‘Tis the season to break out of your dating rut and create a fun-filled night with your better half.
Planning fun and festive dates during the holidays (or deciding to embark on one spontaneously) can be a great way to fortify your bond with your beloved.
“The contagious joy and laughter open the door to a comfortable and safe space for adults to get back to their childlike behavior. Playfulness comes into play, and the next thing you know you’re making a snowman with your partner,” Callisto Adams, Ph.D., a relationship expert and founder of HeTexted, told TODAY. “This can have a tremendously positive effect on the couple,” she continued, adding that embracing “capricious behavior” creates a judgment-free zone.
From a holiday movie marathon at home to whipping up a warm meal, we’ve got cute Christmas date ideas for every kind of couple (even ones that haven't defined their relationship just yet). And while you can always save these dates for Christmas Day, many of them are better suited for the days leading up to Santa's arrival.
Wrap gifts together
A functional date that’s also fun? We’ll take it. Blast the music, while you’re at it. “Even though gift wrapping can be tedious and an annoying chore, it can still be made fun if couples turn it into a date. Incorporate some fun competition into it like most wrapped gifts the winner or the fastest one to wrap gifts gets to skip the dishwashing chore tonight,” Lauren Cook-McKay, LMFT, director of marketing and content of Divorce Answers, told TODAY.
Best of all: "It’s very budget-friendly, and it also makes the chore easier to finish because you have someone helping out with you.”
Enjoy a movie night
How could we not recommend this classic? “Ask your date to pick their all-time favorite holiday movie,” Shannon Lungren, certified matchmaker and dating coach, said. “After you watch it, share your favorite parts. Chances are, he/she will want to watch your favorite flick next time!”
Bonus points if you watch both in one evening for the ultimate holiday movie marathon.
Create a winter garden
While it’s definitely challenging to plant during winter, Cook-McKay says finding a helper makes it less of a hassle and can even be done without leaving home (or your backyard). “This can also be a test of how your teamwork is around taking on new tasks or challenges,” she added. If you don’t have outdoor space with soil soft enough to plant in, consider creating an indoor garden with herbs.
Teach each other one of your family's holiday traditions
Whether it's a fifth date or 50th, we love this sweet idea. “Take turns implementing one of your own family holiday traditions into your relationship,” Amber Lee, certified matchmaker and co-founder of Select Date Society, told TODAY. “You will each learn a new way to celebrate the holidays and feel closer to each other as you share the traditions you grew up with.”
Decorate a gingerbread house together
You don’t have to tell us twice. “This is pretty easy and fun. You’ll also have a memory in one of your homes of the fun date,” Lungren said. “You can also plan to get together after the holidays to do a delicious demolition.”
Attend a holiday concert
“There are tons of holiday concerts that occur. You can both choose to attend one every month or once every week,” Cook-Mckay said. “It’s a good time to hang out of the house and enjoy different scenery while keeping the spirit of the holidays intact.” Not to mention, it’s also an excuse to get dressed up in your finest festive attire.
Window-shop for a Christmas tree
Already have a Christmas tree? Don’t have space for one? Would you rather save money on a tree and decorations this year? Regardless of the reasoning, this bonding activity is a winner.
“The shops are usually crowded, and people’s strange ways of testing the trees adds to the fun part of this activity,” Adams said, noting that the experience will likely bubble up memories for yesteryear. “Be it happy or sad memories, they’ll be a way of showing vulnerability to your date, especially if you’re dating for a long time."
It also helps that most of these shops have a happy and noisy atmosphere, which can help make conversations more relaxed and easygoing — even if they’re bittersweet.
Take the plunge at a Polar Bear Plunge
Made with thrill-seekers in mind, the Polar Bear Plunge is only for those strong enough to brave the cold. “Sometimes it’s about taking risks that are outside your comfort zone," Omar Ruiz, LMFT, founder of Online Private Practice, LLC, told TODAY. “Not everyone will be open to it, but if the couple is, they need to make sure there is a location that will allow for this and that is safe.”
Go ice skating
Perhaps the most classic date activity on this list. “If you haven’t done an ice skating date before, let this year be the year you try it,” Adams said. Think of it as a bonding experience — especially if your skating skills aren't up par. “If you are not experienced skaters, choose a weekday when the rink is less crowded and learn to skate together,” Lee suggested.
Take a drive to see the Christmas lights
Many suburban neighborhoods have houses with festive lights and holiday decorations. “All you need is a tank of gas and about an hour or so to drive around in the evening to pick out the best and brightest house,” Ruiz said. Some towns even have more formal drive-by holiday lights experiences, but keep in mind that some require you to buy tickets in advance.
“This is even more fun if you take a drive in your Christmas pajamas with mugs of hot cocoa (don’t forget the marshmallows!) while blasting Christmas music on the radio," Lee added.
It’s always a great idea to give back, especially during the holiday season. “You’ll be spending time with one another, but not directly. Instead, you’ll share this emotionally-rich experience with one another,” Adams said.
You have a couple of options: Find something that speaks to both of you or you can each pick a different volunteer opportunity for double the fun.
Take a walk in the park
As Adams puts it, being an adult isn't always, well, fun. “Getting back to your childlike behavior with a partner can be an extremely emotionally bonding experience,” she said, suggesting you pick a day when the weather is appropriate for a walk in your local park. “Let your inner children out and make something like snow angels or a snowman together."
Cook your favorite Christmas dishes together
Nobody is going to be disappointed with a home-cooked meal, especially if it's made with love. “Cooking can get messy, competitive, and very funny," Adams said. "Whether you help each other out or compete with one another, it’s entirely up to you.”
To get the wheels turning for what you’re going to make, check out these Christmas dinner ideas.
Go people-watching at night
Here’s a free or low-cost activity you may not have considered. Make or buy some hot drinks, pick a spot or bench, and start people-watching. “Different people have different worries, ways of feeling jolly and expressing happiness,” Adams said. “This can allow you to remember things from your own stories and share them with your date, but also it makes a comfortable room for you to stay silent."
Warm up with hot chocolate
But first, work up a sweat by taking part in a snowball fight. “Not only does this bring out an individual’s competitive nature, but it allows for playfulness on a date," Ruiz said. Once the game is over, snuggle up with some hot chocolate. "This is helpful for couples to remind themselves that not all dates have to be coordinated, it can just be playful.”
Friendsgiving has become a popular Thanksgiving tradition, but have you tried the winter-inspired version? Come up with a dinner menu, invite close friends and prepare for a night of festive fun.
"This not only allows for a shared experience with others you like and care for, but it will open up doors for exploring how your partner interacts with your friends,” Ruiz said. “This provides more insight into your partner as a whole, rather than a singular one-dimensional person.” (Obviously if you’ve been together a while, the “discovery” aspect about how someone acts around friends might not be new!)
Shop for one another
Instead of just going shopping, Adams recommends incorporating this playful twist: Your date picks an item for you and vice versa.
“This raises the potential for laughter and jolly memories. You can take it as seriously as you want. Or you can passively challenge one another to pick the ugliest item and make each other wear/use it for as long as they need it,” she said, adding that seeing the ugly Christmas sweater they picked out will elicit happy memories every time you bring it out of the closet.
Get your karaoke on
Warm up those vocal cords for a night of fa-la-la fun. Find a local bar or restaurant that has karaoke with Christmas songs. You don't need to have pipes like Frank Sinatra or Aretha Franklin, though.“It’s about a shared experience," Ruiz said.
Plan a holiday photoshoot
“You are never too old to get your photo taken with Santa! Have fun being big kids together," Lee said. If you don’t want to head to the mall for a snapshot with Santa, consider hiring a local photographer or using a service like Flytographer for a seasonal photoshoot in your yard or at a local ice skating rink.
It's time to embrace your playful side again. Find a solid sledding spot, layer up and spend the day in the snow. “The adrenaline rush as you speed down the hill in your sled will create chemistry between you,” Lee said. If you live in a climate with snow, it’s particularly magical when you do this during the first snowfall.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com