Christmas Eve often takes a backseat to December 25, but I personally prefer the laid-back day before. Christmas Eve is the perfect time to remember old traditions or to start new ones with your family. After you've done your pictures with Santa, had some free holiday fun, and attended a quirky NJ Christmas event, it's time to settle in and share some special moments with your family. We've put together a list of a dozen fun things to do with your kids, from tracking Santa to baking cookies and making holiday crafts. Merry Christmas!
If you're looking for daytime Christmas and Hanukkah weekend fun, check out our full weekend events roundup, and more family events can always be found in our Event Calendar.
1. Bake cookies: I have many fond memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom. Spritz cookies were a staple in our house. All you need is a cookie press (I have this one), along with some sprinkles, colored sugars, red hots and any other decorations you like. Cookie presses make cute little cookies very easily, and the Spritz recipe is so easy to make (I use this one) and so much fun to decorate! My 3-year-old loves decorating the little Christmas trees and wreathes with sprinkles (almost as much as he loved eating the sprinkles).
2. Be charitable: There are so many ways to give back at this time of year. The many options can be overwhelming, but consider something like adopting a family in need, donating a meal, or simply giving to a local toy drive. The New Jersey Division of the Salvation Army organizes an Adopt-A-Family Program. The program matches impoverished families with individual or group sponsors to provide for their holiday needs. Visit the website to fill out an application. And find more ways to volunteer with kids in NJ here.
3. Track Santa: Norad or Google will help you track Santa on Christmas Eve! Watch the kids' eyes grow wide as they guess his next stop! You can also download apps for your iPad or iPhone. Kids love the excitement of seeing where in the world Santa is flying over to deliver presents!
Write to Santa! Photo by Scott via Flickr.
4. Send a personalized message from/to Santa: Portable North Pole gives you the opportunity to send a special personalized message from Santa right to your child. You can choose to send to a “nice”, “naughty/nice,” or “naughty” child. (You can also send to a naughty or nice adult). There are many other options as well, so let the fun begin! Kids can also leave a message for Santa. As everyone knows, Santa loves getting notes when he stops by to drop off presents, so have your child jot down a thank you for all his hard work. You can go all out with stickers, doodles, and other decorations.
5. Make crafts: A little craft making can go a long way when it comes to keeping your kids happy and busy. Target and Michaels sell craft kits for various holidays. This year I purchased a penguin and Santa’s sleigh kit. You can hang your newly made decorations on the tree or give as handmade Christmas presents to the family. You can also buy some plain plastic Christmas balls, along with glitter and paint, and let the little artists have at it. Find loads of inexpensive DIY crafts in our WeeWorks Activities Guide.
6. Wrap gifts: It has to get done anyway, so why not make it a family affair? Kids love to help out, so let them wrap or decorate packages with ribbons, bows, etc. Put on some Christmas music, gather round the fire (or the annual Yule Log on TV or this cute YouTube version), and be merry together.
7. Look at Christmas lights: Take the kids out for a walk or drive and check out the local Christmas lights. It may be a simple activity, but it really gets the whole family into the holiday spirit. End your journey with hot chocolate at your favorite cafe, or make some at home.
8. Open a present: There are many customs out there when it comes to the holidays. One that was always a favorite in my family was the much-anticipated Christmas Eve present. We were allowed to open only one, and it was always new pajamas (which we would put on immediately), but it was something we looked forward to, and it made the evening more special.
9. Read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Start an old-school tradition in your house and read this classic before bedtime on Christmas Eve. You can also read it right from your computer here or watch a YouTube version set to the soundtrack of Perry Como. There is also an app for your Apple device. Other good Christmas Eve stories include The Polar Express and The Christmas Wish.
Photo by Mommy Poppins
10. Draw a portrait of Santa: Break out the crayons or markers, and have your child draw his best Santa portrait. Santa will surely love to see himself through your kid's eyes. He might leave it behind for Mom and Dad to keep though, so be sure your child signs and dates it! If your family chooses to draw Santa's portrait each year, it's a real pleasure to see your child's artistry grow and mature.
11. Leave milk and cookies for Santa: It’s the last thing a lot of us did before going to bed as kids on Christmas Eve. Have your kids write out their letters to Santa and leave them with some treats for the big guy. Pull together some of the other things you’ve done during the day—maybe a craft, ornament, or some of the cookies you baked together. Whatever it is, your kids will be eager to help prepare for the arrival of Santa Claus!
12. Leave snacks for the reindeer: Santa gets all the love! Don't forget about Rudolph and his crew before the kids go off to bed. Leave apples, carrots, or maybe some celery sticks for the eight tiny reindeer who will surely need a pick-me-up when they touch down at your house. Kids can toss these snacks on your front stoop or lawn, and if the fruits and veggies have some big bites taken out by morning, it will only add to the magical feeling.
Originally published 2013. Updated December 2016.
Top photo by Steve Rainwater via Flickr.