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The Best Way to Create Holiday Magic with Kids

It seems like the winter solstice/Christmas/holiday season arrives earlier every year. And while I usually resist busting out the holiday decorations too early, like most people, this year I’m giving in.

I mean, we put up our Halloween décor mid-September, so it’s time. Plus, everyone is searching for the little things that bring fun and joy to daily life. Since Covid has stripped us of so many fond traditions and events, bring on the tree! 

On some level, everyone has to reimagine what the winter holidays look like in the middle of a pandemic. So, I wanted to share one of the most magical, wonderful, fun, easy, and special thing you can do create meaningful experiences and celebrate the holidays this year. 

Introducing the Christmas Countdown Calendar! 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, it’s just a really big calendar. You’re correct! But the magic of this really big calendar is that it is a shared family calendar

This Christmas Countdown Calendar is far beyond a generic December bucket list or a chocolate advent calendar, though we do get chocolate calendars too. And if you’re looking for an allergy-friendly version, check out this great option from Amanda’s Own Confections.

The heart of the idea is to create a big calendar together and then schedule something each day to enjoy as a family.

There’s something magical about carving out intentional time to enjoy special moments. And since everyone contributes activities and ideas, there are fun things for everyone to look forward to all month long.

Events and activities DO NOT have to be fancy, look pretty, be time consuming, or be expensive. In fact there are lots of free and inexpensive ways to do a Christmas Countdown Calendar and everything is completely adaptable for pandemic holidays. 

One of our biggest highlights from last year’s calendar was a candlelight dinner. I grabbed odds and ends of candles from around the house, we turned off the lights, and ate dinner. And the kids absolutely loved it.

Another funny and particularly well-loved activity was candy cane eating and decorating. My oldest really wanted to eat candy canes and hang a few on the tree. So I bought a box of candy canes and wrapped them up along with a couple of used, 50 cent Christmas books I found at the library’s book nook. We ate candy canes, hung a few on the tree, and read new stories. That was it. And the kids loved it and had so much fun!

Personally, my favorite activity we did last year was the Family Canvas Challenge. Megan Schiller over at The Art Pantry hosts the challenge. It’s a multi-week family art project that explores different mediums. Obviously it’s a bit more work to setup and plan (and it gets messy).

It was really fun getting everyone involved on the same project at the same time. We have our finished canvas hanging in the playroom and every time I see it I think about how much fun we had making it together. I highly recommend tackling a creative project as part of your holiday countdown.

There were other simple things on our calendar last year too like watching holiday movies, going for a neighborhood walk to see holiday lights, and of course, family favorites like baking and decorating cookies, and a family hot chocolate party.

Giving to Others

Especially this holiday season, in a year that has been full of hardship for so many, I think it’s important to help others and teach our kids to become better global citizens.

There are lots of ways to connect generosity and thankfulness with calendar events. Whether you decide to share treats with friends after baking cookies or participate in community food and toy drives after a sibling book exchange, there are many opportunities to use moments of family connection to also help those in need.

Tips for the Calendar

Creating a big calendar is key because it helps visualize all of the fun activities and builds excitement. Here are a few additional tips for how to create yours.

  • Involve the kids – I highly recommend making your calendar with kids! Last year, my eldest wanted very specific colors and patterns on our calendar. We used a big piece of recycled cardboard and Acrylic Paint Markers. I thought it was fun to draw, but if you’re not into the DIY calendar thing, here’s a basic calendar you can print
  • Schedule the big stuff you know about in advance (trips, visitors, etc.)
  • Have everyone add a couple of things to the calendar that they want to do. Not everything has to go on the calendar, but having one thing scheduled each day worked well for our family.
  • Revisit the calendar regularly to schedule new activities or make adjustments.

Calendar Kickoff

On December 1st, I set up the Christmas Countdown Calendar, dug out a Santa hat and elf glasses from the Christmas decorations, and had the chocolate advent calendars setup and ready to go too. I wrapped up a new musical Christmas book too. It was such an exciting and fun way to start the month and set the tone for the rest of December.

Ideas for 2020

This year, holiday parades and parties won’t be on our calendar, for obvious reasons. But I know that repeating many of our favorite, safe at home activities will be just as enjoyable.

I sometimes forget that saying, “let’s have a hot chocolate party and go look at the stars” is still exciting no matter how many times we’ve done it before. 

Here are some of the things I expect will be on our calendar in 2020…

  • Chocolate Advent Calendars – Trader Joe’s has them for $1! But, with food allergies, they are no longer an option for us. So this year, I found these calendars from Amanda’s Own Confections. They are obviously more expensive, but my kids love chocolates and I decided it was worth it.
  • Family movie night – we really like Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas 
  • Build a fort and read stories
  • Cookie baking and decorating
  • Go for a holiday lights drive/neighborhood walk 
  • Make smore’s in the backyard 
  • Sibling gift exchange – read about a fun idea for a book exchange here!
  • Candy cane decorating and eating
  • Candlelight dinner – This is a perfect way to celebrate Winter Solstice! Last year, we dimmed the lights, lit candles, and the kids thought it was completely awesome
  • The Family Canvas Challenge – this one takes some prep, but is a really fun way to explore new art supplies together as a family and make something really special. Megan Schiller has a full tutorial, supply list, and more information on her site, The Art Pantry.  
  • Hot Chocolate “Party” – add the word party to anything, and it instantly seems more special! 
  • Christmas ornament making/decorating
  • Gingerbread house decorating
  • A holiday nature walk and nature collages – see this post for inspiration
  • Making cards for friends and family
  • Create something fun with cardboard boxes – here are a few ideas 

Also sure to make an appearance on our Christmas Countdown Calendar this year, one of our newest, most requested family activities…Stargazing! My oldest is obsessed with the stars, space and all things celestial. To nurture his budding curiosity and scientific mind, we did a ton of research, family generously contributed, and we invested in this telescope to explore the night sky together as a family. It was expensive but has been absolutely thrilling. We’ve seen Saturn’s rings and other planets, stars, and the moon in greater detail than I ever imagined. It’s been spectacular and so fun.

Bonus Holiday Magic

If you want to create even more magic this holiday season, check out my post about reading activities to inspire a love of books and reading. It’s full of tips for book gift ideas, and how to create a holiday book display that will entice young readers.

Here are a few of our favorite holiday books, as well as our all-time favorite picture books list. Books make a great addition to the Christmas Countdown. And if you shop for books through Bookshop, you are able to support local bookstores. If you shop using my links, I also receive a small commission and appreciate your support! 

What Will You Create? 

I originally got the calendar idea from the lovely Elle at Solly Baby and am so grateful to her for sharing! 

Here’s to creating holiday magic that is safe and fun for everyone! If you make a Christmas Countdown Calendar or try any of these activities, we’d love to see your pictures and hear about your experience. Happy holidays!