Breathe in the crisp December air or stay in for hot hazelnut toddies—whatever your pace, here’s how to fill December with the perfect mix of good times and down time.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated November 22, 2019

December is a busy month, however you slice it. Ready or not, winter is here, and so are the holidays, which means you’re likely prepping the house for guests, grocery shopping galore, and squeezing in last-minute holiday gifts for everyone from girlfriends to grandparents. So when you find rare moments of down time, you’ll want to make the most of it—whatever that means to you and your family.

If you have school-aged kids, they’re likely on holiday break for much of December, so they’ll need to find fun winter activities, both indoor and outdoor, to occupy them (or you’ll need to find some for them). Otherwise, you might be looking at a lovely stretch of days off from work, in which case you’re going to want to make the most of that sweet PTO.

Whether you’re more interested in hibernating, holiday prepping, or bundling up for outdoor winter sports, December is all about welcoming the new season, wrapping up the past year, and being with loved ones as often as possible. So before the year is over, here are a few fun activities (and, yes, a few productive recommendations, too) for you to do in December with your friends, kids, partner, or solo.

Ways to Give Back in December

Donate Old Coats, Warm Clothes, and Winter Gear

Whether it’s through work, a house of worship, or a local coat drive, dig through those overstuffed closets for gently used coats, jackets, vests, and winter gear you can donate to someone in need. While it’s always a great idea to give gently used items away, winter is an especially important time to help the less-fortunate near your community bundle up.

Purge and Donate Old Toys

Toys are another fantastic thing to donate during the holidays. Think of all the trucks, stuffed animals, dolls, and sports equipment you and your family no longer use—there’s someone out there who’d really appreciate them.

Volunteer at a Local Pantry, Shelter, or Soup Kitchen

Band together with a group of friends and spend a few hours on a December weekend serving meals, organizing donations, or cleaning up at a local charity.

December Holiday and Year-End To-Dos

Finish Last-Minute Holiday Shopping

If anyone is still left on your list, get to it! Don’t wait until mid-December to check off all your holiday boxes.

Reflect on Last Year’s Resolutions

Before the year comes to a close, take a second look at the goals, resolutions, or intentions you made last December (or January). Is there anything you didn’t quite get to? There’s still time to end the year feeling fulfilled and proud of yourself. While you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back for everything you did achieve or stick to all year.

Make New Year’s Resolutions

Speaking of the resolutions, while you’re reflecting on this year’s goals, you can start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions before December 31 rolls around. Have you always wanted to start training for a marathon, give meditation a try, shoot for a big promotion, or be better about keeping in touch with faraway friends? Now’s the time to set intentions for the coming year so you can make it happen.

Make a Budget

The end of one year and the start of another is the timing sweet spot for auditing your personal finances and setting some financial goals. Whether you’re looking out for Number One or working with a partner, have a candid conversation about your spending, saving, budget, and goals for the coming year.

Take a Spontaneous Trip

It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s busy—a long weekend in Miami might sound pretty enticing right now. But even if you can’t swing airfare and all the bustle of a big trip, hitting up a charming bed and breakfast or homey Airbnb in the next town over for an overnight getaway could be the pre-holiday reset you need.

Organize a Cookie Exchange

There are few activities more quintessentially December than a festive cookie exchange—and doesn’t need to be Christmas or even holiday-centric. Invite your friends and neighbors for a treat swap everyone will want to do again next year.

Make Winter Drinks

Invite friends over for a winter cocktail party that can be as formal or laid-back as you’d like. Mix up seasonal sips, alcoholic or not—spiked hot apple cider, classic hot toddies, mulled wine, Mexican hot chocolate, eggnog, and spicy chai lattes.

Things That Are Great to Do With Kids

DIY Christmas Decorations

It’s time to deck the halls with all the beautiful greenery, lights, tinsel, and paper snowflakes you can muster. Spend a cozy afternoon as a family or friend group watching holiday movies, sipping hot cocoa, and crafting your own holiday decor (you’ll love making homemade ornaments or pinecone place cards).

Cookie Decorating

This is one December activity you can do with friends or with kids—or both. Start with simple sugar cookies or festive gingerbread shapes, set out colorful icing, and sprinkles, and candy and get to decorating for the afternoon.

Build a Snowman

If there’s already a blanket of snow where you live, get the kids outside to build a snowman, play touch football or capture the flag in the snow, have a friendly snowball fight, or make snow angels.

Decorate Gingerbread

Gingerbread houses are a holiday favorite the whole family can do. Invite your kids’ friends over for an afternoon of trimming gingerbread houses with piped icing and gumdrops.

Go Ice Skating

Depending on where you live and your preferred winter sport intensity, take advantage of first truly cold and snowy month to go ice skating, sledding, skiing, cross-country skiing, winter hiking, tubing, or snow-shoeing.

See The Nutcracker

Whether or not you live in a big city with a professional ballet theater, you’re sure to find a live performance of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic from a local or neighboring dance academy. If your kids are Nutcracker first-timers, you’ll love watching their faces light up when the curtain opens.

Go Caroling

Caroling is such a special way to get in a merry mood. Sing along to favorites around your living room or join local carolers in spreading cheer around your neighborhood.

Head to the Movies

It sounds obvious, but sometimes an escape to the movie theater is the perfect antidote to holiday stress and cold-weather blues. December is typically prime time for awards season movies, so you’re likely in for a lineup of quality releases. And there’s always Frozen 2 to get the whole family through December—and probably most of 2020.