Even more daunting than preparing for the holiday season this year is the fact that my kids will be out of school and, for the most part, on break from their regularly-scheduled extracurriculars for a 16-day stretch. While a chunk of it will be spent on family gatherings and some of it reserved for free time, that kind of vacation calls for a plan. We’ve drummed up 16 ideas for family fun — some around town, a few at home, and all free or budget-friendly — to help you make the most of your winter break.
12/19: Visit a live Nativity – the following churches are hosting live nativities with costumed characters, live animals, refreshments and other activities for the whole family: Knollwood Christian Church (3639 Quebec Ave S, St. Louis Park • 12/19-12/20, 6-8pm), St. Stephen Lutheran Church (1965 East Cty Rd E, White Bear Lake • 12/19 only, 4:30-7:30pm), Messiah United Methodist Church (17805 Cty Rd 6, Plymouth • 12/20 only, 6-7pm).
12/20: Final Holidazzle weekend – special and FREE this Sunday at Holidazzle in Loring Park: meet Santa (11am-9pm), take an old fashioned carriage ride through the park (6:30-8:30), bring your skates and take a spin on the outdoor rink, watch the fireworks (6:30pm) and catch Frozen under the stars (5pm).
12/21: Explore the Minnesota Children’s Museum branch at Mall of America – our annual membership is good for the brand new MOA location and we’ve yet to check it out though we’re familiar with and fond of the current exhibits Ball-o-Rama and Storyland (Mon-Sat 10am-8pm & Sun 11am-7pm, $7.95/pp).
12/22: Catch an cheap holiday flick at the Riverview – Christmas at the Riverview 2015 runs Dec. 18-23 and screens three classic holiday films at 4, 6:30 & 8pm $2/pp or $1 with non-perishable food donation. We’re planning to catch our seasonal favorite White Christmas. Don’t miss the excellent and reasonably-priced popcorn!
12/23: Take a special tour of the Museum of Russian Art – A Winter Children’s Tour: Russian Samovars will include a story about these urns used to boil water for tea, a guided tour, scavenger hunt, crafts and tea time. An adult ($7-$9/pp) must accompany the registered child, who is admitted free. (5500 Stevens Ave S, Minneapolis • 12/22-12/23, 10:30am. Must register online.)
12/24: Bake that last batch of cookies – Do your kids like to help in the kitchen as much as mine? Local food blog Dining with Alice shares her sweet and blessedly simple recipes for Rudolph the Reindeer and Red Velvet cookies.
12/25: Take a holiday lights tour – and bring along this list of Minnesota Christmas Lights & Music Shows to find one near you. If you’re in the car destined for the relatives, maybe you’ll find a new display en route.
12/26: Julgladje! – Swedish for “Christmas joy”, it’s also a jolly annual holiday performance at the American Swedish Institute. One of our family’s favorite folk singers, Ross Sutter, hosts a collection of Swedish-American holiday tunes. To read more about taking kids to the ASI on a budget, check out the Kids at the Castle program. (2600 Park Ave Minneapolis • 12:30 & 2:30pm, tickets $4-$6/pp.)
12/27: Snowflakes – are the theme at Richardson Nature Center’s Free Family Fun Day. Stay to explore the highly kid-friendly exhibits, raptors, murals and more. (8737 E Bush Lake Rd, Bloomington • 3-4pm.)
12/28: Lace up a pair of ice skates – So the weather hasn’t yet cooperated for outdoor ice time at your local park. Instead, bring your skates (we hit up Play It Again Sports to outfit our crew) to the Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink in downtown St. Paul. Skating is free and the backdrop of Rice Park is beautiful. Skate rental is available for $4/pair. (Rink opens at 11am daily, closed Christmas Day.) And, when winter finally shows up, use our Skate the Twin Cities list to find your nearest free outdoor ice rink.
12/29: Spend a Winter Wonderland Family Fun Day – at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Dress for outdoor winter activities, then warm up inside by the fireplace with books, puzzles, a scavenger hunt and nature films. FREE. (3815 American Blvd. E, Bloomington• 12/29 only, 10am-3pm)
12/30: Go sledding – Gianna’s Winter Break Survival Guide has a great list of St. Paul & Minneapolis-area sledding hills along with spots to go snow tubing in the Twin Cities.
12/31: Littles ring in the New Year a little early – at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory’s Noon Years Eve Party with Kidsdance DJs, crafts, animal programs and a beach ball drop. (1225 Estabrook Dr, St. Paul • 12/31-1/1, 10am.)
1/1: Make it a craft day – in case you were up too late the night before? Keep the kids busy with crafts and stay cozy at home making these homemade ornaments for next year’s tree.
1/2: And for more art out and about – try Walker Art Center’s Free First Saturday. Admission is free for all every first Saturday of the month and the galleries abound with arty activities for kids of any age. This month’s theme, Wintertime Escape, will warm you up with an all-day dance party. (1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis • 10am-3pm.)
1/3: Finally, the Bell Museum of Natural History – offers free admission every Sunday. The touch-and-feel room allows kids to get their hands on all kinds of objects from the natural world. Read more about taking kids to the Bell Museum here. (10 Church Street SE, Minneapolis • 12-5pm.)