"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 winter solstice marks the moment when our days become just a tiny bit longer and brighter. The official moment of this year's solstice is Thursday, December 21, at 7:28 a.m.
Winters in Alaska are different from when we arrived 12 years ago, and without a healthy dose of snow they are darker indeed. The rain of last week, coupled with increasingly dark mornings, the evenings (and often the hours in between) have made for grumpy groups of people, even those of us who make a point to get outdoors daily, my son included.
For many 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 means significantly less 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, holiday-themed family fun that will go a long way toward banishing the winter blues.
Pack up the crew, gear and some cocoa and get outside at one of these kid-friendly events. You'll all feel better.
Solstice Celebration: Eagle River Nature Center
Saturday, Dec. 16, 6-8 p.m. Free.
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 simple directions from Red Ted Art (redtedart.com/winter-solstice-crafts-lanterns-st-martins-day/).
Solstice Tour of Trees
Sunday, Dec. 17, 4-7 p.m., Kincaid Park. Free.
After an incredibly successful first event last year, the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage brings you the second annual Solstice Tree Tour.
Combining exercise with a delightful look at whimsical 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 2.5 kilometers of the Mize Loop. 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 snacks, hot chocolate, coffee at warming stations along the way.
Winter Solstice Festival
Thursday, Dec. 21, 5-8 p.m., Cuddy Family Midtown Park. Free.
We attended this crowded party last year and had a great time skating, drinking hot chocolate and testing 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.
Christmas In Ice
North Pole, daily through Jan. 9, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Adults $9, youths $6, free for 5 and under.
Headed to Fairbanks? Try this fun festival just a few minutes outside the Golden Heart City in North Pole — right next to Santa Claus House. You'll love the ice sculptures, ice park, hot cocoa and a visit with Santa Claus.
With this winter's World Ice Art Championships canceled, this may be one of the only chances to see icy masterpieces created by sculptors.
Daily through March 4. $6 for zoo members, $8 for nonmembers, free for 2 and under (price includes zoo admission during Zoo Lights hours).
Take the kids to the Alaska Zoo 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.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com