This time of the year a lot of our energy is focused on preparing for and celebrating various holidays. Maybe it’s the Scandinavian in me, but I LOVE the dark, cold season and everything that comes with it: Lighting candles, making and eating traditional holiday foods, seeing extended family, playing board games and cozying up in front of the fireplace (the Danish even have a word for it: hygge). But there’s a drawback to this busy time of the year – we get stressed and overworked trying to prepare for the onslaught of Christmas and other holidays, then on top of it may have to deal with family conflicts and tend to spend a lot of time indoors. (If this sounds like you, you may also want to read 5 Fool-Proof Ways to Beat Holiday Stress and Truly Enjoy the Season.)
Research has shown that spending time in nature can counteract these pressures, whether perceived or real, through real, measurable benefits to our mental and physical health. Nature can boost our immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, increase energy levels and improve sleep. Now, I’ll take that any time of the year. But around the holidays it seems like we need more of all of the above. (Not to mention the benefits of walking off some of those extra calories gained over numerous holiday dinners…)
So here you go. Here are ten outdoor activities, tips, and ideas that are designed to make it easier for you and your family to opt outside around the holidays.
1. Hit the trail on Black Friday
In 2015, REI did the unthinkable: The gear retailer closed its doors on Black Friday, the biggest sales frenzy of the year, and instead paid its 12,000 employees to “opt outside” with their families. Not stopping at that, REI challenged its customers to join in as well, and a movement was born. So let’s do it. Skip the crowded malls, the frenzied parking lots, the bloodbaths over $50 flat screen TVs. Join the millions who have already chosen to #OptOutside here.
2. Cook a meal outside
There’s something about cooking over an open fire and eating outside that brings people together and magically enhances the flavor of the food. And it really isn’t that hard – a Dutch oven (we own this one and a tripod from the same brand and love them both), a tripod and a willingness to get out of your cooking comfort zone is really all it takes to make this a regular holiday hit. Invite some friends and family too! These tips for preparing an outdoor meal as a group can help you get started.
3. Do a winter trivia walk
Trivia walks are an excellent way to get everybody off the couch and rebound from that grease and sugar-induced coma that tends to set in after the family meal has been devoured. Pin the questions up around the neighborhood, along a nature trail or in your own backyard, and head outside for some friendly competition. New to trivia walks? Get instructions and a free download of a trivia walk for grade schoolers here. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy enough to make your own and adjust the questions to your kids’ ages. Tip: Make a separate trivia for the adults to increase the whole group’s engagement.
4. Decorate an outdoor Christmas tree
5. Celebrate the winter solstice
6. Join a challenge
7. Create a new outdoor holiday tradition
Traditions are powerful in that they create a rhythm, a shared experience and a bond that transcends generations. The beauty of traditions is that they can evolve over time to stay relevant or better suit a family’s needs. A few years ago I was getting frustrated with how difficult it was to get the kids outside in the weeks leading up to the holidays, so I decided to create a brand new outdoor Christmas tradition – building a small house for the gnomes and other imaginary forest critters, which we then visited daily. It was an instant hit! Try to think of ways that you could take existing traditions, for example an advent calendar, Elf on the Shelf or the Kindness Elves, and opt outside with it, or create a new outdoor holiday tradition altogether.
Who said backyard play is just for summer? A few basic outdoor toys can go a long way toward getting outside with the kids during the holiday season. If you live in an area that gets snow, I highly recommend these Flexible Flyer sleds. If your winters are typically snow-free, a slackline is an awesome way for the entire family to get outside and play. Check out my Christmas gift guide for outdoorsy kids for more great ideas!
9. Do a Christmas light bingo/scavenger hunt
Every year around Thanksgiving, power plants in the U.S. go into overdrive as yards fill up with elaborate light shows featuring waving Santas, singing reindeer and flashing Christmas trees. Don’t just drive past these cheerful displays – take the kids on a walk around the neighborhood and do a Christmas scavenger hunt/bingo. These Christmas scavenger hunt bingo cards are great for preschoolers, whereas this holiday scavenger hunt printable is perfect for children who can read.
10. Go on a First Day Hike
The First Day Hike is an annual, nationwide event on New Year’s Day that is organized by America’s State Parks and typically draw tens of thousands of people to trails across the country. The hikes vary in lengths and difficulty, and are led by state park staff and volunteers. All 50 states participate in the event, which is free to the public. Find an event near you on ASP’s website.
So what do you think? Are you ready to change up that candy-eating, still-sitting, TV-watching, indoor holiday routine and opt outside? I know I am. I can almost feel my energy levels rising already.