Christmas Eve family activities?

My kids and I are staying home this year for Christmas for the first time. We don't have any extended family nearby for family gatherings, but I want to do something special on Christmas Eve to make things a little more special/exciting. My kids are still young - under 5. Any suggestions besides going out to dinner? We aren't religious but open to something non-denominational.

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

First Unitarian Church of Oakland has a wonderful family- friendly Christmas Eve service. There is a "no rehearsal pageant" where kids and some adults put on mini- costumes to re-enact the Christmas story. Plus a beautiful reading and carols, too!!

When my teen was that age, we loved to go to the Tilden carousel multiple times over the winter break. Sadly, he’s not so into it anymore.

Our neighborhood has started putting out luminaries on Christmas Eve. We set up a table with supplies, and the neighborhood kids take wagons around to place them on the sidewalks. It's a beautiful scene. Here's a link to past events:

When our kids were little, we used to put out "reindeer food" for Santa's team (oats and colored sugar sprinkles).

Have fun! 

When my kids were that age, we'd put everyone in cozy pajamas, grab some cocoa and drive up to the Mormon Temple or someplace like Picardy Drive to see the lights and holiday decorations. Or make some popcorn and watch (or read!) "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Sometimes they put their sleeping bags by the Christmas tree and camped out overnight. At that age, it doesn't take much to make it special - and I found they had as much fun with the simple things as when I planned something more elaborate and stressed out.

Fun! I have very fond memories of traditions my parents created for our own Christmas Eve celebrations & looking forward to this when are babes are a bit older. Here are a few that may help inspire:

- Dad would read T'was the Night Before Christmas to us all just before bed time (usually by a crackling fire)

- We'd help decorate sugar cookies and leave a few out for Santa

- We had a special Christmas Eve dinner of fondue every year (maybe not ideal for under 5s, but choose your own flavor of "special")

- Singing carols together

- Where I grew up, there were a few neighborhoods known for their over-the-top Christmas decorations and we'd drive out to go marvel the lights (pretty magical as a kid)

Hi there.  Three ideas:  Check and see if the Tilden Park merry-go-round (which in the past has been decorated and lit up for the holiday) is open. We used to bring our daughter there, and let her pick out an ornament for the tree.  We’ve also gone skating both in Union Square, and near the Ferry Building on Christmas Eve.  I think they have things that small kids can push around to make the skating easier.  (Be sure to reserve a time slot well ahead of time.). And, there’s an area in Alameda where a lot of homes in a concentrated area do a *lot* of Christmas decorating.  It can be fun to check that out.  I’m looking forward to hearing other suggestions too!

Both the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Choir do Christmas Eve shows. Maybe they would enjoy one of those?

Invite your friends over for a cookie party! The kids can run around and get high on sugar while the parents drink mulled wine. A win-win!

If you live in Berkeley, the neighborhood around Ohlone Park does a luminaia where many of the streets put out tea lights along the sidewalks starting at dusk. It’s beautiful to walk around and carollers will be out and some of the neighbors serve hot chocolate or have fire pits you can stop by to warm up or chat around. 

First Unitarian Church of Oakland usually has a "no rehearsal" Christmas pageant with lots of carol singing.  It is super cute.  Kids from the audience get to volunteer to be angels and sheep and all kinds of animals (it's a *very* loose interpretation on the nativity story).  Very welcoming and fun and non-proselytizing.  

This was my family's situation as well.  My children are now well into their teens.  When they were little, we got a tree a week or so before Christmas and put only lights on it.  On Christmas Eve, we each made a small gingerbread house during the afternoon.  As soon as dusk fell, we took a walk in the neighborhood to admire the holiday lights.  I made a relatively simple, but special, dinner complete with sparkling apple juice and we ate early.  After dinner, we had hot chocolate and cookies while we decorated the tree.  We'd then sit under the tree and read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before tucking the kids into bed.  These were sweet times and made special memories.

Have you ever tried caroling? That could be fun! 8^)

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley has a family xmas eve service at 5pm featuring stories,carols, and the lighting of hundreds of candles, followed by labyrinth walking and cookies.    While Unitarian Universalism is very much a denomination, we draw from the worlds spiritual traditions and the wisdom of science and the arts to explore the roots of what connects us all.  My favorite service from the past was the pageant in which the story of the birth of a child was told, and not until the end did we realize it was the birth of the Buddha, whose origin story shares many of the same archtypes.   On other xmas's, we hold up the birth of every child as unique and special.    More info here:

a Christmas Eve tradition in Iceland is that everyone receives books as gifts on Christmas Eve and then spends the evening reading them! that's my idea of a fun Christmas eve! maybe not most under 5's but you could include it with some of the other great activities suggested.