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.
12/16/17: Kids at the Castle: Tiny Tomtar & Extraordinary Elves | 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 12/15, 9-10am, $8/family.
12/17/17: Visit a live Nativity – the following churches are hosting live nativities with costumed characters, live animals, refreshments and other activities for the whole family: Messiah United Methodist Church (Plymouth, 12/17/17 only, 6-7pm). Others include Knollwood Christian Church (St. Louis Park, 12/15-12/16, 6-8pm) and St. Stephen Lutheran Church (White Bear Lake, 12/16 & 12/23, 4:30-7:30pm).
12/18/17: 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.
12/19/17: Catch a cheap holiday flick at the Riverview – Christmas at the Riverview | Dec 20-23 Screens classic holiday films at 4, 6:30 & 8pm $2/pp or $1 with non-perishable food donation. Don’t miss the excellent and reasonably-priced popcorn! And remember, Tuesday’s the day of the deal when it comes to Twin Cities movie theaters. Check our list of discounts at Twin Cities Cheap Flicks.
12/20/17: Before Santa’s gone – bring your Christmas list and visit him at your nearest shopping center. Our pick is the brand new Winter Castle at Rosedale Center. While you’re admiring the palace, use the free Winter Castle app to make some holiday magic.
12/21/17: Trade in the snow and cold outdoors for some green and warmth inside the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Thursdays are extra-special for families with kids under 5; they will enjoy all the hands-on fun to be had at Lil Explorers (Thurs only, 10am-noon, FREE). Make a day of it exploring the Tropical Encounters exhibit, the cozy conservatory and the cheerful Holiday Flower Show. All activities are FREE.
12/22/17: We are in love with Snapology’s brand new location in Minneapolis. Drop-in playtime in their Discovery Center is guaranteed to entertain with opportunities to build with LEGO bricks, K’nex and other materials. And – get this – you can drop the kids off (ages 5+) for only $6 per hour while you finish holiday shopping. Or, if you wish, stay and enjoy unlimited play for $8 per child. Open Fri 10am-8:30pm. Find other hours at the link.
12/23/17: Final Holidazzle weekend – special and FREE this Saturday at Holidazzle in Loring Park: meet Santa (5-9pm), bring your skates and take a spin on the outdoor rink and watch the fireworks (6:30pm).
12/24/17: 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.
12/25/17: 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.
12/26/17: 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.
12/27/17: 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.
12/28/17: 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 • 12/28 only, 10am-3pm)
12/29/17: Winter Maker Break: Creative Workshops are offered Dec 27-31 at five St Paul Public Library locations and include lessons in beatboxing, stage makeup, calligraphy and mask-making. All activities are FREE. Best for kids ages 8-12; bring the littles along for stories and play at the library.
12/30/17: Go sledding or snow tubing – But where to find the best hills? Our Twin Cities Sledding Hills Guide contains a long list of the best – in all shapes and sizes. Gianna’s Winter Break Survival Guide also has a great list of St. Paul & Minneapolis-area sledding hills along with spots to go snow tubing in the Twin Cities.
12/31/17: Celebrate the closing of 2017 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. Our updated list will be out soon.
1/1/18: 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.)