21 Free Things to Do During the Holidays

Friends hang decorative holiday lights for an outdoor party
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

The holiday season is an expensive time of the year.

You’re buying presents for loved ones, decorations for the house, extra groceries for big dinners and outfits for holiday parties. You’re giving special tips to service workers and spending money to travel to visit family.

All the money leaving your bank account can cause a bunch of financial stress. It’s good to have some things to do during the holiday season that don’t add to that.

These festive activities don’t cost a thing.

1. See the Light Displays

Family decorating a Christmas tree with lights
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Twinkling lights are a visual reminder that the holiday season is here. And like snowflakes, each light display has its own unique beauty. Take a stroll around your neighborhood, drive by other lit-up streets or check out the streetscapes and decorated storefronts downtown.

2. Attend a Local Festival

San Antonio in winter
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The weather may be chilly but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good time for a festival. Many cities host winter festivals to celebrate the holiday season.

As long as you have enough willpower not to shop from the booths, attending a local festival can be a nice, no-cost weekend outing. Check your local newspaper or community social media pages to see what events will take place in your town or a nearby city.

3. Go Caroling

Christmas caroling group
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Gather up a merry band of friends and family and sing all your favorite holiday tunes, strolling to neighbors’ homes to give them some musical season’s greetings. Sharing mugs of hot cocoa afterward makes for an even better experience.

4. Visit Santa

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If you’ve got little kids, a visit to see Santa should always be on your holiday to-do list. Opt for taking your own pics rather than purchasing the professional photos that are offered.

5. Have a Photo Shoot

Prop photographer
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Capture the moment with an informal, seasonal photo shoot. Use your seasonal home decor as a nice backdrop — or select a beautiful snowy spot for outdoor photos.

6. Enjoy the Snow

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If you live in an area where it snows, take advantage of all the free frozen fun. Make a snowman, have a snowball fight, go sledding and enjoy every snow day you get.

7. Trim Your Tree

Father and son decorating a Christmas tree
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Decorating your Christmas tree is a fun holiday activity — and if you’ve already got an artificial tree and ornaments, you won’t have to purchase anything. Put on some holiday music and get ready to untangle lights and find the perfect spots for your favorite ornaments.

8. Make Holiday Crafts

Woman crafting at home
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Bring out all your arts and craft supplies and turn your Pinterest dreams into reality. Consider this holiday activity if you’re looking for something to do with the kids over winter break. A quick Google search will help you find crafts projects to do with kids of all ages.

9. Make DIY Gifts

Hands making crafts
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Who says presents have to come from a store? A homemade gift can be just as special. Check out this list of 100 free gift ideas.

10. Bake Holiday Treats

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‘Tis the season for cookies and pies and cinnamon rolls! Bake up batches of your best holiday treats to give to loved ones or to munch on throughout the season. If you like taking on a project, try baking and assembling a gingerbread house from scratch.

11. Try Out a New Recipe

Family chopping vegetables
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Perfect a new dish — or a passed-down recipe — to bring to the upcoming holiday get-together. Or experiment in the kitchen to put your own twist on a family favorite.

12. Host a Cookie Swap

Cookies gift wrapped
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Call up all your friends who love to bake and task them with whipping up a few dozen of their best cookies. Then gather everyone together to swap and taste each other’s culinary creations.

13. Host a Toy Exchange

used baby toys
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If your kids have a bunch of toys they’ve outgrown or lost interest in, organize a toy exchange with other families in your social circle. Each kid can walk away with something “new” to them, and you won’t have to pay a dime.

14. Host a Potluck

Summer potluck dinner
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Instead of cooking all the food for Christmas dinner — and spending a bunch of money at the grocery store — host a potluck-style meal. Each person can bring a dish (or drinks or even paper plates) so that no one person is stuck with the financial burden of feeding everyone.

15. Attend a School Performance

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December is the time of year when all the local schools have their holiday concerts. Even if you don’t have kids in the band or chorus, you can come out to support the youths in your community. Many school performances are free.

16. Sing Karaoke

Friends singing karaoke
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You don’t have to be a talented singer to sing karaoke. You just have to be up for having a fun time. If you and your friends don’t have a karaoke machine at home, you can always play instrumental lyric videos on YouTube.

17. Have a Game Night

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Break out the board games and decks of cards and invite your friends over for a game night. Ask your pals to bring their favorite games so you have a nice selection to choose from. The winner gets bragging rights for the rest of the year.

18. Have a Movie Night

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Make a list of your favorite holiday movies and organize a movie night. Or skip the holiday theme and select movies based on your favorite film genre. Don’t forget the popcorn and snacks!

19. Break Out the Conversation Cards

Couple exchanging gifts
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Get to know your loved ones better using conversation cards as discussion prompts. While you can purchase decks of these cards online, you can also Google free printable conversation cards. Bring out the conversation cards when everyone’s together for the big holiday dinner.

20. Volunteer

Woman with box of clothing to donate
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Give back during the holiday season by volunteering your time to a local charity. You could serve meals at a soup kitchen, wrap presents for kids in need, make Christmas cards for residents in a senior center or volunteer in another way.

21. Create a Vision Board

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With the new year approaching, it’s the perfect time to create your resolutions for the year ahead. Make your goals visual by creating a vision board using magazine clippings, stickers, photos and more. Gather friends and family for a vision board party where everyone can create their vision boards together.

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