Sara Volk










That time of year has come again! And despite the fact that Christmas has been encroaching on your shopping trips since October, even the biggest curmudgeon is sure to feel the stirrings of the holiday spirit.

I wanted to share my top five ways to get into the spirit of the holidays in Bismarck-Mandan -- and now, after Thanksgiving has had its day, is the perfect time to get started.

1. Sledding followed by a nice hot cup of hot chocolate

An oldie but a goodie! You're never too old to go sledding. Trekking up the hill is a great way to get some exercise outside even during the cold months. Whether you're taking the kids or just having fun with some friends, it's an inexpensive afternoon that makes for fond memories and a few good laughs. A local favorite hill is Tom O'Leary Sledding Hill, which also has a warming house open from noon to 5pm weekends and holidays, provided there is adequate snow cover on the hill. Once you've tired yourself out, head on home to warm up in front of the fireplace with hot chocolate, and perhaps your favorite seasonal movie.

2. Ice skating

Whether it's been 20 years since you last put on skates, you're a seasoned pro, or you've never put a pair on at all, skating is an activity that everyone can enjoy -- especially when armed with a good sense of humor when you inevitably fall on your backside.

Bismarck has a wide variety of choices in rinks; the VFW Sports Center and Schaumberg Ice Arena offer public skating, as does the All Seasons Arena in Mandan (All Seasons also offers skate rentals, which is perfect for first-timers!). For those new to skating, the Bismarck Figure Skating Club offers a "Learn to Skate" program to teach the basics.

If you'd like to enjoy your skating outside, Jaycee Centennial Park, Lions Park, Municipal Ball Park, North Central Park, Tatle-Eagles Park and VFW post #1326 Family Recreation Park are all outfitted with hockey and pleasure rinks for skaters.

3. Christmas light viewing

Christmas light viewing is one of Bismarck's favorite pastimes. Bundle up in the car with some blankets and a large thermos of hot chocolate, because there are a lot of stops to see! To get you started, you can check out some of the following:

* Christmas Lights at Sertoma Park - The lights are visible every night from 6 to 10pm for $10 per vehicle, or $5 with the donation of a non-perishable food item(s).

* Northview Lane - When snow begins to fall, this sleepy little street on a steep hill becomes a Christmas light beacon. The residents of the street turn the entire length of the street into an equivalent of Main Street at the North Pole -- and it's well worth a visit.

* Chmielewski's Christmas Corner -- A Christmas extravaganza! These homeowners go all-out every year, creating a display that changes annually. Make your way over to the corner of Kennedy and 23rd to take a look at one of the most insane setups in Bismarck-Mandan!

There are definitely other must-see stops in the area; so arm yourself with a list of must-sees and make a night out of it.

4. Get the baking started

Everyone has a favorite holiday treat. For my family, beyond the usual rounds of pies and peanut butter blossoms, our "it's officially the holiday season" treats were Pfeffernusse cookies -- tiny spice cookies (usually covered with powdered sugar) that are a common holiday treat in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. These were a favorite of my late grandfather, and were always a hallmark of the season for me growing up.

Holiday baking has swiftly become one of my favorite parts of the season; I usually try at least two different types of cookie a year, and make old favorites -- and there's nothing quite like biting into a piping-hot cookie (or sneaking some dough) to get me into the spirit. There are also opportunities like cookie bazaars and bake sales around this time of year -- so be sure to keep an eye out for postings throughout the season to pick up some homemade goodness.

5. Take in a show

Get out of the nippy weather and settle in for a show. December brings with it a plethora of performances and shows:

* "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reineer: The Musical" will be performed at the Bismarck Event Center on Sunday, December 4th, 315 S. 5th St., Bismarck.

* Dakota Stage will be performing "Almost, Maine" from December 1st through the 11th at the Dakota Stage theatre, 415 E Main Ave, Bismarck.

* Northern Plains Dance will perform "The Nutcracker" from December 9th through the 11th at the Belle Mehus Auditorium, 201 N 6th St., Bismarck.

And so many more. There's always a performance, activity or concert around this time of year; something is bound to find just the right thing to get you into the holiday spirit.

Spice up your hot chocolate

To an 8-oz cup of your favorite hot chocolate, add:

* Pumpkin spice - 1 tsp. maple syrup, 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, whipped cream

* Peppermint - 1tsp. peppermint extract, whipped cream, 1 small candy cane (for garnish)

* Peanut butter cup - 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, 1/2 cup heavy cream

* Turtle - 3 Tbsp. caramel sauce, whipped cream, 1 Tbsp. finely chopped pecans

* Cookies and cream - 4-5 finely crushed Oreo cookies, whipped cream

* Irish - 2 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream

Sara Volk is a Bismarck native and the current Special Sections editor at The Bismarck Tribune. When she isn't working to give her cat a better life, she dabbles in baking, sewing and anything nerdy.