Making Christmas Merry | Ten Christmas Experience Ideas (plus, come add yours!)

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea that Christmas holidays are more enjoyable when you focus on experiences over stuff.

So, to wrap up this Christmas series, I thought it would be fun to list some of my favorite not-involving-stuff ways to make Christmas merry. And you can share your favorites at the end!

1. Play music.

Christmas music doesn’t have to cost you anything (use the radio! Pandora! CDs from the library!) and it really just makes everything feel more festive.

2. Bake something.

Even if you’re not a big baker, try making a batch of frosted cut-out sugar cookies (use a roll of refrigerated dough and a can of frosting if you’re really short on time.) I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy this.

3. Put lights up all over the place.

Christmas lights make things feel cozy and happy and they’re not just for the tree! My kids like to string rope lights in their bedrooms, but you could also put lights in your bathroom, your kitchen, or over your doorway.

They use some electricity, yes, but not THAT much. And Christmas only comes once a year. Enjoy your lights guilt free.

4. Go look at other people’s Christmas lights.

You can pay to do this if you want, but if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where people really get into decorating, you can probably see some beautiful lights just by driving around in neighborhoods.

5. Do Christmas tasks with someone you love.

Have to wrap presents? Do it with a friend. Or with your spouse. Turn on some music, have some hot chocolate, and make it fun!

Need to hang Christmas lights outside? Let your kids help (though not with roof lights. Ahem.)

When you decorate your tree, make an evening of it, especially if you’ve got kids in the house! I don’t think there’s a kid out there who doesn’t enjoy decorating the tree.

7. Watch a Christmas movie or listen to a Christmas radio program.

J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly posted about the Christmas Bear radio program some years ago, and my kids have listened to it every year since (Sonia and Zoe are the only ones who are into it these days, though!)

8. Go hear some live Christmas music.

Don’t have the money for tickets to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? See if there’s some free music going on in your area. Most churches and schools put on some sort of Christmas program. You also might want to ask around to see if there are any inexpensive local Christmas concerts you might be able to attend.

9. Make someone else’s Christmas merry.

Last year, my kids and I joined some friends from church and brought Christmas music to several nursing homes in our area.

You could serve in a soup kitchen or volunteer at a food pantry. You could go caroling. You could do Operation Christmas Child. There are lots of options out there, so choose one and get your mind off of yourself by helping someone.

10. Enjoy special food or drinks.

You don’t necessarily have to make them yourself. Just buy them if you’re short on time. But do allow some treats that you wouldn’t normally say yes to.

(That’s caramel monkey bread, in case you were wondering.)


Ok, it’s your turn to add to my list! What fun and festive experiences do you recommend during the Christmas holidays?

Previous posts in this series:


Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Make a priority list.

It’s ok to have an imperfect Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.

3 ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations

5 ways to spend less time Christmas shopping

On compromise, unselfishness, and not falling out of the boat on the other side

Start a holiday activity/social plan

Make a list of giftees and plan your purchases now

On giving meaningful gifts

More Experiences, Less Stuff


Joshua’s 365 post: Sugar…Caffeine


  1. says

    I love these ideas!
    Wrapping presents is actually one of my favourite ways to pass an evening before Christmas. The husband and I drink spiked hot chocolate, watch Christmas movies, eat freshly baked cookies and wrap the kids’ gifts together. I love it!

    Many of your other ideas are also on our family’s list for this year, but one thing I am really excited about is having a little Christmas party for the kids in our extended family. There are only 5 little ones total so it will be cozy and low-key. We’re going to make ornaments, assemble ginger bread nativities, read Christmas stores and play the little drummer boy on homemade bongo drums. I can’t wait!

  2. April says

    Every year when we put up the tree we make it a big event. After we are done we get hot cocoa and a special homemade baked treat.

    Another we do (which isn’t free) is family movie night. Every December I buy the kids new pajamas and a new Christmas movie and then we let them open their pjs and movie. Then comes hot cocoa and th watching of the movie. It’s not free (or even very cheap) but it has become such a special tradition that I make sure I can squeeze the funds from somewhere. I love all these ideas! My best friend and I are also going to have a baking day where all we do is make treats!!

  3. says

    yep – covered most of what we do. We have a Christmas ‘opening ceremony’ kinda ;-) 1st sat in Dec (this year is the 1st) – we spend the day getting the tree, trimming the house, the CD’s come out, as does the advocaat.
    Just last night (whilst trick and treating in a group) it was suggested that we do a charity carol sing with the Kids… that’ll be a new tradition to add to the list hopefully!

  4. says

    We allways get a puzzle with 500-1000 pieces and everyone helps to put it together during christmas. This year I bought our puzzle for $3,02 in our local second hand store :) Also I love to read and make sure I have time for that as well.

  5. says

    When I was a kid, during December my mom would always buy Mandarin Oranges. We called them ” Christmas Oranges”. But she only allowed us to eat one a day. We would always save our orange until the evening, when my dad would read aloud to us. It was amazing how long we could stretch out that one orange to last for a whole chapter.

  6. Aimy Ross says

    Thanks for the great reminders. Sad to say that these basic activities need reminding. I am now excited instead of dreading it. ;)

  7. says

    I love Christmas! I love all of the above!

    When I got engaged to my now husband, I earned the right to sing in the family “choir”. We sing together before Christmas Eve Mass every year, and people come early to listen. It is hands down my favorite part of Christmas.

    I think the most important thing on your list is to do Christmas Tasks with Someone You Love. That’s how memories are made :)

  8. says

    Let’s see…

    There are gingerbread houses, cookie decorating, Christmas pageants (used to do one every year growing up…the cousins would get together and do random skits or fashion shows or songs), family game time, decorate a tree in nature, etc.

    We personally don’t decorate for Christmas (sort of hate decorations in general, other than the made-by-kid or nature types), so we’re trying to think of ways to make the season feel special. I think baking will be a big one for us :)

  9. Stephanie Gunstream says

    Right now we are working on our Christmas movie collection. Eventually, we would like to have 25- one for each night until Christmas. Our own Advent Calendar, if you will.

    We have also talked about taking our nieces and nephews (we don’t have kids of our own, yet) to shop for, wrap, and deliver gifts to charities. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that this year.

  10. jen S. says

    I love to get out a big basket and fill it with all our Christmas stories (you can also get some from the library towards the end of November so you have them for December).
    We love trains and usually put up a display under our tree. In our area many of the local firehouses, the mall and the nursery’s have Christmas train displays, usually for free, a small donation or canned good donation. We enjoy looking at the train displays with friends.
    Cookies, lights, music, advent-yeah!

  11. Maria says

    We do an advent calendar with little treats in it each day. Some treats are materials things – chapstick, a small piece of candy, hair tie, etc. – but other treats are experiences – watch a christmas movie tonight, go see christmas lights, bake cookies, etc. My kids really enjoy seeing what is in the advent calendar each morning.

  12. Katie says

    Last year I made an advent calendar that has paper tags for every day with a task assigned that we do to help spend time together as a family making Christmas merry. I remember there were crafts, baking, singing Christmas songs, looking at lights, etc and my boys were so excited to see what our fun thing to do each day was. I think we hit all 10 of your ideas at least once. :)

    Another thing I do every year is host an annual cookie exchange party. I usually have 12 women or so that attend and we each bake 6 dozen of one kind of cookie and bring enough copies of the recipe to share. Then we “exchange” cookies – so everyone ends up with some of every cookie, equaling their original 6 dozen. It’s a fun way to have a cookie assortment with only baking once. Plus, it’s joyous just to spend time together.

  13. Therese Z says

    Maybe I missed this in the string of posts, but please –


    Use an Advent wreath or a Jessie tree, whatever fits for your family. Have few or no decorations and build up little by little. Don’t put the tree up 12/01. Use the time to anticipate the Lord’s birth AND the pleasures of the festivities to come. Make cookies and candy and presents, and then put them away.

    Kids can wait better for these things than anybody thinks, especially if they are helping with the prep.

  14. Ada says

    I think I learned this holiday secret on your blog! Make your home smell delicious by putting cinnamon, cloves, allspice, apple peels (whatever smells you like) into a small saucepan with water and heat it. It makes my house smell so warm and like the holidays.

  15. says

    I love your ideas! My added idea: go out for a nice Winter Wonderland Walk with your loved ones. You’ll appreciate the cosiness of your home even more when you come back for a nice hot chocolate.

    • Mrs. R. says

      I’d think a lot of these ideas are easily adaptable to Hanukkah, etc.:

      Walks in the snow together–with warm, yummy treats after; decorating together as a family and making a real event of it; watching movies together that focus on what you want to celebrate; playing the music associated with the holiday–and finding new ones; attending services together….and on and on.

      Hope that helps!

    • Kristen says

      I do have two ATK/CI giveaways coming up in the next month, so hang in there!

      As I said at the beginning of this series, Christmas is what I know and celebrate, so that’s what I chose to write about. However, I’m pretty sure that a lot of the concepts could be adapted to other celebrations…planning ahead, thinking about serving instead of impressing, and focusing on experiences over stuff are ideas that aren’t unique to Christmas as far as I know.

      I don’t mean to exclude other celebrations, but I also don’t want to write authoritatively about a subject I’m not very educated on, you know? I feel like dispensing, say, Kwanzaa advice would be a little presumptuous of me, seeing as I really don’t know much about Kwanzaa.

    • Kate says

      Maybe I can help a little.

      The first is that we do theme nights in our house for Hanukkah. This is actually a hand-me-down tradition from my husband’s parents, and we love it. One night is party night, latkes and all, and one night is book night- everybody gets one book for Hanukkah (my husband and I still get them from his parents!) and one night is always sock night.

      For general gifts, realistically, I got tired of trying to juggle different Hanukkah gifts and Christmas gifts and Chrismukkah gifts, and people’s various preferences. Now I do one big big candy-making session- bar cookies, fudge, etc. And I wrap it up early in December (usually in tins from the Dollar Store) and give the same to everyone. I purposely do it earlier in December so that folks can hand out the treats if they don’t want to eat them themselves at their own parties/carol-sing/etc.

      On whole, I think Hanukkah is our small Jewish community works out to be a lot cheaper than Christmas. There isn’t quite the same pressure to keep up somehow. Some money for gifts, and some for the special treats we associate with the holiday- sufganiyot, latkes, new candles for the hanukiot, but no need for a big turkey or anything “centerpiece” item like that.

      I hope that helps?

  16. Linda M says

    As a grandparent now, I am making memories with my grandchildren…we started several years ago always watching “The Christmas Story”. That is a fun and hilarious thing to do that we laugh about all year. I try to let their guide me on what gifts would be appropriate. In our extended family we rotate years hosting as we all live relatively close to one another…thus no one is doing all the cleaning, etc each year and we all bring food thus no is doing all the cooking. We have a “Dirty Santa” for the adults where we each bring a gift then draw a number and pick one and or take one from someone else. The gifts are not large and it is about laughing and having lots of fun together. The little kids draw names.
    When my children were small, we drove around and enjoyed the light displays, baked cookies, had the children’s program at church. I also tried to make a few of the gifts to keep the budget intact. Take lots of pictures…these are nice to be able to go back and relive over and over.

  17. robbiekay says

    Last year we volunteered as Salvation Army bell ringers and had such a good time that we’ve signed up to do it again this year. We bring our little so-ugly-she’s-cute pug/terrier mix dressed up for Christmas with us. I’m not above exploiting my dog in order to raise funds for charity! :D

    A few years ago I found “Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas” on DVD and my mother looks forward to watching that each year. (She was drawn to the music when she heard me watching it as a child. It’s also a lovely story without being preachy. I’ve read reviews many times over where people think it’s Jim Henson’s best work.)

  18. HeatherS says

    We started doing a Jesse Tree last year so each night after dinner we do our Jesse Tree Advent reading and also read from Ruth Bell Graham’s One Wintry Night. I also have a collection of Christmas books and wrap each of them and let the kids pick one each night to unwrap and read together.

    Friday nights are movie night. I only own a few Christmas shows so we either try to catch one on TV or borrow from the library. Popcorn or cookies and hot chocolate during the movie.

    We walk down to our town square one night (couple of blocks from home) and check out our town nativity display and either come home for hot chocolate or grab some at the local coffee shop. My favorite part is going to cut down our Christmas tree. My parents have done this since I was little and I continue this with my kids and my parents. My husband has become a pretty good sport about it but I can’t say its his favorite part!

  19. Leigh Ann Hicks says

    About once a week in the month of December I declare “Jammie Ride”. This means that after the kids are in their PJ’s and ready for bed the announcement is made. We then all pile in the car and choose a neighborhood to ride around and see the Christmas Lights. It’s one of our favorite “free” Christmas traditions.

  20. Margaret Logan says

    All wonderful ideas and thanks for sharing Kristen and friends!
    I wrap my framed pictures with leftover wrapping paper and bows from the previous Christmas. Easy, inexpensive and cheerful. My adult children loved this when they were younger. Now my married daughter who’s a mother of 3 boys does it too. :)
    Always makes me giggle when they try to figure out just whose picture is wrapped in what paper.

  21. Venice says

    You are so inspiring! I’m always so pleased when I see a new post up… I know it will be an interesting ( and witty ) read with the added bonus of reminding me of what is truly important. Particularly around the holidays.

    Thank you and blessings on you and yours.

  22. says

    Appreciate nature. Build a snowman. Or snow family. Have a snowball fight. Go sledding. Or ride a horse-drawn sleigh. Our local park has snowshoe hikes and they provide the snowshoes.

  23. says

    Every year on Christmas eve, we make pizza and play music with each other. This year, for the first time, my kids are talking about learning songs to play, not just sing along with.

  24. says

    Christmas music is a huge part of our holiday season, as is baking. I have successfully recreated all of the recipes that I knew growing up, and enjoy having my kids participate in that with me. Now if the season could just be a tad bit longer so I could also fit in enough crafting, I would be happy!

  25. Kate says

    For the last few years, I’ve had a little Christmas Eve tradition at home. I live alone, so this is by myself, before the family celebrations begin in earnest the next day (it’s partly my way to QUIETLY enjoy the season). Cookies & cocoa at hand, I turn out all the lights except for the tree, and then listen to Louis Armstrong recite “The Night Before Christmas.” Gosh I felt more peaceful just typing that….

  26. kaz says

    Living in a country where Christmas occurs in Summer, we have a few different traditions.

    We spend time cleaning the brush away in the backyard ready for bushfire (wildfire) season, so we can have the Christmas BBQ without having to worry about the yard.

    We also set up for Christmas by doing things as a family, like planting summer bulbs in pots in September. The flowers in pots are our Christmas decorations. We also plant extra bulbs as gifts for friends.

  27. says

    This reminded me of Christmas season of my childhood and traditions and rituals my family had brought from Europe to their new home in Toronto: first St. Nicholaus Day on 6th, many handmade gifts, singing the carols, decorating the tree and all the food cooked from scratch at home. Incredible mixture of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves spreading from our kitchen into the whole house…Seeing now the crowds in the shops, sometimes piles of gifts with little personal meaning and houses decorated and looking more like some amusement park … I feel somewhat sentimental when remembering those childhood festivities and joy.

  28. Glory says

    When i was younger before my children were grown, i worked an extra job at Christmas time because i was devorced and wanted my children to have what they wanted. Thank God my children turned out well and now that i am older and my income is fixed, my Sons with children told me not to buy gifts their children do not need them. They help me when i need it and there is much less stress in my life. I love my children and grandchildren. I have 3 grown sons and 1 grown daughter, 1 grown granddaughter, 1 grown grandson and 3 teenage grandchildren. I am so blessed.

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