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Christmas at the Gaylord, snowball throw, winter break activities

Winter Break Activities

Six ideas to banish boredom during the weeks off from school

It happens every year in the lead-up to Christmas—a whirlwind of recitals and parties, then before you know it, schools have shut their doors and your kids fly back to the coop for the next two weeks. They’re also very likely bouncing off the walls in anticipation of Santa’s arrival and New Year’s Eve. Kids are home 24/7 from roughly December 18 to January 3 (depending on your school), and it’s with that timeframe in mind that we rounded up six ideas to keep the kids cheerful and enriched during winter break.

Whether you’re ready for a full-throttle outing or prefer a cheaper alternative you and the kids can enjoy at home in your matching jammies, we’ve got options for both so you can tailor your experiences to their energy level and your wallet.

RELATED: The best Christmas lights shows in Dallas-Fort Worth

Make Mischief

For parents who legitimately rely on The Elf on the Shelf to keep your kids on their best behavior during the holiday season, we hear you. But beyond where on the shelf your Scout Elves are sitting or how often they move (don’t put so much pressure on yourselves, parents!), we’ve scouted out extra ways to have fun with these little elven informants.

Option 1: Go All-Out

Meet dozens of real-life elves in-person at The Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey, open now through January 2 at Choctaw Stadium (formerly Globe Life Park) in Arlington. This new, walk-through experience is part exhibit, part acrobatics show with a company of 50 elf performers clad in red onesies. They’re dancing, juggling and performing tricks against the backdrop of oversized scenes that, well, dwarf the elves in comparison.

Families are welcome to snap pics in the Magical Elf Play photo booths, drop toy donations and your own wish lists at Santa’s Mailroom or (available with an upgrade) to visit Santa himself. Timed tickets start at $24.95 for adults, $19.95 for children and free for 2 and younger.

The Elf on the Shelf: Magical Holiday Journey, photo courtesy of Constellation Immersive and The Lumistella Company
The Elf on the Shelf: Magical Holiday Journey, photo courtesy of Constellation Immersive and The Lumistella Company

Option 2: Keep It Low-Key

If the kids love their Scout Elf but you’re not wild about another night out of the house, there’s plenty of elf mischief to be made right at home. Log onto santasnorthpole.com for a 360-degree, virtual exploration of the North Pole (ahem, pay close attention to Santa’s Strategy Room) and let your littles play more than a dozen free games like the Scout Elf Flight Simulator. We think feeding Saint Bernard puppies and arctic foxes in the Elf Pets Feeding Frenzy Game is especially darling.

For more tactile activities that won’t add to their screen time, try the free, printable paper crafts and activities at santasnorthpole.com and elfontheshelf.com. Christmas cards, coloring sheets or mazes to challenge kids’ problem-solving skills—each comes with instructions for them to complete solo or as a family. Pro tip: Head outside to make the elephant toothpaste.

Bonus: For a movie night, or prelude to a movie night, you can’t go wrong with flipping on the 25-minute An Elf’s Story: The Elf on the Shelf. The Blu-Ray version available at shop.elfontheshelf.com for $10.95 includes some portions in 3D, or you can watch the 2D version on demand and for free with your Netflix subscription.

The Snowball Effect

Alas, we can’t rely on Mother Nature alone to gift us the white Christmas we wished for, but with a little help from technology (read: snow-making machines), you’ve got options for experiencing a guaranteed local snowfall.

Option 1: Go All-Out

Several venues across Dallas-Fort Worth offer snow throws as part of their holiday festival entertainment (check out at dfwchild.com/calendar for the ones nearest you), but few destinations offer more bang for the buck than Christmas at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, offering both real and virtual snowball throws this year, among other holiday activities through January 2.

In Santa’s Snow Throw, each participant gets a bucket of real snowballs (prepacked into hand-size spheres) to take aim at the moving targets inside a toy-workshop-turned-carnival-game. The virtual snowball option is part of Mission: Save Christmas featuring Elf. You, on screen as Buddy the Elf, join in an epic snowball fight around NYC’s Central Park. Book your virtual experience online for $14.99 and up; $9.99 for the snow throw; $27.95 for snowman building. 

Christmas at the Gaylord, virtual snow throw with Mission: Elf
Mission: Save Christmas featuring Elf

Option 2: Keep It Low-Key

For a less structured snowball throw in the privacy of your own backyard (or park or wherever you’d like to play), head to your local Bahama Bucks for reinforcements. The same super soft shaved ice they use in their tasty “Sno” cones gets packed into their Sno2Throw bundles. Each bundle comes with 60 snowballs, stored inside a Styrofoam cooler that keeps them intact and at the right temp until you’re back home with the kids and ready to throw down in a frozen blaze of glory.

Call or go online to schedule your order in advance. Prices for each 60-pack bundle varies slightly by location—and there are about 15 locations across Dallas-Fort Worth—but generally run $26.99 and under. And what’s a trip to Bahama Bucks without getting your own treats. Embrace the cold and choose from more than 100 flavors for your Sno cone, including the new winter flavors “Santa,” “Christmas tree” and candy cane.

Bahama Bucks Sno2Throw snowball bundles
Bahama Bucks Sno2Throw bundles

G(l)ow with the Flow

One seriously underrated pastime: an evening drive cranking up the holiday tunes and scouting the suburbs in search of light displays. It sounds simple because it is, but nothing beats sipping hot chocolate from a thermos (or a sippy cup) and watching the kids go gaga over the glow of Christmas lights.

Option 1: Go All-Out

Up the ante with a professionally operated drive-thru light shows like Dallas Zoo Lights and Gift of Lights in Fort Worth. (Be sure to look online for our full guide to Christmas light displays.) Open through January 2, Dallas Zoo Lights returns as a mile-long, socially distanced drive-thru featuring silk-covered lanterns shaped like the zoo’s resident animals. Tickets are $65 per car, and guests can also pre-order popcorn and hot chocolate to be delivered to your window as you wait to enter.

Located farther west at Texas Motor Speedway, Gift of Lights is open through January 3, including all the holidays. Play “I Spy” with holiday characters along this 2-mile display around the actual racetrack for $30 per vehicle.

Both drive-thru experiences conclude with a Santa’s Village of sorts, where you’re welcome to step out of your vehicle to stretch your legs and meet Santa himself for photos.

Dallas Zoo Lights, photo courtesy of Dallas Zoo
Dallas Zoo Lights

Option 2: Keep It Low-Key

Not interested in paying admission? No problem. For zero dollars beyond the cost of your gas, you can find arguably equal entertainment at these two residential neighborhoods famous for decades for their elaborate Christmas displays.

More than 200 homeowners at the Interlochen neighborhood in Arlington compete for best theme, most artistic and the Griswold Award, among others, and welcome onlookers to witness their handiwork on their front lawns. Print out a map from arlingtontx.gov for the recommended route, or simply aim for the intersection of Westwood Drive and West Randol Mills Road, then follow the line of cars into the neighborhood.

In addition to onlookers from vehicles, Deerfield in Plano also welcomes pedestrians and riders in horse-drawn carriages. (Visit deerfieldplano.org to book a reservation.) Both Deerfield and Interlochen welcome the public to see their displays throughout December—but like the rest of us, most homeowners will likely keep their displays up through New Year’s. To be sure, these are private neighborhoods with no public restrooms. Maybe go easy on that hot chocolate you brought, or better yet, come on a weekday night when traffic is less clogged. You can return home sooner to enjoy the remaining days of the kids’ winter break.

Top image courtesy of Gaylord Texan Resort