Celebrate an Alaska Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice happens on December 21, 2017. It would be great if we had snow. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

“I hate it here.” Startled, I glanced askance at my son, who sat crouched in the front seat next to me, arms folded across his chest, a scowl on his face.

“What!?” I said, genuinely surprised and trying to fathom how a kid who just a few weeks ago told his grandparents he’d “live here forever” suddenly and inexplicably saw his home state as a big bummer. “Where did this come from?” I asked. “And why now?” The answer came after a few minutes of listening to the sound of my car’s windshield wipers doing their job against a December rain. Yes, rain.

“It’s dark and wet,” he said, looking out the window at a dreary scene. “And I hate it.”

Roger that, kid. I know how you feel. December in Alaska is indeed dark, and getting darker until 2017’s official Winter Solstice marks the moment when our days become just a tiny bit longer, and brighter – this year on Thursday, December 21 at 7:28 a.m.

Winters in Alaska are different than when we arrived 12 years ago, and, without a healthy dose of snow, darker indeed. The rain of last week, coupled with increasingly dark mornings, evenings (and often the hours in between) has made for grumpy groups of people, even those of us who make a point to get outdoors daily, my son included. For many people it’s just harder to get up and go when darkness falls shortly after the kids are out of school and parents leave work, many simply don’t. Even when they know they should, the combination of weather and a lack of daylight mean significantly low motivation to move.

With this in mind, and with a lengthy holiday break coming up, I took up the unspoken challenge from my teenager and found some outdoor-and-holiday-themed family fun that will go a long way toward banishing the winter blues. Pack up the crew, their gear, and some cocoa, and get outside at one of these kid-friendly events. You’ll all feel better.

Eagle River Center offers education and an extensive trail system for outdoor-seeking families. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Solstice Celebration: Eagle River Nature Center. Saturday, December 16, 6-8 p.m. Free. https://www.ernc.org/courses/solstice-celebration. One of the center’s most popular events of the year, the Solstice Celebration means walking along trails carrying lanterns and flashlights on the way to a big bonfire. Eagle River Nature Center staff have worked hard to create hundreds of ice luminarias as well, making this evening party something to brighten up even the grinchiest grouch. Allow enough time to park and walk down to the bonfire, follow the ice lanterns, and bring your own form of light. Make a lantern by following these simple directions from Red Ted Art.

Solstice Tour of Trees. December 17, 4-7 pm, Kincaid Park. Free. The Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage brings you the second annual Solstice Tree Tour after an incredibly successful first event last year. Combining exercise with a delightful look at whimsical, themed Christmas trees, this is a unique Alaska celebration of Winter Solstice and the return of longer days. The event is a tour along the first 2.5k of the Mize Loop ski trail to view trees decorated and sponsored by local businesses. Also, on this one day, NSAA will permit people to walk as well as ski on the groomed trails, just make way for each other. Look for Kaladi Brothers to provide hot chocolate and coffee, and kids will be happy to know volunteers will provide snacks along the way. 

Winter Solstice Festival, Thursday, December 21, 5-8 p.m., Cuddy Family Midtown Park. Free. We attended this crowded outdoor party last year and had a great time skating, drinking hot chocolate, and testing out fat bikes from local vendors. Food trucks provided an on-the-go dinner as we stood in line for a sleigh ride, one of the event highlights. A word to the wise: Go early, make sure the kids are fed and warm, and plan to wait at some activity stations. More information is available on the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Facebook page.

Christmas In Ice – North Pole, now through January 9, 2018.  Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Adults $9/youth $6. Five and under free. Headed to Fairbanks? Give this fun festival a try just a few minutes outside the Golden Heart City. You’ll love the ice sculptures, ice park, hot cocoa, and a visit with Santa Claus. Since the other ice-themed event known as Ice Alaska has cancelled operations for 2018, this may be one of the only chances to see sculptures creating their icy masterpieces.

Consider taking advantages of the Alaska Railroad’s package deals whereby passengers fly north on Saturday, December 23 via Alaska Airlines, spend the day enjoying the festival, then board the Aurora Winter Train for a trip south on Sunday morning. Package deal! Or use your Alaska Airlines Miles for flight.

You also can book the one-way trips yourself utilizing the Alaska Railroad website; regional carrier RavnAlaska, www.flyravn.com. For overnight accommodations, we like to stay at Pikes Lodge during the winter months, because they love Alaskans and they also love to give out free ice cream. www.pikeslodge.com

Zoo Lights, through March 4, 2018. $6/pp for zoo members, $8/pp for non-members. Ages two and under are free. Price includes zoo admission during Zoo Lights hours. Take the kids to the Alaska Zoo over Solstice and beyond for dazzling and animated light displays that just get better each year. Add to the fun by packing the kids into a sled and filling them up with Christmas cookies and a thermos of hot chocolate. Some years we’ve been known to bring a picnic dinner along, too. Dress warmly, it gets very cold at the zoo. Tickets available in advance online or entry may be paid at the gate during Zoo Lights hours. Tickets purchased online are one-time use and valid during any open Zoo Lights hours. Tickets (entry fees) are $6/zoo member (ages 3 and up), $8/non-member (ages 3 and up), ages 2 and under free. 

**Also – See our post from last week about our family-friendly Christmas tree event on Saturday, December 16! 

Light up the night at the Alaska Zoo. Zoo Lights is a great way to bring some holiday cheer to a dark winter night. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Happy Solstice.

~EK 

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