29 Free Things to Do During the Holidays to Keep the Season Festive

A father and son lay down in the snow after building a snowman.
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The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but they’re also one of the most expensive.

Last year, holiday spending in the United States hit $886.7 billion. Each of us are complicit — the average American is expected to spend $1,802 for the holidays this year.

And it’s not just gifts that we’re spending money on. It’s flights to visit family, ingredients to prepare a special dinner and a glittery new dress for our office’s holiday party. Of course, you want to enjoy the holidays, but you also don’t want to find yourself staring at your bank statement afterwards, wondering just where all that money went.

Amid all of this, inflation is wreaking even more havoc on your wallet, but there’s one way to seek solace: Find free activities for everyone to enjoy. Round up Grandma and Grandpa or your gaggle of nieces and nephews and take them to one of these complimentary happenings. You just might find a new side of your neighborhood to explore.

29 Free Things to Do During the Holiday Season

These festive activities don’t cost a thing.

1. Run (Or Walk) in a Holiday Run

The holidays often mean endless eating, binging movies on the couch and generally vegging out. But a holiday race — yes, we mean running — is a great way to jump start those fitness resolutions. Registration for these races is sometimes free, meaning you can take your whole family out to the event for no cost. Just expect to break a sweat.

2. See a Holiday Parade

If your idea of a fun holiday activity is something a little more passive, then a parade is the thing to do. Tune in on Jan. 2 to the Rose Parade to watch beautiful floats roll through Pasadena, California. And if you’d rather take your friends and family out to something in person, look for local holiday parades in your area. Make sure to bring a folding chair and a warm mug and you’re ready to go.

3. Go on a Local Scavenger Hunt

This holiday activity requires a bit of work to get off the ground but will come with a big payoff, we promise. If you want to feel like a tourist in your own hometown, then devise a scavenger hunt with clues that will send your guests scrambling around the city. Consider clues that aren’t just object-based — like find the giant blue statue — but require your group to actually do something — for example, take a picture on someone’s porch. Scavify has a helpful guide to get you started.

4. Play Bingo, but Make it *Holiday*

Who doesn’t love Bingo? But did you know that holiday Bingo exists? And better yet, it’s completely free. You can create your own version online and print out cards for the whole family to enjoy. Or if you want something more high-tech, download the free Holiday Bingo app and compete against each other for the best score.

5. Schedule Some Holiday Reading Time

Any day off from work or school is a good excuse to go to the library. And what better way to get in the holiday spirit than dusting off a favorite seasonal book? Make an activity of it by allowing each person in your group to choose their favorite book and take turns reading their favorite parts.

6. Take a Trip to a Scenic Overlook

Whether you live by the mountains or the sea, in the city or in the plains, we know your town has a beautiful place to park or spend a little time. As you feel the essence of the season wash over you, gather up your family or friends, unfurl a blanket and choose a scenic spot to discuss what you’re most grateful for this holiday time of year.

7. Breathe in, Breathe Out With Some Yoga in the Park

If you want to exercise but intense cardio is not your thing, yoga is a low-impact activity that can have a big impact on your mental health. Free Youtube videos mean it’s easy to partake without spending a buck. We particularly love Yoga with Adriene, whose videos offer yoga for any kind of practice. To make this activity especially memorable, find a place where your crew can take advantage of free yoga classes near you.

8. Participate in a Neighborhood Clean-Up

The spirit of the holiday season is more than gifts and baked goods. It’s about giving back. Treat your neighbors to a treat and create a fun experience by organizing a neighborhood clean-up. Beautifying the place you live will energize you and make your life a little bit easier.

9. See the Light Displays

Twinkling lights are a visual reminder that the holiday season is here. And like snowflakes, each light display has its own unique beauty. Take a stroll around your neighborhood, drive by other lit-up streets or check out the streetscapes and decorated storefronts downtown.

10. Attend a Local Festival

The weather may be chilly but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time for a festival. Many cities host winter festivals to celebrate the holiday season. As long as you have enough willpower not to shop from the booths, attending a local festival can be a nice, no-cost weekend outing. Check your local newspaper or community social media pages to see what events will take place in your town or a nearby city.

11. Go Caroling

Gather up a merry band of friends and family and sing all your favorite holiday tunes. Some mugs of hot cocoa afterward make for an even better experience.

12. Write Thank-You Notes

Get your family together to write thank-you notes to relatives and friends who sent gifts. Amid the flurry of unwrapping, it’s particularly easy for kids to “forget” they even got a present. And this gives everyone a chance to send holiday wishes to those who may be far away.

13. Have a Photoshoot

Capture the moment with an informal, seasonal photoshoot. Use your seasonal home decor as a nice backdrop — or select a beautiful snowy spot for outdoor photos.

14. Enjoy the Snow

If you live in an area where it snows, take advantage of all the frozen fun. Make a snowman, have a snowball fight, go sledding and enjoy every snow day you get.

15. Have a Holiday Dance Party

You don’t have much longer to listen to the holiday hit parade. So put on some holiday music and rock out around the Christmas tree.

16. Make Holiday Crafts

Bring out all your arts and craft supplies and turn your Pinterest dreams into reality. Consider this holiday activity if you’re looking for something to do with the kids over winter break. A quick Google search will help you find craft projects to do with kids of all ages.

17. Make DIY Gifts

Still need a gift for someone on your list? Presents don’t have to come from a store. A homemade gift can be just as special. Check out this list of 100 free gift ideas.

A grandmother and granddaughter build a gingerbread house together.
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18. Bake Holiday Treats

‘Tis the season for cookies and pies and cinnamon rolls! Bake up batches of your best holiday treats to give to loved ones or to munch on throughout the season. If you like taking on a project, try baking and assembling a gingerbread house from scratch.

19. Try Out a New Recipe

Perfect a new dish — or a passed-down recipe — to bring to the upcoming holiday get-together. Or experiment in the kitchen to put your own twist on a family favorite.

20. Host a Cookie Swap

Call up all your friends who love to bake and task them with whipping up a few dozen of their best cookies. Then gather everyone together to swap and taste each other’s culinary creations.

21. Host a Toy Exchange

If your kids have a bunch of toys they’ve grown out of or lost interest in, organize a toy exchange with other families in your social circle. Each kid can walk away with something “new” to them and you won’t have to pay a dime.

22. Host a Potluck

Instead of cooking all the food for a holiday dinner — and spending a bunch of money at the grocery store — host a potluck-style meal. Each person can bring a dish (or drinks or even paper plates) so that no one person is stuck with the financial burden of feeding everyone.

23. Attend a Free Performance

December is the time of year when many organizations have their holiday concerts. Even if you don’t know people in the band or chorus, you can come out to support your community. Many performances are free.

A group of friends sing karaoke on Christmas.
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24. Sing Karaoke

You don’t have to be a talented singer to sing karaoke. You just have to be up for having a fun time. If you and your friends don’t have a karaoke machine at home, you can always play instrumental lyric videos on YouTube.

25. Have a Game Night

Break out the board games and decks of cards and invite your friends over for game night. Ask your pals to bring their favorite games so you have a nice selection to choose from. Winner gets bragging rights for the rest of the year.

26. Have a Movie Night

Make a list of your favorite holiday movies and organize a movie night. Or skip the holiday theme and select movies based on your favorite film genre. Don’t forget the popcorn and snacks!

27. Break Out the Conversation Cards

Get to know your loved ones better using conversation cards as discussion prompts. While you can purchase card decks online, you can also Google free printable conversation cards. Bring out the conversation cards when everyone’s together for the big holiday dinner.

A woman hands a Christmas present to a child while volunteering.
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28. Volunteer

Give back during the holiday season by volunteering your time to a local charity. You could serve meals at a soup kitchen, deliver presents for kids in need or try another giving activity.

29. Create a Vision Board

With the new year approaching, it’s the perfect time to create your resolutions for the year ahead. Make your goals visual by creating a vision board using magazine clippings, stickers, photos and more. Gather friends and family for a vision board party where everyone can create their vision boards together.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Writer Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.