As we approach the shortest day of the year it can be tempting to despair a little with the ever increasing hours of darkness that accompany this season. One of my favourite quotes is “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but the same amount of snow.” I find that it applies quite nicely to many things in life – including the dark.
During these longer nights, I find our family turning inwards a bit more and slowing down. We are intentional to create Hygge in our lifestyle (the Danish term that doesn’t quite have an English translation but means to cultivate comfort, coziness and to enjoy the simple pleasures of life in all seasons). In our home, that means cozy clothes, twinkle lights, candles, warm drinks and family games. On the flip side though we love spending time outdoors after dark.
There’s something about the darkness that quite literally changes our perspective on our surroundings and adds a sense of adventure and whimsy to various activities. I want to share some of our favourite ways to enjoy the Estevan area once the sun goes down.
I first learned about lantern walks as part of the celebration of Martinmas in the realm of Waldorf education. The festival of Martinmas is typically celebrated in November and though it’s roots are in celebrating the “light within each of us” in relation to a kind act of a Roman soldier (later turned saint) it is widely celebrated as a way to welcome this season. The lantern walk harkens back to a time in Great Britain and Europe where children carved lanterns from turnips and small squashes and walked the streets (this is where we get Jack-o-lanterns from).
I’ve hosted one such event last year and I can’t wait to do a family walk this year. Part of the fun is creating your lanterns at home beforehand. Many use soda bottles or milk jugs and add tissue paper to the outside to allow for various colours to glow through. You can also punch nail holes in tin cans or cut holes in paper bags to create luminaries. We like to fill ours with battery operated fairy lights for the best glow.
On the night of the lantern walk, head out at dusk and gather some deadfall sticks to hang your lanterns from like from a pole. I recommend heading out to the Preddy Trails at Woodlawn Regional Park for your lantern walk. These trails are well-groomed and wind through the woods and along the river. It’s so pretty on these trails (though you may not see much in the dark) and if you’re lucky you might hear the call of the Great Horned Owl or catch a peek of the Whitetail Deer that frequent the area.
If creating your own lanterns feels a little ambitious I highly recommend taking a stroll through the Woodlawn Regional Campground after dark. They have the most charming lampposts throughout the campground that light up each night. I’m so thankful that they do this year round and it’s a lovely place to walk at night.
Really anything is more fun with glow sticks. I can’t even count how many glow stick activities we’ve done over the years. Glow swimming, glow hot tubbing, glow paddling, glow sledding, glow dances… you get the picture.
With the sun setting so early it’s a great opportunity for even the youngest members of the family to get to experience life after dark and glow sticks will add the magic. Start by purchasing an assortment of glow sticks from any of our local stores who carry them and before your walk get them all cracked (don’t worry, they last at least 8 hours typically). Because we like to do these activities so often we also use reusable items like battery operated mini lights.
We like to decorate ourselves with glow sticks, so either snap them on as bracelets and headpieces or get really creative and tape them to your clothing. This would be a good time to make a stick figure out of glow sticks on your clothing. Keep a few glow sticks handy for some games as well.
Estevan has wonderful parks in each area of the city which make them an easily accessible destination for your glow endeavour. Head out to the park nearest you for some glow fun (I’ll also guarantee that you’ll bring joy to anyone who sees your glowing family out walking.) One activity that is so simple but that we find so fun is playing catch with glow sticks. They’re just so pretty hurtling through the air!
Here are a few other games you can play with your glow sticks at the park:
- Seek and Find – hide the glow sticks and try to find them.
- Hide and Seek – one seeker and the rest of the family hides.
- Charades – glowing figures doing charades is pretty funny, trust us.
- Tag – the classic or one of the myriad of variations
Furthermore, we recently went on a glow hike at Preddy Trails and it was a blast! Because some of us were wearing mini lights and carrying light sabers we lit up the trail quite well.
Again, because of how early the sun sets, winter is one of the best times for star gazing and I encourage you to make a time to get out with your family and check out the constellations and even planets that can be seen this time of year.
The best viewing conditions are definitely out of town and away from the city lights. The lookout by Rafferty Dam or the beach at Boundary Dam would be my top personal choices. Currently every night the planets Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are all visible to the naked eye. Mars even glows orange!
If you need a little help identifying constellations or planets we like the free app “Sky View Lite”. You point your phone camera at the sky and it’ll overlay the various constellations, stars and planets over your view of the sky. If you tap any of these the app will give you additional information about it. Only certain constellations are visible each season (based on where we are in our trek around the sun) so if you’re not using an app it can also be helpful to print off a winter constellation map for Canada beforehand.
Seeing as we are doing this in winter it’s always best practice to dress for the weather and because star gazing isn’t the most active activity, dress warmer
than you think you’ll need to be. Our plan is to put a bunch of sleeping bags in the back of the truck and bring along thermos’s of hot cocoa to enjoy while
we watch the stars. Also, don’t forget to check the weather and make sure you’ll have a clear sky.
Regardless of what activity you choose to do once the sun sets, we love ending the evening with a fire in the backyard. Winter is our favourite time for fires as it’s darker sooner, it’s not too hot and there are no bugs. It’s very hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) to sit around the fire with your family in the snow and recollect the adventure you just had. We like having hot dog roasts and tea or hot chocolate too. Often times it’ll lead to playing games in the snow like frisbee, Kubb, or Disc Slam. One thing that beckons to use our yard more in the dark is decorating with Christmas and fairy lights. We deck out the shed and playhouse in multi colour lights, keep solar twinkle lights in all the trees and hang edison bulbs from the deck tree. With the area all lit up and whimsical we find ourselves drawn to hang out there more and our kids spend a lot of time playing in the yard after dark as well.
While it’s easy to lament the shorter days I really do believe we have a unique opportunity to find the fun and magic in being outdoors after dark. Between the Preddy Trails, the Woodlawn Regional Campground, Estevan’s 11 parks with play structures and the clear views at Rafferty and Boundary there is so much to explore during these long nights.