It’s Decembeeeeerrrrrr! It’s now acceptable to do all those Christmas and Advent activities you might have been thinking about for weeks (months? Just me?). Actually, in 2020 it’s been acceptable to get as Christmassy as you like for weeks now already, but as December is here it’s now officially acceptable.
I’ve already put my tree up and decorated the house. It’s the earliest I’ve ever done it and it feels good. Not just because this year has been a complete crap-fest and we all need cheered up, but also because I’m genuinely excited at having more of December free to do All The Christmassy Things.
Of course this year my list of December activities is a little different from usual. With the ever-changing COVID restrictions in the UK, I booked a few outdoor Christmas events this year, but I’ve already had emails to say all but one of them are cancelled. Disappointing, but better safe than sorry.
So in the spirit of keeping your life delightfully simple (and in the spirit of staying home, 2020-style) this list focuses on low-key, lovely little things you can easily do and make at home. (And if, like me, you’re not a natural-born crafter, don’t worry – you’ll need zero artistic ability.)
So without further ado, here’s your complete list of all the stuff you might want to do to Christmas up your life and make the most of the holiday season. These are the perfect weekend activities and most of them can be done from home.
1. Make a list of Christmas activities as a family
I’m all about the anticipation, and I like advent and the build-up to Christmas just as much as the day itself. I like to get the kids just as excited as me by getting them involved and making a family list together of all the things we want to do throughout December. If my 9-year-old were in charge of the list, it would simply read “Watch Home Alone. Again” but after a bit of brainstorming we came up with activities everyone was happy with.
2. Use a terrarium to make a Christmas scene
As I said, I’m not naturally very crafty, so whenever we make any Christmas decorations, it’s usually using a kit or closely following some instructions. However, my one attempt at making something original turned out to be an unexpected triumph and my kids absolutely love it. It’s also really simple to do! I bought this mirror-backed terrarium (I think it was a candle-holder) and filled it with battery lights, fake snow, and Christmas cake decorations. Hey presto – a magical Christmas scene. My 4-year-old sits and looks into it for ages, making up stories about the Christmas world of Snowman and Snowdog. Meanwhile, the old-fashioned lamp-post makes me think of Narnia.
3. Make some bird feeders
We have a lot of birds that visit our garden, but that never used to be the case. We’ve been putting food out consistently for the past couple of years, and now we have a whole host of regular visitors, including two robins in the colder months. At this time of year, it’s nice to give them some high-energy food, and fruit- or fat-based bird feeders are really easy to make. Try these bird feeder ideas from Cbeebies.
4. Get out to see the neighbourhood Christmas lights
Decorating the outside of your house never used to be a thing in Scotland, but over the past few years more and more people have started putting Christmas lights up outside. This year, however, it has really taken off! It’s like Deck The Halls out there! 2020 has a lot to answer for, but for me this is one of the positive changes. Wrap up warm and take a walk to see who’s gone to town with their outdoor decorating. Or take a drive to see some lights further afield.
5. Decorate mini trees
I’ve slightly gone crazy with the Christmas trees this year and have a total of 5 in the house. That sounds excessive (said my husband, lol) but 4 of them are really small. And come on, we need all the Christmas cheer we can get. The little ones include 2 in the kids’ bedrooms and this tiny one in the kitchen. It’s an artificial one from IKEA, but I’ve had miniature real ones before – and you can plant those outside in a pot after Christmas! You just need some miniature lights and decorations and you can dress up any room for Christmas. Alternatively, bring in some greenery from outside. Go searching for holly or any evergreen branches from your garden.
6. Do some Christmas baking
This one goes without saying. I love to get baking as a Christmas activity (although I don’t like traditional Christmas cake or mince pies. Sorry, traditionalists.) This year I’m planning to make Christmas tree cookies, Christmas cake pops, melting snowmen biscuits, and probably snickerdoodles (youngest child is a major cinnamon fan).
8. Create your own advent countdown
Love me an advent calendar. I have a particular weakness for these traditional German paper ones, covered in old-fashioned wintery scenes, embellished with glitter, and with paper backing behind the little doors so that light shines through and lights up the pictures. We make an annual trip to a local garden centre to buy them every year. I also can’t go through December without an advent candle. The ritual of lighting it each evening (and trying to remember not to let it burn too far, which always happens at least once) is one of my favourite traditions. But you can make an advent calendar from anything. A jar with 24 slips of paper on which you write festive activities or quotes. A chalkboard countdown that you cross off each night. Or go all out and buy a fancy one full of little treats.
9. Decorate a gingerbread house
This is good, messy fun for the kids. The easiest way is to buy a kit full of the pieces and let them get to work. You might need to add a few more of your own decorations. To be honest, all the ones we’ve tried have ended up looking like a hilarious house of horrors, but the children have had great fun doing it.
10. Make Christmas cards
This one can be as easy or complicated as you like. I like to keep things simple, so I’ve bought some little kits full of cards and various embellishments. Perfect for a cold afternoon.
11. Read some Christmas books
Your family might already have a list of favourite Christmas books, but if you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of my favourites. I’d recommend Christmas in Exeter Street and The Jolly Christmas Postman for young children, and The Box of Delights for older children. I am also a huge fan of The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater for adults. Part journal, part recipe book, it’s an ode to winter and is hugely relaxing reading that will take you from November to February.
12. Go Christmas shopping at a small business
This is a good idea in any given year, but is basically our civic duty in 2020. Small businesses have suffered more than most this year, and it’s up to all of us to shop local and support our small businesses. Whether you go out or shop online, try doing some Christmas shopping at a small business local to you.
13. Make a popcorn garland
This can actually be two activities in one, because you can make one decorated garland for the tree, and you can make another one to hang outside for the birds. Pop some corn kernels and thread them with a large needle onto thick thread. Use a little glue and glitter to make a sparkly one for the tree. (Don’t use too much glue as it dissolves the popcorn!). Make another one with some raisins or dried cranberries on and hang outside for the birds.
14. Make paper snowflakes
Simple and timeless fun. Paper, pencil, scissors, snow! Decorate your windows with a flurry of pretty paper snowflakes. You can, of course, go freestyle with these, but if you don’t know where to start, try a template. Loads are available with a quick Google image search.
15. Make real hot chocolate
We all love a hot chocolate, but once in a while it’s nice to indulge in a rich, thick, creamy actually-made-of-proper-chocolate hot chocolate. You can use your favourite chocolate for this, milk or dark, and you’ll need some milk and cream. Try this hot chocolate recipe from BBC Good Food.
16. Donate some toys before Santa comes
I’ve made this a tradition for the last couple of years. It feels good to have a clear-out and donate some outgrown toys to charity. If you have an elf-on-the-shelf, it’s an easy idea for your elf to do too. The elf can just leave a note and some bags for the kids to fill with toys to donate.
17. Make some Christmas ornaments
There’s nothing kids love more than making their own ornaments for the tree. Whether you want to make salt dough shapes, Christmas angels, or millions of other options, there are ideas for whatever supplies you have in the house. I’ve bought some bauble-painting kits and some Christmas pudding pom-pom kits to keep things stress-free.
18. Have a carpet picnic in front of a Christmas movie
This is another tradition we’ve settled on over recent years. We usually save it for Christmas Eve, so the kids can chill out in front of a movie while the parents open a bottle of fizz and feel all festive. Tablecloth on the floor, Christmas movie, easy food like pizza and party nibbles – boom: everyone relaxed and happy.
19. Make Christmas gift tags
If I’m being honest, I mainly love this because it’s the kind of activity we used to do in primary school back in the 80s. However, it’s a classic for a reason and kids still love it. Get some old Christmas cards (ideal if you always find a pile when you open up your decoration boxes) and cut out the pictures from the front in gift-tag sizes. (To go properly 80s you’ll need a pair of pinking shears for zigzag edges.) Make a hole with a hole-punch, thread through some ribbon and you’ve got yourself some gift tags. My kids also like to go freestyle with coloured card and Christmas stickers, so you don’t need to have old cards to hand.
20. Have a candlelit family dinner listening to Christmas music
We try to do this at weekends in December. Kids generally love candlelight. Actually, they might complain about it being dark at first, but perhaps it’s the sense of occasion they love. Stick on some Christmas music (you can even get them to make a playlist beforehand) and enjoy your festive together-time.
21. Make your own Christmas crackers
I used to work in an office in London full of colleagues from the US. There were all the usual cultural differences where you discover what is and isn’t normal in each other’s countries. But one that has always stuck with me was the revelation that most Americans had never heard of a Christmas cracker! A complete standard of British Christmas, I couldn’t imagine Christmas dinner without a table full of crackers. Anyway, hands up – I haven’t made them before, but I’d like to give it a try this year. I’ve seen kits on Etsy that look easy – how hard can it be?
22. Make orange pomanders
This is a real favourite of mine. Although my children inexplicably hate oranges, so it’s usually left to me alone. Suits me. Fill your house with festive fragrance by studding oranges with cloves. Use fancy patterns and even add a ribbon if you’re feeling really fancy. One of the simplest but most enjoyable Christmas activities.
23. Have a Christmas cookie decorating contest
This is another Christmas Eve tradition in our house. Doesn’t matter if it’s cookies you’ve made or bought, get some red and white icing, silver balls and other decorations and go to town. We usually try to make Father Christmas faces out of our cookies, for no specific reason. There are also no prizes apart from eating the entries!
24. Get Christmas colouring
When it’s cold and dark out there, gather round the kitchen table and crack out the Christmas colouring. There are loads of books available, plus hundreds of printables online to suit all ages. A bit of classic Christmas radio goes well with this.
25. Watch some classic Christmas shows
You could basically spend all of December watching the overwhelming volume of Christmas movies out there. But step away from Netflix for a minute and indulge in some classic Christmas nostalgia. I have childhood memories of watching the BBC’s adaptation of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights at Christmas, so I like to watch this each year, and have introduced it to my kids as well. It’s available on DVD and on Youtube if you’re interested. But take your own little nostalgia trip: what will you be watching?