Count down to the holidays with these holiday activities with the family. Find ideas for crafts, events in Chicagoland, and more.

‘Tis the season for festive joy! As parents, this time of the year holds a special place in our hearts, as we immerse ourselves in the magic of Christmas with our loved ones. If you’ve been following along, you know that our family eagerly anticipates the holiday season, and one of our cherished traditions is counting down to Christmas with an advent calendar – a delightful DIY version that has added an extra layer of joy to our celebrations. Check out this DIY version here and here.)

Over the course of 24 days, we engage in a variety of different activities, each day bringing a new adventure that the kids eagerly look forward to and builds up the excitement for Christmas Day. Not only do we immerse ourselves in these activities, but we also make it a point to read a holiday-themed book each day, creating beautiful memories and fostering a love for festive tales ((Read all about it here.) If you’re looking for inspiration to fill your calendar with delightful activities, we’ve got you covered with over 50 advent ideas to keep your family joyfully occupied throughout the holiday season. The only challenge you’ll face is deciding which festive activity to embrace each day!

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READ MORE: Here are tips to help with your activity advent calendar.

 

Looking to fill your Advent calendar with activities. I've listed more than 50 advent activities to fill your calendar. From ice skating and making snowman to making a hot chocolate bar or enjoying the dazzling lights, here are Advent activities from you to pick from.

Our activity advent calendar last year

 

COUNT DOWN TO Christmas 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.
  • 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.
  • See a musical. Watch The Snow Queen come to life at the Marriott Theatre.
  • 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. The past few years 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.
  • Make 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!
  • 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. Send 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. For an added treat, go see the Home Alone house in person!
  • Watch new holiday movies. Gotta love all the streaming apps! We’re excited to watch Santa Clauses (Disney+) and A Christmas Story (hbomax).
  • Go on a holiday scavenger hunt. My friends at Chicago Parent have this fun scavenger hunt that you can print.
  • Game Night. Time to bust out your favorite board games. A few years ago we picked up an Elf board game so we play and watch Elf too.
  • 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?
  • 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)
  • Go on a sleigh ride or wagon ride.
  • Go to a parade. Cary’s Merry Cary Parade in downtown Cary rings in the season with a Mrs. Claus Storytime, sleigh rides, hot cocoa, and more!
  • Dine in a restaurant all decked out for the holidays. Kelsey Road House, Windhill Pancake Parlor, Chessie’s, Elgin Public House are great examples!

LIGHT IT UP

 

Count down to the holidays with these holiday activities with the family. Find ideas for crafts, events in Chicagoland, and more.

Holiday lights at Let It Shine at Northbrook Court

 

  • 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 in Aurora.
  • Take a stroll through Lilacia Park in Lombard where it is all lit up. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in December visit with Santa. Free! Tip: While here, visit the Hughes Digital Christmas not too far away.
  • Check out the holiday lights drive throughLet it Shine, to hit the North Shore at Northbrook Court or Schaumburg. 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.
  • Head to downtown Naperville for Naper Lights, a free event with holiday displays and music.
  • Head to Chicago Botanic Gardens for one of the most amazing walk-through light shows, Lightscape.
  • Enjoy the free show Lights on Rockville in Gilbert and walk through the lighted arches synchronized to music.
  • While in Wheaton check out Night of Lights, a light display in Adams Park. Read all about the holiday fun we had in Wheaton.
  • Drive through Santa’s Village during Magical Christmas. At the end get out to look at all the cool photo ops, see Santa, and go down the tube slide. Starts November 24 and runs mostly Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday. Check calendar for more dates.
  • Walk around Central Park in Oak Brook to experience Winter Lights, a half-mile walk through the park among thousands of lights. (November 23 – January 7 from 4:30-9:30 p.m. )

EVENTS

A wonderful experience visiting Santa at Swissotel's Santa Suite in Chicago.

  • Visit Randall Oaks Zoo during Winterfest. See the zoo decorated in lights and on certain days Santa will make an appearance. Sing to the animals every Saturday.
  • 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. If you’re looking for something different, you can experience a Santa breakfast instead and a visit to the Santa Suite.
  • Go to the Museum of Science and Industry and take a picture with your favorite tree. 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! The CTA Holiday Train is also back this year.
  • See Santa in his hut. Santa visits Crystal Lake and Woodstock.
  • 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 the Square all lit up!

GIVE BACK

  • Donate a toy. Toys for Tots is a wonderful option for donations. Plus, donation boxes everywhere!
  • Help pack food for children and their family at Feed My Starving Children in Schaumburg. We recently volunteered here and had such a fun time! A new tradition for sure!
  • Give your coats a second life. The Cary Area Library is hosting a coat drive.
  • 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.
  • Be Santa. Well, almost. You can deliver gifts for Christmas Clearinghouse and don your Santa hat as you deliver their gifts. We’ve done this for the past two years and we love helping out!

GET CRAFTY

  • 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. My daughter and I are obsessed with gnomes and making them are just as fun and easy! These things are just so darn cute!
  • 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!

HOLIDAY ADVENTURES

 

Count down to the holidays with these holiday activities with the family. Find ideas for crafts, events in Chicagoland, and more.

Great Wolf Lodge all decked out for the holidays

 

  • Get away!  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.
  • Book a city staycation at  Loews Chicago Hotel or Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel. Take a ride on Loews Holiday Express, an airport shuttle all decked out or a Holiday House car shuttling to your destination.  Loews Chicago Hotel will offer guests a GingerBed + Breakfast package, that include a variety of holiday amenities including a delicious breakfast at ETA where little ones can trade in their crayons for icing and enjoy decorating Gingerbread cookies while they wait for their food. At both hotels, they also have an elf scavenger hunt.
  • Another great staycation idea – A Country Christmas at Ingleside Hotel. Waterpark fun, drive through lights, holiday activities make this one of our favorites!
  • See real reindeer. Take a roadtrip to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Central Illinois.
  • Eat, drink, and shop at Christkindlmarket. We visited the new Aurora location and we really liked it. Here are tips to enjoy your visit to the Aurora location.
  • Explore the charming town of Woodstock. Cobblestone streets, twinkling lights, and fun holiday activities always bring us back here. 
  • Save Santa! The Volo Museum has a new holiday adventure, the Time Warp Express, that involves Santa, cookies and cocoa, a ride on the trolley, lights, and saving Santa. Read all about it here.

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 ParkTed Spella Park, and Three Oaks Recreation 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.
  • Bundle up and go on a hike! Better yet, make plans for a Luminaria Hike. The Crystal Lake Park District has one from November 29th – December 2nd. On December 2nd, they go all out with carolers, Hot Cocoa and Candy Cane Forest, and more. We’ve done this in the past and it was fun (but busy). We’re going to try to visit on a less crowded day for a more quieter experience.

FOODIE FUN

  • 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!
  • Make snowman pancakes. Another new one for us! Totally lovin’ these! For another fun idea, make mini holiday waffles. Can someone say waffle board?
  • 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! I’m thinking this year is to try pop tart houses instead.
  • 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 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! This year we tried a hot cocoa charcuterie board.
  • Grab a frozen treat – holiday style! Many ice cream and custard shops have special holiday flavors. Go to The Milk House Ice Cream in Pingree Grove where their building is decorated like a gingerbread house. Try their holiday-flavored ice cream like peppermint! Or go to Van’s Burgers and Custard where they will have special holiday flavors and Santa on some days. (FYI, their burgers are so good!)  Premo’s Ice Cream unveiled a few holiday treats like a Grinch Cones and Holiday Shakes. Rusty Malt’s always has fun holiday shakes too.
  • Dine in an igloo! There are still a few places that have igloos. Those are always fun!
  • Love the Christkindlmarket? Have you own mini Christkindlmarket! I have a collection of the mugs and plan on filling it with hot chocolate and mulled wine (grab it at Aldi!!) While you’re at Aldi, grab some German treats. Easy peasy!

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!

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