10 Great Activities to Try Out this Winter
It’s too cold for your summer hobbies, and many of the enjoyable things you’d like to do with your friends cost a lot of money, such as going out for dinner or going to the cinema. All of your decisions are driven by the need to stay warm; just hanging out somewhere becomes a recipe for getting very chilly indeed. And it’s worse still if you get snowed in for any length of time.
If you’re concerned that you’ll be spending most of this winter getting increasingly bored of whatever’s on TV, don’t be. Instead, why not have fun trying out one of the following winter activities? Just don’t forget to wrap up warm!
1. Go star-gazing
One advantage of the long winter nights – especially if you live quite far north or far south – is that you don’t have to wait until it’s late at night before you can see the stars. In Britain at midwinter, sunset happens before 4pm, so you’ll have all evening to look out at the stars. If you live in a city, that gives you some time to travel out to the countryside for clear skies; but if you already live in an area with low levels of light pollution, you might be able simply to look out of your window.
Nor do you need any fancy equipment – not even a telescope. Start by getting a star chart for wherever you live (here’s one for the UK) and see which constellations you can spot. In the UK, Orion’s Belt and the part of Ursa Major that forms the Plough are usually the easiest to see even in a cloudy sky or an area with lots of light pollution, but it’s worth taking your time to see what else you can spot. And if you find yourself fascinated by the stars, maybe a beginner’s telescope would make a good Christmas present?
2. Build a campfire
It takes a lot of motivation to leave a nice, warm house, go outside into the cold, and sit over a pile of wood trying to coax it into flame. But it’s worth it for that moment when your miniature bonfire does finally catch, flames jump into life and you can warm your half-frozen hands over a fire that you made. The joy of having lit a fire is an emotion that dates back hundreds of thousands of years, and even though it’s no longer the difference between survival and hypothermia, successfully lighting a fire on a freezing cold night still feels a bit like doing magic.
Once you’ve built your campfire (and here are some helpful instructions for doing that), it’s time to enjoy it. You might want to bring some skewers for toasting marshmallows, or bring cookies and chocolate as well as marshmallows for making s’mores. If you’re feeling more elaborate than that, trying boiling some sausages indoors, and then finishing the off by grilling them over your new campfire – the boiling will ensure they’re cooked enough to eat, and the grilling will make them taste delicious.
3. Build an igloo
If you live somewhere that gets really cold and snowy in winter – and you want to hone your engineering skills – why not try building an igloo on a winter’s day? You’ll need enough snow at a cold enough temperature that it’s packed solid, rather than the kind of soft flurries that are typical in the UK. The snow needs to be at least 60cm deep, and deeper is better. Dome-shaped igloos are built from the inside out, so make sure that you’re properly prepared before you start building. That also means that while you can build an igloo with the help of a couple of friends, more people than that getting involved in the building process inside the igloo will make you very cramped and claustrophobic (though other friends might be able to cheer you on from the outside).
It’s a labour-intensive, time-consuming task, but all that physical activity will keep you warm and can be a relief if you’ve been cooped up inside for ages. Plus, how many people can say that they’ve successfully built their own igloo?
4. Learn to make your favourite baked things
Winter is a great opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with the oven on, staying toasty warm while the snow falls outside. And what’s a better way of passing the time than by learning to make something delicious? Your entire family will be grateful if you start producing loaves of homemade bread, fresh sticky cinnamon buns, or hot gooey brownies.
Anyone who’s ever watched the Great British Bake-Off knows that there are some things that are just as tasty and much easier bought than homemade (Jaffa Cakes spring to mind). But unless you have a bakery just around the corner – and you’re prepared to get up early for the freshest bread – other baked goods are always going to be tastier if you make them yourself, such as cookies, cakes, and just about any kind of bread you can think of. You’ll probably encounter some kitchen mishaps on the way, but if the winter ends with you able to turn out a perfect sourdough at a moment’s notice, then you’ll have spent your time well.
5. Go ice-skating
It’s a classic winter activity for a good reason. If you’ve never been ice-skating before, you might be nervous of falling over a lot, but that’s no reason not to give it a go. To be clear, you will almost certainly fall over a couple of times when you’re first learning, but that’s a good reason to wear something with a bit of padding, not to avoid ice-skating in the first place. The feeling when you do finally get the hang of it and you’re gliding across the ice like a swan is thrilling, and well worth the effort of falling over and awkwardly shuffling around while you’re still finding your balance.
As a beginner, you should always skate at an ice-rink rather than trying your luck on a frozen lake or river, no matter how thick you believe the ice to be. Wear gloves to protect your hands when you fall, and ideally, go with a friend who’s ice-skated before and who can walk you through the basics (as well as helping you get up again if you fall). You should look up (not at the ice), lean forward slightly and bend your knees – if you’ve roller-skated or skiied, you should find the stance and motion a familiar one.
6. Build a gingerbread house
One of the most wholesome winter activities is building a gingerbread house – combining much of the engineering effort of building an igloo, with the additional perks of staying warm while you’re making it, not needing to put too much physical effort in, and getting to eat it once you’re done. You could build a basic gingerbread cottage, or go more elaborate and use different types of gingerbread to construct a gingerbread skyscraper, boat or even a gingerbread fairy-tale castle.
For baking beginners, there are no shortage of gingerbread house kits where the gingerbread is pre-made and you just supply the construction and decorations, but for more dedicated gingerbread architects, there’s always the option of building the whole lot yourself from the foundations up. The BBC Good Food website provides a recipe for a simple gingerbread house (though you might dispute their definition of ‘simple’) and if you want some amazing gingerbread inspiration, have a look at these marvellous creations – it’s remarkable what can be achieved with icing, or even with the clever use of other ingredients such as pretzels for railings and candy canes for columns.
7. Learn a party piece
Have you ever been to the kind of party where people perform their ‘party pieces’? If you haven’t, be warned – it can be a mortifying experience if you haven’t got something that you can pull out of the bag, with the distinct danger you’ll end up badly reciting the poem you learned for a relative’s wedding years before. If you’re stuck indoors over winter, it can be an ideal opportunity to hone a card trick, magic trick, origami staple or some other means of entertaining a group of people with minimal resources on short notice.
What sort of party trick could you learn? There are these simple magic tricks, this origami flapping bird, these shadow hand puppets or if you want to really impress your friends and family with your strange and useless knowledge, learn how to turn a carrot into a recorder and play some basic tunes on it. Depending on what you choose to learn, you might have something useful for the next time you play Two Truths and Lie as well (though beware that if you do go with “I know how to turn a carrot into a recorder”, you’ll inevitably be asked to prove it).
8. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
Winter is a very hard time for anyone who’s struggling with poverty, especially if they’re homeless or in insecure housing. In cold countries, this is the time of year when homeless people can freeze to death without the appropriate help and support. Soup kitchens and similar community projects always need extra volunteers at this time of year, especially when it’s cold but not the festive season (lots of people are keen to volunteer at Christmas, but rather fewer in January or February), though volunteers are of course appreciated year-round. Volunteering at a soup kitchen will introduce you to a side of your local community that you might not have seen before; both people living in depressing circumstances, and those who do their utmost to help them.
If a soup kitchen isn’t right for you, you can also look at other winter volunteering opportunities, such as sorting through food bank donations or spending a few of the busiest shopping weekends volunteering in a charity shop.
9. Learn how to get a house and car ready for winter
It might not be the most glamorous winter activity, but learning how to get a house and car ready for a long, cold winter is the kind of thing you’ll be very glad you spent time learning at the point when you have to do it yourself.
You’ll probably be surprised by how much there is to do, such as making sure that the car contains handy winter supplies (such as a blanket, ice scraper and a torch in case of a winter breakdown), fitting snow tyres or chains, and replacing the windshield wiper blades if they’re getting worn out from clearing all that snow. On the house side of things, there’s sealing up any sources of draughts, reversing ceiling fans to push down hot air, checking the roof for any potential source of leaks, and reprogramming the heating for cold weather. It’s true that none of this is exactly fun, but your parents will undoubtedly appreciate your help, and you don’t want to be stuck learning what you should have done when your own house leaks or car breaks down in the future.
10. Read a long book you’ve always wanted to finish
If there’s nothing else do in winter, it’s at least an ideal time to find a book, curl up by a radiator (or better still, an open fire) and get to reading it. Winter is the perfect occasion to pick up and finish a book that always seemed a bit too long at other times of year; if you’re snowed in, your chances of being interrupted before you finish it are much lower.
Wondering what to read? This could be the year for Victorian doorstopper classics like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy or Middlemarch by George Eliot. Or there are the 20th century classics like The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien or Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. If your favourite authors all write shorter books, you could take the opportunity to binge-read an entire series or everything that a particular author ever wrote.
What activities do you enjoy when it’s cold and snowy outside? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Images: people stargazing; marshmallows being cooked over a campfire; igloo; christmas cookies; ice skating; origami stars; young man volunteer at soup kitchen; snowed-in cars; an open book; deer watches two people in the woods