Free ways to celebrate Christmas this year

Celebrating Christmas doesn't have to mean emptying your bank account. In fact, it's possible to have a free Christmas this year.

Studies show that many people prefer enjoying experiences to giving or receiving gifts. Even millennials are bucking the gift-buying trend — in fact, 72 percent say they would rather enjoy experiences than "stuff" over the course of the next year, according to a study by Harris Poll on behalf of Eventbrite.com.

If you are celebrating Christmas on a budget, check out the following ideas for how to have a free Christmas:

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Free ways to celebrate Christmas this year
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Free ways to celebrate Christmas this year

1. Visit a Free Museum

Some museums are free year-round, while others offer free admission on certain days of the week or during off-hours or seasons. Check with local art and history museums in your area to find one you and your family can visit for free over the holidays.

2. Go on a Winter Hike

Christmas ideas like this one allow you to get in touch with Mother Nature without spending a dime. Bundle up, head to one of your local city or county parks and go for a winter hike. Not only is this activity free, but it also lets you appreciate the season.

3. Do Charitable Work

Volunteering is important year-round, but Christmas is a time when giving back is especially crucial. From writing letters to soldiers to serving warm meals at a soup kitchen, you can find opportunities to do charitable work.

4. Go Christmas Caroling

This free Christmas activity can be done on your own or with a group. Visit the homes of people you know or, alternatively, join forces with a local nursing home or church that offers an organized caroling event each year.

As an added bonus, you can enjoy live versions of your favorite holiday hits without spending a dime.

5. Drive Around to Look at Holiday Lights

Even if you don't string outdoor lights yourself, many of the people in your town are likely eager to show off their displays. Some light shows are even set to music.

Pick an evening and load up the family in the car. A leisurely drive around your community to look at the displays is a great way to enjoy a free Christmas.

6. Go Sledding

If you live in a region that typically experiences snowfall around Christmas, go sledding. This activity is exciting for children, but adults can have fun, too. Visit a local park with a large hill and bring any sleds you already own. You can also use a piece of cardboard as a makeshift sled for this Christmas celebration.

7. Attend a Public Christmas Tree Lighting

Check with your local city hall for details on an annual tree lighting. These events are free to the public and help attendees get in the holiday spirit. Additionally, many outdoor shopping malls host public tree-lighting events, complete with hot cocoa and treats.

8. Attend a Free Winter Event or Festival

Check a local events calendar online or read your local newspaper's events page to find out about regional winter festivals. These events are often free and feature fun holiday activities, such as the chance to view ice sculptures or meet Santa.

9. Host a White Elephant Gift Exchange

The rules for white elephant gift exchanges vary, but a cheap holiday party option allows givers to wrap up items they already own. Family members or friends then exchange gifts at a party. For bonus points, use some newspaper and pretty ribbon rather than spending money on gift wrap and bags.

10. Go to a Christmas Church Service

Most churches offer Christmas Day services, and some host Christmas Eve services, as well. You don't need to be a member or regular churchgoer to attend — simply stop by and enjoy the music of the holidays.

11. Host a Potluck Dinner

Instead of buying fixings for a fancy Christmas dinner, host a holiday potluck. This option lets family and friends enjoy a holiday meal together without any one person having to take on the full expense. Each guest should bring a favorite dish or dessert to share. Don’t forget to specify how many people each dish should serve to make sure there's enough for everyone.

12. Have a Christmas Movie Night

Cozy up next to the fireplace, wear some fuzzy socks and pajamas and have a Christmas movie night.

Request your favorite flicks for free from the local library and get in the holiday spirit one movie at a time. From classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street” to newer Christmas staples like “Elf,” the options are virtually endless.

13. Play in the Snow

Get outside and play the next time there's a snowstorm. Make a snowman, build a fort or simply create snow angels with your loved ones. Use evergreen tree branches and pinecones to decorate your creations for an extra-festive Christmas touch.

14. Host a Cookie Exchange

Instead of asking guests to make dishes for a potluck, instruct each person to bring one dozen Christmas cookies and a container. Take turns selecting cookies to take home and don’t forget to eat some, too. Inexpensive and delicious, cookies help make any Christmas celebration more merry.

15. Go Window Shopping

During the Christmas season, retailers are decked out with festive displays. Going shopping doesn’t have to cost anything, though. Instead of getting caught up in the consumption race, go window shopping to check out the decorations and enjoy some quality people watching.

16. Donate to Others

Don’t wait until spring to start cleaning house. Instead, make an effort to tidy up your home now and donate unwanted items to those in need. Perhaps you have old coats you can donate to your local Burlington Coat Factory or unopened toys that children in need can use. Many retailers and churches have giving trees set up where they collect items for just this purpose.

17. Invite Someone to a Dinner

Share the holiday spirit by opening your home. Perhaps you know someone who is single or doesn't have any family nearby. Invite him over for dinner and spend time together instead of spending money.

18. Listen to Christmas Music

Many local radio stations will play Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas. Find one in your area and listen — and dance — to Christmas hits on the radio. Rock out in your car while driving to work or listen on the stereo at home as a way of celebrating Christmas with the family.

19. Host a Family Game Night

Another free activity you can do this Christmas is hold a family game night. Cozy up inside and play board games or cards. You probably already have some games at home, and scheduling a night to play them gives you an excuse to spend quality time with those who matter most around the holidays.

20. Visit Santa Claus

Don’t forget to take part in the tradition of visiting Santa Claus. The jolly man will likely make an appearance in your area at a local retailer or winter festival. Children and even pets will enjoy this Christmas activity. And there’s no need to purchase a photo — simply enjoy the visit and the wonder that comes with it.

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