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The Powers Family Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt

Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most consistent one we have. Since we’ve started livestreaming the shenanigans every December 24th, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about how we do it.

This is the answer, in the form of recommendations if you want to do your own version.

Make it easy to set up, or it won’t be a tradition, it’ll be a single fun memory.

Donna and I don’t usually prepare weeks or even days in advance. Some years, we’ve created clues on the fly, while the girls are doing the hunt. We want it to be a tradition, not a burden. We used to have a tradition of making a Christmas Star together every year. But it turns out that can be difficult to do, and the tradition fizzled. We’ve NEVER missed a year with our scavenger hunt, because we never let it become a burden. It’s truly not about how clever your clues are, or how many people are involved. It’s about doing silly things together, and even the lamest years have been a ton of fun.

Remember WHY you’re doing it.

Our goal has always been for our girls to have fun with each other. We’re not trying to stump them. There aren’t teams competing. They aren’t competing against each other. They’re just having fun working together. The final clue/solution is always something we can do together as a family afterward. Some years it’s a video game. Some years it’s a board game. Some years it’s a movie. It’s impossible to “lose” at the scavenger hunt, and if a clue is too challenging, we’ll totally help and give more clues, because it’s not about challenging the girls. It’s about the girls having fun TOGETHER.

Include everyone.

This isn’t something we have to remind our girls of anymore. They know it’s about everyone having fun, so they go out of their way to include each other and anyone else that might be with them that year. But at the beginning, or especially if your group is varied in age — make a point to include everyone. Something too hard for little Johnny? Let him hold the video camera while Suzy climbs the fence, etc, etc.

Consider your participants’ ages.

Our girls are fairly close in age. When they were young, the scavenger hunt was an indoor event. When they got older, they’d have to go into the yard or on the Internet. (See a clue from 2010: ) Some years there are friend and/or relatives that go with the girls, and we make sure to consider their ages and abilities while designing the clues.

Now? The girls are all adults, and clues will take them around town and even to other towns. They’ll drive a half hour one way to get a picture with a street sign. And they’ll laugh together the WHOLE time. It’s seriously magical, and allowing friends, etc, join in has never been a problem. We play the scavenger hunt fast and loose, and that means it’s very flexible and age inclusive.

Consider video streaming publicly or privately.

Now that video streaming technology is possible with mobile devices, it has made the entire experience more fun and inclusive. Perhaps you’ve seen the livestream. It’s silly, it’s fun, and holding the phone/camera is something someone can do. If you don’t want to livestream, consider facetime.

How we actually do it now:

We take full advantage of technology. The girls have a phone livestreaming the whole time, for our enjoyment at home (Donna and I stay home). The actual clue/solution goes something like this:

  1. We text them a clue. “I’m downtown, but my phone died, and I’m not wearing a watch. How will I know what time it is?!??!”
  2. They figure out what we’re hinting at, and pile into a car together and drive (safely!) downtown. They get to the clock on main street, and take a photo of themselves in front of the clock.
  3. They text the photo to our family group text, and if they’re correct, they get sent the next clue.
  4. If they happen to go to the waterfront and get a photo in front of THAT clock, we’ll respond with something like, “when I’m downtown, I can’t see that clock…” — and they’ll figure out what we actually meant, and drive to the clock downtown and try again.
  5. Or, we’ll decide their solution was better than what we meant anyway, and pretend we meant the clock by the waterfront after all, and send them the next clue. 🙂

Sometimes, we’ll think ahead enough to have some jigsaw puzzles, which we put into an envelope and send with them. In which case, one of the clues they’ll receive via text is, “Open Envelope #2” — then they’ll follow the instructions inside the envelope.

Some of the clues involve them doing things like, “Open envelope #3, and use the $15 inside to buy hot cocoa from the bookstore, and get a stranger to take your photo” — then they send the photo to us to get the next clue.

We usually make them do some (slightly) embarrassing things, like going into a store and having one (or more) of them sing a Christmas Carol out loud while recording. They send the video to us, and we send the next clue/challenge.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, there’s usually a “build a snowman” challenge, which they need to accomplish and then take a photo and send it to us.

We’ll call a family/friend and make sure they’re home, then have a clue that has them go to XXX’s house and sing them “we wish you a Merry Christmas” while recording it, and we have the person give them the next clue (which we tell them when we call them, sometimes in advance, sometimes just before sending the clue, because we don’t prepare well, LOL)

End with some group fun.

Every “Just Dance” video game we own was the result of a scavenger hunt. We’ve had the last clue lead to a bowling alley (I think… maybe not, perhaps that will be this year’s prize), we’ve ended with video games, DVDs, etc, etc.

My biggest advice is to keep it simple. My girls rarely remember the clues or even the prizes at the end. They remember the fun they had doing silly, simple things together. They remember singing together in the car at the top of their lungs between clues. They remember anticipating the scavenger hunt. They tell their friends how awesome the tradition is, even if when they explain it, it doesn’t sound amazing. It’s far more about doing silly things together than the silly things themselves. 🙂

Good luck, and I hope your version is as much fun for your family as ours is for us!!!

Buy a Geek, Buy a Cow

calcowI know I said we’d never speak of it again, but I figure the chance to humiliate me a bit, with the added benefit of, well, benefiting those in need might make it worth while.

Remember those “Hot Blogger” calendars I blogged about? The ones that yours truly graces November in? Well, it turns out that if you buy one by clicking through from my site, I get a kickback. I had forgotten about that, until today, when two things happened. One, I got a note from the calendar selling place saying that 3 calendars had been sold from my site. I made $6. The second thing was that Jane emailed telling me that between now and Dec. 31st, my “cut” goes from $2 a calendar to $4.

That got me thinking. First off, I like the idea of the Hot Blogger Calendar. It showcases folks that are “Hot” for more than just their physical hotness. I want them to succeed. I’m not comfortable trying to sell calendars that *I* am in, however. It just makes me feel icky. So here’s my plan:

(A note for my vegan friends: if you decide to buy a calendar, and want to make sure your money doesn’t go toward a cow — let me know and I’ll make sure it goes toward the purchase of a tree seedling through

Any monies I receive from calendars sold through this site from now until Dec 31 will be used to purchase a cow for those in need. I’ll be using a very reputable charitable organization: Heifer International. I realize this is a rough time of year for people to donate to charities, even those that are really worthwhile. So I figured some incentive was in order. (Yes, I realize you’d get a calendar with me as Mr. November, but I was thinking something a little more, well, entertaining.)

If we get enough to buy a portion of a cow ($50, or 13 calendars):
I will write and post a poem or short story about a cow. I have no idea which, nor do I have any idea what the story would be about apart from said cow — but I’d do my best to make it absurd and fun.

If we get enough to buy (2) portions of a cow ($100, or 25 calendars):
I will do a dramatic reading of the poem/short story. Depending on how the story goes, I’ll be sure to use the appropriate voices. I’d expect a British cow with a horrible accent.

If we get enough to buy a whole cow ($500, or 125 calendars):
I will do a cow inspired music video, and post it for all to see. I think THIS music will be what I’ll use. I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. 😀

So there ya go. Click here to buy a calendar. It counts if you get the girl blogger calendar too. No need to just get the guys. Heck, if you don’t want a calendar, you can always just donate money directly to the “make Shawn dance like a cow” fund via paypal. There’s really no way for me to guarantee I’m not a swindler trying to take your money — but deep down, you know I want to do the cow video, so it’s fairly safe to assume I won’t be fudging the books. Just go to, click “Send Money”, and send money to — I’ll know it’s for the cow, because I’ve never used my paypal account for anything else. 😀

How cool would it be if we actually raised enough to buy a cow?