It’s the beginning to look like Christmas! It’s our family’s favorite time of the year and we go all out. If you’ve been following me, it means that we count down to the holidays with an advent calendar! Sure, we purchase a few calendars but we also have an activity advent calendar which has been so much fun! (Check out this DIY version here and here.) For 24 days we have a different activity we do. The kids look forward to each day and what a fun way to countdown to Christmas. Not only do the activity, but we also read one holiday-themed book a day. (Read all about it here.) If you need help filling your calendar with things to do look no further. Here are more than 50 advent activities to keep you busy during the holidays. The hard part will be choosing what to do!
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Count down to the Holidays with these Fun Activities:
And without further ado, here are some of the ideas that we’ve done. Grab one or all the ideas. I’ll be continuously adding ideas and links so check back often! Here’s to a fun and memorable holiday season!
Get in the holiday spirit
- Take a photo by the Christmas tree. After we decorate and set up our tree, we always look forward to taking a picture with it. This year we upgraded to an 8.5″ and love it!
- Have the kids decorate their own small tree. I’m really excited to try this new tradition. The kids are going to decorate their own small tree. I’m thinking they can do so with the ornaments they make.
- Write letters to Santa and mail them. You better believe the kids have already started writing their wish lists (like a month ago!) to Santa. We’re planning on use these and maybe DIYing our own mailbox. How cool would that be? There are also places that actually write back! Don’t forget to send them early if you want a response. Sometimes your local park district also has a Santa Mailbox. There will be a physical mailbox at Adam’s Park in Wheaton and New Lenox Commons.
- Read a Christmas book by the Christmas tree. We’ve compiled all our holiday books and wrapped them. (Hint: Stockpile throughout the year by shopping at thrift stores and garage sales.) They can each choose one from the pile. Check out our favorites here.
- Visit a Christmas tree farm. Cut down your own tree. Plus, the photo ops will be great!
- Go shopping for the family. Last year, we started a new tradition by having the kids pick out their own presents for the family. Since we wanted to be budget-friendly, we went to Five Below. This year, we may take each kid on a one-on-one date and continue the shopping tradition.
- Work on teacher gifts. The kids can personalize a card or help make the teacher gifts. Plus, they love to help wrap presents.
- Help wrap presents. My little helpers are always eager to wrap presents.
- Have a Grinch Day! Everyone wears their best green outfit or pajamas, make some green hot cocoa, and watch The Grinch! Or even better….
- See The Grinch in person. No doubt 2020 has been one for The Grinch, so why not see your favorite character at The Grinch’s Grotto in Old Orchard this year where you’ll be able to take photos with him?
- Make your own gift wrap. Get some potatoes, cut it in half, and make the shape of the stencil. Grab some butcher paper or craft paper. Lay the wrapping paper on the floor (tip: use masking tape to secure it), then stamp away. Here are other great ideas.
- Help send out Christmas cards. For the first time EVER, we took holiday photos (Thanks, 123 Cheese Photography!) so you bet we’ll be sending Christmas cards to our friends and family. The kids love helping out by drawing on the envelopes, putting stickers on the cards, and attaching the stamp.
- Have a Christmas movie marathon and eat popcorn. Some of our favorites include Elf and The Grinch. What are some of your favorite Christmas movies?
- Have a Home Alone marathon then see the Home Alone house in person.
- Watch new holiday movies. Gotta love Netflix and Hulu for this. We’re excited to watch Jingle Jangle, Christmas Chronicles 2 (Netflix) and Trolls Holiday (Hulu.)
- Go on a holiday scavenger hunt. My friends at Chicago Parent have this fun scavenger hunt that you can print.
- Game Night. The kids are finally into board games like chess and Battleship. I’ve heard great things about the Pie Face game too!
- Pick one gift to open on Christmas Eve. Or….
- Make a Christmas Eve Box. We did this last year and it was a blast! We’re always at a family party and to help keep the kids busy until it hits midnight, I thought having a Christmas Eve box would be fun. I added PJs, Christmas crafts, a holiday coloring book, holiday socks, and other goodies. (Target Dollar Spot and Dollar Tree FTWI)
- Dine in an igloo! Eating out will look a little bit different this year, why not eat in an igloo?
- Travel around the world. Our travel-lovin’ family will be travelling around the world from the comfort of our home while learning about different Christmas traditions from different countries. So excited about this!
- We LOVE Buddy the Elf so why not have an Elf-inspired breakfast or breakfast for dinner? Here are more ideas for a Buddy The Elf day.
- Walk in a life-size Candyland. The Lake in the Hills Village Hall has been transformed into Candyland with Lollipop Woods, Peppermint Forest, and Gumdrop Mountains. Along the way you’ll see a gingerbread house, Snowflake Lake, and more. End the day by playing Candyland with hot chocolate, of course! The Santa Land path will be lit up from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. daily throughout the month of December.
Light it up
- See one of the largest Christmas lights display In Wisconsin (and one of my favorites of all time!), A Country Christmas at Ingleside Hotel. At the end you can get out of the car and see trains too. (Psst. Make a stay out of it and enjoy their fun waterpark too!)
- See the free drive through lights at Mack Manor in Fox River Grove. Look for more holiday lights around your area. Another great free option? Phillips Park! Here are more fun options in the Aurora Area.
- Take a stroll through Lilacia Park in Lombard where it is all lit up. Free!
- Check out the new holiday lights drive through, Let it Shine, to hit the North Shore at Northbrook Court. Read all about it here.
- See the zoos in a different light. Brookfield Zoo, Cosley Zoo (free!), and Lincoln Park Zoo will be decorated with lights again this year. Make sure to make reservations!
- Head to downtown Naperville for Naper Lights, a free event with holiday displays and music.
- Head to The Forge Quarry in Lemont during the winter. They’ll have a light show (starting December 4th synchronized to holiday music. The light show will be displayed on the trees lining The Forge Quarry from 5-7 p.m. during winter hours. Stop by and cozy up next to fire pits while enjoying drinks and bites from The Foundry’s new winter menu.
- Go on a Winter Wonderland Walk at Willow Creek in South Barrington. FREE! make sure to sign up though!
- Be wowed as the theMart (formerly Merchandise Mart) gets lit up with Art on the Mart. Totally free!
- Enjoy the free show Lights on Rockville in Gilbert and walk through the lighted arches synchonized to music.
- Visit Randall Oaks Zoo during Winterfest. See the zoo decorated in lights and on certain days Santa will make an appearance. Reservations required.
- Imagine Christmas as it was back in the days. Explore the charming town of Long Grove and go on a horse-drawn wagon ride.
- Visit the Santa Suite. One of our favorite Chicago holiday events is going to the Santa Suite at Swissotel. The suite is festively decorated, there are crafts, the chance to write Santa a letter, and we can even take a picture with Santa.Read all about our visit here. This year will look a little different but you can still book a private session with Santa.
- Go to the Museum of Science and Industry and take a picture with your favorite tree. **UPDATE: With new COVID regulations, MSI will be closed. Happy to see that they will bring Christmas Around the World to homes and screen throughout the season.** This has become of my favorite family traditions. It’s already one of our favorite museums but becomes extra special during the holidays with all the festively decorated holiday trees from around the world.
- Go on a train ride. Ever since my sons could say choo choo, we’ve been going on a Santa train ride. One of our favorites, Happy Holiday Railway at the Illinois Railway Museum will become The Holiday Light Experience. Go on a streetcar to see the lights, then stroll the grounds. Santa will be waiting for you!
- Can’t see Santa in person? Chat with Santa virtually! These Virtual Visits with Santa looks like fun (and realistic!)
- See Santa in his hut. Santa visits Crystal Lake and you can take pictures with him — socially distanced of course.
- See Mrs. Claus. Not only does Jolly St. Nick make an appearance, but it’s always fun to see Mrs. Claus as well. In the past, we’ve had visits with Mrs. Claus. This year it will be done virtually.
- See a holiday show. In the past, we’ve seen the Nutcracker made specifically for kids. They have tons of holiday shows to put you in the holiday mood. Many of them have gone virtual!
- Search for the Christmas Pickle. Woodstock has a fun Pickle Scavenger Hunt. Plus, it’s a great way to explore one of our favorite downtown areas! Psst. They will have their Square all lighted up!
- Reindeers are coming to Wheaton. Search for the 40 evergreen reindeer throughout downtown. While you’re in the area check out Night of Lights, a light display in Adams Park. Read all about the holiday fun we had in Wheaton.
- Drive by and say hi to Santa. Stay in the comfort of your car as your drive by and see Santa at Yorkville’s Riverfront Park. Have your wishlists ready so his elves can read the list to him. (11/20 and 11/21)
- Enjoy an interactive light experience at the Kohl Children’s Museum.
- Donate a toy. Toys for Tots is a wonderful option for donations. Plus, it seems they have donation boxes everywhere! Psst. If you donate at Konrad’s Bakery (remember, they make amazing paczki), they will give you a free cookie.
- Pick out a gift from a Giving Tree. We love going to our church or library and picking out a mitten with an item on someone’s wish list.
- Donate your time. This year, I am making more of a conscious effort to give as it’s truly the reason for the season. I’m a part of this great Facebook group, Gratitude Generation, that hosts lots of events that kids can be a part of.
- Make homemade gifts. Making homemade gifts is fun and thoughtful. Here are some gifts that even kids can make!
- Got extra books lying around? Go around town and add books to people’s Little Library.
- Shower seniors with cards. It’s been especially tough for our seniors this year. Drop off your holiday cards and drawings at Woodstock City Hall’s East Side Dropbox.
- Make paper gift tags. All you’ll need is cardstock, string or ribbon, and a hole puncher. Dress it up with glitter or stickers. Some ideas include Christmas trees, circle ornaments. The ideas are endless – check out these Pinterest crafts.
- Make snowflakes. Make paper snowflakes the old-fashioned way or try these easy popsicle stick ones. I’m especially loving these coffee filter ones!
- Make paper ornaments. I got this ornament cutter at Dollar Tree and I’m dying to try it out! Here are a few other ideas for you!
- Make reindeer food. Sprinkle some outside on Christmas Eve so the reindeer know where to go. Here’s a recipe.
- Make a holiday gnome. These things are just so darn cute! And it looks pretty easy (and cheap!) to make.
- Paint a holiday picture. I’ve stocked up on canvases and can’t wait to paint, paint, paint. We’re in love with Kwik Stix Solid Tempura Paint). Paint in a stick. No mess at all. Easy to clean up. We love them.
- Make your own snow globe. My daughter is obsessed with snow globes, so I thought it would be fun to make our own snow globe this year. Grab some DIY snowglobes at Dollar Tree or these on Amazon.
- Make candy cane reindeer. In the past, we made these then gave them out during our holiday Christmas party.
- Make an ugly sweater. This year we’re doing an ugly sweater theme and I thought it would be fun to make our own ugly sweaters. For a budget-friendly option, check out Pinterest for inspiration, hit your local thrift store and dollar store, and start making!
- Go on a getaway. If you can swing it, try taking the family on a small getaway. In our Chicago winters, we love escaping to the waterpark. One of our favorite places is Great Wolf Lodge Gurnee. They truly get decked out for the holidays with their Snowland Celebration. Imagine a magical wonderland with twinkling lights, shimmering holiday trees, daily snow showers, and other cheerful decorations. And yes, they have extra safety precautions in place.
- See real reindeer. Take a roadtrip to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Central Illinois.
- Go on a sleigh ride or wagon ride.
- Celebrate Jesus’ birthday. It is Jesus’ birthday after all, so bake or buy a cake. Don’t forget the candle.
The Great Outdoors
- Go ice skating. Rent ice skates then take it to the ice rink. Starting early December, The Forge in Lemont will be offering a 3,600 square foot ice skating rink. Rentals available.
- Go sledding! During our summer and fall hikes, we found a few good sledding hills like Glacial Park, Ted Spella Park, and Three Oaks Recreations Area.
- If you can walk, you can surely snowshoe! We haven’t been before, but am looking forward to checking it out. One place you can snowshoe is at Lincoln Marsh.
- Make a Snowman – outside or in! You can either make a real one outside with snow, or make one inside with marshmallows or other crafty ideas.
- Bake Christmas cookies or treats for Santa. What is your favorite recipe that is easy to make with the kids? Or if you’re pressed for time, buy cookie dough in the refrigerated section and bake. Make it even easier and buy cookies. Done and done!
- Host your own Holiday quaran-tea. Tea parties at home are the best!
- Make snowman pancakes. Another new one for us! Totally lovin’ these!
- Make and decorate gingerbread houses (or make gingerbread ninja men!). I like getting gingerbread kits with 3 or more houses so each of my kids has a house to work on. Trust me, fighting to decorate a gingerbread house is not needed. If you’d like like to bake your own gingerbread men, you can’t go wrong with gingerbread ninja men. So fun!
- Make a gingerbread train. These looks like so much fun! (And easier than a house!)
- Make snow ice cream! We’ve never heard of this but I am intrigued. Grab a clean bowl, wait for snow to accumulate, then add condensed milk, add your fav topping and voila! (Grab the details here.) We’ll probably try making our own with our super adorable Snoopy snow cone machine.
- Make hot chocolate with all the fixins. Set up a hot chocolate station and include all the fixins: marshmallows, chocolates, and candy canes. I’ll also make sure to stock some Blue Bunny peppermint ice cream in the freezer. It’s a great alternative to peppermint candy canes and it cools the hot chocolate. So good! It’s also gives us an excuse to use these super adorable Elf narwhal cups. Or get hot chocolate bombs!
I hope this gives you a few ideas to fill your advent calendar with. Curious to see what we’ll be doing? Every day I’ll be highlighting our activities on Facebook and Instagram so make sure to follow along!
Who knows? I may have a few giveaways up my sleeve, so don’t miss out!