Family-friendly activities to do ahead of Christmas

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 3:05 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The holiday season goes fast, and there are so many fun ways to make memories in our area.

Megan Ariail, The West End Mom, has a list of must-do activities with the family.

Christmas Lights!

Lewis Ginter

“I wanted to start with probably everyone’s favorite activity, and that seeing the Christmas lights, and probably the most popular thing to do in Richmond in November and December is going to Garden Fest at Lewis Center,” said Arial. “This is my family’s favorite holiday event.”

The details:

“The entire garden is illuminated with lights. You can see the trains, you can get refreshments, and everything is stroller friendly. So, this is really a multigenerational activity.

You do walk through Lewis Center’s guest entrance, and they encourage mask for everyone. It’s not required, but you’re only really in there checking in for maybe five minutes and the rest of it’s outside. I’d say more importantly than mask for this event, you need to dress warmly, and with comfortable shoes because it’s all outside and it can.”

The cost:

“Your tickets are going to range between $5 and $18, depending on what night you go and what type of ticket you get. So, if you’re looking to be budget-friendly, go earlier in the season and then after Christmas because the tickets are discounted. I also really like that Lewis Center is a part of the Program Museum for All, and they offer qualifying families reduced ticket prices. So, if you have your SNAP or WIC card, you can get an adult ticket for a dollar to $5, and children 12and under are free.”

Richmond Illuminate

“So another family-friendly light show around Richmond is Illuminate, and this one’s really wonderful because depending on your comfort level, it’s actually all in your car,” said Ariail. “You drive through Virginia’s largest light display.”

The details

“It’s about a 30 minute show that’s synchronized to music. Last year was our first year going, and my kids loved it. It’s really beautiful. It’s another multigenerational activity. You drive, probably about two to five miles per hour, you roll your windows down, and it’s a really beautiful experience.”

The cost:

“The tickets have gone up this year, so last year it cost $25 per car. This year it’s $30 per car, but I would say this is definitely one of those activities that’s worth it because it’s nightly from November all the way through January, and it’s a rain or shine event,” said The West End Mom. “So, you can go if the weather’s bad, and you still have a really fun activity or you can go when it’s freezing.”

Self-Guided Light Tour

“So, another option for families is doing your own self-guided tacky light tour. I loved the list that NBC12 put out last year, and that’s one that we use as a family.”

You can find the 2021 list, here.

The details:

“So what you could do is get your family all together in a car and pick out which homes,” said Arial. “You have the best light displays. Some of our favorites are Henrico County Fire Station 13, and they decorate the day after Thanksgiving. They’re all lit up. We also love the home that’s off River Road by Cocoa and Hazel. So, what you could do is grab some hot chocolate from Cocoa and Hazel or some treats, and drive around Richmond. And this is a really budget-friendly option because you can do it for free.”

The cost:


Christmas Parades

Holiday Express Tour

“We are so thrilled that Henrico County Parks and RECs is doing their Holiday Express tour again this year. This is a free event, and what I like about this event is it’s three different nights in different areas of Henrico County. So, it goes through each district so you can pick the one that is closest to you,” said Ariail.

The details:

“And you may even be able to watch from your house because they go through neighborhoods. This event is on Dec. 7, 8 and 9, and you’re going to see Santa Claus, you’re going to see Henrico County vehicles all lit up. Last year, my family watched from Regency Square Mall, and we got to see a fire truck. They had one of the Parks and Recreation vehicles blowing snow, and then we got to see Santa kind of as the grand marshal of the parade, which was really fun for my kids.”

It’s the same parade each night.

“They just go through different neighborhoods each night, which makes it really easy for you to find what’s closest to your home,” said the West End Mom.

The Cost:


Dominion Energy Christmas Parade

“We’re also really excited that the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade is back in person this year,” said Ariail. “It’s going to happen on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m., and the Grand Marshal is Snoopy.”

“So this is going to be a really family-friendly event that goes down Broad Street and ends at the Richmond Coliseum.”

The event is free.

Cookies with Santa

“So another thing for families to enjoy this year is to actually have cookies with Santa. One of our favorite local farms, the Red Barn Farm, they’re hosting an event called Cookies with Santa, where children can actually decorate their own cookies with Santa. And you can participate in their barnyard experience, which is feeding the animals and interacting with them, and taking an elf hayride.”


“And what I really like about this event this year is that it is very budget-friendly,” said Ariail.” Having Cookies with Santa is by donation only, so you can donate what your family can afford. And if you would like to add on the barnyard experience and the Elf Hayride that cost $8 a person.”

The event is on Dec. 4 and 5. More details, here.

Christmas Trees

“There’s a couple of ‘cut your own’ farms around the Richmond area,” said Ariail. “But I did want to point out we’re having a Christmas tree shortage. So, just kind of be aware of this as you look for places to go buy your Christmas tree...when you visit the local farm if it doesn’t have the tree that’s the size you want - just don’t cut one down. I talked with a local tree farm, and she said that if you cut the tree too early, then it cuts down on their tree population for the next year. So if you visit one, grab your pictures and just don’t cut down a tree if it’s not the one you want.”

The details

“So, the one I’m going to recommend is Market at Grelen. This was my favorite find in 2020. This nursery is in Somerset, Virginia, and it’s really a fourth-season activity for families. It’s a gorgeous 600-acre property. You can cut your own Christmas trees. They also have pre-cut trees. But what I like about this tree farm is that they’re going to have Santa visits.”

“They have a cafe and there’s some beautiful walking trails around it, too. So, you could make a full day experience. I do want to point out that they have a very strict mask policy, so everyone...needs to wear a mask when they meet Santa, and there will be plexiglass between them and then all masks are needed. Everyone needs to wear a mask in the gift shop. But if you’re outside, not doing Santa or the gift shop, and you’re able to social distance, then you don’t need your mask. So there’s plexiglass between the kids and saying yes, so Santa is going to sit behind plexiglass, and then you also need a mask.”

See Santa

“There are some options if you feel comfortable interacting with Santa,” said Ariail. “And then there’s also options if you aren’t at that comfort level yet. OK. What’s hot chocolate? Yeah. And another thing for families to do this year is to drink hot chocolate, and I’m not talking about the kind you make at your house.”


“The Quirk Hotel’s coffee shop and tree are open to the public!”

“Another place to get delicious hot chocolate is one of our favorite local bakeries - Pearls. Last year, there was this huge hit of what’s called hot chocolate bombs...They are delicious. You drop ‘em in a cup, and you pour hot milk over them, and you watch them kind of explode. Very good.”

“And the last place I wanted to recommend for hot chocolate is Cocoa and Hazel. They have two locations - one in Bon Air and one over off Ridge by the University of Richmond. They have this decadent hot chocolate that comes with tons of marshmallows, chocolate dip, marshmallows, and a graham cracker dipped in hot chocolate. Definitely share-worthy because it’s so rich, but it’s delicious.”

“Another family-friendly activity to try this holiday season is watching model trains, and I have a free spot for you guys to watch these trains,” said Ariail. “The Great Big Green House in Midlothian is open free to the public all year round and they host family-friendly seasonal events, and we really love visiting them at Christmas because they have the River City. Railers set up a huge model train display and they haven’t announced the dates for this year, but it’s typically all of December, and so you can go for free and take your kids and watch these massive trains displays. We took my son in 2019 and he loved it when he was two. We took him last year. He loved it. They also have Santa pictures for free.”

Go-Ice Skating

“We are so lucky that Stony Point Fashion Center, they open up an ice rink every year, they decorate for Christmas, and they even have snow falling on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights on the ice rink. So, this is a really fun, family-friendly activity,” said Ariail.

“You can ice skate for $14 a person, and they even have an ice skating trainer set. So if you have a 4-year-old that’s never ice skated before, they can have this little trainer and go around. It’s really fun. And even if your children don’t feel comfortable ice skating, I take mine to watch the big kids ice skate and to watch the snowfall on the weeknights. We also love their Christmas tree because you can play in their outdoor play space.”

“We love going to the Liberty Ice Pavilion in Colonial Williamsburg. They have that ice skating rink set up, I believe, Nov. 19 through the end of February. So, if you were to go to Colonial Williamsburg, you could tour all of the colonial homes and watch performances decorated for Christmas, and then enjoy ice skating. This one’s a little bit more expensive. It’s $13 per child, $15 per adult, and that’s it.”

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