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Budget-Friendly Family Fun for the Holidays!

At this time of year, things tend to get pricey. Between gifts, warm clothes and the arrival of snow-sport season, you may already feel holes burning in your pockets. Luckily, ‘tis the season for holiday cheer, so let’s cool those pockets with 10 great ideas for budget-friendly family fun and money-saving tips.

1. Trade it in.
With snowboard and ski season in full swing, it’s time to get some warm gear for your little ones. Whether your children are really young, or you’ve got growing teens that need to size up, winter apparel and equipment can become costly. On top of that, what do you do with all of the stuff you’ve already got? That’s where Play it Again Sports comes in. Trade your used equipment in for bigger sizes or different items, or just bring your boards, skis, boots and more in and get paid cash. There are three locations in Calgary (Shawville Boulevard SE, Stewart Green SW and Harvest Hills Boulevard NE). For maps, hours and more information, visit

2. A cuppa Joe and some playtime. Going to a nice coffee shop and grabbing a latte is one of those fabulous activities that just make you go, “Aaah.” Having little hands tug at your pant leg and a tiny voice say, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” can take a little bit of that relaxation away. Check out these great local spots for your kids to play while you sip on your latte!

  • Coffee & S’cream. Coffee & S’cream is a full service coffee spot with a separate 2,000 square foot play area for parents and tots. Children six months to six years can climb and slide, explore mats, ride around the 100-foot track. Located at 555 Northmount Drive NW. For more information, contact 403-210-2020 or visit

For a complete listing of coffeehouses, playgroups and indoor play areas, check out our New Baby & Beyond Guide.

3. Go stargazing. Between the light pollution in the city and having to bear the cold winter air, it’s hard to appreciate the true beauty of the stars at night. The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory offers the ideal opportunity for you and your family to get an amazing glimpse of the stars, as well as Jupiter and its moons. This open house is ideal for families with older kids, and the cost is only $20 per vehicle - so have your child bring a friend! All proceeds go toward educational programs at the observatory, and $20 really isn’t that bad for a night out as a family! For more information, visit

4. Get crafty. Buying gifts is so difficult, especially when it comes to deciding what to get for who, and how much to spend. But, if you can find unique, special gifts for your friends and family, you won’t have to worry about wasting money on impersonal items. Christmas at the Millarville Market is an annual holiday tradition that is just perfect for finding the ideal gift. Vendors fill the indoor and outdoor market areas with handmade goods including jewellery, original art, kitchenware and more; it truly is an excellent place to find all of your gifts (and even some holiday decor!). The market runs Friday, November 5, 2010 from 10am to 8pm, as well as November 6 and 7 from 10am to 5pm. For more information, contact 403-931-2404.

Light it up!

5. A Festival of Lights. From December 1 to 31, 2010, the Airdrie Festival of Lights will brighten up the lives of countless Calgary and area residents. This annual event takes place from 6pm to 9pm nightly at Nose Creek Park, Main Street in Airdrie, and it is a fantastic way to spend some time outside with the family. Aside from the incredible display of lights, there is an impressive lineup of entertainment, ‘Festival Idol,’ visits with Santa, train rides, children’s tents and an assortment of food and drink. For more information, call the festival line at 403-912-XMAS (9627).

6. Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo.
Finish off a day at the zoo with Zoolights, Calgary’s biggest holiday lightshow. It’s not just the lights that are terrific; there are so many other things that make this annual event special. Fire pits and hot chocolate will keep you and your family nice and cozy between exploring the Reindeer Stables, Candy Cane Lane and the Tunnel of Love - or having a blast Snow Bowling, or making an igloo! Zoolights occurs between November 26 and January 2, except for Christmas Day and New Years Eve, from 6pm to 9pm. For more information, visit

7. Crossroads Farmer’s Market. There’s nothing quite like a good farmer’s market, and the Crossroads Market (1235, 26 Avenue SE) is no exception. It can be a free day out for your family, but even if you spend some money, it won’t be much. This market will entertain your kids for hours, with the help of a magician, a balloon sculptor, a face painter and just in time for the holidays - Santa! There is also a food fair with a huge variety of international cuisines, a flea market and an antiques market. Crossroads is open Friday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm, and the antiques/flea market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 5pm. Need more information? Check out the Crossroads website ( or give them a call at 403-291-5208.

8. Once Upon a Christmas at Heritage Park.
This annual event takes place on Saturdays and Sundays from November 20 to December 19, and is not one to be missed. It gives your family a chance to experience Christmas as it used to be, in the Heritage Park Historical Village. What is there to do? Horse-drawn wagon rides, carolling, visits with Santa, shopping and theatre productions! It’s a great adventure that doesn’t have to cost a lot - get your tickets at Safeway or First Calgary Savings and save 50 per cent off admission. For more information, visit

9. Get your skate on! Outdoor ice skating is one of the most exciting, entertaining things a family can do together, and the best part? It’s free! There are numerous parks throughout the city that have City maintained rinks, and there are even more that are volunteer/privately maintained. Four of the biggest ones are: Bowness Lagoon (8900, 48 Avenue NW); Prairie Winds (223 Castleridge Boulevard NE); Big Marlborough Park (6021 Madigan Drive NE); and Olympic Plaza (228, 8 Avenue SE). Go to for a complete list of outdoor skating rinks throughout the city.

10. Sign up. There are many different websites that offer great deals and coupons. One of them is Groupon ( They offer daily deals from businesses throughout Calgary. Do you have a newborn, or are you expecting? Sign up for the Heinz Baby Club at and get a free nutrition kit filled with samples, coupons and more! For recipe ideas and fantastic coupons (even freebies!) for General Mills Canada products, sign up at

Or, check out! There’s great Clip and Save Coupons to get you and your family out and about in the city without breaking the bank!

Stephanie is a freelance writer specializing in travel and food writing. For more information, visit

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