This year more than ever, a great bucket list can help give us some inspiration to focus on the hope-filled holidays! Explore the outdoors and get cozy at home with family activities. We are also always updating our December events calendar, so check back regularly for outdoor, online, and socially distanced goings-on.
Don’t miss our printable holiday bucket list at the end after your check out all of the ideas, details, and links!
If you are on Instagram, tag us (@kidlist) and use the hashtag #mykidlist. We love to repost local families to inspire one another.
2020 Holiday Bucket List Ideas
Most toy drives end in early December, so check out our list of Toy Drives and Donations full of local opportunities to give. A huge thank you to Band & Wire in Clarendon Hills for sponsoring this wonderful list.
You can also check out our list of local volunteer opportunities for food drives, virtual options, and more.
Go see Santa.
Our list of Where to See Santa in 2020 will help you track down the big man in red! This year, Santa’s making sure to be there for every child with socially distanced events, Zoom visits, phone calls, and more.
. . . or, visit the Grinch instead.
2020 got you feeling grouchy? Embrace it with a visit to the Grinch’s Grotto at Old Orchard Mall in Skokie!
Write a letter to Santa.
Put on some carols, break out the paper and pencils, and have your kids
practice their handwriting skills write up their wish lists. Then, head to the mailbox with your lists!
Roast marshmallows over the fire.
I’ve started calling this season “our Outside Winter.” We’re leaning into bundling up and getting outdoors! If you’ve got a backyard, break out the fire pit and roast up some marshmallows — and if not, the stove or microwave can give you a hand. Bonus points for caroling ’round the fire!
Bring a winter flower bulb to a friend.
Amaryllis, paper whites, daffodils can be forced to flower over the winter. A bulb garden of cold-hardy spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and others can be planted in pots to bloom indoors in late winter.
Make your own homemade decorations.
Make paper chains, popcorn garlands, and cranberry strands to decorate your tree. Little kids can practice their fine-motor skills, while bigger kids can enjoy playing decorator!
Buy greens and a wire wreath form and make your own wreaths with older children.
Enjoy some holiday theater together.
Our round-up of Holiday Theater for Kids and Nutcracker Performances will help you mix it up with a holiday favorite. Pop some popcorn and make a fuss over it!
Make play-dough or felt cookies.
Little kids can extend the cookie-baking fun with play-dough and cookie cutters, or you can cut out felt gingerbread men and decorative scraps for a portable option.
Try a virtual escape room.
These look so cool! We haven’t tried one yet, so if you find a favorite, please let us know.
Make homemade gift supplies.
Homemade gift tags and wrap add a special touch to the presents ‘neath the tree. Add an extra element of fun by using recycled items, like grocery bags stamped with potato stamps and paint, or tags made from carboard boxes.
Go extra with your hot cocoa bar.
Whip up a batch of hot cocoa and set out fun mugs, whipped cream, candy canes, marshmallows and sprinkles and let the kids go to town.
Make marshmallow snow people.
Set out a bowl of giant marshmallows and let the kids skewer them onto sticks. Then, decorate with little candies for their faces, pretzel sticks for arms, and maybe a chocolate kiss for the hat. Get creative with what you have around the house and have the kids make one for each member of the family!
Take your paper snowflakes to the next level.
This is one of Annie’s family’s personal favorites! Use coffee filters and fold in half and then in half again. Have fun cutting all sorts of shapes and then open to see your unique creation. If you want to take it a step further, color your coffee filter snowflakes with markers and spray with a water bottle – the end result looks tie-dyed.
Take a magical ride through town.
Availability might change over the course of the season, but our list of Horse-Drawn Carriage and Trolley Rides is a great resource for finding a ride!
Ooh and ahh at local lights displays.
Mooseheart is hosting its annual Holiday Lights drive-through show. Let It Shine is a new drive-thru display in the parking lot of Northbrook Court. Meanwhile, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic and Cosley Zoo’s Festival of Lights remain walk-through experiences.
(The Morton Arboretum’s Illumination and Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape are both unfortunately sold out through December, but you can check back to see if any additional availability has been added.)
Looking for free lights? Festival of Lights in Phillips Park is a huge, free dive-through light show put on in Aurora every year!
For walking options, Lilacia Park in Lombard has a beautiful setup, Naper Lights is a winter wonderland on Water Street in Naperville, downtown Wheaton has a great display, the Village of Rosemont usually has a giant Christmas tree and a lot of lights to enjoy, and so many of our downtown areas make it festive and bright along the retail areas. (We live in downtown Naperville and walk over to the light show every weeknight — my kids love it!)
See amazing home Christmas lights.
Go on your own personal lights tour to see the amazing displays that local residents create. We make it easy in our list of the Best Christmas Lights with photographs, descriptions, and a map so you can plan your route. Residential lights displays usually start the day after Thanksgiving and our updated guide comes out around the same time.
Lace up your skates.
It’s not too early to go ice skating. Yorktown Center has an indoor rink this year, there is a new outdoor rink at Field Park in Western Springs, and the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink is opening for reservations in Rosemont after Thanksgiving. Read our review of the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park (this year it’s reservation only and I’m sure they will sell out). There are so many options that we encourage you to check them out in our list of ice skating rinks!
Decorate gingerbread houses.
Whether you pick up a kit or DIY it, this activity is a classic for a reason! You can even make it a “contest” with friends or family, where everyone submits a photo of their finished product.
Make homemade marshmallows.
I’ve never tried this, but Annie has, and her family’s favorite recipe is Emily’s Famous Marshmallows on Allrecipes. I think I see some cocoa in our future!
Watch a holiday movie.
Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, The Christmas Chronicles, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Preacher’s Wife, and Frosty the Snowman are some of our favorites. Holidate, Operation Christmas Drop, and Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey are new holiday movies that just came out this month.
Go on a holiday hike.
The Morton Arboretum is free to visit every Christmas day! We went last year after all the present-opening hubbub, and it was a glorious counterbalance to all the hustle and bustle.
Anytime this season, head outside a take a walk at Fullersburg Woods or Waterfall Glen to clear your mind with fresh air. Click here for more ideas for where to take a walk in the forest preserve.
Join in for a virtual menorah lighting.
IsraelNow Chicago is hosting Shine Bright on the First Night on December 10, 2020 at 6:15 pm. Check the website for registration information coming soon!
Journey through a live nativity.
We’ll keep you in the loop about live nativity events this year! For example, Grace Pointe in Naperville is hosting Strollin’ to the Stable on December 5 (register in advance)
Break out the board games.
We hit the board games hard at the start of the pandemic, but I think it’s time to take them back out again as we spend more nights inside. Our round-up of games to play with big families is great inspiration if you’re looking for a new favorite. Local toy shops are also happy to help you find a good fit for your family; we have some games from Anderson’s that even my 2-year-old can play!
Go get a Christmas tree.
This might be the perfect outdoor activity for this year! Head out and pick up a tree from a local Christmas tree farm or lot.
Write your own holiday letters.
A short and sweet handwritten note would definitely make a loved one’s day! You don’t need to get overwhelmed with a huge list, but if your kids get a kick out of making mail, they’ll love this chance to send merry tidings.
Hopefully we’ll have a white Christmas so we can all enjoy some sledding, make some snowmen, and enjoy the outdoors in a different way! Click here to find a new sled hill and get the inside info on where to go.
Holiday Bucket List
We made a printable too! Click the image below to open the holiday bucket list in a new window and print the high quality version so you can mark off the ones you have done.
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