Sometimes everything about the holidays seems to come with a steep price attached. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are seven holiday activities that range in price from free to heavily discounted and are sure to please school kids on break, out-of-town relatives and almost any other family member in need of some entertaining.
Get a Free Photo with Santa
You can pay $30 or more to have your child sit for a chat and photo with the jolly old elf at many shopping malls, but Bass Pro Shops is offering free Santa photo sessions at 57 of its stores nationwide.
The no-charge snaps are part of the outdoors retailer’s Santa’s Wonderland event featuring a Christmas village, games and activities.
Tour the Holiday Lights
Check out some over-the-top decorating jobs. Every neighborhood has one — a family that just doesn’t seem to know when to stop with the lights, reindeer, snowmen and other holiday decorations.
You don’t have to compete with them, but it would be a shame not to enjoy them, especially if you can locate the more original and beautiful examples.
Use any Internet search engine and look for your city name and the term “Christmas light displays.” You’re almost certain to come with a list, map or trail that will be worth a family drive-by.
There is always a great selection of family friendly movies during the holiday season, but high ticket prices can be a real budget-buster.
Dealflicks.com saves you up to 60 percent on tickets to first-run movies as well as concessions. There’s also never a convenience fee for purchasing tickets online.
Visit the website and type the city where you live or are visiting into the search box to see a list of local theaters offering Dealflicks deals.
PS: Right now you can use the code “MINTMOVIES” to get an additional 10% off your purchase (it ends Dec. 31st, so hurry!).
Free Holiday Concerts
Free holiday concerts happen in most large communities and many small ones. Simply conduct an Internet search for “free holiday concert” and your city name to find one close to your area.
Some are one-time events by volunteer choirs and orchestras performing traditional sing-a-longs and others feature world-class musicians and classical works by the masters.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for example, has a whole series of free concerts from November through January.
Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
If you’re going to put up and decorate a Christmas tree, make getting it an outing.
Visit PickYourOwnChristmasTree.org to find a local tree grower where you can choose your own tree and cut it down personally — or have them do it if you’re not the lumberjack type.
Most cut-your-own operations have other activities, like sleigh and hayrides, to make the visit appealing to all ages.
Explore Festivals and Other Celebrations
Christmas isn’t the only end-of-the-year holiday, of course. Kwanzaa is a celebration that runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and, although it has strong ties to Africa and the African-American community, is observed by people of many backgrounds and faiths.
Kwanzaa falls between Christmas and New Year’s and many communities have Kwanzaa events and festivals during that time.
One of the oldest celebrations is at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, which on Dec. 29, 2012, will hold its 34th Kwanzaa gathering featuring performers, a marketplace, exhibits and more.
The holidays are, after all, are a season for giving and few things bring a warmer glow than helping others in need.
Spending an hour or two working as a family at a neighborhood food pantry, handing out blankets at a homeless shelter, or gathering toys to donate to less fortunate children costs nothing and pays big in feel-good dividends.
National non-profit Toys for Tots has chapters across the country and many different opportunities to volunteer collecting and distributing toys to disadvantaged kids.
Visit the Toys for Tots website to find ways you can help in your community.
“7 Inexpensive and Family-Friendly Ways to Celebrate the Holidays” was written by Mark Henricks.