The Christmas Day Hike

The holiday season is for many people a time of to-do lists, hurrying from store to store, buying and wrapping presents, and the chaos of planning a family get together.  So many folks get exhausted by all of the errands, planning, and family time. While there’s nothing wrong with all of the normal holiday business, this year, I’d like to encourage you to add a new tradition to your celebration: the Christmas Day hike.

A hike is always an opportunity for recharging, restoration, and relaxing.  Adding it to your Christmas day plans introduces a whole new element to the presents, cooking, and hubbub that often occupies the whole day.  It gives you and your family a chance to really relax, to make connections that aren’t possible around the dining table, and to burn off some of the stress inherent in the big day.  Here are some ideas for adding a perfect Christmas day hike to your family traditions.

Hike with your whole family.

Hiking is the most accessible of all outdoor adventures so is perfect for your whole family.  When my wife and I hike alone, we choose trails that are what you would typically think of as hiking: a narrow dirt path winding through the woods.  When we hike with our larger family, which includes smaller children and wheelchairs, we choose parks that have paved paths but are still wooded. Take half an hour and do some internet scouting for a trail that meets the needs of your family.  Then, on Christmas Day, once the presents are opened and the feast complete, wrap everyone up in warm clothes and head out for a short hike. Even small kids can hike for 45 minutes or so. As the path winds through the woods, the conversation naturally twists and turns, and your heart feels lighter and lighter.  It’s really amazing to see what connections you can make with your loved ones while you’re walking together. 

Hike alone.

Maybe all the holiday family time is a real stressor for you. Many butches feel a special type of stress around the holidays with time spent with disapproving family members.  A hike is a perfect chance to leave all the family drama and politics behind for a few hours and hit your reset button. This is a good option for a typical hike out in the woods or near a stream where nature can be a balm to your soul.  Leave the headphones at home and give your ears a chance to hear the birds singing, the sound of the wind in the trees making the naked branches rattle against one another, the crunch of your boots through the leaves, dirt or snow. Breathe deeply and within minutes you’ll feel your stride relax and lengthen, your shoulders will drop and you’ll notice a smile tugging at the corners of your mouth.

A simple hike.

Hiking doesn’t have to be through some famous national park with grand vistas to be worth it.  If you live in a city, there are parks to explore. If you live in the countryside, the whole world is basically an opportunity to hike.  Don’t let some idea about getting the perfect Instagram shot derail this adventure. The whole point is simply to get “out of doors” as Pa would say and feel the air on your skin and the path under your feet.  Take some pictures to make memories for yourself, but keep yourself from falling into the mindset of capturing the most amazing thing so you can instantly share it on social media. Taking an hour or two of your time to simply enjoy your surroundings for yourself can be completely restorative. Don’t rob yourself of that joy to score likes.

Keep it short. 

This is not the time for giant packs full of gear.  We all know I love gear, but sometimes it really does get in the way.  Take a small pack with water and your first aid kit. Pack your journal or sketchbook if you’re into that.  Pack a protein bar and some tissues (why does my nose always run when I’m hiking in the cold?!) and get on with the walking.  

Make it special.

Even though we are keeping this short and simple, you can still make it a really special occasion.  Pack a thermos of hot cocoa and some homemade cookies. Throw in a blanket and you’ve got all the makings of a tiny special picnic.  Somehow treats out in nature are extra special.  

The Christmas Day hike is a time for sharing and laughing and reflecting and looking ahead.  In a season largely dedicated to shopping and hustle and bustle, taking a couple of hours to slow down and spend time in nature is a perfect time out.  This could be your new favorite Christmas tradition.