Whether you observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or none of the above, December is the most wonderful time of the year to connect with others and celebrate the winter season.
True, it’s often dark, chilly and wet—but that’s exactly why it’s full of candles, twinkly lights, warm drinks, and cozy moments (generally a lot of hygge). And when it snows, we Vancouverites perk up and tumble outdoors for all types of winter fun.
So gather ‘round as we share some of our favourite winter family traditions across Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam and beyond.
If you’re from Eastern Canada this is NBD, but in the balmy Vancouver area it’s rare to be able to put on a pair of skates outdoors. Several Lower Mainland cities have an outdoor rink or a lake for skating—just ask your local search engine. Our favourite spots include Trout Lake in East Vancouver, The Shipyards Skate Plaza in North Vancouver, Skating on the Fairways at Tsawwassen Springs, Starlight Skating Rink in Harrison Hot Springs (Note: most are free unless you need to rent skates).
Bake and Bestow
Embrace this season’s abundance of treats by putting a baking day or two in the calendar. If your family has the best recipe for [fill in the blank], bake a few batches and share the deliciousness with others. Go the extra mile and plan a cookie swap with your neighbours, extended family, or club. As a bonus, you’ll be introduced to holiday favourites in other families.
Half the fun here is decorating and wrapping (or presenting!) the baking to make them extra special. Find colourful cookie tins, ribbon, printed parchment, treat bags and tubes at IKEA, Bed Bath & Beyond, Homesense, Michaels, and the dollar store. For inspiration, consult the Queen of Craft.
Speaking of crafts, consider a tradition of making something each year to give. Handmade gifts created with love and intention – no matter how simple – are undeniably special. It can be an easy-to-make consumable like chocolate bark or it can be something more complicated, involving one of your side skills like sewing, drawing, woodwork or photography.
Include young kids in DIY gifts with straightforward crafts like homemade wrapping paper and greeting cards. As kids get older, take on suitably more advanced projects such as ornaments, wreaths, snow globes, candles, or bath products. Ask Pinterest for ideas or peruse DIY sites like A Beautiful Mess and Art Bar for kids.
Tour the Lights
While it’s a popular tradition to attend the sprawling, well-established light festivals in Vancouver like Bright Lights in Stanley Park, VanDusen Festival of Lights and Canyon Lights, lessen the stress of finding parking and dodging people* by seeking out a different lights-at-night experience.
Check out another location like Lumagica in Surrey, Glow in Langley, Lights at Lafarge in Coquitlam and Burnaby Village Museum. Or, pour some hot chocolate in a thermos – with Bailey’s for the adults – and seek out local neighbourhoods known for homes with thoughtful or extensive displays.
*Hot tip: For a quieter visit, go to a light show at dusk or after December 25th. Several venues are open into January.
Winter Walk or Snowshoe
Most of us have a go-to nature walk or hike in the warmer weather, so why not make it a winter amble too? Notice how different it feels, looks, and sounds in the winter. When snow falls, the forest becomes extra-peaceful and a welcome respite from a busy holiday season.
If you love wintery outdoor activities, head to Cypress, Seymour, or Grouse Mountain to try something new like snowshoeing, tubing, skate or cross-country skiing (all offer rentals). Grouse also has a Light Walk, pond skating, and a sliding zone, while Cypress has its historic Hollyburn Lodge for post-exercise snacks and drinks.
Holiday Movie Marathon
Whether you choose to watch the same movies every year (the classics, of course) or seek out the latest releases, this is one of the easiest and coziest traditions around. Don your flannel apparel, serve up the Yuletide popcorn, and snuggle up together. With all the streaming video services available, there are hundreds of holiday movies to choose from.
Some of our favorites include:
- A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
- Christmas Chronicles (2018, 2020)
- Polar Express (2004)
- Elf (2003)
- Love Actually (2003)
- Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
- The Santa Clause (1994)
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
- A Christmas Story (1983)
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1956)
Give Unto Others
Whether you have a kid or not, it’s very easy to get caught up in the buying frenzy for gifts, especially with ‘Black Friday’ extending well beyond its intended reach. We’ve found one of the best ways to put all the purchasing in perspective is to turn towards others in less fortunate positions.
There are family gift hampers, gift drops, community wishing trees, and countless services such as the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Salvation Army, YMCA, and BCSPCA that need support for their members during the winter season which is often their most challenging time of the year. Most organizations welcome volunteers (sometimes children too) as well as monetary and product donations. Check your favourite community organization’s website for all the ways you can give and make it a family tradition to help others.