Out & About

Sparking their imagination

My Top 5 Simple & Budget-Friendly Christmas Activities

by Emily Sparkes

Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. Although, for parents and carers, it can often be the most stressful and expensive time of the year. It’s all too easy to fall into the black hole of looking at little squares of other people’s family lives and feeling that you too need to take your children to frolic with elves and reindeer in Lapland (all whilst wearing matching festive pyjamas, of course), have afternoon tea with Father Christmas and Mrs Clause (served by genuine elves, flown in especially from The North Pole), and adorn your home in enough lights to give Rudolph arc eye!

Deep down, we all know that really it’s not about what you spend but who you’re spending it with. And actually, there’s every chance that once the presents are long forgotten and outgrown, it’s the memories children will treasure. So, without further ado, here’s my list of simple and budget-friendly festive activities…

Have a Christmas movie night/afternoon

With the chaos of family life, opportunities to sit and put your feet up in front of a good film can be few and far between. Whilst it may sound painfully obvious, sitting down together to watch a festive flick is a fantastic opportunity to pause and relax in the glow of those twinkly Christmas tree lights. Make it extra special by stocking up on festive treats like hot chocolate (or mulled wine for the adults if you prefer – I’m not here to judge!), mince pies and a tub of Quality Street. If it’s a hit, make it a weekly treat throughout the lead up to Christmas with each family member taking it in turns to choose their favourite movie.

The movies to watch

Everyone has their own family favourites, but during the build up to the big day I recommend that you watch one or all of these must-see movies… It never quite feels like Christmas without them.

Arthur Christmas

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, James McAvoy leads an excellent cast in this fun spin on the festive story… A must watch.


Will Ferrell shines in a Christmas movie that has joined the ranks of holiday classics. Buddy the elf has a special place in our hearts.

Home Alone

Kevin never fails to entertain as he battles Harry and Marv to defend the family home. Maybe stick to the first film of thefranchise to avoid disappointment.

Prep & Landing

Wayne gets a new rookie partner, instead of a promotion. But what he really needs is to be reminded of the true spirit of Christmas.

Rise of the Guardians

A wonderful film which includes a tattooed  sword weilding Santa, what’s not to love about that? A movie to be enjoyed time and time again.

Get baking

(or just decorating if baking’s not your thing!)

Like it or loathe it, children love baking. I’m not sure whether it’s the promise of tasty treat at the end, the opportunity to be creative or just their innate attraction to anything that has the potential to create a horrific mess. That aside, spending time together baking, building and decorating a ginger bread house provides a delightful opportunity for both young and old to get into the Christmas spirit. If you don’t fancy yourself as the next Bake Off champion, kits containing pre-fabricated ginger bread houses are widely available. Even if constructing a pre-baked ginger bread house feels a push too far for your structural engineering skills, it’s the decorating kids seem to like the most. Buy a packet of biscuits; some writing icing and some sweets and let them decorate to their heart’s content. Just remember to keep soft furnishings out of harm’s way!

See the lights

I imagine that by 2065, Outdoor Christmas Decorating will be an Olympic sport. Over the course of my lifetime, Christmas light displays have become increasingly elaborate with fierce rivalry brewing amongst neighbourhoods as they compete to see who will be crowned Christmas Light Champion of the Year. Make the most of it. As children, I vividly remember that my sister and I enjoyed the most mundane of car journeys during the festive season as it provided the perfect opportunity to enjoy all those twinkly lights from the comfort and warmth of the backseat of our Mum’s Ford Mondeo Estate. Sometimes, it really is the simplest things! If however, you’re made of more intrepid stuff than my sister and I, you could always wrap up warm and take a wander around your local area to bask in the glow of other people’s hard work. You might even warm up with a hot chocolate/mulled wine and mince pie on your return. As they say around here, “Job’s a good’un!”

Write letters to Santa

Cliché but hear me out. Before embarking on my current career of Domestic Engineer/Child Development Associate/Household Co-Ordinator, I was an English teacher. As such, I couldn’t really compile a list of festive activities without throwing in a written assignment. Nothing says Christmas like literacy, hey? Writing letters to Father Christmas is an age-old activity but it’s not escaped the long arm of consumerism. Lately, these letters have become less about the traditional pleasantries of asking after the elves and reindeer and more like Mariah Carey’s rider, complete with Amazon links. This is an activity that children of all ages can take part in, even those who are still grappling with the most basic literacy skills. Here are my tips:

Provide a structure – Give kids a list of questions to answer such as “What would you like to tell Father Christmas about yourself?” “Is there anything you’d like to know about Father Christmas or life at the North Pole?”

Don’t get too caught up on spelling – I know it sounds counter-productive coming from an English teacher but trust me, kids soon switch off if they see too much red pen. Focus on a couple of age/ability-appropriate spellings and do your best to ignore the rest. It’ll be endearing if you dig the letter out at some point in the future.

Cultivate their vocabulary – Encourage children to think of snazzy synonyms. “Can you think of another word for ‘cold’?” or “What could you say instead of ‘Christmassy’?”

Decorate – Not all kids love writing. In fact, for many it can be exhausting and frustrating. Once your child has finished composing their letter, invite them to decorate it with pictures, colours or
even sequins.

Remember to post it – thankfully there are a variety of mediums by which Father Christmas can receive his mail. Some like to send their letter up the chimney, some leave it under their pillow and others post it via Royal Mail who ensure Santa writes back, as long as they receive the letter by the 11th December.

Christmas cheer…

I’m not recommending that we all channel Scrooge in the final chapter of A Christmas Carol – The Muppets did a good version if Dickens isn’t for you – but really, Christmas is all about spreading kindness. If the last two years has taught us anything, it’s the power of kindness and community. Encourage your children to reflect on the things they’re grateful for and think about things they can do to brighten someone else’s festive period. It could be as simple as making a homemade card and delivering it to an elderly neighbour or perhaps during a trip to the supermarket, they could be given a budget to choose items to donate to the local food bank. No matter how small a gesture, encouraging children to take the time to think about things they can do to help and support others is an invaluable lesson.

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