Fun Activities to Do with Your Family During the Holidays
Visiting family over the holidays can be a very positive experience, a very negative experience, or even a mystery every year. I realize that when family gets together every year, it can be stressful, emotional, and even boring if there are a lot of awkward silences, tense moments, or even any downtime.
Even though I feel like I have the best family in the entire world, we still have all of those same moments of stress, awkwardness and boredom like every other family. I think that’s just what happens when so many personalities come together, and mine has an extraordinary number of personalities in it.
My husband still has both sets of grandparents, and he has 12 siblings, half of them married with 2-3 kids each. Mix in the 1-2 dogs each couple/individual owns and brings with them (including our two beautiful labs), and our holidays are rather large and chaotic.
So what DO you do together when everyone in the family is together during the holidays?
Everyone has seen the Christmas movies filled with decorating the tree, eating dinner together, and singing around the piano. As every family doesn’t normally have this same experience, and homes are usually decorated ahead of time, coming up with fun activities to keep everyone entertained during their stay may be difficult.
I decided to write this article to offer some exciting ideas for how you can spend your time this holiday with those you love. Even though many of them seem like common sense, I hope you find some that inspire you!
Simple Fun Activities
How long has it really been since you have all been able to see each other? I bet you everyone is taller and older, relationships and jobs have changed, and new and exciting things have happened in each of their lives. This seems like the simplest of ideas, but who really takes the time to just sit down and enjoy each other’s company?
You’re family! Catch up on each other’s lives, ask about new and exciting happenings, find out what Joey is doing in school, and ask how Linda is doing in college. What about Judy’s new baby, or Bob and Susan’s efforts to start a family? This is one way that you let your family members know that you do really care about them and value them as part of your family. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about anyway?
This is one of favorite pastimes when we all get together over the holidays. With some many people in the family spread out all over the country, this is our chance to see each other again and catch up, and for my husband and all of his siblings to goof off together again. There are lots of jokes, sometimes so wrestling, lots of planning, fun announcements, and plenty of watching all of the kids play.
Puzzles and Games
This is huge at my husband's parent’s house every year! We have made it a tradition to bring a 3-D Puzzle with us every year. Not only does it get everyone excited, but most everyone either likes to watch or likes to pitch in and try to figure out where a piece or two actually fits in the grand scheme of the entire creation.
We always bring board games for large groups, several packs of cards, and all of our card games. There are some nights when every single person in the house is either involved in a card game with one or two other people, or is deep in an stimulating board game with ten others.
For some great suggestions, think Uno Blast, , and especially Uno Flash. Rage is one of our favorites along with Uno Attack, Rummikub, and Apples to Apples. There’s no better ice breaker than when you’re trying to trick, back-stab and beat someone in a good old-fashioned game. Phase Ten
Wouldn’t you love to whoop you brother-in-law’s butt in cards? I know I would! We are definitely a game kind of family.
So the guys may not be so excited about this, or maybe they will be, but nothing brings family together like food, especially when that food means delicious cookies! Maybe those that want to cook can be on the cooking end, and the others can be on the decorating end. You could create an assembly line, let everyone make their own kind of cookies, or whatever else you can think of.
Have fun with this! You’re making Christmas cookies after all! Making and decorating Christmas cookies happens to be one of my favorite Christmas memories! Check out my recipe for Great Christmas Cookies or my article on Fun Holiday Food Crafts for Kids for some great ideas!
Some of our favorites are my Waffle Iron Spice Cookies and my Christmas Gingerbread Cookies. I remember my very first Christmas with my husband's family. They had a tradition of making tons of sugar cookies without any toppings and spreading them out on the table with plenty of toppings and icing. I loved being able to make my own colorful cookies. Now we have that tradition in our home too!
Having a Movie Night
After spending all day together, there are only so many nights you can visit, play games, or go for a walk. Why not get together for an activity everyone loves, at least for one evening?
Pick a movie that’s appropriate for all ages present. If there are children present, Disney movies are always great. Pop some popcorn, make or order some pizza together, and make it a whole event. Everyone will love curling up together for an evening in their pajamas and pillows for a great movie. And it gives everyone a break.
While watching a movie you can finally let go, get absorbed in the magic of the story, and stop worrying about impressing anyone. You can just settle in with a good pillow and enjoy yourself. I promise, especially after a stressful holiday, this might be just what’s needed to give everyone a good sendoff before going back home.
More Exciting Activities
Putting Up Christmas Lights
Although many families will already have their homes decorated by the time you arrive, I’m sure not all families will. This is actually one of our regular traditions when we go to visit my husband’s grandparents for Thanksgiving. He and his uncle always put up the lights on his grandparent’s house and then they go next door and put up the lights for the next door neighbor's as well.
The ladies and the older folks get to untangle the lights, give creative advice, and enjoy the cookies and hot chocolate. And the kids get to run around and play, or help put Christmas lights up. This can be a great activity for the entire family if you plan for it. The brave individuals can get up on the roof to line the edge of the house, the creative individuals can decorate the trees, and the smaller individuals can decorate the walkways and low bushes.
Include hot chocolate and cookies in your activity and this may become a regular tradition like it has in our family. My oldest always has so much fun when it comes time to decorate for Christmas. He loves climbing ladders, he loves all of the lights, and he, most especially, loves helping his daddy. This ends up taking up an entire weekend.
Going to Look at Lights
I think this tradition is in most every family, but I’m sure everyone has their own version. I know that out in Arizona, going to look at Christmas lights meant driving through the Valley of Lights, which is a long road set up through an open field, which was just outside of our small town. All of the companies in town donated one or two light set-ups, so that when all of the cars drove through, they got to enjoy a mile long light show for Christmas, complete with music and everything.
In California, at my husband’s grandparent’s house, going to look at Christmas lights means going to the outdoor mall by the Galleria. The whole mall looks like a little village lit up with Christmas lights in the doorways and across the top of the pathways. The have a humongous Christmas tree in the square (meaning the gifts are even bigger than you), and a fountain display that is set up to music.
It’s amazing. Families come and lay blankets out on the lawn to enjoy the lights, the people, the music, and the fountain, not to mention the hot chocolate, donuts and cookie carts being pushed around.
Finally, in Colorado, where his parents live, going to look at Christmas lights means all piling in one of several cars and driving around the neighborhood to look at all of the homes that have been decorated with Christmas lights and other decorations.
Why not start some of your own Christmas traditions like these?
Going Ice Skating
If you’re looking for a fun evening to get out of the house and enjoy some fun with your family, but want something simple that everyone will enjoy, this is the ticket. You might be lucky and have your own personal skating rink made from a lake having frozen over from the cold. If so, all you need is some good skates!
You can get some simple ones for a great price from Wal-Mart or can possibly even find them at a thrift store if you’re really vigilant. If this is something you’re considering, make sure to let everyone know ahead of time. For everyone else, many areas will either have a permanent skating rink you can take advantage of, like the Galleria in Houston, Texas, or will set up a temporary building for the purpose of skating in the winter time.
Both of these types of locations will rent skates to you, and provide anything else you need for a fun ice skating time. Try it out!
If you are lucky enough to have tons of snow, take some sleds, trash can lids, cardboard boxes, or whatever you have, out to some snowy hills and go sledding with your family. Colorado has some great snowy hills in even the smallest neighborhoods to go sledding on if you're willing to get outside on a snowy day.
Boy was it cold after a while, but you're working so hard climbing the hill over and over, and trying to stay on your sled that you don't notice. This could even be great for younger kids, with some parental supervision, but I certainly don't recommend it for babies. We left our littlest at home with his grandpa for this last sledding day.
More Adventurous Activities
Visiting a Theme Park
For those a little more adventurous, try taking everyone to a theme park. A number of years ago, we all went to Disneyland together. We were a pretty large crew, and nobody was there because it was wintertime, and it was raining. We didn't have to wait in any lines and got to ride all of the rides as many times as we wanted all day.
Of course we spent the whole day wet, but we arrived at 8am, experienced all of the rides over and over again with no lines, and stayed until 8pm. We had such a blast! I will never forget the memories we created that day! Being such a large group, with a good dose of children along, we split up into different groups throughout the day to go on different rides, but always met back up to get a snack, eat lunch or dinner, and just to check on everyone’s status.
Going to the Zoo
One year, we went to the LA Zoo together! No rain like Disneyland, but still no lines though. It seems as though most people don't visit major parks like these over the holidays, so you end up with the whole place to yourselves. It was another great holiday memory with the entire family that we will remember forever.
This year, we went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo together. It was 29 degrees outside, and so once again nobody was there. We bundled everyone up, tucked the baby into a backpack inside my husband's heavy coat, and had a blast. The employees will usually do special things for you that they don't normally do when there's a crowd, just because someone finally showed up. We got extra food for the animals for free, a backstage look at the animals and more!
Not interested in quite so much adventure for your family, but still want to get out and try something new? Why not volunteer during the holidays? There are so many places that need your help, and this makes for an amazing family bonding experience.
I know in Texas, we always went to serve Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to the homeless. Here in Arizona, the mall makes a big deal about wrapping donated Christmas presents for needy families. Every night for an entire week in the middle of December they recruit tons of people to come and wrap presents.
Every area has its own volunteering opportunities. Not only is this a great experience for kids, if you choose the right one, but it’s also great to know that you did your part for others that needed the help when you have so much.
Here are some great ideas about How to Do Your Part in Your Home, in Your Community, and in the World from your own home, or by visiting another location.
Going for a Walk
You could even get out and enjoy the sights with your family. With my husband's family being so big, one year we rented a cabin in the woods for everyone to stay at. The snow and the view were just amazing, so one afternoon, a handful of us decided to go on a nature walk to check out the area.
We got to see deer and rabbits, climbed a few interesting rocks, and just enjoyed catching up, and getting some sunlight and fresh air. It was wonderful and I got some great pictures.
Hold a Gingerbread House Contest
Why not have a little competitive fun that even the kids can get involved in? Provide all of the supplies, like graham crackers or cookies, icing, and [plenty of small treats (you could also do this with crackers, peanut butter and veggies), and let everyone make their own houses.
At the end of all of the fun, you can choose whether or not to have someone that didn't participate judge the houses and issue awards. Get creative and give everyone an award. It's Christmas! And the reward is that everyone gets to eat them!
Have an Ugly Sweater Contest
This one was also a lot of fun. We had everyone come to Christmas with an ugly sweater, or the supplies to make one. On Christmas morning everyone came downstairs wearing their creation. It was fun getting to see what everyone came up with.
We then took pictures of everyone and had an ugly sweater contest. The prize was simply knowing that you had the best creation. We came up with creative awards for this one as well. Have fun with it!
Going for a Drive
Whether you are venturing out to find some Christmas lights, or just seeing the beautiful area around you, this is something everyone can enjoy. One year, we drove so far that we actually got lost. It just so turned out that out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, at the top of a mountain, just above a sweet little lit up town, we found a map and were able to get back home.
Boy did we see some gorgeous sights though, and my husband was able to show me where he grew up. I'd never seen so much snow!
Finally, one more great activity that may take a little bit more gusto on your part, is going caroling together. The first thing you need to know about caroling, is that nobody cares about your voice. If you’re worried, take a CD player with you to play your song with words at every house.
You can stand there holding your candle during the song, and then wish the household a Merry Christmas afterward. The whole point of caroling is just to bring a little light and Christmas cheer into everyone’s lives that you have the blessing to sing to that night.
Have fun with it! It doesn’t have to be spiritual to be meaningful. Sing some fun, upbeat Christmas songs and let the little ones participate. At the very least you’ll bring some smiles and laughter into the hearts of others.
Holidays with family should be about making some great memories, and not all negative ones involving Uncle Bill punching Uncle Bob in the face over dinner. I realize that getting together with your family, much less getting involved in any kind of activity with them, may not sound appealing to most, but maybe you can change that this year.
Consider what you can do with your time together to keep from arguing or thinking about why you may not like each other. Many of these activities are designed to get you and your family members focused on doing something together that takes very little skill.
You never know, maybe putting a puzzle together, making cookies together, or trying to sing to your neighbors will give you something to bond over and you’ll find that you may not feel the same way about that person, or those people, anymore.
The point being, create some great new traditions, make some new friends, and attempt to bond in such a way that you may enjoy visiting family over the holidays next year, even if it’s just to beat them again at that game or go to the zoo with them again. You never know, you might end up having fun this Christmas! Let me know how it goes for you!
© 2013 Victoria Van Ness