T hough three quarters of 2020 may have felt Grinchy, with a heart two sizes too small, scores of people across the Granite State are making the Christmas season a bit brighter.

Businesses, homes and town centers glow with their efforts. They’ve found the holiday spirit.

Now, it’s your turn. Bundle up, head out and look up for signs of good cheer.

Have a Holiday Lights Scavenger Hunt, and have some socially distanced fun.

Here’s what you need to know:

Set the mood. There’s minimal prep work for this self-guided trip. Before hopping into the car for a night of sightseeing, fill travel mugs of hot chocolate (a piece of candy cane is optional), cue up a playlist or radio station for festive, sleigh-bell filled music, and don’t forget to bring a cellphone or camera.

Plus — and this is important — in honor of all the Ugly Christmas Sweater contests that didn’t take place this year, don some loud seasonal attire, or at the very least a reindeer antler headband.

Tips: Props are allowed and encouraged, especially if you plan on staging some photo opps for possible use as next year’s Christmas card. Selfies are a plus.

Decide who is playing. It can be a couple thing, a family adventure or an extended challenge among friends or relatives. In group challenges, you don’t need to stick to the same routes, so you can be in separate cars in your own socially distanced bubbles.

For example, this past fall I received my first photo scavenger hunt challenge in a text from my sister, Betsy. The gist: “Here are 15 objects. Find them somewhere … anywhere. Take a pix of each to prove you did. You have one day. Go.”

Tips: Don’t take it too seriously. For anyone who hasn’t been able to visit much with extended family and pals this year, this is a great way to spend the day together — without actually being together. And the texts along the way are part of the experience. Don’t be afraid to trash talk, gloat over a find and employ some creative licensing and ridiculousness if you can’t find exactly what’s on the list.

Cheat sheet or wing it? You can do some online searches and map out a route or just wing it. There’s a “wow” factor to visiting what I call dessert houses — places so draped in glittering lights and decorations that they look like wonderfully over-frosted cakes (for instance, on Bradford Drive in Salem and Battcock Road in Hampton).

But there’s something nostalgic about heading out without a plan, rounding corners and meandering down streets to find hidden treasures — a house outlined in lights, Santa leading his team of reindeer across a lawn, lit-up candy canes lining a driveway. It’s may not be as obvious as synchronized music and dancing lights, but it’s a reminder that good things can come in smaller packages.

I have to admit that on my recent outing I was grateful to stumble on so many Bumbles — not the dating app. I’m talking about that redeemed abominable snow creature from the 1964 TV classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I found him climbing a roof on Candia Road in Manchester, giving a toothache-free grin on Arrowhead Road in Derry and hoisting a star on Ferry Road in Nashua. (“Looky what he can do!”)

My advice is to do a mixture of both approaches — wander for a while, but then check out one or two must-sees so you don’t go home still hungry.

Tips: There are holiday lighting contests and celebrations in communities all across New Hampshire, and many have lists of addresses or interactive maps. Pick a region and do a little surfing. For example, I went online to downtownnashua.org and manchesternh.gov for details, then visited the Facebook pages for both Light Up New Hampshire, where people post pictures of decorations and their favorite sights, and Southern NH Tour of Lights, a collaboration between a handful of Monadnock Region recreation departments.

Prove it. Snap pictures along the way, both inside (though obviously not when driving) and outside of the car. If you’ve challenged friends or family in other vehicles or locales, you can share pictures as you go (text, Instagram, Facebook, email, etc.) or add them later to a digital group album. My choice would be to share stories and entries in a Zoom session when everyone is settled back at home and can safely break out the eggnog. (Family time and a toast is the best prize in 2020.)

Tips: If you can’t find a particular object or run out of time, take creative license and improvise. If you’re looking for a candy cane, it could be a ribbon twined around a white front porch post to make it look like a peppermint stick. And in the right (dim) light, the family dog in the back seat could pass for a reindeer if you lend him that antler headband.

Be kind: Remember that you’re not physically taking the items from holiday displays! You’re taking only pictures and leave only goodwill. And, like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, this journey isn’t about sizing up only the biggest, most perfect evergreens. This is about looking up to find bright spots in all sorts of holiday hues.

Tips: Often the best time to do a holiday lights hunt is weeknights, since popular sites — including Londonderry High schoolers’ Rockin’ Robo Holiday Lights on King Arthur Drive, draw a lot of weekend traffic.

Proper etiquette when encountering a delay is to wait in line, drive up slowly when it’s your turn, and then listen to just a song or two of synchronized music before ceding the spot to the next in the queue. It’s considered bad form to use neighboring driveways to turn around.

What to find:

An inflatable character from classic holiday movies or TV (think 1960s-era animated Grinch, Frosty and Snoopy)

An inflatable character from more recent TV specials and movies (think Jim Carrey’s 2000 Grinch, “Frozen”’s Olaf and all the wide-eyed Minions)

Candles in the window

Something silver and gold

Candy cane

Sign pointing to Santa’s Workshop, the North Pole, Candy Cane Lane or other magical places


Snowman, especially Frosty and Olaf

A house outlined in lights

Something heart-tugging (a message, a scene or something that reminds you of childhood Christmas)

Santa Claus in a sleigh


Decorations and light shows set to music (include the tune if possible)


Wrapped presents



A projected scene on a house


Christmas tree