21 Free Things to Do During the Holidays to Make the Season Merry and Bright

A father and son lay down in the snow after building a snowman.
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The holiday season is an expensive time of the year.

You’re buying presents for loved ones, decorations for the house, extra groceries for big dinners and outfits for holiday parties. You’re giving special tips to service workers and spending money to travel to visit family.

All the money leaving your bank account can cause a bunch of financial stress. It’s good to have some things to do during the holiday season that don’t add to that.

21 Free Things to Do During the Holiday Season

These festive activities don’t cost a thing.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Go Caroling

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

A Santa Claus hugs two children at the mall.
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4. Visit Santa

If you’ve got little kids, a visit to see Santa should always be on your holiday to-do list. Opt for taking your own pics rather than purchasing the professional photos that are offered.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Trim Your Tree

Decorating your Christmas tree is a fun holiday activity — and if you’ve already got an artificial tree and ornaments, you won’t have to purchase anything. Put on some holiday music and get ready to untangle lights and find the perfect spots for your favorite ornaments.

8. 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.

9. Make DIY Gifts

Who says presents 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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10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. Host a Potluck

Instead of cooking all the food for Christmas 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.

15. Attend a School Performance

December is the time of year when all the local schools have their holiday concerts. Even if you don’t have kids in the band or chorus, you can come out to support the youth in your community. Many school performances are free.

A group of friends sing karaoke on Christmas.
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16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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!

19. 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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20. Volunteer

Give back during the holiday season by volunteering your time to a local charity. You could serve meals at a soup kitchen, wrap presents for kids in need, make Christmas cards for residents in a senior center or volunteer in another way.

21. 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.


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