Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Scavenger Hunt - A Wonderful Family Tradition

Scavenger Hunt clue in my pantry.

It began simply enough. My daughter decided one year to do a scavenger hunt for her brothers so that they had to take some time to locate their gifts on Christmas morning. It was fun, and added a nice twist to the day. Fast forward a few years, and the annual scavenger hunt has grown and expanded. Rather than focusing on what they are going to get for Christmas, I find my children squirreled away in the weeks before the celebration crafting elaborate clues and challenges for one another. On Christmas Eve, people sneak around hiding envelopes around our home...inside and out. Yes, if you want to participate in the annual scavenger hunt, you might want to have your outdoor gear handy on Christmas morning!

First comic for this year's Amazing Ugly Race

The scavenger hunts can be simple (about 5 clues) or rather elaborate (10 clues with activities and challenges associated with them). Some years they are based loosely on our favorite reality TV show... The Amazing Race. Scavenger hunt clues often involve detailed comic art featuring another family favorite, Uglydolls.  This year we even had a zombie theme in one of the scavenger hunts. (It ended up fitting with the gift).  I love the Christmas scavenger hunts for many reasons. First, my kids are more focused on giving a unique experience to their siblings than they are on themselves at Christmas time. Second, this family tradition is completely kid generated...they thought of it, they create it, and we are the camera-wielding bystanders.  Third, it makes Christmas morning last longer. Grab your shoes and your Nerf guns, and let the games begin!

It all begins with an envelope under the Christmas tree.

This year's scavenger hunts even had a "Korean" edition.  I have a son doing missionary work for our church in South Korea for the next two years.This first Christmas away from home, he sent a gift and a scavenger hunt for his younger brother. It was an unexpected Christmas bonus.  The kids find their first clue in an envelope under the Christmas tree, and then the fun really begins.

Opening clue for the Zombie Apocalypse Training scavenger hunt

Like the Amazing Race on TV, our Christmas morning scavenger hunts may include roadblocks (you have to complete a task), detours (you get to choose between two tasks to complete), and U-turns (you have to do both tasks of the detour). One task this year was to make a paper boat and float a Lego mini figure in it. It didn't have to be pretty, just functional, and you could only use a minimal amount of tape.

Lego mini-figure in a paper boat.

Clues may also include references to a favorite book or movie that the kids recognize. For 2013, clues were found in "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks, and  in "Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians" by Brandon Sanderson.

Clue #5 was found inside a book.

My son designed and built a contraption out of Lego parts for this year's hunt. His sister had to shoot a zombie target. When she hit the target, her gift tumbled out. It was a zombie movie, of course! (Warm Bodies).

Zombie Target

Shooting Nerf darts at the zombie in the kitchen

Success! Target hit, gift delivered.

No scavenger hunt would be complete without the presence of Thok. Thok is a Bionicle, and he has been a key part of our scavenger hunts for years. Since his Bionicle power is ice, he is often found in the freezer.

Thok holds a clue in the freezer.

Other popular locations for stashing clues include the island in the kitchen, and the cookie jar. It seems these hiding places have become part of the tradition.

Clue by the cookie jar (someone else's gift is inside the jar).

And it just wouldn't be the same if we didn't have to go outside at least once on Christmas morning. This year, my son got to dig in the snow, and climb a tree before locating the correct clues for his gifts.

Looking for clues in the snow., anyone?

This year, there were several clues in the cherry tree that said "Try Again." Unfortunately for my son, he grabbed the first paper and ran back to the house. Then he noticed it said "Try Again," and he had to go back out to the tree. Eventually he just climbed the tree and collected all of the papers. He did find his clue, and I don't think he got frostbitten!

Getting clues out of the tree.

I am thrilled these scavenger hunts have become a favorite family tradition. Especially since almost no effort is involved on my part! After all the hard work of pulling off a family Christmas, I just get to sit back and enjoy the show.

Clue in a Lego mailbox

My son followed a clue to the mailbox, but didn't find what he was looking for inside. His next clue was actually tucked into a Lego mailbox set up in our Lego Christmas village. Another clue was hidden in a nutcracker's mouth (a Viking nutcracker we call Thor).

Another clue in the nutcracker's mouth.

This clue included a word scramble.

I am so glad my daughter decided one year to do a scavenger hunt for her brothers. I am even more happy that they loved it so much, they now all do it for each other. It is fun for the whole family, and something I look forward to each Christmas. As my kids grow older and approach leaving the nest, I know my spectator days may be drawing to a close for these scavenger hunts, but I hope they continue the tradition for many years to come!

Gift located in a desk drawer!


  1. This is the best tradition ever. I look forward to it every year and all I get to do is watch! I guess it's more about the satisfaction of seeing our kids care enough about one another enough to make Christmas really memorable. The gifts are secondary. It's so awesome.

    1. Well said, Greg. I agree it is great to see them so excited about doing something for someone else!

  2. This is so awesome! We started with clue driven holidays with St. Patrick's Day, a pretty big event at our house. The grandkids try to catch up to the Leprechaun to get his gold ( gold wrapped chocolate coins). Two years ago we began an Easter scavenger hunt via cars all based on scriptures that takes them to places all over the city. My adult "kids" are rather competitive and no one gets in the way of finding the clues. Fun is had by one and all and we all end up at our granddaughter's memorial tree in a local park emphasizing the gift of eternal life so there is a more serious side to it. You are so right about the planning of these hunts. It is lots of fun and filled with memory making opportunities.Thanks for sharing.

    1. Kim, I love the idea of doing scavenger hunts for other holidays. They are wonderful family bonding experiences. Thanks for sharing your family traditions!