Home for Christmas. It pulls forward images of chestnuts, open fires, snow, mistletoe, love light gleaming (whatever that is). It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Or … there’s the real home for Christmas.

Homebound kids bored to tears. Sibling squabbles rising above mood-lifting Christmas music. A year without grandparents as teens inch closer to flying the nest or as grandparents decline or age. Parents with wrapping-paper-thin resources after a year of financial stress, working with kids at home, and/or navigating life with a compromised family member.

At times, it’s as if this never-ending malaise has crushed us into a state of inertia. “Wanna make cookies?” No thanks. “Build a snowman?” Maybe later.

Translation: I’d rather be anywhere than home for Christmas.

We’ve got a few creative ideas to help this be a … more … wonderful time of the year—and help you create some unforgettable moments that don’t involve an overcooked turkey.

Home for Christmas? Grab these ideas

Before you begin, here’s a pro tip: Even a few well-placed, short bursts of activities (like the indoor s’mores, Sardines, or snow ice cream below) throughout the break can help kids feel like being home for Christmas is special. And if you’re an exhausted parent who’d love to settle in for a long winter’s nap, don’t feel the need to turn backflips to make Christmas sparkle.

Choose just a doable-for-you ideas that make “home for Christmas” uplifting.

1. Make gingerbread houses.

My kids’ eyes perked up when I mentioned our local library’s gingerbread house competition this year. Because they’re teens and preteens, I offered a budget and asked them to make a list (Financial management! Organization! Things to do!).

For younger kids, pre-make a simple graham-cracker version of a house to decorate, with bowls of candy at the ready.

(If you’re new to gingerbread houses and want your houses to last longer, use a recipe for royal icing. This acts as “glue” for gingerbread walls and candy, and eventually hardens. Just plan on either not eating it or on using those dental insurance benefits before the end of the year.)

2. Bring the kids together for a taffy pull.

This is a lot easier, cleaner, and faster than you think!

My family has used a vinegar-taffy recipe, but you might also enjoy a recipe incorporating those leftover red and green sprinkles.

3. Grab a free, Christmas countdown paper chain.

Download FamilyLife’s Christmas Countdown paper chain with small, doable activities for every day leading up to Christmas!

4. Do some sneaky planning to bring happiness to someone else.

You likely have downcast relatives, neighbors, friends, or a vulnerable family God’s put in your path. Have fun scheming the contents of a mailed package. This could also be a care basket left outside their door, or just socially-distanced family caroling—to remind them of a God who lived among us (see John 1:14).

First, brainstorm with your kids to show them effective love is unique and tailored.

  • What is this person sad about?
  • What do they enjoy?
  • What’s difficult for them to experience right now?
  • What individual talents do your kids have (baking a mean batch of cookies? Writing a song? Making beautiful handmade cards?)?

Ideas to include in a care basket:

  • Puzzles or small games
  • Photos or a photo book
  • Birdseed
  • A coffee cup with prepackaged coffee, tea, cider, or hot chocolate
  • Favorite snacks
  • A homemade treat (providing the recipient would feel comfortable), craft, or Christmas ornament
  • A DVD—and why you chose it
  • A DIY ice-cream sundae kit
  • Cards to open in sequence (perhaps one for every week?)
  • Popcorn kernels, silicone popper, and toppings
  • A list of everything you’d like to do with them when you can see each other again

It’s acts of generosity like these that lift anyone’s spirits—including the giver.

5. Play all-family hide-and-seek or Sardines.

Unfamiliar with Sardines? It’s hide-and-seek, but just one person hides. The first person who finds them hides with the hider. Each subsequent person who finds the hider hides with them, until all have found the group.

Find holiday encouragement for you and your family in our Holiday Survival Guide.

6. Scavenger hunt for a DIY gift basket.

When my family’s own plans for extended-family Thanksgiving this year were necessarily canceled, I had a bunch of glum kids on my hands. (Although I must admit—three teens bummed not to see grandparents and cousins half their age? This is a good problem to have.)

As a Hail Mary, I emptied a blanket basket and filled it with new strategy games, wacky card games (with words like “sushi” and “goat-cheese-pizza” in the name), favorite snacks, even some DVD series I’d found on sale.

I hid the basket and then clues around the house for a scavenger hunt to find it—and thankfully, all my anticipation wasn’t in vain.

We laughed for hours, and our break started off right with some wide smiles and family time. Win-win.

7. Serve up some love.

Help kids think beyond themselves. Could you wake up early and shovel three driveways together, then tromp home for hot chocolate? Could you put up a homebound neighbor’s Christmas lights? Or Facetime someone you know is lonely?

8. Make indoor s’mores.

This is easy, fast, and fun. Look up recipes on the web.

9. Make simple T-shirts.

With relative ease, you can do this in at least four ways with a pack of white t-shirts.

  • Use iron-on fabric transfers. Create designs using a website like Canva.com.
  • Use stencils and a paint medium that, when added, turns any acrylic paint into fabric paint.
  • Decorate shirts with permanent ink (like a pack of colored Sharpies), then spray with 70% rubbing alcohol. This dissolves the ink, and the colors morph into a colorful explosion!
  • Use a tie-dye kit, which has become remarkably easier (and neater) since you were a kid.

10. Create your own Minute-To-Win-It competitions.

The web is full of ideas for these 60-second competitions—or your kids can devise their own: working an Oreo into their mouth that previously sat on their eye socket. Stacking towers with plastic cups. Bouncing a ping-pong ball onto a piece of bread layered with nut butter.

11. Create video greeting cards.

You can do this as creatively—or not—as your kids wish, to send love from afar: Do they want to read a book to a distant relative? Read a “roses are red”-style poem they made up? Sing a song from their choir concert (or lip-sync “All I Want for Christmas is You”) for Grandma? Create a play using Legos? Wow the fam with a magic trick?

12. Let the kids make their own no-sew fleece blanket—or one to send to a relative.

These make special, cuddly gifts for small kids, treasures for someone hospitalized, or just something that a crafty kid can make for her own room on chilly nights. It’s fun for kids to pick out the fleece, and easy and cozy to accomplish even while watching Elf for the twenty-sixth time.

13. Create a Scripture-memory competition.

Who can memorize the most Bible verses for an agreed-on prize? Or—if your kids’ abilities vary widely—who can reach their own personal goal?

14. Make snow ice cream.

Use an online recipe!

15. Using Scripture, create your own family Christmas play.

Put it on YouTube, or send it to relatives. Point your kids to Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 to get started. Encourage costumes, props, lighting, backdrops, music…however far your (otherwise bored silly) kids are willing to take it. And be ready to participate with gusto if your kids hand you a role!

Home for Christmas could mean more of the same ol’, same ol’—or this Christmas could be unlike any other. What will your family cook up?

Copyright © 2020 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Creative Choices for Holy Moments with Your Kids (Harvest House), releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.