Family Holiday on the Cheap: A Sonoma Christmas Calendar

You're kids will remember these holiday events for years, and – since most are free or cheap –  your wallet will thank you.

, lights, carols, crafts fairs: It’s that time of year again in Sonoma.All the rushing can squeeze our time so tight that we forget to create lasting memories for our children. Do you remember all the presents you received when you were seven-years-old? Probably not, but you might remember making cookies with your brothers and sisters, or driving around and looking at the holiday lights with your family.

This is my family’s third Christmas in Sonoma and we have definitely discovered a few favorite tradiitons for this magical time. Here’s my list of must attends that my kid’s ask to do year after year. Most are free or relatively cheap – so grab the camera, something warm to drink, and off you go.

1. Driving through town to see the Christmas lights. Every year we have to drive through town – past Armstrong Estates, the east side and the west side of Sonoma – and pick a house to be awarded as the “Best Light Display." We even leave a little treat on the winners doorstep. My kids love deciding who will win. Pack your kids in the car in their jammies, bring along the hot cocoa in mugs and blast the holiday tunes. Family fun time at it’s best!

2. Go to the Sebastiani Theatre to see the amazing holiday village set up in the lobby. You can just tour the lobby or go for one of two holiday events coming up. This Saturday, December 17th, from 12:00pm to 3:00pm, the Hometown Band will play for their annual free performance (donations are welcome). Also this year the classic movie, A Christmas Carol, will play on Monday, December 19th at 7:00 and Wednesday, December 21st at 1:00. (This movie may work better for a holiday date with your hubby; You can even have a glass of wine!)

3. Celebrate the first day of winter. December 22 will be the shortest day of the year and first day of winter. Celebrate by taking a winter walk, making snowflakes and enjoying a family dinner. From this day on, daylight will increase a little bit more and more. Think Spring!

4. Decorate a gingerbread house. You can purchase ready made gingerbread houses at our local grocery stores ( has them in the bakery section) or make your own. Either way, the kids love decorating, and sneaking a nibble, of their house every year. Great way to also use up left over Halloween candy! When you're done, take the kids to the

5. Make cookies and deliver to your neighbors. I come from a long line of cookie makers in my family. And one of my most wonderful childhood memories is baking cookies with my grandmother and delivering them in the Yuban coffee cans we had saved throughout the year. We decorated them with wrapping paper and filled them with several types of cookies. Of course, the best part is delivering them to your friends and neighbors. Our favorite cookies to make are Sugar, M&M cookies, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Walnut. Yum!

6. Go on a wagon ride in Glen Ellen with the Clydesdales.   Neil Shepard and his handsome Clydesdale horses will be offering wagon rides through town on Sunday, Dec. 18, beginning at 2 p.m. Meet at the Glen Ellen Community Church. Santa may even be there too!

7. Have Breakfast with Santa at the Fairmont. If you haven’t seen Santa yet, here’s your last chance. They will be serving breakfast at the (Did you know kids 5 and under eat free from the kids menu everyday?) with Santa from 8 a.m.- 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, December 21 and 22.

8. Go caroling at the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel. The songs come with complimentary warm cocoa and cookies on Friday, December 23 and Saturday, December 24 from 4 -6 p.m. Mrs. Claus will even be serving from 4:30-5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Or just print out the lyrics to a few Christmas carols and head around your neighborhood. If you have ever had carolers come to your door singing, you know how fun this can be for the kids.

9. Go to see the Nutcracker. Every year we go to the Marin Dance Theatre’s version of the Nutcracker – Sophie and the Enchanted Toy Shop –  at the Marin Civic Center. It is an easy drive from Sonoma and the Teddy Bear Tea following the performance is always a huge hit. The show is not as expensive as the Nutcracker in San Francisco and my kids have been going since they were four-years-old and are always mesmerized. This years show is set for Saturday, Dec. 17 with performances at 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. The tea party is after the first show (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and drinks were served last year). The best part is taking photos will all the dancers in their gorgeous costumes.  For tickets, go here.

10. Visit a live nativity scene. This will be our first live nativity visit, but from everyone who has ever been (and apparently the entire town goes) I have heard that this is a must do. There are two locally: one at St. Andrew’s Church, on December 24 at 4 and 5:30pm  and Glen Ellen Community Church on the corner of Henno Road and O’Donnell Lane in Glen Ellen this weekend, December 17, 6 - 8:30pm.

The ideas in this article are just small nuggets to inspire you to your family of every age and ability to get involved in the holiday spirit. I recently read that it is not the gifts our children will remember 20-years from now, but the memories and traditions you create today.  And hopefully, these values you share now with your children will continue in their future.


Dorothy December 15, 2011 at 11:29 PM
I also come from a long line of cookie bakers. I agree that baking holiday cookies with your family and giving them as gifts provides memories for a lifetime.
Michelle Rulmont December 16, 2011 at 02:14 AM
Thanks Dorothy! Yes, memories for sure! I think my neighbors are patiently awaiting their delivery!
Irene Morgan December 16, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Seeing holiday lights was always a favorite when I was growing up. In fact, I still go out after dinner on Christmas eve and see the lights. Michelle, you have come up with some simple to do all time favorites that kids will remember into their adult years.
Rena B December 17, 2011 at 01:38 AM
It is so true that you don't remember the gifts you receive as a child, but you do treasure the special memories of the holidays. Things such as baking cookies, seeing the magical lights, and in my family, the annual trip to the Nutcracker, are the tied into the holidays for me.


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