We are in the middle of building a new home, and while we hoped to be able to move in shortly after Thanksgiving, it’s looking like we will actually close and move in right over Christmas. As you can imagine, this has thrown our family into a bit of a tailspin. I’m trying to figure out packing and moving with three kids underfoot, all while maintaining some semblance of holiday normalcy, and do it as cheaply as possible, since you know, down payments. It doesn’t help that the kids are just as excited to be in the new house as we are, and it will be the biggest most expensive Christmas gift ever!
Needless to say, life’s a bit uncertain right now. I know not everyone is moving over the holidays, but often families find themselves in the middle of another life event, like having a baby, that throws a kink into your usual schedule of events. Maybe some sudden event has robbed you of a bit of financial cushion and you are looking for ways to celebrate with your kids inexpensively, but still maximize the holiday joy.
Last year I posted about our holiday tradition “25 Days of Christmas” and these free and cheap events are a big part of that list.
The Midlands is home to several holiday parades. These events are free, fun for the whole family, and are a great way to boost the holiday spirit.
- Carolina Carillion Parade – Dec. 3 – The route is smack in the middle of downtown Columbia, we usually love to get there early and snag a great viewing spot right at the intersection of Gervais and Main Streets. Parking in downtown is always a bit of a challenge (my favorite place is the Taylor Street garage).
- Parade of Lights – Dec. 10 – This night time parade down 12th Street in Cayce is a fantastic event for all ages. While the Carolina Carillion parade is our all time favorite, the Cayce Holiday Parade of Lights is a close second.
- Blythewood Christmas Parade – Dec. 11 – This small town parade is big fun!
In communities not too far away from the central midlands, you can find great little pockets of festivity. These are wonderful short trips you can take with your family, and are mostly within an hour driving distance. While more of the special activities take place on weekends, you’ll find that they are still open and far less crowded during the week.
- In Aiken, you can explore the beautifully lit Hopeland Gardens. This Annual Christmas light exhibit takes place from 6 – 9:30 p.m. each night.
- About an hour from Columbia in the opposite direction is Newberry. Every Friday in December, there will be snow on Main Street! This charming little town is worth the drive.
- A whole lot closer to home is Lexington. The annual Snowball Festival is several nights worth of family fun. It kicks of Friday, Dec. 2 with a concert and carnival in the square, and wraps on Sunday afternoon with a parade!
- Not quite two hours north of us is Christmastown – any other time of year McAdenville, NC – outside Charlotte, NC. This town puts up an amazing city wide light display that’s worth the drive, and it’s completely free!
- Right in Columbia, if you are a member of Riverbanks Zoo, the Lights Before Christmas is included with your membership, and therefore, free! Walk around the zoo with holiday light displays to guide your way.
- One of our favorite short trips is going out to Gilbert to Little Bethlehem. Walk through the town, see Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, listen to angels sing, watch townspeople dance, and sample goodies like fruit, flatbread, and hot cocoa. They accept donations, and we always contribute to this fun ministry. This event is open usually Friday and Saturday nights in December. This is just one of many live nativities in and around the Midlands, it just happens to be our favorite.
- Always free is just driving around, looking at neighborhood Christmas lights. This is an activity that brings back wonderful childhood memories, and I love sharing it with my children.
I’m going to pack as many of these events in as possible this year, to make Christmas as magical as I can, even on a shoestring budget.