Tuba Christmas, photo courtesy Pioneer Courthouse Square

It’s December. And that means some big spending holidays are nearly here. (Some of us have already been given wishlists from our kids). But it’s still possible to have lots of festive fun this month. Here are lots of ideas for getting out of the house with the family — all without spending a dime.

See Nutcracker Vignettes. The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, but an expensive one. Head to the Portland Night Market on Friday, December 2, from 5:30-7:30 pm, for outdoor Nutcracker scenes, including live dancers, lighting, music, props and more. Check out Classical Ballet Academy to learn more about their annual Nutcracker Vignettes. Bonus: get your holiday shopping wrapped up!

Visit a Free Winter Carnival. Beaverton will be hosting its free Winter Lights tree lighting and holiday bazaar on Saturday, December 3.


Courtesy of Pioneer Courthouse

Go on a Holiday Tree Scavenger Hunt. Did you miss most of the community tree lightings? Never fear! The trees will be sparkling all season long, so pack up your littles and check each one off your bucket list. See our list of tree lightings here.

Celebrate Hanukkah. Chabad of Oregon will display and light Portland’s public Hanukkah menorah at Pioneer Courthouse Square for eight nights beginning Sunday, Dec. 18 at 5 pm. Kick off the Festival of Lights on the first night with live music, yummy foods and more.

Visit Santa. While some visits with Santa can be pretty spendy, there are plenty of opportunities that are free. A visit with Santa is always free with our sponsor Washington Square Mall. Check out some other opportunities here.

Make a gingerbread house. Head to JCPenney in Washington Square Mall during this month’s free Kids Zone event on Saturday, December 10 from 10-11 am. Kids can make a gingerbread house or a reindeer stable.

See a Gingerbread Masterpiece. Want to check out more gingerbread creations? Don’t miss the annual, elaborate gingerbread masterpiece in the lobby of the Benson Hotel.

Courtesy Hamid Shibatta Bennett

Under the umbrella. What better way to enjoy Portland’s rainy season than with an only-in-the-PNW parade. Don’t miss the Milwaukie Umbrella Parade and Tree Lighting featuring the city’s annual tradition of walking downtown with your festively-decorated umbrellas keeping you dry.

#Maskouthate. Visit Portland Center Stage at the Armory for this free, impactful art exhibition. #Maskouthate features face masks and designs created by impacted Portland community members as an engaging, visual response to increased racism against BIPOC communities during the pandemic.

Take a music class. Music Together of Portland is offering fun and active free demonstration classes at several locations around town. Reservations required.

Get outside. What’s that? You don’t want to stay inside? No problem. Check out one of these rainy day nature walks.

Declutter. The holidays can often bring lots of new stuff—toys, clothes, games, decorations and more. Find a new home for your old things with a Buy Nothing Facebook group. You’ll also build community, help out other families and model generosity for your kids. If that doesn’t say “holiday spirit,” we don’t know what does.

Listen to holiday music! There’s a lot happening at the Pioneer Square this month. Don’t miss the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition on Friday, December 9 at 7:15 pm. The following day, Saturday, December 10, from 1:30-3:30 pm, check out the 31st Annual Tuba Christmas Concert, featuring more than 200 tubas playing holiday songs in unison. Click here for more free holiday events at the square.

Celebrate solstice. Celebrate the winter solstice — and watch the colorful Christmas Ships cruise on by! — on Saturday, December 17.

Pick up a discovery pack at the park. Hoyt Arboretum is offering free discovery packs for children K-5th, including binoculars, field guides, nature searches, maps, and more. Reserve a pack here.

Remove some ivy. Join Portland Parks & Recreation’s No Ivy League on Thursday, December 1 from 9 am-12 pm in Forest Park to help remove invasive ivy and plant native species in its place. Registration required.

Skip the parking fees. The perfect chance to get out and explore. Enjoy free parking at Oxbow and Blue Lake regional parks, Broughton Beach, M. James Gleason Memorial Boat Ramp and Chinook Landing Marine Park on Thursday, December 15.

Courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Visit the art museum. Happy 130th birthday to the Portland Art Museum! All guests are free Sunday, December 11. Registration opens December 7, so don’t wait to snag your free entry ticket.

Hunt for the Gingerbread Family. Find and submit photos of five and be entered to win a prize through Wilsonville Parks and Recreation. November 30-December 19.

Listen to a free concert. Portland Center Stage is bringing back their annual holiday tradition. They will be presenting local choral groups as part of their pre-show programming this winter. Wave from Ida B. Wells High School will be singing festive songs on December 1 from 6:30 pm-7:30 pm in the main lobby.

Volunteer with PP&R
Courtesy Portland Parks & Recreation

Give back. Tis the season to make the world a little brighter. You and your kids can volunteer together with many organizations around town.

Create a time capsule. Wrap up 2022 by working on time capsules. Draw pictures, write stories, add photos and include trinkets to help you document the year. Store them in a shoe box and tuck them away for a bit of future nostalgia.

Courtesy of Christmas Ships

Be dazzled. Bundle up and check out holiday lights on Peacock Lane or see the Christmas Ships. In Lake Oswego, don’t miss the North Pole at Eagle Crest sparkling neighborhood display — there’s free cocoa, too! In Vancouver, the lights at Holidays on Franklin in Vancouver are always free. See our full list of light displays here.

See flowers in December. The Earth Laughs, a flower- and nature-themed art exhibit, can be viewed for free at the Lobby art gallery in the Ellen Browning Building on SE Division.

Swap Minifigs. Head over to PDX Minifig Exchange at SE 42nd & Cora in the Creston Neighborhood. (It looks like a little free library, but with minifigs.) Take one, leave one. This is one of the many reasons Portland is the BEST.

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