Here’s how to enjoy a season that’s short on holiday guests and parties—but long on fun.

This holiday season is shaping up to be one of the more challenging ones around the world. With family and friends far away and gatherings banned or limited, many people are looking for alternatives to make the season bright.

No matter where you are, you can likely celebrate the holidays with those in your immediate household. Here are ten activities to rekindle the spirit together and keep you smiling into the New Year.

1. Take part in the Christmas bird count.

While pandemics may be for the birds, getting outdoors and watching the antics of our feathered friends is a great activity for families. Taking part in citizen science is one way to ease into birdwatching and contribute to bird conservation.

The annual Christmas bird count originated in 1900 with ornithologist Frank Chapman. Every year from December 14 to January 5, birders across the continent log their observation data according to Audubon guidelines. Organizations use that data to assess the health of bird populations and set conservation goals.

Thousands of volunteers take part, and while this year is admittedly different, most counts are still going ahead. Have a look at this map and contact the organizer nearest you for details. Taking part may even inspire your family to take up other bird-related activities, such as putting up nesting boxes or feeding hummingbirds.

2. Host a winter bonfire.

Who says campfires are for warm weather only? Winter backyard bonfires offer the chance to gaze into the flames and roast a marshmallow or two, while sharing a heartwarming holiday story. Children love to play in the snow, and this offers them a chance to warm themselves before going back for more. If local regulations allow, guests in your bubble can pull up a chair as long as everyone follows protocols for distance and disinfecting.

To increase comfort, add blankets or cushions to seating areas and use outdoor heaters where available. Bring along your favorite bannock recipe, cocktail, even a pre-made grilled cheese for toasting. Top up those cups with hot chocolate for a celebratory evening of fun.

Related: Campfire Cooking

3. Pair snowshoeing with fondue.

Desperate to get some exercise but all the gyms are closed? Backcountry snowshoeing has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to advancements in gear and navigation. And there are no crowded lifts or line-ups to navigate when you get outside.

If you don’t own snowshoes, talk to your local sporting goods store to find out about options in your area. Many now rent snowshoe gear in regions where snow is common. A family snowshoe through the quiet forest is a great way to explore your community and get the benefits of a walk in the woods. Night walks during a full moon are magical, but be sure to take along a headlamp. Plan to add a cheese or chocolate fondue when you get back home for an extra special night.

4. Track animals in the snow

You can learn so much about animals by following their tracks. Choose a morning after a fresh snowfall and search for prints left in the night. Animals tend to frequent watering holes, hedgerows, and the fringes of ecosystems where protection is more available, so those are great places to start your hunt. You can also find prints on fallen logs—which offer a bridge across tricky terrain—or around bird feeders where the pickings are easy.

Take along a guidebook to help identify what you’re seeing and a camera to capture your discoveries. Children particularly love exploring when there are tracks to be found. You might even find animal homes that you didn’t know existed.

Related: How to Spot Animals in the Wild

5. Perform random acts of kindness.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but not everyone is feeling the love after a year that saw job losses, business bankruptcies, and illness. If you have the means, doing something kind for the people in your world who are struggling can help ease the burden of these losses. For some, this means buying a coffee for the person behind you in line; for others it means dropping off flowers, shoveling a driveway, or taking the time to say ‘thank-you’ to someone who needs a smile.

Check out this extensive list over at Coffee Cups and Crayons. Doing these things as a family helps demonstrate what’s important to you in a season that easily gets lost in consumer culture.

6. Have a family snowball fight.

Most of us remember the thrill of building a snow fortress and hoarding snowballs for a snowball fight. When the conditions are right, a family snow war is a fun way to release energy, strategize, and get some outdoor exercise. Just remember to set down the rules so no one gets hurt. Kidzworld has a thorough list that includes naming a ‘safety word’ that anyone can call to stop the fight. It’s also helpful to set a time limit so everyone knows the war is temporary.

7. Make ice sculptures.

Getting creative is one way to deal with snow and ice. Working together to plan and build an ice sculpture can be a family affair and take on varying levels of difficulty, depending on the age of your household members. From the simplest balloon sculptures to the mid-level DIY to the more sophisticated glacial art, ice sculpting is a great way to bring your family together and have fun at the same time.

8. Go for an illuminated walk.

If your community is like many places across the country, seasonal events at public gardens and parks have been cancelled. But that doesn’t mean light displays aren’t happening on people’s front lawns. In one Canadian poll conducted last month, 90% of respondents said they were planning larger and better light displays than previous years. Local tourism associations now share information about where to visit neighborhoods that shine—literally.

Do a little research to find out where you can view some of this seasonal spirit, then bundle up the kids and take a walk in the neighborhood. Voting on personal favorites or seeing who can count the most lights is another way to add fun to the festivities.

9. Go caroling or host a family singalong

Singing has been one of the hardest hit activities during this pandemic. With the risk of contracting an illness much higher when singing together in public, choirs are all but non-existent this holiday season. Yet with appropriate distance, your household can share the gift of song with those you love. Sing outside someone’s window, up to a balcony, or even on Zoom from your living room. Share a song with anyone who needs to know you’re thinking of them.

10. Write a letter to your future self...one year from now.

This year was challenging—there’s no doubt about that, but there is hope on the horizon. One activity our family does each year is to write a letter to our future selves to open next Christmas or New Year’s. In the letter we share what went right, what didn’t, and what we hope for the coming year.

There’s comfort in considering the highs and lows, but what’s even better is looking back and seeing how far we’ve come. These letters started out as a way to capture what was meaningful to us. Looking back over a decade of letters, they are now a historical family record.

For young children who may not yet be able to write a letter, adults can ask questions and scribe the answers. There are some great resources out there to help make this easy.

Make the season bright

While this season may go down in the history books as a time like no other, there’s still opportunities for celebration. You might even find your family starting new traditions that become the most cherished ones of all.

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