20 Ways to Create Holiday Magic for Small Kids

Undeniably, one of the best things about being a parent or grandparent is making holiday magic happen. Instill a festive spirit with our merry and bright ideas for your favorite little ones.

By: Chelsey Bowen
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Sleep Under the Christmas Tree

What could be more magical than spending the night under hundreds of twinkling lights? Pull out sleeping bags or cozy quilts and throws and, for the night, let the whole family sleep under the Christmas tree. It'll be an evening they'll never forget.

Decorate the Tree Together

Blast the holiday music and starting trimming that tree. Even young toddlers can help with the ornaments. It may make your tree a little bottom-heavy, but that's part of the charm of little ones. (And if it really bothers you, you can always redistribute after they go to bed.) Make it a tradition with a recipe you make every year, whether hot chocolate and popcorn or cinnamon rolls and milk, your kids will delight in the fun treat you all share while decorating your tree.

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Make a Gingerbread House

This can be as simple or complicated as you want. Graham crackers and store-bought icing, a boxed gingerbread set or homemade gingerbread and royal icing. Just have tons of candy to decorate — that's what kids love doing anyway. If doing this with littles, go ahead and put the house together, and let it set up before calling them in to decorate. Waiting 20 minutes for icing to harden is an eternity in toddler time.

Cookies for Santa

You simply can't send kiddos to bed without leaving out cookies and milk for Santa. Oreos, homemade chocolate chip, sugar cookies decorated with icing and sprinkles — it doesn't matter what you leave out, the big guy in red will gobble them up. Don't forget about Prancer and the rest of the reindeer. Set out carrots and apples for Santa to take back up chimney to his hard-working friends.

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Driving Around Looking for Lights

Get the kiddos ready for bed in their favorite holiday pajamas, then hop in the car to take in all the Christmas lights. If you search your city and "Christmas lights," you may luck out and discover someone has already found the best neighborhoods to check out in your area. Make sure to pack a special snack, like cookies, and travel mugs full of hot chocolate or apple cider.

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Holiday Movie Night in Your PJs

Whip up a crockpot of hot chocolate, make some popcorn, put on your pajamas and pick out a classic holiday movie for the whole family. For littles, watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. For older kids, try Elf, The Santa Clause or A Christmas Story. Taking an entire night off during the hustle and bustle of the holidays will leave you all enchanted, and you get the chance to introduce your children to characters you loved as a kid.

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Elf on the Shelf

For over a decade, scout elves have been visiting homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas to report back to Santa on whether kids are being naughty or nice. After the elf's visit to the North Pole, he returns and hides for children to find him again the next morning. It's a magical way to get kids into the holiday spirit, but it's also fun and creative for parents. Whether he's bathing with a rubber duckie, getting frozen by Elsa or raiding the cookie jar, kids cannot wait to discover their elf every morning.

Have a Kids' Only Tree

After you have the family tree decorated, let your kids have one of their own. Grab a mini tree, either real or artificial, and deck it out with shatterproof ornaments. Get creative with a theme that is personalized just for your child. Do you have a mermaid lover? Use a starfish as the topper and look for shimmering blue and green ornaments and ribbons to decorate. Obsessed with construction toys? Top the tree with a hard hat and hang mini construction vehicles.

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Decorate Their Rooms

Once they have a tree of their own, they need a few extra decorations to complete the holiday look in their rooms. Find kid-centric decor, like pom-pom wreaths, paper chain garlands and pretty throw pillows, to bring the season to their space.

Spread the Joy to Others

Teach kids it's just as important to share the Christmas love with those around them. Make sweet treats for your neighbors, fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, buy presents for kids on the Angel tree and take doggie treats to your local shelter. Small acts of giving help kids realize the real reason of the season is spreading love and cheer.

Help Them Count Down the Days

Build up the excitement with a paper chain that lets kids count down the days to Christmas. This simple and classic craft is the perfect way to get kids in the holiday spirit, and also makes for an adorable decoration. Grab colorful construction paper, and let your kids pick their own colors, or try our glittered version.

Make an Ornament

Get crafty with your children, and create a one-of-a-kind ornament for the tree. This simple clothespin snowflake only requires a few materials and is done in a couple steps. Older kids will have no problem making this by themselves, and little ones just need a bit of help from grownups.

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Cut Down Your Own Tree

Make like the Griswolds and don't pass up this holiday tradition. Find a local Christmas tree farm, and head out to cut down your own. It'll make a more lasting impression on your kids than selecting a pre-cut tree from your local grocery or home improvement store.

Cookie Decorating Party

There is no child that will turn down an opportunity to decorate a cookie. Whether store bought or homemade, have the cookies ready to go. Set out different colored icings and candies, and let the kids have full creative control. If you have the party close to or on Christmas Eve, they can decorate the cookies they'll set out for Santa.

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Decorate Outdoors

With shorter days, you're often coming home after dark. What a delight for your kids to have their house all lit up with festive Christmas lights. Timers make outdoor lights a cinch. Set them once, and you never have to worry about turning the lights on and off again.

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Let Them Help Wrap

Giving is more than receiving. Let your kids be a part of the wrapping process. They'll adore seeing grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings open the presents they helped wrap. Check out our crafty gift wrap ideas.

Make a Treat

Get in the kitchen with your kids and bake up a batch of cookies, brownies or this adorable snowman chocolate bark. Not only is it a great way to spend time together, but homemade treats make for wonderful teacher, friend and neighbor gifts.

From: Heather Baird

Open a Book a Night

Read a holiday book each night. Start by wrapping 24 books — use ones you already have and buy a couple new reads to add to the mix. Then, each evening, your kids get to unwrap a book and read it together as a family. A few classics you must include: The Polar Express, Olivia Helps With Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, and of course, The Night Before Christmas.

Go to Your Town's Christmas Tree Lighting

We may not all be able to head to Rockefeller Center to see the famous tree lighting, but don't miss out on watching your city light up their Christmas tree. Most tree lightings have fun kid events, like face painting, visits with Santa and little rides, making the entire night a wonderful experience for your children.

Hang Mistletoe

'Tis the season to shower those little ones with kisses. Hang mistletoe or a kissing ball in the living room, kitchen or entryway — somewhere you'll be with the kids often and make a big deal about loving on them every time you pass it.

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