Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fun - and FREE! - Holiday Things To Do With Your Family

Christmas is an expensive time of year. You buy presents for everyone in your family and a few close friends. You tip your hairdresser, your lawn guy, your assistant, your mailman, your trash guy, your recycle guy, your grocery store cashier. You donate to the Salvation Army and Heifer International and Toys for Tots. You buy presents for your kids' teachers, your co-workers, the neighbors who feed your cat and take in your mail when you go on vacation. You bake dozens of batches of cookies with expensive ingredients. You replace those broken Christmas bulbs and pick up a few new lawn ornaments. You buy a turkey, a ham, and a LOT of wine for family gatherings. Everyone in the family needs new festive clothes for going to concerts, church, and parties. So the last thing you need is a list of pricy holiday events like going to see Boston Ballet's Nutcracker or North Shore Music Theater's annual production of A Christmas Carol.

Well, this list is NOT that. Everything on this list is completely, 100% FREE (outside of the cost of transportation to get there). If your purse is feeling a bit thin this holiday season, here are some wonderful - and FREE!! - activities to help you and your family get back into the holiday spirit.

Visit Santa
Almost every mall I've ever been to invites kids to come and talk to Santa for free when there isn't a long line. You have to pay for a photo, and they don't usually allow you to take your own, but Santa is happy to chat with your kids and ask them what they'd like for Christmas (be sure to stand close enough to eavesdrop). And when it's quiet, he'll often spend quite a while just chatting with them. Most will even give the kids a free candy cane, too!

Check Out the Decorated Houses
In almost every city you can find a house - sometimes even an entire neighborhood - that goes absolutely CRAZY about Christmas decorating. In my hometown, it's the Schulers' house. There's Christmas music piped outside. There are sleighs and penguins and reindeer and Santas and elves and snowmen. There's Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Olaf and Mrs. Claus. There's a Santa on a train and one on a jetski and one in an airplane. There are white lights and colored lights and moving lights and flashing lights. We drive past their house several times a week through the whole Christmas season.

If you're not sure where there's a good display near you, hop onto Google and see what you can find. A local radio station posted this list for Boston area displays last year. I bet with a bit of patience, you can find a similar list for wherever you live.

Town Treelighting Ceremonies
The treelighting ceremony in Boston is a spectacle, and although impressive, does tend to be very crowded. But most towns have a scaled-down version that may include local school choirs, town band or orchestra concerts, even a recital by students at a local dance school. Some towns even offer free hot chocolate and free cider.

Ice Skating
You do need to own ice skates for this one to be truly free, but chances are you can borrow skates from a friend for the day. There are plenty of safe outdoor skating areas if you ask around. Some places, like the Frog Pond in Boston, charge a small fee for adults but are free for children (13 and under, in the case of the Frog Pond), so Mom & Dad can watch from the sidelines while the kids skate. This link lists a bunch of free and paid outdoor skating rinks in Massachusetts.

Blink!
This is a Boston-specific activity, but if you're anywhere within driving distance, it's worth checking out. Blink! is "A Light and Sound Extravaganza" featuring the music of the Boston Pops and 350,000 coordinated Christmas lights "dancing" to the music. Dates and times are listed here.  

Local Christmas Concerts
Check your town website for what's going on near you. Many school and local orchestras, bands, choirs offer free concerts this time of year. Some churches host free Christmas concerts, sometimes even a performance of Handel's Messiah - often open for amateur singers to join the chorus! Put on your most festive holiday outfit and enjoy classic and new Christmas songs performed by your friends and neighbors.

Tour Your Local Farm or Nursery
Many nurseries and farmstands go all out for Christmas, with dozens of decorated and themed Christmas trees, miniature train sets and the snow villages to go with them, even reindeer in the yard waiting to be petted and fed. It can be great fun to wander around, enjoying the festive atmosphere, getting decorating ideas, and watching the kids' eyes light up as they imagine one of those reindeer helping to pull Santa's sleigh on Christmas.

Go Caroling
If you're at all musical, check with your local hospital and nursing home to see if they have any groups of carolers coming in, and ask the caroling group if you can join them. In my experience, the carolers are always happen to have additional voices. And there is nothing that can get you in the Christmas spirit like bringing joy to the face of someone who is ill or elderly and separated from their family at Christmas time. And isn't bringing joy to others what Christmas is all about?

Volunteer
There are always plenty of opportunities to help out your favorite charity during the holiday season. Be a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. Help prepare or serve dinner at a soup kitchen. Help sort, wrap, or deliver toys for a local toy drive or Angel Tree program. Deliver dinners with Meals on Wheels or help serve at your local Council on Aging. Visit residents in your local nursing home and read to them or ask them about their childhoods. Shovel off your neighbor's walkway if it snows before they get home from work. Volunteer to walk or groom animals at your local shelter or rescue society. Whatever type of volunteer work interests you, do it as a family.

Merry Christmas!


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