlife-friendly reindeer food, mix together some wild bird seed, rolled oats, dried fruit* such as cranberries, dried insects such as mealworms, and a little sprinkle of chilli powder to help Rudolph's nose glow bright red (and to stop squirrels from eating the food before Rudolph gets to it!). Sprinkle it on your lawn or leave it in a bowl by your back door before you go to bed. *Don't use grapes, sultanas, currants or raisins if you have a dog, as these are poisonous.
24b. Christmas Eve box
A bonus activity, this is is a tradition I've become more familiar with since networking with other small businesses, especially those run by mums. A Christmas Eve box can be filled with anything from new pyjamas (I love Claybear) and slippers to a Christmas book (click here to get Dave and Darcy's Christmas book), a sweet treat and even a little note to Santa. The contents will vary depending on the age of your kids, but it's a nice pre-Christmas gift to get them in the mood for the big day.
25. Have a wonderful Christmas
2022 has been another tough and challenging year for many families. So whether you're having a big bash and celebrating with lots of friends and family, or keeping things a bit simpler and having a quiet day with your closest loved ones, I hope you have a great day. Now, let's be honest – you're still going to get a chocolate advent calendar, aren't you?! Let me know if you have any other festive traditions you like doing in the lead up to Christmas.