5 fun, tried-and-true things you should absolutely do with your kids this holiday season

We’re even ranking each activity out of 10 possible points: Grab a pen and take some notes!

My daughter with the felt tree. (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

As an adult, by my late 20s, I started to feel a little bit “meh” about Christmas. Sure, it was a nice time of year, and I enjoyed seeing my family when I could, but I didn’t really understand the appeal of decorating, baking or most holiday-themed events.

All of that changed, however, once I got into my 30s and had kids.

To see Christmas through a child’s eyes, you can’t help but catch some of the holiday spirit. It might sound cliche, but there’s something truly so magical about it: The build-up to the big day, writing a letter to Santa, the way their eyes light up on Christmas morning, and hearing their pitter-patter footsteps bright and early, sprinting down to the tree.

Needless to say, I’m now a parent (which you’ve obviously gathered by now), and I’m all in on the holidays. My daughter just turned 6, and my son will be 4 in a few weeks, so we’re in the perfect age range to get amped up about Christmas. I thought I’d rank some of my favorite holiday activities, for any other parents, caregivers or Christmas enthusiasts out there.

Just a quick note: I’ve included some Amazon links, just to be helpful, but Graham Media Group may collect a small share of sales from the links provided on this page.

I recommend ...

1. Frosting a big batch of cookies with your kids.

This year, we did our cookie decorating with friends -- and it got WILD.

So, be sure to put down a disposable (and festive!) tablecloth; I believe we snagged ours at Party City or Target for about $1, and it’ll make cleanup much easier.

That said, it was really fun! If your kids are young, and anything like my children, they’ll rip through this activity in no time, making ugly cookies you’d NEVER want to consume, piled high with about an inch of thick, gooey frosting. 🤢 (Maybe you’re into that sort of thing. I am not).

This year, I made one of those sugar cookie mixes -- the kind where you just add some butter and an egg. The cookies came together quickly and got rave reviews from the kids, although I didn’t try one. I bought two kinds of frosting from Target, along with this assortment of sprinkles.

Last year, we used this kit to make ugly-sweater themed cookies.

Our ugly-sweater cookies! (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

I recommend both options! Although, after some doing digging on Amazon, I stumbled upon this cookie activity, and I have to say: This is most certainly what we’ll be doing next year! I love the idea of no muss, no fuss. And yes, that marker “ink” is edible, according to the listing!

The verdict? 6/10 in my book. The kids would probably rank it higher, but I’m still grossed out by their cookie creations. Am I a Grinch? Don’t answer that. 😉

2. Decorating a ‘gingerbread house’

I put “gingerbread house” in quotes because this year, we didn’t make a real, edible house.

I have a theory that no one *actually* likes gingerbread. Any thoughts on this, readers? OK, if you DO enjoy gingerbread, I’m going to need to hear about this in the comments. Scroll to the bottom and weigh in, would you?

Considering I clearly don’t mess with gingerbread, and my kids love arts and crafts, I decided to buy this cardboard kind off Amazon.

Be sure to read the dimensions on this thing. It’s huge! I envisioned it sitting on our dining room table, you know, like a dessert gingerbread house, and thought the kids and I would have a blast coloring it in an hour or so. The joke was on me, apparently. Look at this thing! We’re not quite done with it; we’ve been working on the house the past few evenings, so it’s a bit more of an undertaking than I first imagined. But I’m really excited to finish and set it all up! (Is this more fun for me than it is for my kids? Hmm. It’s very possible!)

The verdict? 7/10 in my book, and I’m mostly docking it a few points because it’s just so massive, lol.

My son is a tall 3-year-old, for reference. (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

3. Making these handprint ornaments

I saw these last year and thought we just HAD to do them! Maybe I was more of a crafty, pandemic mom in 2020, I’m not sure. 🙂 But I made the dough from scratch, and it was super easy -- there are only a few ingredients involved, and you likely have everything you need in your kitchen already. We’re talking all-purpose flour, salt and warm water.

The only thing you might have to buy is a clear glaze, to coat them once they’re done, along with some paint, for decorating.

By the way, just a tip: I used that aerosol spray outside, like it says to on the bottle, but I also proceeded to let our ornaments air-dry on the back porch on a cookie sheet, which is the surface I sprayed them on. I’m not sure if it’s because I waited too long (a week, probably), but I totally ruined the h--- out of that cookie sheet. It was so sticky and hard; I couldn’t see myself baking on it again. Don’t be like me!

The verdict? 5/10, but I still say you should make these! There was obviously some user-error on my part, but be sure to roll your dough out THIN. Your ornaments will puff up in the oven.

Definitely bake them at the lowest possible temperature -- and let your ornaments air dry for a day before popping them in the oven at all, is what the site recommends. Ours cracked a bit, but that was mostly covered by the paint.

These made for cute grandparent gifts!

4. Doing some holiday baking

We’ve made the following recipes over the past few years:

Also on my list for this season is a yule log, which I’ve always wanted to bake, and this hot cocoa cake.

Just a note: My kids have “helped” with MOST of these recipes. Considering their ages, I just give them little jobs like cracking the eggs into the bowl, stirring and helping me roll out the dough. I’m still doing the bulk of the work over here.

The verdict? 9/10, I do love baking with my son and daughter. It’s such a good way to introduce new words, learn about measuring and how the kitchen works, all of that good stuff -- without making it feel like a LESSON, you know? Plus, it’s practical. I’m known to bring our treats as hostess gifts, and it’s fun to have some baked goods around the house. Everything in moderation, right?

5. Trying out some of the more traditional Christmas activities

Some things we’ve done include:

  • Picking out a real tree and decorating it - 10/10. This was us, btw, if you read the Tweet below. (I stepped out of the room for 10 minutes while my husband was “overseeing” things, and we had about 90% of our ornaments in one clump). 🤣
  • Plenty of hot cocoa evenings - 10/10, but be sure to snag some kid-safe mugs so they don’t burn their little hands!
  • Watching all the Christmas movies - 8/10, but only because “The Polar Express” freaked out my son. What’s up with that movie? I didn’t love it, either. We’ve also done old-school “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Amazon Prime); “Elf,” which I think I had to digitally rent since it doesn’t appear to be streaming on any of the apps I pay for; “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa” (Disney Plus), “Angela’s Christmas” (Netflix), “The Snowman” (Amazon Prime) and “The Snowy Day” (Amazon Prime). That last one is our absolute favorite, and yes, it’s based on the book by the same name, by Ezra Jack Keats. Start there! And be sure to talk a little bit throughout the movies -- it’s a good way to offset the screentime, as I recently read. You’re making it a learning opportunity, rather than plopping your kids in front of the TV.
  • Doing the matching Christmas jammies - 10/10 for cuteness! Last year we bought from Target, this year, I found some Dr. Seuss sets at TJ Maxx. Hanna Andersson is adorable too, although the price point is a little higher.
  • Building a snowman - 9/10 because I don’t like standing in the cold for prolonged periods, unless I’m skiing. But this is otherwise great! (Find you a husband who will do the heavy lifting here). 😉 Whether you live in a cold-weather place or you have somewhere chilly you can visit, this is a must-do on your list, if possible. We were even gifted this little set last year, and it’s kind of like snowman props, and it was really fun to play with!
Our (pitiful?) snowman, lol. (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)
  • Working our way through an Advent calendar - 8/10. It’s simple, but it really builds that excitement toward the big day. Aldi is known to have some really cute ones. I do realize we’re midway through December by now, but this could be an item to add to your list for next season. You can even buy an adult version for yourself and/or your spouse, and a kids kind for your little ones. We’re just doing the tiny-chocolate version this year, and it’s been a hit.
  • Playing with a felt Christmas tree - 10/10. Ours was a gift, but it looks VERY similar to this one, linked above, and it’s been a smash hit. I don’t even really know why, but my kids are super into it. It’s an adorable decoration, as well. (Worth mentioning: That’s the photo you see at the top of this story! It’s my daughter with our little felt tree.)
  • Reading the Christmas books - 10/10 because I lovvvvve story time with my kids. Some of the titles on our nightstand right now include “Little Blue Truck Christmas” (my kids are getting a little old for this one, but we love this LBT series), “The Polar Express,” (book > movie, 100%!) “Dream Snow,” by Eric Carle, “The Littlest Reindeer,” and I just discovered the holiday version of “Grumpy Monkey.” It’s en route to our house as I type this!

A bonus item: In case you’re a more fun mom than I am, and you’ve tried all of these, or even the bulk of my list, here’s a fun link I found online while doing some browsing -- 50 easy Christmas crafts for kids.

Hopefully, there’s something on my list or theirs that will inspire you this holiday season. 🙂

Merry Christmas in advance! Please, let me know what you end up trying.

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