1. Set up a Christmas Eve scavenger hunt.
Make the kids hunt down one present that they can open before Christmas.
2. Compete in a Dollar Tree shopping spree.
Everyone gets a specific amount of money — like $5 — and has 10 minutes to shop for each family member before heading home and wrapping their secret present for Christmas Day.
3. Set out a Santa sack.
Let the kids fill a Santa sack with toys and books on Christmas Eve for kids in need. Not only do you downsize a bit, but the kids learn the value of giving. Leave the sack under the tree and Santa will pick it up when he drops off presents.
TIP: Keep things easy — use a large pillowcase for the sack and write on it with a fabric sharpie.
4. Sprinkle reindeer food in the front yard.
Make a batch with the kids right before bedtime and spread the magic food on the lawn to help Santa and his reindeer find their way to your home. Use a recipe like this one, which is safe for critters to eat.
EXTRA CREDIT: Before the kids wake up, scatter chocolate-covered raisins or malt balls around the yard for reindeer poop because after all, what child doesn’t love to talk “poop”?
5. Or, feed the birds a Christmas dinner.
Fill bird feeders or hang bird food outside so birds can have Christmas dinner. Another option: throw pine cones covered in peanut butter and bird seed into tree branches.
6. Track Santa’s path.
Beginning December 1 you can use Norad to track Santa. Make sure to gather together and check his status on Christmas Eve when the anticipation and excitement is high and you see just how close he is to your house as he delivers presents to children around the world.
7. Write a letter to your child.
Write a simple and heartfelt letter to your child on Christmas Eve and have them open it on Christmas day. Mention qualities that make you proud, and share your hopes for their future. Over the years, these letters can become a collection of keepsakes that your child can look back on when they’re older.
8. No chimney? No problem. Hang up a Santa key.
Not everyone has the luxury of a fireplace, so make it easy on Santa and ceremoniously leave a magic key outside the front door on Christmas Eve. Get creative, whether it’s an antique key or one you cut out from cardboard and decorate with glitter
9. Hide a pickle in the Christmas tree.
A tradition believed to have started in Germany centuries ago, tuck a pickle ornament (for the really bold, make it the real thing) into the tree, and the first child to find it gets to open one gift on Christmas Eve—or be the first to open their gift on Christmas morning.
10. Ding-dong ditch the neighbors.
Make this a Christmas Eve tradition that actually brings a smile to your neighbor’s face. Leave a holiday treat at their door, ring the bell, and run away.
11. Choose a tradition from another country.
Each year, pick a country and research how they celebrate the holiday, then make it your own on Christmas Eve. Best of all, no passport required. In the Ukraine it’s tradition to hang spider web-shaped decorations on the tree. Consider going through your Halloween decoration box for this one.
12. Make a batch of Grinch popcorn.
Why not bring out the classic movie The Grinch Who Stole Christmas while you eat your Grinch popcorn? The recipe for this fun and green popcorn is easy, and the taste is a delicious combination of salty and sweet.
13. Have a family pizza party.
Save the traditional meal for Christmas Day and instead, lay out all the ingredients to make pizzas on Christmas Eve. Keep the winter spirit by creating a Snowman or Candy Cane pizza.
TIP: For simplicity’s sake, consider using ready-made pizza crust.
14. Or, make tamales.
Making tamales on Christmas Eve is a Mexican tradition that has spread to the southwest and southeastern United States. It’s fun to make with the whole family, especially with the kids. Make some space and prepare to get your hands messy. Try this recipe and choose between beef or chicken, or do both.
TIP: Don’t forget to double or triple the recipe! These tamales freeze really well.
15. Go caroling in a retirement home.
Spread the holiday magic to the elderly and those who might be alone at Christmas. As a family, plan your songs ahead of time, and aim for popular ones so everyone can sing along.
16. Make a snow globe.
Dreaming of a white Christmas, but it’s unlikely to happen? Get the imagination going and create snow globes with the kids. These are easy to make–just gather jars wide enough for figurines to fit in, some glue, water, glitter, and glycerin—which helps the glitter float better.