It’s 60 degrees outside, but it’s also December, which means my holiday lights are up, there’s a little silver tinsel tree set up in my room, and I have sparkling snowflakes and gingerbread on the brain. In other words, it’s time to kick off my holiday season bucket list. If there’s not a winter wonderland outside, I’ll manifest one—or at least surround myself with glitzy decor, festive tunes, and holiday sweets. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the beauty and festivity of the season. (I’ll be celebrating a season of coziness, glitter, excessive sugar, and goofy nostalgia.)
Go to a holiday market
Twinkling lights, stalls bustling with excited shoppers, the scent of hot chocolate and roasting nuts—nothing says seasonal cheer like a classic holiday market. The Germans and Swiss really know how to do holiday festivity, if you ask me. With snowy forests and mountains and quaint villages, a winter wonderland is practically a given. Yes, this is a bit of a stereotype, but the lovely holiday tradition of open-air winter street markets does come from Germany. A true German Christmas market is on my bucket list, but cities around the world have picked up the tradition, and you really don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy one (just winter festivity and shopping). They’re also great sources for unique gifts—which reminds me that it’s about time to start my usual manic rush of holiday shopping.
Illustration by Tatiana Davidova
Watch classic holiday movies
Perhaps a controversial topic to mention at holiday get-togethers. Is Love Actually the best Christmas movie? (Please don’t hate me: I’m rather tired of it.) Is It’s a Wonderful Life too long and depressing? (Just bring the Kleenex.) I don’t pretend to be an expert, so I wouldn’t dare to suggest a be-all-end-all list of the best holiday movies. However, my holiday season isn’t complete without watching the classic Rankin/Bass animated specials from the ’60s and ’70s (especially Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman, but there are several other delightfully weird slash slightly dubious ones). Also on my must-watch list: A Charlie Brown Christmas (obviously), The Bishop’s Wife (because: Cary Grant), Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 one—don’t even talk to me about the new versions), The Polar Express (pure nostalgia), and White Christmas. Yes, I like the oldies.
Here’s my full watchlist for the season:
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
- Frosty the Snowman (1969)
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
- The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
- The Polar Express (2004)
- White Christmas (1954)
- The Holiday (2006)
- Prancer (1989)
- A Christmas Story (1983)
See the holiday lights
What’s the holiday season without a little sparkle? While I shudder to think what the electric bills are for houses that go all out with holiday lights, I love to search out the best displays. From the lovably tacky (I’m looking at you, blow-up Frosty) to the picture-perfect gingerbread to the … extravagant (hello, coordinated light show), there’s a little bit of everything, and it’s always fun to see what people come up with. The Country Club Plaza lights are always a classic in the KC area, but I’m also planning to do a little sleuthing to find the top twinkle showings around KC, so stay tuned.
Bake holiday sweets
The holiday season is a playground for those of us with a sweet tooth. Or perhaps the Land of Sweets. But I love making holiday treats almost as much as eating them, so I usually make little gift bags for people—mostly as an excuse to do a lot of holiday baking. It’s the perfect reason to turn the TV to a beloved holiday special, break out the apron and cookie cutters (or at least a lot of sugar), and send the scent of spices and baking cookies wafting throughout the house. I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to holiday yummies (that sent me down a mouth-watering rabbit hole); I just have to choose which recipes to make. How many cookies is too many cookies? (And don’t forget to set some out for Santa!)
Illustration by Natalia Hubbert
Send out holiday cards
As convenient as email and texting are, I miss snail mail sometimes (plus, I love pretty stationery). While I don’t quite have the time or patience to make cards by hand like I did as a kid, I try to send out holiday cards to friends and relatives every year. I have the excuse to visit a stationery shop, and it’s a fun way to spread the seasonal spirit. After all, who doesn’t like getting (non-bill) mail?
Watch The Nutcracker ballet
This has become a holiday tradition for me and my mom, and I look forward to it every year despite the fact that I’ve seen it a billion times by now (that’s an exact number). If you’re in the Kansas City area, the KC Ballet does a wonderful performance of The Nutcracker. I realize going to the ballet isn’t necessarily accessible to everyone, but if you can swing it, it’s a delightfully festive holiday event. Based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, this whimsical fantasy has all the holiday vibes. Cozy German Christmas scenes, candy palaces, glittering costumes, giant rat kings (no?)—what’s not to love? As German literature typically is, it’s both bizarre and charming. And really, what’s Christmas without the sugarplum fairy?
Make a gingerbread house
My friends and I had a gingerbread house making competition once (circa seventh grade), and well, let’s just say our team’s creation was dubbed the “Katrina” gingerbread house (yes, the joy of thirteen-year-olds’ tasteful jokes). Turns out frosting doesn’t always make the best construction material? Anyway, I’ve since discovered the beauty of gingerbread house kits. Anyone who says that’s cheating has clearly never tried to make gingerbread from scratch. I always like the Trader Joe’s kits, which are cheap and easy, though most grocery stores carry kits of some kind. Target also has some fun and inventive options, and of course, there’s always Amazon). If you’re feeling ambitious—or masochistic—here are instructions for making everything from scratch.
Illustration by Zenina
Go ice skating (outside)
Skating on a picturesque pond, à la Charlie Brown, isn’t quite as charming as it appears in the movies. However, there’s an undeniable magic to bundling up (or not—thank you, global warming) and gliding around an outdoor ice rink with other merry souls. I personally like city rinks with eclectic people-watching and festive tunes playing, even if they do tend to get a bit crowded. So I’ll be waiting for a day when I can actually wear a cozy scarf and then hitting the ice to see if I can still skate without crashing.
Drink homemade hot chocolate
On a cold, blustery winter day, nothing tastes better than a steaming mug of hot chocolate. While I’m more of a coffee person myself, there’s no denying that hot chocolate is a perfect way to get into the holiday spirit (besides: chocolate. Duh). Granted, it’s still 60 degrees outside around here, but I’ll pretend it feels like a winter wonderland. I’m usually lazy and use a premade mix, but this year I think I’ll try a homemade version, or maybe even a dairy-free option. Sip away!
Illustration by katarinochka