When I was a kid, I remember Christmas as being the longest day ever. This is probably because my sister and I would wake up at 4am and proceed to wake my two brothers and parents up to tear into our presents. By the time the sun came up we would have opened everything and still had to travel between two sets of grandparents that afternoon. The energy around Christmas day was so electric that it started to extend into Christmas Eve. My grandmother took us to church service at 4:30pm for years until the one fateful time I was so excited I fell off the kneeler (Episcopalians love to stand-sit-kneel) and busted my lip open. Needless to say my parents started looking in to other ways to contain us the night before Christmas. So began our tradition of going out for Chinese food and a movie. If you have 4 kids yourself, or were from a big family, you know how big of a deal going out to eat and to a movie. However, the Chinese restaurant was consistently open on Christmas Eve and remained one of the few places rowdy children were accepted. A new tradition for our family was born and it took the edge off anticipation of Christmas day.
My in-laws prefer not to travel over Christmas, so they usually come visit before or after the holiday and my family is spread all over, meaning we usually have flexible plans for the holiday. Not always having to cater to family in town created an opportunity for my husband and I to have an outside festive adventure day on December 24th. We all know there’s many holiday light festivals around town and Santa trains to ride (and don’t get me wrong, we do that too), but we personally seek out something a little less traditional on Christmas Eve. If you are looking for something to do that won’t break the bank the night before the wrapping paper shredding begins, than here’s my top 5 non-traditional ideas for you and your family based on our own experiences:
Hike the Manitou Springs Incline
It’s a mile to the top, but you’ll be treated with a fantastic view of the front range. The steps will be covered with snow and ice so wear microspikes and enjoy the makeshift holiday Christmas tree at the top. My mother lives in Alabama and is 62 and she even completed this feat, as did my husband while carrying our daughter on his back! They just completed a remodel on the lower portion of the trail, so it’s in better shape than ever. For families that don’t want to hike, shop in downtown Manitou Springs, or enjoy a beer at the Golden Bee in the Broadmoor Hotel. Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds are also down in Colorado Springs, so you have plenty of options for a little daycation that suits the entire family.
Ice skating at Evergreen Lake House
We did this last year with friends, since our families didn’t come to town, and we had an amazing time. Admission fee is free for kids 3 and under, $6 for 4-17, $7 for 18-59 and Seniors/Military are $5. There is no charge if you aren’t on the ice. Skate rental is a flat $7. We bought ice skates this year from a used sporting goods store and they have double blades that strap onto any kids shoes that are adjustable so they can learn to skate easier. I recommend bringing your own skates, as it will save you time in line on Christmas Eve (skate rental line is longer than the admission line). As a bonus, there’s a sledding hill on the golf course, so you can bring the sleds or tubes and hit the slope, as well! There’s nothing better than wearing out the kids, so they go to bed early on Christmas Eve!
Take a Snowshoe Hike
The best part about snowshoe hiking is it’s all ability levels; if you can walk on the sidewalk, you can snowshoe. Unlike skiing, you can rent them for a moderate price or purchase your own, like I did from Costco (bag, poles, and shoes all in one!) for $70. Also, unlike skiing, you have the ability to take in more of the scenery and talk to one another without having to wait until the lift line to the top. As a bonus, you can turn around anytime or sip hot chocolate from a thermos at your leisure! My personal favorite place to snowshoe is Rocky Mountain National Park, because you can always count on the trails having snow and it’s usually packed down enough that the kids can walk in boots with good traction. If you’ll be carrying the kids in a backpack, you can hit trails with deeper powder around Nederland. Some of my favorite hikes include Dream Lake, Brainard Lake area, and Maxwell Falls.
If you’ve never tried cross-country skiing, you are in for a workout! My favorite part about this activity with my daughter is the fact that I can rent a sled and tow her behind me! The YMCA at Snow Mountain Ranch has amazing groomed trails and their sleds come with warm blankets for the kiddos to snuggle in while you pull them through the woods. This YMCA also has snowshoe trails, tubing, and fat bikes for rent, so if you’re a house divided on how to spend the day, you’ll find something for everyone. As a bonus, if you rent a cabin there then the trails are free – you just have to pay for the rentals. Even a novice will get the hang of this outdoor sport quickly and you cover even more ground than traditional snowshoe hiking. If you don’t want to travel far from home and deal with traffic on I-70, I suggest a visit to Eldora Ski Resort, where the trees offer excellent protection from the wind you’ll encounter. They only have two sleds for rent at Eldora, so plan accordingly (REI also offers rentals). Lift tickets at Eldora are also a lot more affordable than Colorado’s other ski resorts, so if you have family members into downhill skiing or snowboarding this offers a budget friendly option, as well.
Enjoy the Lights From Your Car
OK, so you have young children and the idea of spending a day out in the snow isn’t your thing. Perhaps your mother in-law is in town and she doesn’t do cold. I understand. You can still get into the festive spirit and make everyone happy by taking them on a scenic drive to look at Christmas lights. Pack some snacks and pile in the car armed with the Denver Post Holiday Light Map Guide and be your families Christmas hero. You can narrow down the lights by area and even customize your route, so wherever you live in the city you can perfect your light viewing experience.
The most important part of the holidays isn’t what you do with your family, it’s how you spend the time together. Whether you spend your Christmas Eve at church, outside, or in a brewery, creating a new tradition will give your family something to look forward too each year. What you celebrate isn’t as important in the manner you all choose to celebrate together.
What are some traditions you’ve created over the years during this festive season?