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The Ultimate December Bucket List: Festive Ideas for Families

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Get ready for a month of merry-making, cozy togetherness, and winter adventures!

At this festive time of year, there’s an abundance of fun and meaningful ways to spend time with loved ones and get into the holiday spirit.

Here’s a December bucket list filled with ideas to plan your holiday season and get inspiration for new Christmas traditions!


Get Cozy and Festive at Home

Create a fun Christmas countdown for your kid.

The best way to get your kids excited is with a Christmas countdown!

Start December 1st and go through December 24th. There are lots of ways to connect as a family while counting down to Christmas.

Celebrate the 12 days of Christmas with your kiddo.

If you’re not up for a month-long countdown, doing activities for 12 days is also a great option! Many of the 24-day countdown activities can be easily adapted to fit a shorter timeframe.

Create antics and anticipation with Elf on the Shelf.

We have never done Elf on the Shelf simply because I know my limitations, and making elf magic all December long is one of them. However, I know families who have a blast with this tradition.


Work on a winter- or Christmas-themed puzzle throughout the month.

Set up a card table in a corner or, if you’re crunched for space, get a roll-up puzzle mat.

Then choose a fun puzzle to put together a little at a time throughout the month. Let younger kids put together the outside edges or other easier sections.

Also consider a puzzle with larger pieces to make it fun for family members both young and old.

Start an ornament tradition.

This is a great way to patronize a local business.

Take your child to pick out a new ornament each year. Add a note to the ornament with the child’s name (if you have more than one kiddo) and the year.

By the time they’re grown, they’ll have a starter set of ornaments to use on their own Christmas tree.


Give each child a Christmas mailbox ornament for the tree.

With stockings and gifts, you wouldn’t think a simple mailbox ornament would be very exciting, but trust me, your kids will love this tradition.

It was one of my favorites growing up and my kids adore it, too. My boys love checking their mailboxes on Christmas morning to see what Santa has left (usually a little candy).

We have canvas mailboxes my grandma and mom made – here are similar ones I found on Etsy.

Make simple salt dough ornaments.

Here’s an easy recipe and instructions.

To keep the fun going, read the picture book Tough Cookie alongside this activity (I won’t reveal why it’s so fitting, though you might be able to guess 😊).

Make Christmas crafts.

Be frugal and kind to the earth by doing Christmas crafts that start with natural materials. Here’s a round-up of ideas.


Make holiday playdough.

Playdough is always fun, and even more so when it smells like Christmas! Here are recipes for four different scented doughs.

You can make it for your own child or in a large batch to give as gifts.

Make paper snowflakes.

They double as décor that can stay up all winter long.

Decorate gingerbread houses.

With how busy December gets, we now save this activity for Christmas Day.

We give each kid their own gingerbread house to decorate with assistance from an adult (right now this means we do this with my two big kids while our toddler naps).

It’s a wonderful screen-free, non-competitive way to spend time together on Christmas Day.

Put a wreath on your front door.

I have a seasonal wreath on my front door all year long.

I love walking up the front steps and being greeted by a touch of simple beauty (and it helps me deal with the ill-parked Cozy Coupe and assortment of balls scattered about the yard).


If you’re feeling creative, take on a DIY wreath. If that sounds like too much work [raises hand], pick up one of the many beautiful ready-made options.

Put up Christmas lights.

Go all out if it brings you joy.

If it sounds like too much work [raises hand again], I’ve found that even a single strand of colored bulbs around our front window brings us a lot of holiday joy. 

Put up indoor Christmas decorations.

It’s so much fun to see my kids’ excitement as they dive into the Christmas and Hanukkah bins and rediscover all their favorite decorations.

I love how festive our house feels in December!

To keep it manageable and meaningful, we limit decorations to the main floor where we spend the bulk of our time as a family.

Hang up some mistletoe.

Make a garland.

I love this round-up of DIY options.

Print out some holiday activity sheets for your kiddo.

Whether it’s coloring pages, coded messages, or word searches, fan the flames of your child’s holiday excitement with themed activity pages.

Sort and donate old toys.

Make room for new gifts and give your home some breathing space by getting rid of toys your children have outgrown.


Snap a family photo in front of the Christmas tree.

Let your kids have a sleepover by the Christmas tree.

Read holiday-themed picture books.

If I had to choose just one or two activities for my December bucket list, reading Christmas picture books would be one of them.

I adore picture books year-round, but even more so when the weather turns cold. Cozy snuggling on the couch with a good holiday story (and maybe a hot drink) is pure bliss.

Here are some of our favorites.

–> Have a kiddo who loves construction and vehicles? Check out these 8 books for truck lovers.

–> Tired of books that focus on Santa and/or gifts? Here are 8 books that celebrate the spirit of the season without commercialism.

Create an ADULT Christmas countdown.

Who says only your kiddo gets an advent calendar?!?

Options for adults include fun themes like wine, beer, tea, coffee, cheese, fancy chocolate…pick your pleasure and enjoy a grown-up version of a favorite childhood tradition.

Listen to Christmas music.

I mean, this is a given, right? There’s no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than through music.

I love Pandora for different options.

  • “Kids’ Christmas” for, you know, doing Christmas stuff with kids
  • “She & Him (Holiday)” for nice background music when chatting with a friend, baking, or wrapping presents
  • “Christmas Choral Classics” for beautiful hymns and classical pieces
  • “Peaceful Holidays” for relaxing, instrumental music that will bring your stress level down a few notches. 

Have a Christmas music dance party.

Watch Christmas movies.

Family movie nights featuring holiday classics are a fun, low-key way to enjoy the season. Get some ideas here.

When applicable, it’s fun when you can both read the book and watch the movie (e.g. The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

Celebrate the winter solstice on December 21st.

We love marking the shortest day of the year. Here are nine easy ideas to try out with your kiddos.

Write letters to Santa Claus.

Sit down with some hot chocolate, turn on the Christmas music, and get going on your North Pole correspondence.

Your kiddo will get a kick out of seeing you write your own letter to Santa as they write theirs.


Have a festive date night at home.

Drink something festive and watch a classic Christmas movie with your partner, like Love Actually or It’s a Wonderful Life.

Make your house smell heavenly with a Christmas simmer pot.

Send out holiday cards.

But only if you enjoy doing it! Don’t guilt yourself into things you “should” do if you don’t have the time or energy (can you tell I’m feeling guilty about this??).

Write holiday letters.

Reconnect with old friends by sending a good old-fashioned letter.

Enjoy some mulled wine.

I lived in Geneva for a couple years and one of my very favorite Swiss Christmas time traditions wasvin chaud. Not sure which I loved more, the heavenly aroma or the warm flavor.

Drink some eggnog.


Make hot chocolate.

Use candy canes as stirring sticks.

Sip your hot chocolate in front of the fireplace with Christmas music playing in the background for a lovely hygge moment.

Bake Christmas cookies.

Holiday baking can be such a fun bonding activity. Introduce your kiddos to your family’s favorite recipes and pick out some new ones to try, too.

Roast chestnuts over an open fire.

Use this handy roaster to make the song come to life and enjoy a classic holiday treat.

Make some trail mix or a snackle box.

Make up a batch of holiday-themed trail mix or put together a Christmas snackle box.

Perfect for a Christmas movie night.

Have a white elephant or secret Santa exchange with friends.

Invite friends over for tea and Christmas cookies.

Host a gathering with wine and a Christmas charcuterie board.

I love this one in the shape of a wreath!

Have your kids make Christmas art for the front door.

Two years ago, Evan made this giant creation and we hung it on the front door. I loved seeing passersby point and smile as they walked by.

Give your kids experience gifts.

Providing joy that lasts far longer than the novelty of a new toy, experiences make the perfect gifts. Here’s a list of great ideas.

Give one gift to your whole family.

Last year I started the tradition of giving a gift to our family that will promote togetherness and bonding in the year to come.

I chose a popcorn popper that lets you watch as the popcorn spins around, heats up, and begins popping.

We had a similar one when I was a kid and I distinctly remember how excited I was as I waited for the action to start.

My kids, to my delight, have reacted the same way. Our movie nights kick off with everyone crowding around the counter to watch the popcorn pop. It’s a cheap, fun-filled tradition.


Other family gift ideas: a globe to learn about other countries together; a new board game for family game night (below are a few of our favorites!); or camping equipment for new adventures.

Start a tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve.

Track Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve.

This tracker lets you watch him travel around the world!

Leave cookies for Santa.

Putting out a few carrots for the reindeer is also fun for kids.

Plan a special Christmas Day breakfast.

Our favorite is cinnamon rolls in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Learn about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.

Teach your kids about the other December holidays that people celebrate.

Get Outside

When the snow flies, try out a fun winter activity!

Build a snowman, snowwoman, or a whole snow family.

Bonus points if you play “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” as you all get bundled up to go outside.

Take the whole family ice skating.

Go cross-country or downhill skiing.

Try out snow shoeing.

Make a snow fort.

I just learned that snow brick makers are a thing! This would make an excellent Christmas gift.

There’s a photo in the reviews that shows a pretty impressive creation. I’m excited to give it a try with my boys this winter.

Take a winter walk. 

With the right gear, walking outside in the winter, your breath coming out in little clouds and your feet crunching through snow, can be almost magical.

Mike and I both made the revolutionary discovery a couple years ago that it’s possible for boots to both keep your feet warm AND be super comfortable to walk in.

I bought these Bogs boots a couple years ago and haven’t had cold feet since. I can easily walk a few miles in them. Mike, meanwhile, has become an evangelist for his Oboz boots

The only regret we have is suffering through so many winters without decent boots!

Have a snowball fight.

I really shouldn’t suck so badly at making snowballs, having lived in Minnesota just about my whole life, but I do.

These are a fabulous tool if you also are snowball-challenged (or just want to take your snowball fights to the next level!).

Go sledding.

Make snow angels.

Play in the snow.

If you’re looking for unique ideas, here’s a list of creative snow play possibilities.

Hang a bird feeder.

We have a couple of these birdfeeders, one on the dining room window and one on the kitchen window.

The excitement of seeing a bird *this close* never wears off, and it’s so rewarding to ignite the kids’ love of the natural world.

We’ve seen a lot of chickadees thus far, but other birds are starting to come around, too.

My kids use this bird identification book by Stan Tekiela to identify our visitors. It’s arranged by bird color, making it super kid-friendly to use.

This author has written a lot of bird books, so I think there are ones specific to a bunch of other states, too.

You can also feed the birds with garlands that double as décor!

String popcorn and cranberries to adorn your outdoor space and the birds will have a heyday. Here’s a good tutorial.

Enjoy a Christmas-Themed Outing

Attend a tree-lighting ceremony.

Visit a Christmas market.

Pay a visit to Santa.

Visit a Christmas tree farm.

Go Christmas caroling.

I’d feel strange knocking on neighbors’ doors and bursting into song, but if you live in a place where people still go caroling, it’s a wonderful tradition to start.

Otherwise, see if you can find a local Christmas singalong.

Or sing Christmas songs at home! I just bought this book for our collection because I know my lyric-obsessed six-year-old will love it.

Go to a Christmas festival or parade.

See a performance of The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or another Christmas play.

Attend a Christmas concert.

You can spring for tickets to a high-profile performer, but there are also tons of cheap or free concert options.

Check local malls, community centers, and churches for their event listings.

Go to a Christmas lights display or show.

Take a drive to look at Christmas lights around your neighborhood.

For some extra fun, add a Christmas light scavenger hunt or bingo game.

Take note of the addresses of your favorite displays and send thank you postcards.

Host or attend an ugly Christmas sweater party.

Let guests vote for ugliest sweater and have a ribbon ready for the winner.

Go on a holiday-themed date with your partner.

Spend some quality time as a couple while enjoying holiday festivities.

Attend a solstice celebration.

Attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Carry Out Acts of Kindness

Here are some ideas to embrace the giving spirit of the Christmas season.

Send Christmas cards to people in need.

Send cards to children, armed service members, the elderly, or others in need.

Deliver holiday treats to neighbors and friends.

Give holiday treats to unexpecting recipients.

The Target employee who delivers your drive-up order to your car, the school crossing guard, a coffee barista you see a few times a week — spread holiday cheer to the people who touch your life in small but meaningful ways, especially those who often go unappreciated. 

Contribute to a toy drive.

Find a local toy drive and have your child help you shop for a gift to contribute.

Buy reusable gift wrap or make your own using recyclable materials.

Did you know most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable?

When I learned that last year, I made a commitment to finding alternative options for wrapping presents.

I’m trying out these reusable bags for some of our gifts this year.

I’m also planning to use recyclable wrapping paper while building up our stash of reusable wrap over time (I love this bundle on Etsy).   

Leave a container of goodies for delivery drivers and mail carriers on your front step.

Fill your container with chips, trail mix, and candy, along with some drinks like bottled water or Gatorade.

Add a thank you message for your drivers.

Make sure your container has a tight-fitting lid to protect against squirrels.

We tried out a small storage bin with a lid that snaps on, and those smart little stinkers figured out how to pull it off. Now we’re using a cooler.

Volunteer at a nonprofit.

Check your community listings for opportunities to help with charitable organizations’ holiday programs.

Doing Good Together is one of my favorite resources for the Twin Cities, and they operate in a number of other large cities as well. 

Contribute to a jacket/mitten drive.

Donate to a food bank.

Adopt a family for Christmas.

Decorate a tree in a park with candy canes or ornaments.

A couple years ago, my kids and I were delighted to come across this tree on a walk (it only a few candy canes at that particular moment, but the supply had been restocked by the next time I passed by).

Shop for presents at local businesses.

Have a gift exchange consisting only of homemade or used items.

New Year’s Eve at Home with Kiddos

Write down and burn the things from 2022 you want to put behind you.

More details here!

Turn your Christmas tree into a New Year’s Eve tree.

Take off the ornaments and replace them with wishes for the new year. Then exchange the star or angel at the top for a party hat. More details here!

Make a simple dinner dinner over the fireplace.

Roast hot dogs or use campfire pie irons to make pizzas, then make s’mores for dessert.

Have a picnic on the living room floor.

Make kid-friendly mocktails.

Stream a New Year’s Eve countdown through Netflix or YouTube.

These allow you to count down to midnight at whatever time you choose – way better than starting 2023 with cranky kids who stayed up too late!

Enjoy Your December!

Whatever ways you decide to celebrate, I hope this December bucket list gives you lots of ideas.

Wishing you and your loved ones many memorable and merry moments this holiday season. Happy All the Days!

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