By Katie Alvin

Explore Big Sky Contributor

The holidays are here, and with them the return of annual rituals. This year, why not head outside and create some new traditions. Here are six activities to help you celebrate the season from a fresh perspective.

Take a Thanksgiving Day gratitude hike

On America’s biggest eating day, choose to do something good for your body and spirit. Head outside with family or friends and give thanks while you walk. Visit a favorite local spot – like Ousel Falls or Porcupine Creek – and find new things to appreciate. Capture frosty versions of your favorite views in photographs. Slowing down to connect with loved ones in southwest Montana’s beautiful surroundings – or wherever you may be – will help set the mood for the entire holiday season.

Cut your own Christmas tree

Celebrate the season with a tree you’ve picked and harvested yourself. U.S. Forest Service tree cutting permits are $5 and can be purchased at the Bozeman district office on Huffine Lane. Follow their guidelines for where and how to harvest so you can select a tree responsibly – and legally. Hand picking and decorating your very own tree creates memories that stay present throughout the season.

Take the tree-trimming tradition outside

Pick a tree in your yard or neighborhood and decorate it with natural items. Ornament the tree using biodegradable jute or hemp twine to attach natural objects like pinecones to branches. Make bird-friendly garlands of cranberries and popcorn, or use cookie cutters on whole-grain bread to make edible ornaments. Invite the neighbors, serve up some cider or cocoa, and make an annual party of it.

Bring the outdoors in with harvested natural treasures

Take an excursion outside to collect pinecones, interesting branches, decorative grasses, clumps of berries, and seedpods. Create wreaths, centerpieces, bouquets or vignettes with carefully arranged pieces. Embellish items with white, silver, or gold spray paint if you’d like to add drama and elegance. Keep your creations for yourself or make unique gifts out of them. Use smaller cones, branches, or leaves to decorate the outside of packages for a complete presentation.

Host a luminaria lantern-lit outdoor party

Light up the night with luminaria: real or battery-operated candles placed in bags or containers. Create a spectacular outdoor space with lanterns surrounding a fire pit with upturned logs for seating. Bring thermoses of hot drinks and fixings for s’mores. Get festive with a round of holiday songs. A luminaria-lit party is a great way to celebrate the approaching winter solstice and the returning of light.

Have some full-moon outdoor fun

In this region, most people know how to have fun outside. And in many cases, you don’t even have to pay to play. Sledding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, broomball, and cross-country skiing are right outside our doors – or pretty darn close. To make these activities more festive, head out on a clear, full-moon night. Minimal gear is required – don’t forget headlamps and warm drinks – and you’ll be amazed by the moonlight’s magic. This holiday season, the full moon falls on Dec. 6 and Jan. 5, so mark your calendar and plan an outing now.

There’s no shortage of holiday festivities to occupy your time. Sometimes it’s a struggle to make the holidays your own. For a more intimate and down-to-earth feel, try some of these suggestions. However, and whatever holidays you celebrate, get away from the melee and get outside!

Katie Alvin has lived in Big Sky for more than 20 years and owns East Slope Outdoors with her husband Dave. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Soil Science, she has been involved with environmental and outdoor education for 25 years.