Holiday Activities for Family and Friends Near and Far

With the holiday season now getting into full swing, many people are gathering online or virtually (or planning their gatherings). While this is fun, there can also be pressure for the holiday season and its gatherings to be extra fun and joyful. If you are looking for fun ways to engage with family and friends this season, we have some ideas! Before we get into the ideas, I want to mention that these are just suggestions. Every family is different and celebrates the holidays differently! However you choose to celebrate (on not), that is up to you. Also, I want to keep in mind that, although it may be easier to get together this year than it was in 2020, there are still challenges that might prevent people from gathering in person. So, there are both virtual and in person suggestions here!

Let’s start with some ideas for those who can get together in person!

  1. Have a chopped style cooking challenge. To do this, you need to split up into teams or compete individually. You need to assign each team (or person) a strange item they must use, although they can add whatever they want to it! It’s a great way to use up leftovers or random pantry items that end up leftover at the end of the year.
  2. Play the Dictionary Game. This is a favorite of my family and it is possible we made this up, but it only requires some pens or pencils and scraps of paper. To play, you gather a list of odd words (bonus points if they are holiday themed!). Read the word and give everyone a chance to guess (or make up) a definition for the word, which they write on a piece of paper. Then collect the papers, if anyone guesses the correct definition then put theirs to the side (they get a point for being correct). Read all the definitions and have people vote on which one they think is correct. Anyone who votes for the correct definition gets a point; the person who fools the most people also gets a point. For example, what does it mean to meggle? Find the answer and some strange Christmas words here!

For those meeting virtually, there are still fun options! Keep in mind that many online meeting platforms (like GoogleMeets, Zoom, Webex, and others) have free accounts you can use for your virtual get together if you don’t already have an account.

  1. Kahoot has fun games themed around the holidays and winter season! If you haven’t played before, you may need to practice with it to get the hang of how it works. Basically, you can set up a game (usually a trivia game of some kind) and people can participate from wherever they are using their phone.
  2. Have an online competition or showcase. If you family is super competitive like mine, you may or may not want to actually select a winner. But, you can still show off ugly sweaters, holiday jokes, talents, crafts, or anything else you could showcase online or via phone! If you make it a competition, you can select a judge (or panel of judges), or have everyone vote on whose was best!

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a fun holiday season and a happy and healthy new year! If you try any of our suggestions, leave us a comment and let us know how it went!

Bag It and Eat It: Ice Cream Activi-treats

Summer and ice cream just go together.  But, taking the family out for this sweet treat can be costly!  How about making your own with the kids?  It’s easier than you might think, makes for a fun activity, and saves money over going out. No appliances are needed. 

What you need:

Ice cream
  • Milk, half-and-half, or even dairy-free “milk,” such as soy or almond, or a combination (use milk for lower fat)
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Salt (any kind works, but chunkier salts, like kosher salt, work better)
  • CAUTION: do NOT use snow-melt salts, or any salts that have toxic chemicals in them.  Only food grade salts.
  • Two plastic baggies – one sandwich size, and one large size.  
  • Helpful, but not necessary: a strong tape, such as duct tape or masking tape.

Here’s what you do.  For each person:

1. Mix 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and pour into the small baggie.  Seal well, squeezing out any excess air, and cover the seal with tape if available.

2. Fill the large baggie half full with ice.  

3. Add ¼ cup of salt, and shake together with the ice

4. Place the small baggie with the ice cream mix inside the large bag, fill the remainder of the large baggie with ice, and seal carefully. 

Now the fun begins! 

Shake the bag for 10 minutes. This can be even more enjoyable if you make it a game by tossing between people every 15 seconds or so, using it as a counting game, playing music, etc. Get the kids’ suggestions too!

After 10 minutes of shaking, open both bags, add your favorite topping such as sprinkles, nuts, crushed cookies, syrup, or just eat it plain.  Yum!

Bonus: This is a fun science project as well.

The salt in the bag lowers the melting point of the ice, just like salting the roads during the winter makes it harder for ice to form. Adding salt to the ice in the bag makes the bag colder. To demonstrate this, fill a bag with just ice, no salt. The bag with the salt will feel colder, and will freeze the ice cream mixture by pulling out the heat. The shaking, and the properties of the added sugar and fat in the milk mixture prevent ice crystals from forming in the ice cream so the result is a smooth consistency. 

Family Time, Minus the Screen

Think about an average day for your family — how many hours do you and your family members spend in front of screens? If you’re anything like me, doing the math might yield a surprisingly high number of hours. Thinking about using the computer for work, using a phone for communication and social media, using television for entertainment and video games, you start to realize how much screen time is built into our lives. Especially right now, as many kids are attending school virtually and spending several hours in front of a computer. In recent years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has developed recommendations for limiting screen time for children of different ages. You can check out this previous post for more information. 

It can be hard to change the routines we have, but if you want to start reducing screen time for your family, check out these ideas! They might help you and your family find fun ways to spend time together away from a screen. 

Photo by Migs Reyes on
  • Idea #1: Get Cooking! 
    • Cooking dinner as a family is beneficial in more ways than one. Meals cooked at home are often healthier than those bought pre-made or ordered from a restaurant. Also, family dinners are a great time to encourage family communication. So get creative with family dinner. Consider finding a family recipe and teaching it to your kids. Or, go online and find a new recipe that sounds interesting! Maybe even go to your local library and check out a cookbook for some inspiration. If you think you might need to make things more interesting to get the family on board, consider turning it into a game! You could set it up like Chopped and give each family member a strange ingredient to attempt to use in a dish. My family did this on vacation a couple of years ago, and it was so much fun!
  • Idea #2: Family Game Night
    • Card games, board games, charades, there are so many great game night options. You can select board games that are appropriate for the interests and ages of your family members. You might even be able to rotate which family member gets to pick the game so that everyone gets a night to play their favorite. And if you don’t want to buy board games and packs of cards, there are games you can play with just paper and pencil! For example, this telephone Pictionary game is a big hit in my family. 
  • Idea #3: Movement Game
    • Go old school with hide-and-seek or do some searching and find something new! These games have the added benefit of incorporating movement as well. While temperatures are cold, you may want to stay inside and play a game like Sardines (although it works outside too). If your family is willing to brave the cold, go outside for tag or get creative and come up with a scavenger hunt for your neighborhood! Anything you think your family will enjoy. 
Photo by Allan Mas on

Screens can be engaging and fun, so the goal isn’t to eliminate them completely. And if you are like me and currently enjoy quite a bit of screen time, cutting it back quickly might make for an unhappy home. Instead, consider starting by setting aside an hour or two once a week to designate as screen-free time. Then, see where things go from there! If you think of any creative screen free activities, feel free to share them in the comments for another family to enjoy. Most importantly, have fun!