Seven Free Family Holiday Activities


Leave it to a recessionary economy to make free fun seem better than ever.

This holiday leave the pricey family activities off the agenda and swap them out for more economical good times. MainStreet has some budget-smart ways to have a blast with loved ones without breaking the bank:

Embrace the 12 days of "Giftmas."
Who wants one present when they can have 12? The caveat? Each gift has to be free. All members of the family draw names and become someone’s little helper, every day doing one nice thing for the other person, like helping with homework, taking an item off their "To Do" list or simply leaving a love note. You’ll prove that the biggest treat under the tree doesn’t have to be wrapped in a Tiffany box.

Clean your closets.
Okay, that doesn’t sound like fun, but it can be. Plenty of organizations are in need of gently used clothing or toys, including Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your local food bank. If you’re crafty, check out sites such as, a nonprofit organization that donates handmade infant caps and blankets to improve health care in places such as Haiti. The site teaches you to turn your old T-shirts, linens and blankets into usable items for babies and new mothers. No sewing machine required and any skill level from kids to pro will do the job. You’ll remove clutter (an early New Year’s resolution checked off) and you’ll show your littlest ones that busy hands are happy hands.

Give the gift of storytelling.
Celebrate someone in your family by recording their personal story. Start by logging on to and download a free do-it-yourself guide, plus a question generator to get the interview started. Then all you need is a recording device (video, cassette or a good old fashioned pen and paper) and an open mind. You’ll gain insight into what makes your relatives tick and give your children a chance to learn more about their heritage.

Recreate other folks' traditions.
Add some diversity to your annual rituals by researching seasonal traditions of other cultures and incorporating one or two into your celebrations. (It’s a great excuse to get the kids to learn some extra world history at the same time.)

Have a holiday party swap.
Instead of going all out at your annual adults-only dinner gathering, be creative (and budget-friendly) by re-spinning the evening with a kid-friendly theme. Each family brings its own signature dish (you’d all be making dinner anyway) with a recipe to share and, in lieu of presents, let the children expend their energy making homemade holiday ornaments and decorations they can take home.

Commemorate your year.
Time capsules are the perfect way to document everything your family has done together for the past 12 months, from vacations to sporting events to school activities. All you need is a Mason jar or coffee can, plus photos, ticket stubs, play bills or other memorabilia to stick inside. You’ll be reminded of the good times and all that’s priceless in your family’s life.

Immerse yourself in the scene.

You don’t have to spend loads of cash to enjoy the sounds, smells and sights of the holidays. Take a walk in your neighborhood, down Main Street or up around the local business district to enjoy the carolers, festive lights and other decorations of the season. Nothing gets you in a festive mood like window shopping in the crisp winter air, beneath the stars and twinkling lights.

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