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.
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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 decorating your home for the season, grocery shopping galore, finding new ways to connect and celebrate with faraway loved ones, and checking off your holiday gift list. 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 and safe 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 time 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 to enjoy outdoor winter activities, December is all about welcoming the new season, wrapping up the past year, and being with our loved ones. Before the year is over, here are a few fun activities (and, yes, a few productive recommendations, too) to do in December with friends, kids, your partner, or solo.

Plan a Wintry Getaway

It's cold, it's dark, it's busy—a long weekend somewhere warm might sound pretty enticing right now. If you're looking for inspiration, consider some of these warm-weather destinations (and a few cool options, if you're into the wintry weather).

Do Some 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.

Finish Last-Minute Holiday Shopping

If anyone is still left on your list, get to it! Don't wait until mid-December to get started on holiday gift shopping, with the shipping and supply chain issues. Not sure what to get? Get inspired by these amazing gift guides.

Get a Christmas Tree

Speaking of embracing the outdoors, now's the time to head to a Christmas tree farm, nursery, or even your local hardware store to select your holiday centerpiece. Is your place too small for a massive Douglas fir? Try getting one of these Christmas tree alternatives this December instead.

Organize a Cookie Exchange

There are few December activities more quintessential than a festive cookie exchange—and it doesn't need to be Christmas- or even holiday-centric. Invite friends and neighbors to make their favorite baked treat, then organize an exchange for some cookie-filled socializing. 

Whip Up Winter Drinks

Invite over a few friends to make and enjoy winter cocktails together. Mix up classic seasonal drinks, alcoholic or not—spiked hot apple cider, classic hot toddies, mulled wine, Mexican hot chocolate, eggnog, and spicy chai lattes.

Embrace the Outdoors

The arrival of December is far from a reason to head back inside. This year make like the fresh-air-loving folks of Scandinavia and embrace the concept of friluftsliv, which literally means "free air life."

Depending on where you live and your preferred activity intensity, take advantage of the first truly cold and snowy month to go ice skating, sledding, skiing, cross-country skiing, winter hiking, tubing, or snow-shoeing. But even if it's just for a walk around the neighborhood or a bundled-up backyard picnic, getting outside is just as important and invigorating in December as it is in June.

RELATED: Stay Safe Outdoors While Using Space Heaters and Fire Pits (Plus Other Ways to Stay Warm This Fall and Winter)

Purge and Donate Old Coats, Warm Clothes, and Winter Gear

Dig through those overstuffed closets for gently used coats, jackets, vests, and winter gear you can donate to someone in need, whether it's through work, a house of worship, or a local coat drive. While it's always a great idea to give gently used items away year-round, winter is an especially crucial time to help those in need bundle up.

Give Away 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. If they're still in good condition, it's probably time to give them a second life—and there's someone out there who will really appreciate them. Plus, it's always fun to go through old play things—so many memories!

Volunteer at a Local Pantry, Shelter, or Soup Kitchen

Band together with friends and spend a few hours on a December weekend serving meals, organizing donations, or cleaning up at a local charity. Call or do some online research to see whether organizations—shelters, soup kitchens, day cares, clothing drives—are taking volunteers, how many, and what their current guidelines are. Many are open and eager for helping hands, even more so in the winter and around the holidays, and are taking extra precautions to ensure everyone's health and safety.

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 listening to holiday music, sipping hot cocoa, and crafting your own decor (you'll love making homemade ornaments or pinecone place cards).

Admire Neighborhood Lights and Decorations

Does your block go all-out with Hanukkah or Christmas decorations? Is there a designated street in town known for its festive displays?  Stroll or drive through the neighborhood with your kids to admire the show of lights, trees, wreaths, candles, and other seasonal installations.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Help Boost Your Mood During the Coldest, Darkest Seasons

Play in the Snow

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.

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 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 a new exercise routine, shoot for a big promotion, give meditation a try, or be better about keeping in touch with friends? Now's the time to set intentions for the coming year so you can make it happen.

Decorate Gingerbread

Gingerbread houses are a holiday favorite the whole family can do. Spend an afternoon trimming gingerbread houses with piped icing, chocolate, candy canes, and gumdrops.

Watch Holiday Movies

It's time for the seasonal movies that make you happiest—and you know what they are. Find the classics playing on cable TV nonstop, or stream your favorites, including a new crop of Netflix Original movies and shows, starting right now.

Make a Budget

This may not be exactly the fun activity recommendation you had in mind, but the end of one year (and the start of another) is the timing sweet spot for checking in on 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. It will feel so good to get this done, and you can reward yourself with a good glass of red and a Home Alone marathon.