As a mom of four sweet children, I love spending quality time as a family. I’ll use any excuse to make up a new tradition, have a family outing, or do a fun activity together. Unfortunately, my bank account can’t keep up with all the fun I want to have, especially during the holiday season.
Being a low-income family, we’ve learned how to adapt things to our budget. So I thought I’d share some of our Christmas traditions. Then, my family and I (and a little help from the internet) sat down and came up with a whole bunch of other ideas to share too!
Here’s what we came up with:
Christmas Family Activities at Home
Write a letter to Santa. Write one together as a family, or write individual letters.
Have an Elf on a Shelf. The traditional kit runs about $30 on Amazon. Or, you can find any generic old elf doll at the stores this time of year. I found little elf toys at my local dollar store! No need to buy name brand to create the magic.
Watch a Christmas movie. Netflix has a great selection, or check your local library.
Create some DIY crafts. Here are some great craft ideas that double as cheap gift ideas https://lowincomerelief.com/diy-christmas-gifts/.
Make a family Christmas bucket list. Simply a list of everything you’d like to accomplish during the holiday season.
Let everyone in the family open 1 gift on Christmas Eve. Why wait until Christmas?
Enjoy a sibling slumber party. On Christmas Eve, let all the siblings have a sleepover together in the same room!
Have a family game night. Board games are my favorite things. We like to have game night at least once a week all year long. Just don’t let your competitiveness take away from the family fun.
Battle it out with and indoor DIY snowball fight: You can use rolled up socks, or crumpled up paper!
Let the whole family in on the slumber party. Pick a night (probably not Christmas Eve), and have the whole family sleep over in front of the tree. Enjoy the magic of the twinkling lights.
Complete a Christmas puzzle. We buy puzzles from the dollar store or the local thrift store!
Make a Christmas Scavenger Hunt. You can make it with any items you’d like, or create a scavenger hunt to find items needed for the nativity story.
As you watch Christmas movies, write down fun trivia questions and host a Christmas Trivia game night.
Take turns interviewing family members on Christmas Eve. Pick any theme such as funniest Christmas memory, most memorable Christmas tradition, etc.
Build a booby trap the kid’s bedroom doors with red and green streamers. Streamers can be bought at the dollar store.
Belt it out with a Christmas Sing-a-Long. Of course, we pretty much do this all day every day anyway! But you could make it a fun family night activity.
Instead of traditional Christmas gifts, make gift coupons for each other; for example, good for one chore.
Build a giant fort out of blankets and sing Christmas songs by flashlight or read stories.
Make rice bags to keep warm. Rice bags are so easy to make and super cheap. If fabric is too expensive, you could cut up and use old clothing.
12 days of Christmas: Leave “why I love you” notes for your family members every day leading up to Christmas.
Christmas Food Traditions
Make Christmas sugar cookies. This is my kids’ favorite. I make crazy amounts of dough and we spend the afternoon cutting, frosting, tasting (I mean baking) cookies! We usually have so many we take some to the neighbors.
Special food traditions! Make an extra special breakfast. Make a dessert that you only make at Christmas time. We do a Christmas “buffet”. Each of the kids pick what they want (usually we get things like popcorn, cake, or cookie cereal) and we set it all out buffet style!
Leave out milk and cookies for Santa. Don’t forget to leave a carrot for Rudolph, too!
We love hot chocolate! It goes with everything. We drink hot chocolate and watch movies, look at lights, go caroling. The list of reasons to drink hot chocolate is never ending!
Gingerbread houses can be SO expensive. So substitute and make houses out of frosting and graham crackers. You can decide if everyone gets to make one, or if you make one as a whole family!
Host a cookie exchange with the neighbors. Get together and enjoy all the different recipes. Don’t forget the milk!
Deliver a treat to emergency personnel, such as firemen, policemen or hospital staff, who have to work on the holidays.
Christmas Decorating Traditions
Move the Magic Mistletoe. Every night, each family member takes a turn hiding the mistletoe somewhere new in the house. Place it somewhere fun to create hilarious family kissing moments!
Decorate everything! Everywhere! You can find cheap decorations at thrift stores or the dollar store!
Make homemade ornaments. Make one new ornament as a family every year. Or let each person make an ornament. Don’t forget to write the date!
Make Stockings. You can get stockings and some markers or fabric paint, usually at the dollar store, and see what fun stocking creations you can come up with.
Make Paper Snowflakes. I love to hang them from the ceiling with fishing wire and tape!
String Popcorn for the tree. If this is hard for the little ones, you could string fruit loops! That’s what we do. One big bag of Fruit Loops and some yarn and we make a fun garland for the tree! It’s a great fine motor skill activity for the kids too!
Create an Advent Calendar: Make a paper chain countdown to Christmas. Or another idea is to light a new candle every night at dinner! Make sure you use fire safety precautions.
Decorate the Christmas tree. Stores like Walmart carry cheap plastic ornaments. Or check out the dollar store. Thrift stores also sometimes carry Christmas decorations.
Christmas Memory Traditions
Take a family photo in front of the tree every year. It’s amazing how much kids grow every year.
Have the kids write or draw about their Christmas experience. Add it into a 3 ring binder and they can look through it every year.
Hold a Christmas photo contest. Take photos all month long, you could just use a cell phone to take the photos. In the end, award prizes such as “funniest photo,” “best snow picture” or “most creative”.
Write a simple letter to your kids every year to open on Christmas. Save them.
Keep a copy of the kid’s Christmas lists. Make a book and give it to them when they are grown.
Reminisce about the past year. Write a letter to family, or just for yourselves, and include all the major events from the past year.
Make a Christmas Memory Box. Write down your favorite memory every Christmas, place them in a box. Every year, open them up and read about your favorite past Christmas memories.
Christmas Extended Family and Friend Traditions
Have a Christmas movie calendar. Schedule a different movie every day. One night could be a family movie. Then the next night, watch a grown up movie. Feeling extra adventurous, invite the neighbors over to watch with you.
Make Christmas cards. Postage not in the budget, hand deliver cards to your neighbors!
Host a family party. You can play Holiday minute to win it games. I just googled /Pinterest game ideas!
Write letters to family that live far away, or in the military. If you can, include a photo.
Make a small gift or treat to give out to your neighbors and friends. We like to go caroling and deliver these.
Skype with long distance relatives. Skype is free and is a great way to keep in touch with long distance loved ones.
Host an Ugly Sweater Contest. You can get old clothes from the thrift store. Pick a worst dressed winner!
Christmas Family Activities on the Town
Head to the mall and do some window shopping. My husband and I love to keep a “Someday Wish List”.
Go caroling around the neighborhood or the local senior center. Caroling is always a great excuse for hot chocolate!
Go and visit Santa. Try to find one that will let you take a free photo with your phone.
Drive around and look at Christmas lights. Lots of cities have free annual lighting ceremonies! My family bundles up in the car, hot chocolate in hand, and blasts Christmas music!
Have a dollar store gift exchange with the kids. Draw names and have each child try to pick out something special.
Check out local free community plays, concerts, etc. Maybe go out for ice cream after?
Love to sing? Try joining a local church or community choir. Or make your own acapella group! Aca-Awesome!
Enjoy the outdoors together as a family. Gather items and make them into a decorative garland.
If you are lucky enough to live where it snows, have a snow day! Make snow angels, go sledding, build a snowman, build a fort, or have a snowball fight.
Christmas Reading Traditions
Read Christmas stories on Christmas Eve. When we can afford it, I try to buy a new Christmas book every year.
12 Days of Christmas Books. Read a different Christmas book every night leading up to Christmas. Don’t have that many books; check some out from the local library!
Read about Christmas traditions in other countries. Search the internet, or check the local library. If you feel adventurous, try a different one every year.
Read Christmas poems, or write your own. Have children write one every year ‘til they’re grown. (See what I did there?)
Christmas Religious Traditions
Celebrate Jesus’ birthday by making a birthday cake or birthday cards. Be sure to blow out the candles!
Make a giving manger for baby Jesus. You could simply use a cardboard box and a baby doll. Every time you do an act of service for someone, add a piece of hay (or strip of paper) to the manger until Jesus has a soft bed to lie in.
Act out the Nativity. I remember putting a towel on my head with a belt and being a shepherd. One year it was a white sheet and I was the angel!
Read the bible by candle light. There is something so tender and peaceful about reading to the low light of a candle.
Christmas Giving Traditions
A Christmas Service Tree is our family favorite. We do secret acts of service for each other, write them down, put them in an envelope and hang them from the tree. On Christmas, we open up all the envelopes and read aloud all the services we’ve done for one another.
Volunteer. See if any elderly in your neighborhood need help decorating. Or check with local food pantries to lend a hand.
Have the Kindness Elves visit your home. Like the Elf on the Shelf, but instead of making mischief, have the elves do kind acts every night.
Take time to visit the elderly. Head to the local senior center and visit and sing songs with the elderly. They get lonely this time of year and they LOVE playing with kids!
For me, the holidays are all about spending time with my family. I hope this list helps you find a way to spend more time with yours! We’d love to hear about your traditions. Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite holiday tradition.