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 winter 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.
12/17: Kids at the Castle: Tiny Tomtes @ American Swedish Institute lets littles roam free in a real-life castle after an hour or so of structured activity time with stories, songs and games aimed at ages 2-5. Note: This is a special Saturday edition; the program is also held 12/16. (2600 Park Ave • Minneapolis, 9-10am, $8/family)
12/18: Last chance for FREE Sunday admission – at the Bell Museum of Natural History. The museum’s Minneapolis location closes 12/31 in preparation for the move to a new home! 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)
Bonus activity: 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 (St. Louis Park • 12/16-12/17, 6-8pm), St. Stephen Lutheran Church (White Bear Lake • 12/17 only, 4:30-7:30pm), Messiah United Methodist Church (Plymouth • 12/18 only, 6-7pm).
12/19: 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.
12/20: Catch a cheap holiday flick at the Riverview – Christmas at the Riverview 2016 runs Dec 19-23 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!
12/21: Before Santa’s gone – likely this is the last year of Macy’s Minneapolis iconic Santaland display. Bid the elf village farewell and grab that final photo with St Nick. (8am-10pm, FREE admission thru 12/24/16)
12/22: 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.
12/23: Final Holidazzle weekend – special and FREE this Friday at Holidazzle in Loring Park: meet Santa (5-9pm), bring your skates and take a spin on the outdoor rink, watch the fireworks (6:30pm) and catch A Charlie Brown Christmas under the stars (7pm).
12/24: Holiday Saturdays @ Minnesota History Center include card-making, concerts and a special StoryWalk through the museum with regular admission. The interactive exhibits will pique interest in all ages, we promise. (345 W Kellogg Blvd, St Paul • 10am-5pm, Saturdays through 21/31/16, $6-$12/pp)
12/25: Merry Christmas! If you’ve got some down time, make it a craft day and stay cozy at home making these homemade ornaments for next year’s tree.
12/26: Lace up a pair of ice skates – Bring your skates (we hit up Play It Again Sports to outfit our crew first) 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.) Searching for ice closer to home? Use our Skate the Twin Cities list to find your nearest free outdoor ice rink.
12/27: Beat break boredom and burn off energy at Open Gym & Play sessions across the Metro. All are budget-friendly – FREE or under $5 per child to attend – and come with a practically-guaranteed nap following. If you’ve got older kids, our Twin Cities Indoor Playground Guide might come in handy.
12/28: 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.
12/29: Winter Maker Break: Science Exploration is offered Dec 27-31 at five St Paul Public Library locations and gets kids excited about fields such as biology, chemistry and physics through fun, FREE activities. Best for kids ages 8-12; bring the littles along for stories and play at the library.
12/30: Spend a Winter 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 • 12/30 only, 10am-4pm)
12/31: Celebrate the closing of 2016 with our list of New Year’s Eve Family Events. Choose from circus shows, kids dance parties, outdoor adventures, obstacles courses, balloon drops and more.
1/1: Littles can ring in the New Year – at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory’s Noon Years Party with Kidsdance DJs, crafts, animal programs and a beach ball drop. (1225 Estabrook Dr, St. Paul • 12/31-1/1, 10am.)