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The A to Z Family Guide to the Holidays

Whether you’re looking to fill the family calendar with fun holiday activities or need a few ideas to make the season more meaningful, this guide to family holiday fun has you covered.

“Whether it’s finding a great gingerbread cookie recipe and biting one arm off each one (like we do), or just making cards for the family, it’s lovely to give your kids something uniquely their own to look forward to each year,” said Liz Gumbinner of Cool Mom Picks.

Here are some ideas to get you started today:

• Start a calendar to build anticipation for all holiday celebrations. You can buy one or make one, and it can be as simple or as fancy as you like.

• Make angels — snow angels, construction paper angels, angel ornaments or even angel food cake.

• Make bird feeders out of empty milk jugs or small cardboard tubes rolled in peanut butter and birdseed.

• Host a book exchange with friends, where everyone trades books they own and have already read.

• Gather some friends and go caroling around the neighborhood or at a retirement center.

• Cook something new. You can find plenty of new dishes with Bing, which lets you quickly find full recipes and reviews right on the search page; and that lets you spend less time searching and more time cooking up some delicious fun with the whole family.

• Have a family dance party. Turn up the tunes or pop in the dance video game and cut loose together.

• Drive around town and take in the holiday lights and sights. Plan your route ahead of time, and end the trip with a special treat like hot cider at your favorite spot.

• “Elf” your neighbors. Put together small treat bags with gift tags that say “You’ve Been Elfed!” Then leave them as a secret surprise in their mailboxes or hanging from the front door.

• Make time for friends. The kids, especially teens, will appreciate getting to hang out with their buddies. If you’re hosting, make sure you have plenty of fun snack foods.

• Have some fun with family game nights. Let everyone take turns picking their favorite board games, card games and video games to play together.

• Spice up the holidays with gingerbread. You can bake gingerbread cookies or gingerbread cake. Try your hand at building a gingerbread house — either with a kit or with graham crackers and frosting.

• Keep things cozy with hot chocolate. Set up a hot chocolate station with different flavors such as mint, caramel or raspberry, flavored marshmallows, and fun extras like chocolate sprinkles or cinnamon stir sticks.

• Take part in local holiday happenings. Go to a holiday concert; be a part of the local holiday tree lighting ceremony; visit Santa; or go to a seasonal sporting event. It’s easy to find something to put you in the holiday spirit when you search with Bing, which gives you performance times, ticketing information, maps and more right within the search page.

• Go ice skating at a local rink. You can rent skates and take a spin on the ice together.

• Jingle some bells. Hang bells on your front door; make a video of the littlest ones singing Jingle Bells or Jingle Bell Rock. And don’t forget the jingling Salvation Army bells. Not only can you donate, but many scout troops and church groups volunteer to ring those bells and collect donations, which is a great way for kids to help a good cause.

• Let the kids plan a Kids’ Night In. They get to pick the menu and the activities, and be in charge of making the fun happen.

• Practice random acts of kindness. Encourage everyone to do something kind for someone else — it could be clearing snow off the sidewalk for a neighbor, doing a family member’s chore for them, or buying a soda for the person behind you in line.

• “Learn about the holiday celebrations of other cultures,” suggests Liz. “Kids love all kinds of celebrations, and it can be magical to find out how other children around the world spend their holiday time.”

• Make gifts to give friends, neighbors, teachers or coaches. You can make ornaments, baked goods, photo books, candles or pet treats.

• Plan holiday movie nights so you can enjoy the classics. From the funny to the touching, there are lots of ways to enjoy the silver screen’s many tributes to the season.

• Experience The Nutcracker ballet. If you can’t go to a live performance, try a recorded version on DVD or via Netflix or Hulu.

• Enjoy the great outdoors, even if it’s cold. Play in the back yard, go to the park, ride your bikes, build a snowman, have a snowball fight, play flag football, soccer or ring-around-the-rosies.

• Declare a “Pajama Day” and let everyone hang out in pjs and slippers, and serve breakfast for dinner.

• Plan quiet time amid all the hustle and bustle of the season. Whether it’s for naps, reading, unplugged time from all electronics, or just a day of not going anywhere, it’s important to take time to recharge.

• If you leave cookies and milk for Santa, don’t forget his reindeer. Carrots or homemade reindeer chow will give them energy for their long night’s journey.

• Try a restaurant you’ve never been to before. If you’re watching your budget, go at lunch time, when you can try smaller, lunch-size portions for less money.

• Keep track of Santa’s journey around the world. “If you’re a Santa fan,” says Liz, “use resources like the NORAD Santa Tracker powered by Bing, available at www.NoradSanta.org, to follow his trip throughout the big day.”

• Trim the tree together. Don’t worry about the tree looking magazine perfect — the point is to have fun, and the results will be a tree you can all be proud of.

• Let everyone unwrap one gift that will help get them in the holiday spirit. It could be a milk and cookie plate set for Santa, new holiday pjs or socks, or a holiday-themed book or CD.

• Volunteer to help those in need. Some families like to serve meals in soup kitchens, sort clothing or food donations, or collect and pack items for shelters or soldiers.

• Have a video game marathon with games the whole family can play.

• Take a walk around the neighborhood. Make it a scavenger hunt and look for certain holiday decorations, animals, cars and parts of nature.

• X marks the spot. Plan a treasure hunt in and around the house. Write clues that lead players from one place to the next until they find a special, hidden gift.

• Have some fun with yarn. Learn how to finger knit or crochet. Or make holiday decorations and crafts with yarn.

• Take a holiday trip to the zoo. Many zoos have special holiday displays and programs that let you celebrate the season wild-style.

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