The holidays are a magical time, and are even more magical when you spend time outdoors in the glorious winter landscape. Not only do winter activities burn off excess calories, enjoying the fresh air relaxes the mind and recharges the soul.
“Our family motto is ‘get outside as much as you can,’ says Melynda Coble Harrison of Livingston, Montana. “And it’s even more crucial when you have young boys!” She and her husband, Henry Harrison, along with their young sons, weave the outdoors into their entire Christmas celebration.
Influenced by her mother’s Scandinavian heritage, Melynda says Christmas Eve is a special celebration in their home. They traditionally make the short drive to Yellowstone National Park and head for a soak in the Boiling River. “You sit in the hot springs and there’s ice floating in the river,” she says.
Afterwards, they go cross-country skiing in the park if the snow conditions allow, then drive home to gather with friends on the patio in the evening. With a cozy fire, twinkling lights around the patio, and plenty of hot beverages, it’s a relaxing way to enjoy the special evening.
“On Christmas Day we are in our pajamas until 1 p.m.,” Melynda says. “Then we really have to get out of the house. Most days we go to the Yellowstone River for a walk.” If there’s decent snow, they’ll opt to head to the nearby sledding hill.
“We blow off some steam, then come back and build more Lego creations,” she says.
Even for those of us who don’t have a National Park practically at our backdoor, there are a myriad of outdoor activities to help clear the holiday cobwebs and allow you to feel less guilty about this time of overindulgence. Choose what best suits your time frame and your energy level, keeping in mind that the point is to make it a relaxing and joyous event.
An easy walk or strenuous hike – Whether you just need a relaxed stroll or feel you must try something more challenging, city and state parks provide plenty of walking or hiking opportunities. In many parts of the country, local hiking or walking clubs host Christmas day events, which can typically be found on-line.
Ice skating – Nothing harkens back to memories of simpler times than strapping on a pair of skates and heading to the hard water. Many city parks in the northern states flood outdoor areas providing a safe place to skate. Or, if the early winter has been particularly frigid and the ice is thick enough (which, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, should be at least 4 inches of new, clear ice) to support the weight of skaters, skating on a frozen pond is an excellent way to burn off big holiday meals. Start an impromptu game of hockey or try your skills at figure skating to warm up and stretch your muscles. As always, if you’re planning on venturing onto a pond, thoroughly inspect the ice and never skate alone.
Downhill skiing – Larger resorts are typically open for Christmas day revelers, so take advantage of a relaxed and festive atmosphere on the slopes. Many places plan holiday celebrations such as a torchlight parade, music, and even fireworks to make it a memorable event.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – While some downhill slopes might be closed for the holiday, parks and national forests are open throughout the year. Strap on your skinny skis or grab the snowshoes to explore the peaceful time in the woods or in the fields. Chances are it’ll be a very quiet time on the trails. If you don’t own your own gear, rent the skis or snowshoes from a local operation ahead of time.
Sledding – If there’s a new sled underneath the tree, you have to find a hill to use it. Even if no new equipment warrants a test run, grabbing a sled and heading to a local hill is classic winter fun. Between the adrenaline rush on the ride down the hill and the calorie burning hike back up to the top, it’s a perfect heart pumping activity.
Geocaching – Geocaching is like a high-tech scavenger hunt that sends seekers looking for hidden treasures via a GPS unit in the most creative spots. By logging onto a web site (such as www.geocaching.com) you can find geocaches in your area that can lead you on some wonderful adventures. Many avid geocachers create holiday-specific caches, although any find is sure to be a thrill and an excellent opportunity to be outdoors after a morning of opening presents.
Birdwatching – One of the most peaceful Christmas activities is stepping outside to watch the birds. Whether you simply settle for a stroll around your backyard, or venture onto the trails, you’ll be surprised at the activity of our feathered residents.
If you wish to give the birds their own holiday treats, make edible ornaments using foods such as peanut butter, bird seed, suet, and pieces of fruit. Place these in your trees so when you head outside you can enjoy watching the birds revel in their own holiday buffet.
Take a moment, or an entire afternoon, and step outside during the sometimes frenetic holiday schedules. It is a way to remain grounded and recall the true meaning of this special time of year while having a whole lot of fun in the process.