Thanksgiving is upon us, which means the start of the holiday season! Hanukkah is early this year (beginning the evening of November 28), and the Christmas season is sure to fill up December. We’re excited to mark the changing seasons with some special seasonal fun. 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 #sharekidlist. We love to repost local families to inspire one another.
This bucket list is sponsored by KidzToPros.
Give the gift of new experiences with KidzToPros Holiday Camps!
The Holiday season is at our doorstep and so are KidzToPros’ Holiday Camps! Among the many things to be thankful for, the gift of providing new experiences to children across the US is the greatest!
KidzToPros Holiday Camps offer the most popular STEM, arts & sports activities to check off items from child’s Christmas bucket list. Kids ages 4-12 can experience activities like soccer, robotics, creative arts and so many more, in a 3-day camp happening twice – before and after Christmas!
Let’s jingle all the way to KidzToPros Winter Break Camps!
2021 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.
- Check out our list of local volunteer opportunities for food drives and more.
- Involve the kids in gift-giving for relatives and friends! Write up a list of people you plan to give gifts to and hang it where they can see. There are so many opportunities for learning here: talk about what each person might like (based on their interests and needs) to help build imaginative empathy, practice budgeting for gifts to introduce money smarts, or try your hand at homemade gifts with crafty kiddos.
Go see Santa.
- Our list of Where to See Santa in 2021 will help you track down the big man in red!
- Also back this year: opportunities to eat with Santa! Registration tends to fill up early for these events, so check them out ASAP to save your seats.
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!
See a special exhibit or immersive experience.
- The Field Museum has two new exhibits that will make returning to this Chicago mainstay more than worthwhile!
- Check out all the special exhibits and immersive experiences going on in Chicagoland right now, from a mini-golf exhibit at the Elmhurst Art Museum to an Office-themed experience in downtown Chicago.
Have an outdoor Christmas party.
Have some friends over and bundle up for outdoor fun! You might want to:
- Roast marshmallows over the fire. Good for warmth and yummy, too!
- Have a thermos or decanter full of hot cocoa or cider on hand for warmth throughout the night.
- Do a warm sock exchange. My friends and I did this every year in high school, and it was always so much fun!
- Sing Christmas carols together. Print out the lyrics to your favorites ahead of time so everyone can join in the fun.
- For a magical touch, hang battery-operated tealights from the trees. (Just remember to take them down afterwards so they batteries don’t corrode!)
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. So many in-person shows are back this year!
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.
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 a local lights displays.
- There are two new light shows this year! Willow Hills Winter Magic is a drive-through experience at Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook and Amaze Light Festival is now open at Impact Field in Rosemont. Check out Annie’s review of Amaze Light Festival.
- Mooseheart is hosting its annual Holiday Lights drive-through show.
- Let It Shine is a drive-thru display in the parking lot of Northbrook Court . . . and this year, it’s come to the Fox Valley Mall parking lot in Aurora and Wintrust Field in Schaumburg, too!
- Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic and Cosley Zoo’s Festival of Lights remain walk-through experiences.
- The Morton Arboretum’s Illumination is an annual local favorite and moved back to a walk-through experience again! There are still tickets available.
- Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape still has tickets available as of November 22! Last year, it sold out early, so be sure to check out tickets in advance if you have your heart set on attending.
- 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, and so many of our downtown areas make it festive and bright along the retail areas.
See amazing residential 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. Nicole works so hard on this guide every year, and it’s always a great treat!
Lace up your skates.
- Read our review of the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park from last year! Reserve your time in advance. This year, all reservations include admission to Gogh Skating – The Van Gogh Experience, too.
- Skating in the Park opens in Rosemont after Thanksgiving.
- Brookfield Zoo brought back it’s Glice ice skating rink with synthetic ice. The cost for unlimited time on the rink is $7 per person. A limited number of skates are available to rent for a $5 fee. Skaters are welcome to bring their own skates.
- Other refrigerated outdoor rinks open locally include the Circle Park Ice Rink in Bloomingdale, the Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink in Cicero, and the Central Athletic Complex in Wheaton.
- Check out indoor ice arenas and unrefrigerated outdoor rinks in our list of ice skating rinks!
Go on a holiday hike.
The Morton Arboretum is free to visit every Christmas Day! We went two years ago 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.
Journey through a live nativity.
It’s looking like a promising year for live nativity events! Stay tuned for our article on local live nativities, which publishes on
Break out the board games.
Enjoy some friendly competition.
Get out of the cold and challenge yourself! We rounded up all the options for laser tag and go-karting in our area so you can play and do something different. We also have a great list of bowling alleys where you can play with or without bumpers and ramps. Escape rooms are another good option when you want to do some cooperative problem solving.
Go get a Christmas tree.
This might be the perfect outdoor activity! Many farms offer special touches to make the experience sweeter, like hot cocoa or shaking out your tree for you. 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.
Redeem those experience gifts.
Why not gift some experiences, then schedule them during winter break? Jill put together a helpful list of ideas for all ages in our gift guide.
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.
We love when you tag us on social! Be a Kidlist friend and tag @kidlist #sharekidlist when you try something you see on the site.