Holiday Activities to Connect with Family

The holidays are about gathering with family and friends and celebrating the season. Holiday family activities help us reconnect with loved ones and create special memories. They can also play a role in your physical and mental health.

Look for activities that spark creativity and togetherness. Arts and crafts are fun. But physical activity can release feel-good hormones and help burn off extra holiday calories.

Not sure what to do? Here are some tried-and-true and creative spins on holiday activities with family. Try some new activities this year — they might just become annual traditions.

Play in the Snow

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s time to bundle up and head outdoors for some delightful fun in the snow. There are lots of things you can do in the snow. You can add a creative twist even if you’ve done them before.

Build a snowperson but skip the scarf and carrot nose. Dress your creation in a funny T-shirt or Hawaiian shirt. Use a favorite baseball cap, old sports helmet, or colorful scarf instead of a winter hat.

Give the snowperson their own house (or fort, if your snowperson is a Medieval knight). Use old plastic containers to make snow bricks or stones to build their snow lodging.

Make Your Own Garland

Decorating a tree is always a fun family activity. Or maybe it once was, but you’ve been stuck doing it by yourself lately.

Rope the family back to decorating the tree with a homemade garland-making activity. Use a tapestry needle and cotton thread to string up a variety of treats. Try stringing popcorn, cranberries, and mini marshmallows — or mix and match.

Freutcake, a craft blog, has step-by-step instructions for popcorn and cranberry garlands.

If you want something more permanent, string a garland of pompom balls. You can buy these in different sizes and colors at a craft store. Or gather some pinecones to create a forest-inspired garland.

If you or your child likes to braid their hair, make a braided garland. Use three rows of natural or colored twine or narrow ribbon to create a braided garland.

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Build a Gingerbread City

Instead of everyone building the same house with four sides and an A-line roof, build a gingerbread city. Recreate your downtown. Or each person in your family builds a place special to them, such as their school or place of worship.

Or come up with a theme, such as a winter wonderland, holidays around the world, or favorite cartoon towns.

Don’t get left out if you have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. You can still make a gingerbread cookie using gluten-free all-purpose flour or gluten-free mix. My Gluten Free Guide by Laura Strange has a recipe and basic building directions.

Create a Holiday Scavenger Hunt

Creating a holiday scavenger hunt for your children or family is one way to find joy. Decide what items to look for and where they can look, such as in your house or on your block. You can widen the scope to your whole town for older kids and family members.

Decide on a small prize ahead of time. Whoever finds all the items first wins.

Foster Shelter Animals

Kids may be asking to get a pet as a gift for the holidays. But, if you can’t take on a pet full-time, you can offer to love a furry friend by fostering a shelter animal. Shelters need foster volunteers for cats and dogs, and sometimes rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds, too.

Shelters often supply all the materials that the pet needs. You provide hands-on time and love. If you can’t foster, many shelters also need volunteers to give a shelter dog a fun day away.

Try a New Winter Sport

Check out a local state park or nature trail near you. Many offer winter activities such as snowshoeing. has a list of snowshoe trails in Pa., some even rent snowshoes. Some nature trails even let you bring along your dog.

You can rent a pair of ice skates at your local ice rink. If it’s been a while since you skated — or if you’re nervous about it — you can sign up for lessons. And it’s never too late to learn downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowboarding.

See The Holiday Lights

Check out a holiday light display or show to help get your family into the holiday spirit. Make a day, weekend, or even an entire week of it.

You can do a simple holiday light tour by walking or driving around your neighborhood. Or do an online search to find the best holiday home light displays in your area.

This time of year, lots of places like to get in on the light display fun. Arboretums, zoos, and botanical gardens often have unique holiday light displays. The tickets usually sell out fast, so if you’re interested, decide where and when soon. lists ten holiday light displays and shows in Pittsburgh and nearby for 2022.

Mix Up Some Mocktails

Everyone deserves a chance to cheer on the holidays. The holidays are often hard to navigate for families with substance use issues. But they don’t have to leave anyone out.

Have a mocktail party where you mix up non-alcoholic concoctions that are festive and delicious. Here are a few to try.

Break Out the Board Games

If your board games are gathering dust, declare a family fun night, and dust them off. Don’t have any? Check out your local library, which may have some you can take out.

Or grab a standard deck of cards. You can play games like go fish, poker, or rummy. Playing for pennies and nickels can add a little competition to the fun.

About UPMC

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