Christmas tradition that grows as kids do: the scavenger hunt

Christmas Eve traditions vary by family. Some get matching pajamas, some eat special meals, and some attend candlelight Mass or services. In my family, our favorite Christmas Eve tradition is a little unusual: we go on a scavenger hunt.

Get 10 printable scavenger hunt clues here.

From when we were very little, my parents would create a scavenger hunt, or treasure hunt, for my brother and me. They wrote clues in rhyme and required that two of us figure out the answers together, while being nice to each other. At the end of the hunt, we would find the one present we were allowed to open on Christmas Eve.  Often the gift was a game or a movie or something to do together as a family.

I was excited to carry on the tradition with my daughter, and we have enjoyed doing it in a variety of locations.

This tradition is fabulous for several reasons

1. It keeps kids busy and occupied on one of the most exciting days/nights of the year.

My brother in particular found it hard to contain himself and with the anticipation of excitement to come, the day would just DRAG for the poor kid. (I of course was perfect and know nothing about this.) Not only were were my brother and I occupied, we were working together, peacefully. That may not have always happened - way to go, Mom and Dad, on taking full advantage of the night when children really do fear the consequences of poor behavior. (Translation: we wanted those presents. Badly.)

1 a). Parental time.

Keeping the kids occupied means that parents get a few seconds of uninterrupted time on one of the more hectic days of the year. It wasn't much, but every second of serenity helps preserve sanity. As we got older, the hunts got longer, and I'm guessing a glass of wine could be enjoyed. We're not quite to that length yet, and, to be honest, I love watching her do the scavenger hunt and wouldn't miss it for the world.

2. The tradition very easily grows with kids.

I started the tradition with my daughter as soon as she could walk. So maybe I was rushing things a bit, but really, this will work for any age. You can do picture clues to start with real little ones. Here was the progression of my scavenger hunt experience:

  • Early elementary age: All clues on one floor or area of the home.
  • Later elementary age: The whole house was fair game.
  • Middle school age: Some clues outside. The first year for this we got coats. Coats may not have seemed exciting, but after some time sleuthing outdoors, we were thrilled to get them.
  • High school age: This part really floored us: once one of us had a drivers license, the whole town was fair game. Christmas Eve Road Rally!  My mom called family friends to see who would be home and left clues at their houses.

3. It is not location-specific.

The scavenger hunt goes wherever you go, be it your in-laws house or on vacation. My daughter has done the scavenger hunt in several locations. I thought I would be sad when my parents moved to a new home when I was a young adult, but was thrilled when a scavenger hunt clue could be hidden in the hole on the green in the golf course nearby. (Yes, we've done it in adulthood, with adult beverages, too.)

4. The clues can be straightforward, or they can be super creative, depending on the time and energy available.

Get 10 festive, printable holiday scavenger hunt clues here.

"You're answer questions at a good pace, the next one is hidden in the fire _____"

"The reindeer are working hard pulling Santa's sleigh, now go look where you put toys away."

This website offers clues, including, "Shiny and metallic, but not a piece of bling; They’re there to make a noise – shake them and they’ll ring." to direct kids toward jingle bells.

What are your Christmas Eve traditions? Please tell us in the comments! I hope that you enjoy doing them and have a wonderful time celebrating this season of joy and giving.

If you need gifts for the end of the hunt, check out this post: More cheap holiday gift ideas for kids and tweens

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