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Ideas for Fun Christmas Activities and Traditions When Money Is Tight

Athlyn Green enjoys "all things Christmas" and shares tips and ideas with readers.

Merry doesn't have to be mega-expensive

Merry doesn't have to be mega-expensive

Affordable Ways to Celebrate Christmas

There's no doubt about it, enjoyable Christmas activities give meaning to the holidays, helping families to forge strong ties and create lasting memories that people carry with them for the rest of their lives. Many families find that over time, some activities are so enjoyable that they end up becoming yearly undertakings, and thus most families develop holiday traditions.

But how do you create family traditions and treasured memories when money is tight?

This article discusses how you can put the merry back into Christmas with low or zero-cost activities that can be enjoyed by family and friends in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas. These ideas will cover decorations, food, music, and how to enjoy other sights and sounds of the season and will conclude with an idea for an undertaking to preserve those special memories and close out the season.

The activities mentioned in this article aren't overly hard to incorporate into your Xmas routine, and rest assured, even if you have very little left after the bills are paid, you can still engage in enjoyable activities with your family and create traditions that can be passed down to future generations as treasured Christmas customs.

Festive wreath made with natural materials

Festive wreath made with natural materials

Hold a Wreath-Making Party

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, why not hold a wreath-making party? Rings can be purchased ahead of time at a Dollar Store. And you can send the kids, teens, or other family members outside to gather evergreen branches and/or invite friends to bring cuttings if they have trees in their yards.

The cuttings can be fastened onto the rings using twist ties and string. The wreaths can be left plain or adorned with materials each family has on hand.

  • Glue on small pine cones
  • Add mistletoe (if you are fortunate to have it growing in your yard)
  • Add fruit
  • Add candy canes

To add to the occasion, why not add apple juice to a large pot, drop in a couple of cinnamon sticks and heat it? The smell will waft through the house, and when people are finished making their wreaths, they can sip on hot spiced apple cider and visit.

Everyone will now have wreaths they can hang around their homes or on their doors. And the wreaths themselves will add that "it smells like Christmas" feeling by releasing their natural scents.

Cutout ornaments

Cutout ornaments

Make Cutout Ornaments

Making homemade ornaments not only adds to the festive feeling, but can be used to decorate the home.

There are all kinds of ideas for making homemade ornaments, and most do not entail any real expense or a long list of materials.

Cardboard cutouts are relatively easy to make. Free stencils can be found online, printed off, and then traced on cardboard prior to cutting. The cardboard cutouts can be decorated by cutting matching shapes from pieces of wrapping paper or last year's cards and gluing these to the cardboard.

You may opt to pick up a pad or sheets of thick colored paper, which can also be glued on top of the cardboard. If you have a Santa stencil, some thick red paper, and some cotton balls, kids will especially enjoy making Santas and gluing on the fluffy beards.

Another idea is to glue on colored paper and then paint with glitter paint.

A hole punch can be used to make perfectly round openings at the top.

Large white cutouts can be especially beautiful. These can be placed in windows, require little decoration, and the sky's the limit. Imagine a line of reindeer or Santa's sleigh, all done using sheets of white paper or larger sheets of paper.

Gingerbread ornaments

Gingerbread ornaments

Make Baked Ornaments

Baked ornaments can be created from a salt dough. You probably have most of the ingredients in your home pantry. The dough can be cut into gingerbread men, stars, angels, Santas, sleighs or made from whatever cookie cutters you have on hand, then make a hole at the top for stringing a ribbon or lengths of string through later. Decorating the cooled, hard ornaments with glitter paint can be a fun activity for kids. Once decorated, the ornaments can be hung on the tree, or they can be attached to wreaths or even festooned across a mantel.

Edible ornaments. A second idea is to use a regular gingerbread man cookie recipe and give these cookies a long slow baking so they harden and last longer. These can be decorated and used for edible ornaments.

Crocheted bells

Crocheted bells

Crocheted Ornaments

If done well, crocheted ornaments can be truly lovely. They take little in the way of materials and are, in fact, a good way to use up bits of leftover yarn. Sparkly Xmas yarn can add a truly special touch, and purchasing a small skein or two won't break the bank.

Making crocheted ornaments can be a good way to stir an interest in crafting in older kids and teens, which may turn out to be a hobby they embrace for the rest of their lives.

Gather for a Family Portrait

Gathering for a family portrait is a festive Christmas activity that can enrich the holidays. Some families, after they've decorated their porches with evergreens and Christmas lights, assemble for a group photo. This is a neat way to capture each year in pictures.

  • The best photo can be made into a Christmas card and printed off from a home computer, then sent out to friends and family. What an idea for a truly personalized card.
  • A yearly photo can also be popped into an Xmas scrapbook—a good way to preserve memories.
Why not make a tree cake?

Why not make a tree cake?

Yes! A Christmas Tree Cake

Have you ever thought of making a tree cake? Some families make a tree cake each year. This is easy to do using a standard rectangle baking pan.

Once the cake is baked:

  • Start in one corner of your baked cake, cut the cake down the middle in a zig-zag pattern on the diagonal, down to the other bottom corner. It is important to start in a corner so that your tree has a pointed top.
  • Join the two flat sides so that the zig-zagged edges now point outwards and become the tree branches.
  • Ice with green icing.
  • Add thin red licorice to trim the tree.
  • Add Smarties as round tree decorations.
  • Add tiny candy canes to the branches.
  • Colored sprinkles can also be added.

It can be fun each year deciding on how to decorate the tree cake.

Creating an Xmas scene on the top of a cake

Creating an Xmas scene on the top of a cake

Top the Cake With a Christmas Scene

Another idea is to create an Xmas scene on top of a cake, as seen in the photo above. If you plan on doing this each year, check to see what small Xmas tree toppers are available or purchase these after Xmas when on sale for use in coming years.

Caroling through the neighborhood

Caroling through the neighborhood

Why Not Go Caroling?

As it gets a little closer to Xmas, caroling can add to the fun.

  • Some families have formed caroling parties with friends, stopping by each house in the neighborhood singing, as was done in times past. This activity costs absolutely nothing but will bring joy to others and create lasting memories for all involved. Carolers can cheer elderly neighbors and those who are spending Xmas alone, and it also helps to build goodwill and community.
  • Some families create a binder and fill it with favorite Christmas carols, then each year, they gather by the brightly-lit tree, sip hot chocolate, and sing carols together.
Making merry with music

Making merry with music

Live Music Event

If family members play musical instruments, a yearly music concert at home can be a wonderful occasion to spend with friends. What a way to create good cheer with lively music, laughter, and fellowship. Make a big pot of hot chocolate and pass some plates of goodies.

Festive light display

Festive light display

Drive Around and See the Lights

In recent decades, decorating yards and homes with Christmas lights has ramped up to a whole new level. In many areas, municipalities have also gotten on board, awarding prizes for the best-decorated homes and yards. The sights can be truly awe-inspiring.

Why not fill a thermos or two with hot chocolate and pile into the car and make an annual drive through your town or city to enjoy the lights? In some places, certain areas become known for their displays, and these become favorite spots to check out.

This activity can be enjoyed by all family members, and best of all, it costs nothing to take in the sights and sounds of the season.

Churches are great free resources

Churches are great free resources

Attend Concerts

In many places, free or "by donation" concerts are held in churches and church halls. And people of all faiths are invited. If you can't afford to do much for Xmas, attending one of these events can help you feel the Christmas spirit. Why spend money on a pricey concert when you can enjoy live music locally? Usually, carols are sung, and the audience is invited to join in. Many churches put on events like this and then send voluntary offerings to help the impoverished.


Treats From the Xmas Fairy

Some families are visited by the Christmas Fairy. This fairy leaves candy treats in bedrooms in the week leading up to Christmas.

  • Pillow Treats. Why not place a small piece of candy under each family member's pillow? A different candy can be chosen each night.
  • Bedside Table Treats. A chocolate Santa can be placed on bedside tables.

Adults can do this each night once family members are asleep. And all will love looking for the treats in the morning.

Bedside table treats

Bedside table treats

Read a Poem or Story Around the Dinner Table

Poems and stories can be found online, printed off and placed in a binder for use each year. It can be fun to include a blend of old and new.

A Christmas poem or story can be read each night around the dinner table

This festive activity sets the mood in the days before Christmas. If desired, each family member can take turns picking out a selection they want to read from the binder.

Xmas poem

Xmas poem


Christmas Eve Table Presents

Gifts don't have to be just opened on Christmas day. Most families have a Christmas Eve meal, and a small gift can be placed beside each plate. The gifts can be opened before the meal commences. Many families have found this so enjoyable that they have readily adopted it as a yearly activity.

Christmas meal.

Christmas meal.

Inviting Someone for Christmas Eve Meal

A nice way to spread joy is to include someone extra for your Xmas Eve meal. Why not ask a neighbor or someone you know who may be spending Xmas Eve alone and have them in to share this meal with you? A different person can be invited each year and they, too, can receive a small present beside their plate (as touched on above).

Christmas mass

Christmas mass

Attend a Christmas Service or a Midnight Mass

Another activity is to attend a Christmas service at one of the local churches. These are often held closer to Christmas or right at Christmas, with some churches offering a midnight mass. This is a nice way to get to know people in your community.

Organizing can offer a neat way to look back and revisit special memories.

Organizing can offer a neat way to look back and revisit special memories.

Close Out the Season by Creating a Scrapebook

So many have fond memories of Christmases gone by, so why not preserve those memories each year? A nice way to finish off the Christmas season is to compile a scrapbook.

You will want to mark the year on the front, and if you've taken a family photo, that can be added on the first page.

Many items can be tucked into a scrapbook:

  • Photos
  • Notes
  • Letters
  • Cards
  • Posters
Why throw out all those great-looking labels when these can be cut out or added whole to a scrapbook?

Why throw out all those great-looking labels when these can be cut out or added whole to a scrapbook?

Adding Decorative Elements to Inner Pages

Sometimes we receive something that is extra special and too unique, charming, or pretty to be discarded after Xmas. Why not add these items to your scrapbook? These can be tucked around or between larger items or used to decorate outer edges.

  • Invitations
  • Smaller event notices or posters
  • Unique labels
  • Specialized ribbon
  • Stickers
  • Sparkly scenes cut out of cards
Inner scrapbook page

Inner scrapbook page

Put the Merry Back in Christmas Without Spending a Fortune

As can be seen, putting the merry back in Christmas doesn't have to entail significant expense. With a dash of imagination and a little ingenuity, you can enjoy activities that cost little to nothing while adding to the festive feeling, creating lasting memories, and forging beloved family traditions.

© 2016 Athlyn Green


Athlyn Green (author) from West Kootenays on November 18, 2016:

We started adding our own new traditions, such as the small present by We tried the one present on Xmas Eve and the reading of Xmas poems and stories, and we found it so enjoyable. I've also made an Xmas cake and want to do this each year.

Thank you, Blond Logic. Yes, there are so many enjoyable things that don't cost a fortune but goodness knows, people are pressured to spend, spend, spend.

Mary Wickison from USA on November 18, 2016:

Excellent ideas. I think it is doing these things together such as the services, baking and making ornaments that will be remembered in years to come and not expensive presents.

I believe everyone truly wants this type of festive season but many feel peer pressure and pressure from the media to spend an obscene amount during the holiday season.

A timely reminder.