Family, Kids & Relationships

10 best ways to get into the holiday spirit with your kids online

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Traditions are an important part of our holiday celebrations. Many annual activities, like visits to Santa, tree lightings, shopping trips and big family gatherings really help parents and kids get in the holiday spirit. 

However, this year things will look very different. Health concerns over rising Covid-19 cases, financial changes due to lost or reduced employment, and other challenges are going to mean we’ll need to get creative—but it’s still entirely possible to bring your kids plenty of holiday magic!

First, you might want to talk with your kids about your plans this year, so they’ll know what to expect. Then check out the list below to find some festive new traditions to try, as well as updated versions of your old favorites—they’re all online and free, so they’re perfect for bringing holiday cheer into your home in 2020!

Elf Yourself

This simple app lets you transform yourselves into elves, and then create a funny video complete with dancing and holiday messages. Use photos of your family members’ or friends’ faces to ElfYourself, and get a great laugh together at your silly elf antics! You can post the videos on social media, or send specific greetings to lucky loved ones.

Find a virtual light tour

Many communities are taking their holiday light tours online this year, so you can enjoy them from the comfort of your own couch. Check your city’s website to see what they might have planned, or enjoy elaborate displays from around the country at places like Macy’s in New York, Elvis Presley’s Graceland, and the quaint cottages of Ogden’s Christmas Village (set up to look like Santa’s North Pole village).

See Santa

It might not be safe to visit your favorite mall Santa or watch him ride into your town at an in-person event, but that doesn’t mean your child can’t still see the jolly old guy!

Watch a parade

Does your family love watching the big bands and floats go by? Skip the winter weather and see the action from home instead! For example, Atlanta’s WSB-TV will air highlights from the last 40 years of the city’s Children’s Christmas Parade, the biggest holiday parade in the Southeast, on December 6th. Fort Worth’s two-hour Parade of Lights is avaliable to watch through the end of the year. And no kid will want to miss their beloved Disney friends in the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.

(Virtually) attend a tree lighting

Skip the crowds and head to YouTube for all the oohs and ahhs of watching the lights on towering Christmas trees come to life. Many places like Chicago and Washington D.C. have made their world-famous lighting ceremonies available to watch online. Some even include concerts of the holiday classics to really get you and the kids in the spirit. Follow it up with an online sing-along instead of caroling door-to-door.

Take a window “walk”

Thousands of people each year stroll through big cities to see the displays decorating department store windows. This year you don’t need to buy a ticket to NYC or even bundle up in your winter gear—Window Wonderland shares all the animations, glittering lights, and other festive highlights right on your computer screen. 

See a show

For some families, it just isn’t the holiday season until they see their fave traditional show or performance. Lots of them are available for free this year, so be sure to catch your favorites (or watch something new for the first time):

  • Nutcracker: Several ballet companies are offering free, online Nutcracker events on various dates. Find one that works for you with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, St. Louis Ballet, ButlerBallet Company, Emerald Ballet Theater, or American Midwest Ballet, to name a few.
  • The Nice List: This kid-friendly musical shows what happens when elves are put in charge of Christmas.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Airs for free on Apple+ December 11-13, and on PBS on the 13th.
  • A Christmas Carol in Harlem: Check out this classic reimagined in Harlem and infused with gospel, hip-hop, pop and R&B.
  • Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show: Enjoy the world’s first holiday show highlighting the African American tradition of stepping, free from home.
  • Freeform (formerly ABC Family) has a 25 Days of Christmas lineup that includes iconic films like The Santa Clause, Home Alone, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street. You can also catch TV specials like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Light up Hanukkah

Having eight nights to fill with magic should give your family plenty of time to explore some virtual options.

  • You don’t have to own a top (or visit face-to-face with all your extended cousins) to play dreidel. Search online for virtual versions like the one at ABCya, and start spinning!
  • Log on to celebrate the Festival of Lights with the Skirball Hanukkah Celebration online. Attend on December 13th at 6pm ET for a chance to win prizes, or watch the recording later on YouTube.
  • Celebrate with astronauts on Hannukah in Space, and learn things like what happens when you spin a dreidel or light a menorah on the International Space Station.
  • Join author Laura Gehl for an interactive Hanukkah storytime via Zoom as she reads her book Happy Llamakkah.
  • NYC’s Jewish Museum invites families to discover unique Hanukkah menorahs made with unexpected materials in a virtual tour that includes interactive activities.

Have a happy Kwanzaa

The seven principles of Kwanzaa (Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics, Purpose, Creativity, Faith) and its overall theme of unity offer lots of inspiration to grow together as a family. Here are some ways to celebrate that unity from home.

  • Join Coyaba Dance Theater West African Dance Company on December 29th and enjoy their high-energy performance, In Spirit of Kwanzaa
  • The Smithsonian Anacosta Community Museum walks families through the seven principles and shares a hands-on Kwanzaa Crown craft using easy-to-find materials.
  • Celebrate the Kwanzaa Kuumba Makers Festival with the California African American Museum on December 26.
  • Participants in New-York Historical Society’s Living History @ Home will learn about the holiday, create a guided activity booklet as a family, and explore how to take action to support Black communities.

Start a new tradition—and learn about other cultures

If Hannukah or Kwanzaa aren’t usually celebrated in your house, be sure to check out some of the suggestions above to better understand other traditions and cultures. In addition, here are some ways all our families can learn something new (and take our holiday spirit to the next level):

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.