After a year in which many of us stayed home, I'm eager to head to my hometown for the holidays. Here's a list of interesting things we can do in our hometowns that don't involve getting too tipsy at our old locals.

Going to your hometown for the holidays?

What interesting things do you do in your hometown when you’re there over the holidays? Many of us, myself included, stayed home last year. While the rise in cases in Boston and in my New Hampshire hometown has me nervous, I’m still headed to my parents’ house this year. I’m excited to see my family and to reconnect with some treasured holiday traditions.

The default activity for reconnecting with friends in town is the local

In the US, many hometown bars have their busiest nights of the year right around the holidays. Hoards of people, visiting their families, spill into their old locals. It’s a time-honored tradition, one I certainly used to participate in back in the day.

A celebratory tipple gives us a chance to catch up with old friends, but there are other interesting things to do in our hometowns over holidays, none of which result in nausea and/or hot shame. Instead, these can engage our curiosity and broaden our understanding of our hometowns.

14 Interesting things to do in your hometown for the holidays

You could almost play this like a scavenger hunt. What “badges” can you collect from visiting your hometown? Get a story to tell your friends, and have yourself a little adventure!

1. Play tourist

What would a visitor to your hometown do? Is there a popular attraction? Obviously, it might not be exactly the right time to go hopping all over the place, especially when visiting our parents, but if there’s something outdoors, and it’s open, check it out!  Go see the scenic spots.

Here’s a fun way to do this: When you visit a spot, read the interesting point about it (plaque, online description, etc.). Look at it like a tourist, and snap a photo. Maybe a selfie. Really get into it.

Laconia, New Hampshire, has a lot of tourist spots, but one of my favorites to visit over the holidays is the Kellerhaus. Known for an ice cream sundae buffet (we had my birthday parties there for years), as well as a candy shop, it also has a Christmas-themed gift shop. So, I get to play tourist and get a few last-minute stocking stuffers when I’m in my hometown.

Hometown for the holidays: visiting my old nature spot
Icy lake scene

2. Visit your old spot

If you were anything like me as a kid, you probably had some “spots” you liked. I used to like to shimmy up between the branches of the tree in my front yard and read. I also liked a nature trail, and the Point at Lake Opechee. Later, as I got older, I started visiting my spot on Lake Winnisquam.

The tree in my parents’ front yard has since been cut down (alas, it died), and the nature trail isn’t something easily accessible anymore. However, I can still visit my lake spots easily, and so I do.

What’s your favorite old spot?

Hometown tourism
Found while walking around an unfamiliar path

3. Wander down a street you never walk down

Most of us, especially growing up, had well-trodden trails and likely had places we only rarely visited. For me, this is a section of the Winnipesaukee river, partly because there was just nothing down there. Or, a couple of twisty turny roads that just cut between two more popular ones that no one has a reason to walk down unless they live there.

Why not check it out? Snap a photo or two.

Hometown for the Holidays: Winter scene of trees and deer from the model train display
The vintage shop in my hometown's downtown has a great model train display with winter scenes like this

4. Visit your downtown

I have the fondest memories of my hometown downtown. When I was a kid, it was a thriving center with lots of shops, a movie theater, and a diner. The diner remains, but downtown fell on hard times for a number of years. However, the theater was recently restored to its old glory and there are signs of life there, with some cute shops and businesses opening. Your downtown might be similar. Local businesses can certainly use your last-minute stocking stuffer dollars, and you might run into old neighbors and friends.

Hometown Coffee shop

5. Get a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop

If it’s safe to do so, head to your old local coffeeshop and get a cup of coffee. Hang out and write or read. Watch your old world go by.

6. Find the best holiday display

Your hometown now has a contest, and you’re the judge. Walk or drive around town in the evening, noting holiday displays (snap photos—they make great cards for next year), and determine the winner.

What’s your criteria? Most tasteful? Most gloriously OTT? You could have a ceremony at your parents’ house, announcing the winners.

7. Make some tacky crafts

Get thyself some macaroni and glitter! Make awful Christmas ornaments and bestow them as boobie prizes upon your unsuspecting relations. Maybe have a contest, if others are game. May the worst entry win. (OK, this one would definitely be aided by a celebratory tipple.)

8. Bake cookies

This obviously depends on the holiday kitchen schedule, but this could be a load of fun, if others were in the mood, too. Perhaps combine it with the terrible crafts to have some Frankensnowfolk?

9. Cook a dish for Christmas dinner

If you’re looking for something to do, and you have culinary chops, why not volunteer to make one of the Christmas dishes?

10. Record your family telling a story

Is there a family story that cracks you up, or makes you proud, or perhaps even a bit wistful? Record your family telling the story (obviously by getting their permission first).

11. Caroling

Outdoor caroling events? Sure! My signing would send the cattle a’lowing, but why the heck not. Go and sing your heart out.

12. Visit old neighbors

Do your old neighbors still live in the neighborhood? Go say hello! Maybe if your cookies are more tastefully decorated, bring them a treat.

Hometown for the holidays
Snow out the window in Laconia, New Hampshire

13. Play in the snow and have hot chocolate afterwards

Have snow? Get out and play in it. Throw a snowball, make an angel. Trudge along. Have hot chocolate afterwards. Put some marshmallows in it.

14. Extra credit: learn something about your hometown’s history

What do you know about your hometown’s history? Your hometown very likely existed long before you were around, and it probably has a past you don’t know much about. I studied history at university (and even got a Master’s in it), but that doesn’t mean that I’m an expert in my hometown’s history.

A mill wheel in front of a historic mill
A relic of my hometown's industrial past

Visit the museum you’ve never been to before

Lots of cities/towns have little (or big) museums dedicated to their history. These can be fun places to visit (provided that it’s safe to do so). Often these museums have a desire to paint your hometown in a more positive light. It might help to do some additional research (if you’re in the US, research indigenous history of your area, for example. It’s not going to be a nice story).

Be forewarned that learning the history of your hometown almost certainly involves learning things that you may wish you hadn’t learned. Still, it’s important. It deepens our understanding of our roots and can help us to make different decisions in our own lives.

Things I’ve learned about my hometown

Indigenous peoples lived in the area going back 10,000 years

I knew that Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee was named for fishing weirs found where the bay and the lake meet, but I don’t think it ever fully registered that Indigenous settlement in the area went back 10,000 years. Disease brought by Europeans in the early seventeenth century, before the area was permanently colonized by white settlers, all but wiped out the Abenaki in the area.  Their presence is all but gone, leaving only the lake and river names in the Lakes Region.

The State School

Last summer, I walked around the grounds of the former State School that housed developmentally disabled people in inhumane conditions (to put it mildly) for decades. Behind what we could see from the road, the campus stretches out through the woods, buildings slowly being reclaimed by the earth. The institution closed in 1991, but the state didn’t make adequate provisions for the residents, leading to an increase in unhoused people in the area. Lost in Laconia (trailer linked) documents the shameful history and legacy of the Laconia State School.

Hometown textile museum. Sewing machines
Sewing machines on display at the Belknap Mill Museum, Laconia, New Hampshire

Industrial past

Growing up, we visited the mill building a lot, as it had become an events space, but it didn’t really click with me that up until a little more than ten years before we moved there that it had been a working factory. One July 4th weekend a few years ago, I went to the little museum and saw that the mill had closed in 1960.

I also didn’t realize that the Belknap Mill building, dating back to 1832, was the oldest unaltered mill in the country until I read the plaque. The beautiful mill, along with the Busiel Mill beside it, along the river were slated for destruction when an effort was made to save the buildings. One now holds offices (fun fact: my dad worked in one of them when we first moved to Laconia), and the other is a museum and event space.

With the restoration of the old theater and other investment in the downtown, I hope that my beautiful hometown does finally become what it could be.

Your ideas?

Do you have fun things that you do in your hometown for the holidays? Share them and let me know what you do this year in the comments below!