If you’ve organised the usual holiday cheer for the night before Christmas – from leaving Santa’s mince pies out to hanging the stockings – and you still find yourself casting about for memory-making activities to introduce to the kids, then check out these ideas:

The Icelandic book flood

Between their snow and reindeer Scandinavians don’t have to work very hard to make things Christmassy, but one thing they do make an effort with is Christmas Eve traditions. Known as Jólabókaflóð, or the Yule Book Flood, this is the festive period when Iceland’s book publishers release the majority of their titles. Family and friends then gift their favourite tomes to each other on Christmas Eve where everyone then proceeds to bed to read them with a hot chocolate. How cosy is that? Gift your kids a book they’ll love and read it together. The idea works particularly well as it creates an activity to pass the high-excitement time between getting ready for bed and waking up on Christmas morning.  

Build a gingerbread house

An activity that encourages kids to play together, this’ll keep them occupied for an hour or two while you work on the finishing touches for the big day. It’s also minimal effort on your part if you buy a pre-made kit that requires assembly only - like this Wilton one from Spinneys. Buy extra sprinkles, icing and sweets for them to express their creative side too. After Christmas, if you have kids that like destruction as much as construction, turn it into a makeshift piñata by laying it out on some newspaper and letting them smash it up into pieces with a rolling pin before they eat it.

Watch the Google Santa Tracker

This is a lovely idea developed by Google that allows you watch Santa’s progress around the world on Google Earth. Santa starts at the furthest east time zone at about midnight so he should be available to watch in the UAE from around 4pm. Each time he arrives in a city the tracker tells you a little bit about the place, provides counters showing how far Santa has traveled as well as how long until he reaches the viewer's city, the distance from the viewer's city, and the total number of presents delivered.

Until the 24th the Google Santa Tracker page also has some fun Christmas information and activities to look at, as well as a countdown to Santa’s departure.

Gift Christmas pajamas

This has grown in popularity over the years but may not have caught on in your household yet. If you’ve seen tons of festive PJs in the shops you’re just dying to wrestle your kids into for cute pictures, make a treat of it by gifting them cosy xmas PJs for their first present on the night of the 24th. Getting them ready for bed will never be easier!

Plant the Christmas pickle

This is a quirky idea that began in Canada and the US. The Weihnachtsgurke tradition goes that a parent hides a pickle-shaped ornament (or a real pickle if you can’t find one!) on the Christmas tree. The first person to find it receives good fortune for the New Year and sometimes a little extra reward from Santa. While it was thought that this ritual originated in Germany, turns out that’s not quite true. Either way, it’s a fun, outside-the-box game to introduce to the kids.

Leave a Santa key out

Perfect for the UAE, the Santa Claus Key is a creative way to explain how Santa visits homes without chimneys. You can use any key and jazz it up with glitter or purchase a special one from the dozens of shops that sell them like Ace Hardware. Have it delivered by elf or Christmas envelope with an explanatory note and then leave it outside together on Christmas Eve under a mat or in your garden. Don’t forget to pick it up again once the little one’s in bed and put it inside somewhere they’ll find it. This will definitely ease any troubled minds concerned that Father Christmas won’t be able to get in to deliver the presents!  

Tell ghost stories

It might seem strange to tell spooky stories this time of year but exchanging a good ghost tale is an old tradition dating back to well before the 19th century when Charles Dickens wrote his famous yarn about ghosts and Christmas. As the nights grow longer it makes sense to cosy up inside at night and tell stories that send a little thrill. To make it friendly for the under fours watch The Muppet Christmas Carol or pick up one of the many children’s versions of Dickens’ book to read together.

Write a letter to your children about their year

Christmas is a wonderful time to think about family and is a more natural period for children to look back on the year they’ve had than New Years’ Eve (when they’ll likely be in bed by the time the clock strikes twelve). Start a series of touching keepsakes by writing a letter to them at Christmas reminding them about the last twelve months: the moments when you were particularly proud of them, when they learnt something new or when they did something they really enjoyed. These will become treasured possessions in years to come and allows a little time for reflection in the busy holiday period. 

Read more 
How not to lose it with your family this Christmas
10 unique kids’ Christmas gifts that aren’t toys 
How to keep the magic without lying to your kids this Christmas

Image by Drew Coffman for Unsplash