12 Cold-Weather Family Traditions That Make Winter More Bearable


What good is the warmth of summer, John Steinbeck once mused, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness? Despite the flavoring the frigid months provide, the winter season certainly is something of an endurance event for families. Days are short, nights are long, and, if you’re not creative, it can be difficult to find ways to fend off the monotony of winter.

One remedy: Starting a cold-weather tradition that gives you all something to get psyched about, plan for, and look back on once the season is over. It’s wonderful how something as simple as, say, an annual family scavenger hunt or day of ice-lantern carving can sustain us, provide some necessary warmth when winter arrives, and keep the joy of the holidays going strong into the coldest part of the year. For inspiration, we spoke to 12 families about the winter traditions they look forward to every year.

1. We Host A Winter Scavenger Hunt

“Every winter season we carry on a unique tradition passed down through generations. We have a family scavenger hunt around our property. Each year, we hide a series of items based around a specific theme, often something playful or intellectually challenging like ‘Local History’ or ‘Winter Wildlife.’ These themes allow us to be creative and encourage our kids to learn and play simultaneously. We wear our warmest clothes and dart through the snow, clearing pathways and learning as we go. At the end of the hunt, a winter picnic is always set up with our favorite hot chocolates and homemade sandwiches. Often, winter isn’t just for staying indoors in our family; it’s an opportunity for learning, playing, and family togetherness. It’s a fun and peculiar way of making the most out of the cold, and most importantly, it has strengthened our bond as a family over the years.” — Jim, 48, Ontario, Canada

2. We Do A Thrift Store Gift Exchange

“When the cold weather starts to creep in, our family does a regular gift exchange where we draw names, and buy each other a new winter coat or sweater. The catch is, they have to come from a thrift store. It’s always fun to see what people come up with. Some have been pretty simple, but most are usually vintage-inspired, or a little bit crazy. I guess it’s kind of our family’s version of an Ugly Sweater Party. The cool thing is, we always donate the previous year’s coats back to the thrift stores so that hopefully someone else can find them.” — Aaron, 42, Illinois

3. We Build A Sled Hill For The Whole Neighborhood

“Although we live in Chicago, which can be pretty brutal weather-wise during the winter, my family and I love creating a big sledding hill in our cul-de-sac when the snow begins piling up. The big snow plows that come through do a lot of the work for us — they push up a bunch of snow in front of our house — and then we come through and with a little extra shoveling magic, an awesome snow mound for sledding is born. It’s a fun family tradition that has endured and stayed very fun over the years of freezing Chicago winters.” — Dustin, 42, Chicago

4. We Play “Bottle Freeze”

“Every year for as long as I can remember, my dad would fill a giant glass bottle with water, and seal it. He’d leave it outside as the weather started to get colder, and we’d all bet on the date it would freeze and crack. Sometimes it actually exploded! As we got older, we got better at guessing. And the prizes got better, too! We’ve started pooling money, and letting other people get in on the fun. When Christmas comes, assuming the bottle has broken, the winner gets paid by everyone. If no one picks the exact date, it’s whoever is closest without going over. We even have a webcam set up on the bottle to make sure there’s no foul play. It might sound silly, but it’s one of my absolute favorite parts about the cold weather.” — Enrique, 43, Ohio

5. We Have A Poetry Slam

“Every year when winter arrives, we celebrate with Snowflake Poetry Night. My serious poet great-grandfather was the one who started it all. We all gather by the fireplace with hot cocoa as the snow begins to fall. Everyone in the family, young and elderly alike, writes a poem about the wonders of winter. The effort and imagination we put into this ritual is what makes it so wonderful. From snowflake dances to the comfort of family, we explore poetry that captures the magic of the holiday season. We share in one other’s successes and failures and share in a wide range of emotions.” — Hassan, 41, Chicago

6. We Harvest Carrots And Celebrate Our Culture

“Our family has a unique and delicious winter tradition that we fondly look forward to every year. When winter rolls around, and the air becomes crisp and cold, my son and I visit our local farmers market to pick out the freshest, most vibrant carrots we can find. This might seem odd in the winter, but these carrots are the star in our family’s traditional Indian recipe for Gajar Ka Halwa — a rich and warming carrot pudding. We dedicate a day to transforming these carrots into an exquisitely sweet delicacy. It’s a tradition not just about cooking, as my son and I share stories, listen to classic Indian music, and explain the importance of holistic nutrition while preparing the ingredients. It’s a cherished tradition that provides ample opportunity to bond and create fond memories while linking us to our Indian heritage. And we always make an extra batch to share with our neighbors.” — Madhuram, India

7. We Make Ice Lanterns

“One of the unique winter traditions passed down in my family is the annual Ice Lantern Extravaganza. My father started it when I was a child, and it’s become a cherished part of our family culture. Every winter, a few days before Christmas, my father and I venture out into the cold to create intricate ice lanterns. We carefully select various-sized containers, fill them with water, and let them freeze overnight. The next day, we release the frozen ice from the containers and carve intricate designs into the ice. As the sun sets, we light candles and place them inside to light up our front yard. The entire neighborhood anticipates this event, and it’s a heartwarming way to bring our community together. This tradition not only helps us embrace the cold weather but also serves as a reminder of the importance of creativity, family, and community during the holiday season. It’s a testament to my father’s inventive spirit and his ability to turn a chilly winter’s night into a warm, shared experience.” — Peter, 34, New York

8. We Host A Snow Sculpture Party

“Our unique cold-weather tradition is something that’s been in my family for generations. We call it Snow Sculpture Night. Instead of just building snowmen, we create intricate snow sculptures in the front yard. We pick a different theme each year, and it’s a family affair. It could be anything from a fairy tale castle to a mythical creature. We spend weeks planning and gathering tools. When the big night arrives, we all bundle up in warm clothes, armed with shovels, buckets, and creativity. Neighbors often stop by to admire our creations, and it’s become a source of joy in the community. The best part is that it encourages creativity, teamwork, and a deeper appreciation for the art of sculpture. Plus, it’s a great way to embrace the cold weather rather than dreading it.” — Peter, Minnesota

9. We Play “Hide The Gnome”

“Years and years ago, our family came into possession of this little gnome statue. I think it dates back to my grandparents. Once the first snow falls, our whole family takes turns trying to hide the gnome at each other’s houses. It’s become kind of a disgrace to be seen actually placing the gnome, so we have to be creative about it. What’s great, is that through the whole winter season the game — and the gnome — give us a reason to see each other. It’s not unusual to make a quick visit to someone’s house just to hide the gnome. Whoever ends up with it by Christmas has to keep it until the next year, when everything starts again. It’s one of the few things I actually look forward to with the cold weather.” — James, 35, Michigan

10. We Throw A Chili Cook-Off

“There’s no better cold-weather food than chili. And my wife’s family goes pretty hard with a yearly chili cook off. We usually wait until the first snow to officially declare ‘Chili Season’, and then we all pick a date to get together and bring our best attempts at ‘award-winning’ chili. Really, the award is just bragging rights, but we have a great time seeing each other and sampling everyone’s recipes. It’s actually made me look forward to the cold weather every year, and I’m originally from Florida! I never would’ve thought I’d have a reason to enjoy snow, but the chili cook-off is definitely a good time.” — Michael, 37, Iowa

11. We Volunteer At The Animal Shelter

“Every winter our local dog shelter is desperate for volunteers. So from the beginning of November through about February we all take turns going and helping out. Sometimes my wife and I will go together. Sometimes our son and daughter will go. Sometimes we’ll all go together. It’s fun for us because we can’t have pets where we live and winter has become sort of our designated time to spend with the dogs. It’s not always loads of fun, especially if it’s icy or raining. But seeing how happy the dogs are playing in the snow, and just being around people, is very rewarding. We wish we could do it all year, but our availability in winter makes it a special occasion for our family.” — Ian, 50, New Jersey

12. We Tackle A Gigantic Jigsaw Puzzle

“Starting the day after Thanksgiving, our family commits to a giant jigsaw puzzle that will likely take us the whole winter season to finish. We set up a card table in the spare bedroom and find a really challenging puzzle. Some have had thousands of pieces. Some have just been really difficult pictures. Some are a combination of both. We’re all definitely busy during the winter and the holidays, so the goal is to sit down when we have a spare minute or two, and add a few pieces each day. There’s no rush. It’s just meant to be a moment where we can sit down, relax, and enjoy a little fun distraction away from the cold weather. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve tried to find puzzles that are more and more intricate. One year, we didn’t finish the puzzle until Valentine’s Day. I think this year will be our 10th year doing it, so maybe we’ll try to find something extra hard to celebrate how long we’ve had the tradition.” — Alex, 52, Maryland



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