Holiday Fun for the Whole Family

by | Dec 2023

Centennial Lakes Park

Centennial Lakes Park ice skating rink. Photo: Katie Laux

Out of the (gift) box ideas for bonding with grown and flown kids.

When guests come to town over the holidays, hosts can be hard-pressed when it comes to planning “things to do.” And a similar situation can be had when adult children return home for the holidays.

Jim and Barbara Swanke host Christmas Day festivities for their four children, Katie, James, Maria and John. Now that the Swanke children are grown and out of the house, Christmas morning still features the same traditions of Christmases past. While the family has grown to include two sons-in-law and two granddaughters, the original “Swanke Six” have never been apart on Christmas. As they’ve grown, some traditions have adapted. Christmas Eve dinner is now at Katie (Swanke) Lutes’ Eden Prairie home.

“My favorite part of the evening is the boisterous game we always start with, usually the Saran Wrap-ball game, played with oven mitts to ensure clumsiness,” Barbara says. “I find it rewarding to see my daughters assuming the role of hostess, especially now that they’re mothers. They want the holidays to be special for everyone but especially for their little ones. They eagerly take ownership of the happy memories being made, just as I did as a young mom.”

The Swanke family plays the Saran Wrap-ball game at Wooden Hill Brewery. The game has been a tradition since the 1990s.

The Swanke family plays the Saran Wrap-ball game at Wooden Hill Brewery. The game has been a tradition since the 1990s.

The Swankes still bake cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning. But while the excitement of having full beds and occupied seats around the dining table rarely takes a dip, there can be times when a little infusion of excitement and fun out of the house is needed.

There are many opportunities throughout the Metro to take a little holiday time field trip. Let’s take a look at places to go and things to do that can put a whole lot of merry and happy in your holiday season. (We realize this is by no means a complete list. Hopefully, we can inspire you to discover new places.)


Immerse yourself in the Westin Edina Galleria’s Winter Village. Throughout a three-month installation, the team offers weekly spirit and wine tastings, private dinners hosted by local chefs, and special activities through its Weekend Wonders program. 3201 Galleria, Edina; 952.567.5000;

Westin Edina Galleria’s Winter Village

Photo: Lauren Engfer


Check out the public open skating schedule at the Braemar Arena in preparation to carve ice with fellow skaters. 7501 Ikola Way, Edina; 952.833.9500;

If you’d rather skate outdoors, Centennial Lakes Park transforms into an idyllic 10-acre rink. The lake is groomed daily and skaters have the unique opportunity to skate from lake to lake through canals that meander under majestic bridges. Centennial Lakes Park, 7499 France Ave. S., Edina; 952.833.9580;


If you’re hungry for a new culinary challenge, cooking classes can satisfy your hankering. Visit Cooks|Bellecour, 3934 Market St., Edina; 952.401.3682;


For those who want to get their Canadian on, try our northern neighbor’s other winter sport—Crokicurl, a hybrid of curling and the board game Crokinole, where players flick small discs on an octagonal target to score points. Central Park, 12000 Central Park Way, Maple Grove; 763.494.6474;

Crokicurl Rink Maple Grove

Photo: Maple Grove Parks and Recreation

note: The program received the 2022 award for innovative programming from the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association.


If you missed being a member of a winter Olympic team, play the part by taking group curling lessons at the Chaska Curling Center, 3210 Chaska Blvd., Chaska; 952.227.2475;

Tip: This is very popular, so you might have to book this for 2024.


Increase your knowledge of making spirits by dipping into a distillery or brewery, including Wooden Hill Brewing Company, 7421 Bush Lake Road, Edina; 952.960.9663;

Wooden Hill Brewing Company

Photo: Chris Emeott


Don’t leave out your furry guests. If you’re not the only one suffering from cabin fever, bring your four-legged friend to an indoor dog park like Unleashed Hounds & Hops. 200 E. Lyndale Ave. N., Mpls.; 612.439.5060;


Embrace the Bold North with downhill and Nordic skiing, tubing and more thanks to incredible programming at the Three Rivers Park District, locations vary; 763.559.9000;

Tip: Be sure to check trail and hill accessibility and conditions and equipment rental.


Want to escape? Find out how well your group thinks on its feet during a stop at Missing Pieces Escape Games, 5233 Edina Industrial Blvd., Edina; 952.658.8974;


Who doesn’t love a great holiday light show, especially from the warmth and comfort of your car? Check out the Magic of Lights at Viking Lakes, 2685 Vikings Circle, Eagan;


Lose yourself in wintry fun by navigating an ice maze. Try your cold-weather orienteering skills at the Minnesota Ice Festival, 2645 Vikings Circle, Eagan; 612.254.8330;

Minnesota Ice Festival

Photos: Snack Media


Test your collective courage without leaping out of an airplane during indoor skydiving at iFly, 12415 Wayzata Blvd. Suite 15, Minnetonka; 612.444.4359;


Photo: iFly

Tip: The photo ops alone are worth it.


Who in your group is the holder of the most information (useless or otherwise) or is in constant pursuit of all things trivia? There are plenty of breweries and dining spots around the Metro that feature these questionable nights of fun.


Sip with a purpose during a wine tasting or tour of a local winery. Try The Vine Room, 756 Mainstreet, Hopkins; Or make a day of it with a trip out to Fountain Hill Winery & Vineyard, 731 County Road 30 SE, Delano;

More to the Story

One might assume that family bonding happens early in a child’s life, and no more effort is required after a certain point. All relationships, including those between child and parent, need continued engagement.

“Relationships require ongoing work, maintenance and nurturing,” says Tai J. Mendenhall, Ph.D., LMFT. “Cultivating and maintaining connections across generations is key in continuing family legacies, stories and related narratives.”

The Swankes use the holidays as a way of continuing their legacy. Many of their family Christmases took place in Barbara and Jim’s living room. However, now the kids are grown, the family bakes holiday cookies at Maria’s house and has Christmas Eve dinner at Katie’s.

“The aspect of Christmas that has always remained the same is spending Christmas morning together,” Maria says, adding they’ve changed the venue to accommodate the new additions to the family: Lily and Vivian.

“We want the babies to have the kind of Christmas memories provided by a love-filled familiar setting with time-tested festive routines,” Barbara says. “My four kids cherish their childhood memories of Christmas in their own home, and everyone feels that our grandchildren should have those same experiences.”

Mendenhall says this evolution in venues is part of family bonding and is key to maintaining healthy connections. “Early attachment processes between infants/children and their caretakers (parents, grandparents, etc.) continue throughout the life course,” the professor at the University of Minnesota and medical family therapist with M Health Fairview says. “Relationships change and evolve, of course, as parents and children go from parent/child relationships to more adult/adult relationships.”

He recommends helping each other with something around one of the homes. It’s something John strives to do every holiday season.

“My mom remains the primary showrunner for our Christmases. I like finding ways to help her though she often declines my offer,” John says. “I’ve helped my dad buy a Christmas tree … It’s definitely a two-man job transporting it back to the house and putting it into the living room.”

Katie says she treasures the uninterrupted quality time Christmas morning brings for the family.

“Family is just overall so important to me, and I think my siblings and parents feel the same,” she says. “It doesn’t matter exactly what we are doing, but everyone’s effort to be together for the holidays is the most meaningful tradition to me.”


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