From foraging for nature’s bounty in the forest to stargazing under snuggly blankets in the garden, there are so many ways to enjoy the magic of the outdoors with your loved ones this Christmas. The fun shouldn’t stop when the mercury drops!
‘Positive emotional experiences create opportunities for us to broaden our thinking and creativity, and to deepen our reserves and resilience,’ says Becky Morrison, a happiness coach and author. ‘Happiness and positive emotions almost always stem from time spent outdoors interacting with nature. It could be as simple as a few minutes absorbing the daylight and immersing yourself in the beauty of the landscape, or something more involved, such as hiking. Whatever your activity of choice, time outdoors doesn’t stop being meaningful and beneficial just because the seasons change.’
So, say goodbye to dozing off in front of repeats of Gavin & Stacey, cocoon yourself in your cosiest winter woollies and get out there with family and friends to make glorious Christmas memories.
Get your skates on. You know Christmas is around the corner when outdoor ice rinks, complete with twinkly lights and mulled wine stands, start popping up across the country. Whether you’re like Bambi on ice or fancy yourself as the next Jayne Torvill, why not give it a go? The benefits of ice skating are plentiful: as well as improved joint flexibility and balance, the rush of endorphins from physical activity is guaranteed to help reduce stress over last-minute preparations and brighten your mood for the days ahead.
Look at the night sky. Stargazing is one of the best ways to connect with nature and allow your mind to think big picture and gain perspective. What’s more, winter is one of the best seasons to appreciate the stars – darker nights allow for better visibility, and shorter days mean you can get started much earlier so the whole family can get involved. Make it an occasion by brewing a pot of cocoa, taking out some rugs and blankets, and gathering everyone together for a soothing evening beneath the skies. Not as clued up as Brian Cox? There are an abundance of apps and tutorials to guide you through your stargazing adventure.
Have fun foraging. Winter is a peaceful time to forage for health-boosting ingredients, and the act of seeking them out can provide hours of outdoor treasure hunting. It’s the kind of thing many of us did when we were children, so why not invite your parents along for a bit of nostalgia? It surely won’t take long for them to start reminiscing about that time Dad fell in the blackberry bush!
Christmas isn’t a traditional time to forage, so you may need to get a bit creative, but there are still plenty of nature’s wonders to unearth. ‘Hedgerows depleted of leaves at this time of year offer up hawthorn berries, sloes and rose hips,’ says the nutritional therapist Belinda Blake. ‘These colourful berries contain vitamins and polyphenols, which offer valuable immune support at a time when we need it most. And remember, even in the depths of winter, there are still fresh greens to be had.
Stinging nettle stems make an excellent addition to winter soups, and nettle is a super-tonic when it comes to the nervous system, as it eases stress and treats fatigue and exhaustion.’
Deck the garden. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about laying a patio! Rather, how to create a winter wonderland in your outside space. After all, why should the living room have all the fun? There are loads of outdoor lights and decorations available to buy, and the act of decorating is a great way to get the whole family out of the house and into the fresh air. Lights and Christmas decorations evoke feelings of joy and can awaken happy memories of Christmases past. Atmospheric, and a mood booster!
Watch the wildlife. The pared-back landscape at this time of year provides the perfect backdrop for spotting active animals in a magnificent setting. If you’re with a larger family group, make a list, split into teams and see how many you can tick off. If you’re very competitive, you might want to take photos to make sure no one cheats!
Some of the main contenders to look out for include starling murmurations, robins, green woodpeckers, foxes, red squirrels and owls. What you see will vary depending on where you are in the country. Find out more here.
Enjoy forest bathing. Feeling full after all that feasting? Instead of slumping on the sofa in front of the Queen’s speech, why not gather the troops and take a stroll in the woods to enjoy the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku – which basically means to immerse yourself in nature, under a canopy of trees in particular, by using all your senses.
‘A few focused minutes of “nature bathing” can feel the same as closing down all the tabs on a computer and giving yourself a reboot,’ say the founders of The Limitless CEO, Ali Mortimer and Emma Forrester. It will mean you’re all ready to enjoy the rest of the day – Trivial Pursuit, anyone?
Go out in your slippers. Take the comfort of the indoors outside with Keen’s hybrid slip-on, dubbed the outdoor slipper. With a fleece lining and adjustable drawstring, the durable Women’s Howser III Slide, £54.99, will keep your toes cosy when you’re pottering around the garden or taking a stroll around the block.
Express yourselves. Unleash your creative side and get arty out in the elements. From dramatic icicles to rustic leaves, winter gives us so much to play with. Set yourself a challenge and see what you and your loved ones can create. Whether it’s a snow sculpture, patterns in the frost or a pine cone tower, the most inventive piece wins!
Photographs: Getty Images