What makes Colorado Springs special during the holidays? For one, locals love traditions. We all have our personal favorites, but collectively we have decades-long histories with many of our annual festivities—over 80 years in the case of the Palmer Lake Star. Locals love creative efforts, such as decorating mining headframes with twinkling lights, sending floats through downtown playing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” and buying and giving local art. Add all that to time-honored activities such as Nutcracker performances and klezmer concerts, and you just can’t beat a Pikes Peak holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Hanukkah, Christmas to Kwanzaa to New Year’s, here’s a rundown of local holiday traditions to discover—or rediscover—and make this season magical.
Skate Your Cares Away
What can be more romantic or fun that catching snowflakes on your tongue while gliding around under twinkling lights? Come mid-November, the temporary outdoor ice rink of Skate in the Park takes up residence in Acacia Park. It’s one of the newest holiday activities, but it’s already begun making tradition lists. More than 10,000 skaters from all parts of town took a glide last year. “It keeps Acacia Park lively and lighthearted during the coldest months of the years, and allows it to better fulfill its purpose as a community gathering space,” says Claire Swinford, urban engagement manager for the Downtown Partnership. “It’s a great thing to see Olympians sharing the ice with toddlers pushing buckets, and every age and ability level in between.” Nov. 14 through Jan. 15, downtowncs.com/event/skate-in-the-park
It might seem odd to say that locals know when the holidays have arrived based on an annual concert that used to go down at The Hungry Farmer, but it’s true. The restaurant doesn’t exist anymore but the Hungry Farmer Band’s Annual Thanksgiving Reunion is one of the longer-running traditions at 38 years. The concert gathers bands that gigged at the restaurant in the ’70s and ’80s to jam on classic rock and progressive country at Stargazers Theatre. Nov. 22, stargazerstheatre.com
Thanksgiving in Motion
The rest of Thanksgiving weekend can be marked with movement:
Yours, with the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region’s 20th Annual Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving morning. Nov. 23, ppymca.org
Or others’, with a classic performance of The Nutcracker by the Oklahoma City Ballet with local dancers accompanying, the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Nov. 24-26, csphilharmonic.org
Never Too Old for Santa and His Elves
If I could have one holiday wish, it would be that David Sedaris would come work a season as an elf at the North Pole. As it’s highly unlikely that wish will come true, I’ll have to make do with
1. A trip up the pass to Cascade and the North Pole, Home of Santa’s Workshop, to submit my gift requests to the white-bearded man myself. northpolecolorado.com
2. A stop at the Poor Richard’s complex of stores in hopes that owner—and city council member—Richard Skorman will be costumed for a reprisal of “The Parking Elf,” his meter-feeding, holiday-cheer-spreading alter ego. poorrichardsdowntown.com
3. A laugh-my-bum-off showing of Theatreworks’ annual performance of Sedaris’ play The Santaland Diaries. Nov. 30-Dec. 23, uccspresents.org
Singing in the Streets
If you like to bundle up and wander aimlessly through stores to the tunes of “Deck the Halls” and the like, you’re in luck. Both Old Colorado City and downtown Colorado Springs host an evening Holiday Stroll, featuring carolers, festive lights and after-hours shopping.
OCC: Christmas Stroll, Nov. 25, shopoldcoloradocity.com/events
COS: Dec. 6, downtowncs.com/events
Deck the Walls
There are three events you won’t want to miss if you’re on the hunt for original, handcrafted art. “The winter art sales are some of my favorite avenues to experience the depth and breadth of the arts in Colorado Springs,” says Joy Armstrong, curator of modern and contemporary art at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “I always learn about new (to me) artists and never fail to come home with treasures.”
Cottonwood Center for the Arts’ Under $100 Sale offers an opportunity to meet some of the artists in studio. Nov. 25, cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com
The Annual Colorado College Arts and Crafts Sale features work from faculty, staff, students and community members. Dec. 1-3, coloradocollege.edu/offices/artsandcrafts/newsevents
And the Annual Small Works Show at the Modbo and S.P.Q.R. guarantees all pieces are less than 24 inches in every dimension, perfect if you need to ship across country. Dec. 1-Jan. 5, themodbo.com
Falling for Nature
When PK Knickerbocker, executive director of Visit Pikes Peak, thinks about holiday traditions, she goes straight to hiking. “When I was a kid, my whole family—grandparents, great uncles, parents, brother and me—would go climb old Grey Rock in Garden of the Gods, every Christmas morning,” she says. More recently, Mount Cutler has become a favorite holiday hike with her daughters. “[You can] look across the canyon at Seven Falls lit up for the holiday,” she says. “One year we were able to hear people singing Christmas carols from across the canyon.”
If you’d like to see 100,000 twinkling lights up close, Seven Falls is open during December weekends and Dec. 22-31 except Christmas. broadmoor.com/broadmoor-adventures
Fireworks and Fruitcakes
The holidays aren’t truly over in the Pikes Peak Region until fireworks and fruitcakes fly. Since 1922, the AdAmAn Club has been climbing our local 14er to set off a magical midnight New Year’s Eve fireworks display that can be seen on a cloud-free night all across the Front Range.
And while it’s only slightly less epic, for more than 20 years the fine folks of Manitou Springs have gathered in January for the Great Fruitcake Toss. The quirky event bestows trophies and bragging rights to those who excel at hand and mechanical throws. Jan. 27, facebook.com/ManitouSpringsGreatFruitcakeToss
A few years back, I took African dance classes, and, dang, were they hard. Which is why I’m looking forward to this year’s 28th Annual Citywide Kwanzaa Celebration to spend some time in awe of the professionals. Of course, dancing is only one part of the local festivity honoring community, African culture, heritage and values. The two days of festivities also include African drumming, crafts, food and community discussions. Dec. 26 and 31, facebook.com/COSKwanzaaCommittee
Our Tradition: O Christmas Tree
We tromp through the snow somewhere along Rampart Range Road on the sunniest December day in the forecast. The kids’ Santa hats bob as they run ahead. We don’t go far. We’re not looking for the biggest tree. It won’t be stately or perfectly shaped, but it doesn’t matter.
Snow angels are made. Snowball fights break out. I inevitably end up with a face-full of snow as we wrestle and roll. After briefly comparing a few conifers, we take turns sawing through the trunk and snapping photos. Then we take hold of each end and carry our evergreen quarry out by hand. Soon it will stand again, dressed in classic white lights, but first there are hot chocolates to be had for the road home. Sometimes the best traditions just happen because they are where you want to be, year after year.