Little joys: 60+ ideas for creating a minimalist Christmas with kids

A little girl rolls out cookie dough with a rolling pin on a floured surface, with different shapes of cookie cutters nearby.

Christmas can be a magical time with kids. But, my goodness, sometimes it can be completely overwhelming. How many presents should we buy? Did we spend approximately the same amount of money on each kid? Have we eaten all the Christmas foods you’re supposed to eat? Why are there 17 packages sitting on my front step right now? Where is the money coming from for all of these things? And at what point do we get to start sleeping in heavenly peace?

It feels like in the fast-paced, comparison-driven world we live in, we have to work a little harder to find quiet moments to appreciate the simple things in our lives—especially at Christmas. Schedules are full, budgets are tight and stress levels seem to get tested in new ways every year. But here’s the good news—it is possible. Read on for a list of Christmas activities for kids that will help you achieve maximum joy with minimum stress at the most wonderful time of the year.

Inspired? Create and share by tagging @HallmarkStores.

Looking for specific ideas? Use the link menu below to jump straight to a section of the article.

Minimalist Christmas Gift Ideas  

Christmas gifts don’t have to be expensive or elaborate to bring the little joys that make Christmas magical. Here are some minimalist gift ideas that can add joy to your season.

  • Try opening up smaller gifts at a few different times (Christmas Eve/Christmas morning/after Christmas dinner) to spread out the excitement.
  • Have each child pick out a special card or ornament for their sibling(s).
  • Bake a big batch of cookies to divide, wrap up and give to family and friends.
  • Give each family member a budget of $5 and go shopping for each other at an antique or thrift store.
  • Make gift-giving into an experience by teaching older kids how to measure wrapping paper and wrap a gift—use this guide to get started.
  • Work as a family to sign Christmas cards for friends and family members. Have kids decorate the cards, sign their name and maybe even write a short note if they’re old enough. (Here are some ideas on what to write, along with our best Christmas card tips.)
  • If money is tight, have everyone pick one other person to give a gift to (Secret Santa-style or not) or do homemade or food-based gifts. Here are some more fun family gift exchange ideas.

Filling Family Time With Little Joys  

Some of the most memorable Christmas moments don’t cost a thing. Here are some low-cost, low-stress ways to spend meaningful time together as a family.

  • Pour everyone a mug of hot chocolate and cozy up by a fire to play a game or do a puzzle.
  • Put on your coziest PJs and take a nighttime drive to look at Christmas lights.
  • Frost and decorate sugar cookies together. Feel free to make the cookies yourself (here’s a recipe), but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a store-bought dough shortcut so you have more time for decorating.
  • Make gratitude a point of focus in your season—spend a little time together writing notes to people in your life telling them the ways they’re a gift to your family.
  • Turn on a streaming holiday music station and sing along or invent festive dance moves together.
  • Bundle up and take a winter walk. 
  • Create your own Christmas movie nook complete with cozy blankets and comfy pillows and turn on your favorite Christmas movie.
  • Write wishes for the new year on little slips of paper and place them in a jar to read next year.
  • Play “Name That Christmas Tune”—play the first two seconds of any Christmas song and take turns trying to guess what it is.
  • Put some food coloring in water, pour the water in a spray bottle and go outside and spray-paint pictures in the snow.
  • Start a family journal about your holiday season and write down memories from it as you do things together.
  • Make a family scrapbook with pictures and stories from the year.
  • Check out this article for even more ideas on fun ways to spend time together at the holidays.

Minimalist Christmas Food Ideas  

You don’t have to become a professional chef or spend a fortune on Christmas goodies to experience the yummiest little joys of the season.

  • After spending some time out in the cold weather, warm up with a festive hot beverage—cocoa, wassail, mulled cider or another family favorite.
  • Buy a few of the weirdest seasonal snack foods you can find and bring them home for a taste test.
  • Decorate Christmas cookies—get out the frosting and sprinkles and don’t be afraid to make a mess!
  • Dip mini pretzel sticks in melted chocolate or almond bark.
  • Make snowmen out of cake pops or marshmallows on a stick.
  • Put a clean bowl out to catch the snow, then add flavoring/coloring to make real snow-cones, or add some milk, vanilla and sugar to make snow ice cream. (Make sure the snow is clean and undisturbed by any animals before consuming.)
  • Go all-out making hot cocoa. If you normally just warm it up in the microwave (like I do), try making it on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, and use whatever you have on hand for toppings (like little marshmallows or broken up candy canes). Try this recipe, or check out our ideas for mix-ins.

Little Joys for Younger Kids  

There are plenty of Christmas activities for kids that can make the season magical without spending a ton of time or money. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Have your kids make a Christmas wish list and write a letter to Santa. (Remind them that Santa doesn’t bring everything they ask for, but they can always save the things they don’t get for future Christmas lists.)
  • Find inexpensive holiday coloring books or print holiday coloring pages and have some family coloring time. (This is great for kids, but also a relaxing way to slow down and enjoy the season as an adult.)
  • Draw pictures of Santa and glue on cotton balls to make his beard.
  • Create a fun snack box for Santa and his reindeer to set out on the night of Christmas Eve.
  • Make some wearable reindeer antlers using construction paper or card stock, then wear them around the house and pretend to pull Santa’s sleigh.
  • Make a homemade birdfeeder by spreading peanut butter on a pinecone and sticking birdseed to the peanut butter. Tie it to a nearby tree with some string or ribbon.
  • Check out a big stack of holiday-themed books from your local library and read them together over the course of the season. Or read a chapter at a time of a holiday classic like A Christmas Carol.
  • Check out this list of even more ways to make Christmas magical for young kids.

Little Joys for Older Kids  

Keeping the holidays magical for older kids doesn’t have to mean getting complicated or expensive—there are plenty of simple, minimalist ways to keep the joy in the season even as kids get older.

  • Spend an afternoon making holiday tie blankets together.
  • Try some virtual caroling over Zoom or Facetime.
  • Movie marathon! Pop some popcorn and take turns choosing favorite holiday movies. (Bonus points if you cozy up using those holiday tie blankets you made.)
  • Holiday spa day—paint your nails red and green with Christmassy nail stickers, use minty face masks, wear big cozy robes and fuzzy Christmas socks.
  • Start days during the holiday break with a simple, warming ritual like a hot breakfast. Or end days with a fun family dinner that’s centered around a theme or tradition from another culture. Christmas tamales, anyone? 
  • On that note, older kids might also appreciate Advent calendar activities that are a little more advent-urous. 

Minimalist Christmas Decorating Ideas  

You can turn your home into a winter wonderland without spending your life savings or scrolling Pinterest for 12 hours. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Make a simple garland out of wrapping paper or tissue paper. Or cut out Christmas shapes and let the little ones color them in before stringing them together.
  • Grab a bunch of branches from your yard, put them in a vase and wrap them with twinkly lights.
  • Christmas decorations aren’t just for the living room—spread the magic around the house by decorating each kid’s room with whatever you’ve got.
  • Make your front door more festive using holiday icons from magazines, catalogs or greeting cards.
  • If you’ve got a wreath, you can use our template for personalized banners to welcome people to your home. Don’t have a wreath? Make one out of twigs, dried stems of long, ornamental grass or small branches from an evergreen tree.

Minimalist Christmas Ideas for Not-So-Snowy Climates  

The holidays can be magical with or without snow. Here are a few simple ideas to make Christmas magical even if the temperature is still warm and sunny where you live.

  • Create an indoor winter wonderland with white sheets for snow, paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling (making these is a great activity for kids) and string lights. You can reuse foam packing materials as snow if you don’t mind the cleanup.
  • Snuggle under blankets with the A/C on while you drink cocoa and watch holiday movies and imagine what winter feels like where it’s cold.
  • Hang lights on whatever plants grow in your climate—magnolia trees, cactus (be careful!), palm trees or whatever else might be available.
  • Take a walk around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights at night, or drive to a fancy neighborhood where people go overboard on lights and take a walk around.
  • Enjoy the advantages of Christmas with warmer weather. Open presents outside, go on long walks and remind each other that at least no snow means no snow shoveling.
  • If it’s warm enough to get in a pool, set up a TV poolside and watch a Christmas movie while floating in the water. (Those of us in snowy climates are all jealous of you right now.)

Little Joys Through Serving Others  

Finding service opportunities can be a meaningful way to spend time together as a family at the holidays, and it can help put kids’ focus back on what matters most at Christmas. There are lots of great ideas to make your minimalist Christmas more service-oriented. Here are just a few:

  • Have your kids draw holiday pictures for a neighbor. Leave it on their porch with a sweet holiday wish.
  • Visit a senior living community and perform music for the residents.
  • Visit dogs and cats at a shelter and bring them Christmas treats and toys.
  • Buy a gift for a child who might not get a holiday as nice as yours.
  • Make a Christmas care package for someone in your life who’s had a rough year, and look for other ways to support them through a difficult season.
  • Work together to shovel a neighbor’s driveway, especially if they have a harder time doing it themselves.
  • Do a cozy donation run. Gather up old blankets and mugs and donate them to a local shelter. 
  • Find one earth-friendly habit to start as a family: compost, upcycling, using less plastic or something else.


Whatever the reason is for simplifying this holiday season, I hope this list helps you make the most of every moment. Want to continue the fun into the new year? Check out our ideas for a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration.