6 Fun Ways To Spend a Cold, Dark Night


The color of springtime is in the flowers, the color of winter is in the imagination.  ~Terri Guillemets

Yesterday most of us rolled our clocks back an hour, returning to standard time from daylight saving time. The sun is now setting at about 4:50 pm where I live.

I love cold weather, but the shorter days are always difficult for me to adjust to. Over the years I’ve stored up a toolbox of activities to make cold, winter nights more fun. I find myself especially in need of them in the days and weeks after the time changes.

1. Eat by candlelight

We didn’t light a lot of candles in my house when I was growing up, but occasionally we’d eat by candlelight. Those nights, along with random power outages, are some of my happiest memories. Flickering soft light just makes any dinner more special. Every year after we observe Earth Hour, I envision that we’ll spend one night a week using no electricity. We’ve yet to make that a reality, but we eat by candlelight now and then. And every time we do it, it’s as fun and uplifting as I remember it being when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to rush when you’re watching the reflection of flames dance on glasses.

2. Start a fire

There’s so much to love about a winter fires – the warmth, the mesmerizing flames, the way it brings the entire family together in one spot to look at something other than a TV screen. Bonus: we haven’t had to turn our heater on yet this year and have been enjoying some rather toasty nights.

3. Read aloud or tell stories

Years ago, an older friend told me that she and her husband had been reading books aloud to each other each night for decades.  I loved the idea, and since then, my husband and I have read many books aloud together. These days we spend our read-aloud time reading to our son about Arthur, D.W., Francine and company. (He’s in love with them.) But I know soon, we’ll be onto chapter books, and then adult books again. There are so many great reasons to start a family reading tradition. I wrote about them in this post.

Storytelling is also a fun way to pass an evening. In Robert Shank’s book Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence, he explains that “human memory is story-based.” We’ve learned by telling each other stories since long before Homer. If coming up with a fictional yarn sounds more pressure-packed than taking the GRE, don’t worry. Just relax and tell stories about your childhood, grandparents, or past adventures. If you’re a parent, this kind of storytelling serves a bigger purpose: it helps kids recognize their place in a larger family and feel closer to their parents. Most people love listening to stories. And the more you practice, the better you get at telling them.

4. Throw a potluck

With the extra dose of darkness, we can all probably use double-shots of health and happiness. Well, the research is in: social connectedness is good for us. Researchers from Brigham Young University recently reviewed 148 studies and found that people with strong ties to family, friends or co-workers have a 50 percent lower risk of dying over a given period than those with fewer social connections. As The New York Times reported, “Having few friends or weak social ties to the community is just as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day.” Potlucks are a thrifty and labor-saving way to invite your friends, neighbors, or colleagues over. My acquaintances may just be exceptional cooks, but potlucks never seem to disappoint.

5. Stargaze

I wrote about winter stargazing in this post last December. Shortly thereafter I made bold plans to stargaze every night of 2010 with my trusty copy of 365 Starry Nights, which my husband gave me for Christmas. The first few nights of January, I had a great time scouting out Orion and Pleides. Then it got cloudy. And it stayed cloudy until … July. Yes, rainy Eugene is not a stargazer’s paradise, and oh how I miss the Colorado night skies. But if you live somewhere with few clouds and a dark sky, bundling up and gazing at the stars is an age-old, relaxing way to spend a cold, dark winter night.

6. Make Something with your hands

In her book Lifting Depression, neuro-scientist Kelly Lambert argues that using our hands for manual labor helps us prevent and cure depression. She says that when we cook, garden, knit, sew, build, or repair things with our hands and see tangible results from our efforts, our brains are bathed in feel-good chemicals. I just got my knitting needles out after neglecting them for the summer, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see what I can make with my own two hands in a relatively short time (while I’m sitting in front of the fire, listening to a story, watching a movie, or otherwise enjoying a winter evening).

What’s your favorite way to spend a cold, dark night? Do you have any tips for coping with fewer daylight hours?

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About Abby Quillen

Abby Quillen writes fiction and magazine articles. Her articles and essays have appeared in YES! Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Colorado Central Magazine, and on Common Dreams, Nation of Change, Reader Supported News, The Daily Good, Truthout, and Shareable.net. You can find more of her writing at http://abbyquillen.com.


  1. Delightful suggestions. They do require a certain amount of time (and a fireplace)… But candlelight? That one is so easy, and changes the mood of an environment for adults and kids alike. (The children find it amusing, as if it’s a blackout, and the adults find it calming and romantic – with or without another adult around!)

    My pleasure, with fewer daylight hours? More time to write, which many of us find to be therapeutic, engaging, and eye-opening.

    Strangely, I think we slow down a little as the weather cools. And that’s another side effect that is most welcome.

    • “Strangely, I think we slow down a little as the weather cools. And that’s another side effect that is most welcome.”

      I agree, I definitely slow down as the weather cools. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t. People still fall sick, and just as fast as usual. No slowing down just because my brain works slower in the winter… D:

      Great post though. And I might try the candles sometime…

  2. All great ideas!! I will take 1, 2 and 5 please with a side of 6!! 🙂 Thanks fot he ideas. I hate that it gets dark so early now!!!!


  3. This is SO GREAT. I love this post…so fun and romantic! I also like listening to old records or other music…


  4. I love the idea of eating by candlelight! We always light a candle at dinner, but unless power is out, never dine by ONLY candlelight! 🙂

  5. I like #6. Baking is a good way to keep busy, but so is playing Scrabble with my husband:) Nice post, glad you were freshly pressed!

  6. I kind of like the coziness that comes with earlier sunset. My kids are ready for bed earlier and we all do more reading in the evenings. I do like to light candles in the evening although must ration my beeswax candles 🙁

  7. Great Suggestions! 🙂

  8. Great list! We don’t have to veg out in front of the TV just because it’s cold and dark outside.

    My favorite cold-weather activities: writing, reading, cooking, and playing with my kitties.

    My tip: When it’s too cold to take a walk outside, I listen to my iPod while I walk the halls of my apartment building. That way I don’t turn into a couch potato.

  9. All of the above plus a good book!!

    My tip: oil lamps – less messy than candles, brightness you can dimmer, and SO pretty, even when not lit up. You can even find aromatic scented oil if you don’t like the odorless one.

    • I have an old oil lamp from my grandmother – I wasn’t sure if the oil used for it is safe & healthy to burn – or do you buy a special kind?

  10. Thanks for the quote! It’s a good one!

    Well, I’m a reader and I also make sure to get out of the house during the daylight hours when ever possible. The cold doesn’t bother me so I actually start doing things like walking to work. Everyone needs a little sunshine each day if possible.


  11. I really love these ideas. I hated spending my winters in a large city where light pollution prevented stargazing. A clear sky is one of the perks I’m looking forward to when I return to my hometown. 🙂

  12. The best image I have of a cold dark night is the whole family by the fireplace with the lights turned off telling scary stories, with a blanket. I may be a child at heart 😀

  13. I’ll soon be moving to a circumpolar location where the sunlight will be very limited in the winter. These are wonderful suggestions. I very much like the idea of dinner by candlelight!

  14. Amazing ideas!
    Thank you for the suggestions.

    Vanessa Rima

  15. Board games were always a favorite in my family. Plus, we’d start a fire in the fireplace, pop some popcorn, and enjoy some hot mulled cider. Around the holidays, Christmas music would constantly be playing. Some of my favorite memories stem from my time spent indoors during the winter.

  16. Very wonderful ideas. I will share them with my Sweetie.



  17. half joking here, but considering the number of august-november birthdays, apparently adults don’t need much help staying warm 🙂

  18. The fire, and the candlelight dinner takes it for me…I love doing it…one other thing I love doing during a day off…look out the window at the snow falling, at sunset, sitting close to a fireplace…those are just the most relaxing moments…moment that let you unwind, recharge and so much more…

  19. I love eating by candle light with my partner and having a real fire.

    Combining the two usually leads to my absolute favourite pastime on a cold, dark night.

    Cheshire house removals and man and van services

  20. Great sugestions. Like them…


  21. Family Game Night seems to be the solution for my family on Saturday nights. Our yungest is finally able to play some of these games which makes for interesting lessons on manners for the older kids. Loved your post and I am going to try to the meal by candlelight idea.

  22. 6 Great ideas. One of my favourite ways is to light scented candles, get a blanket and sit infront of a fire with a hot chocolate.

  23. I am loving this POST!!!!Gonna read it again.

    We are lucky enough to have walnut trees nearby. Each year, I gather loads of walnuts, crack, shell, and collect the nutmeat and plop them in my infamous chocolate chip/walnut cookies. The neighbor’s children love them, as do, my hubbie, daughter, and friends.I freeze some of the nutmeat for later winter baking. And I always reserve a bit and mix with oats and peanut butter for our coconut bird houses. The birds come and peck at my window when it is time for a refill:-)
    *Crank up the barbecue on the veranda, and make some smores with walnuts, chocolate and marshmallows

    I put our cat on my stomach…her purring calms me.

    Drink a hot chocolate with chili.

    I love to peer at the moon through a telescope. I often see Mickey Mouse:-)

    I really enjoy sharing a raclette dinner with my family…afterwards watching videos of our family from 18 years ago…how hilarious!!!!!

    Being close to my hubbie on the couch….Sipping a verbena tea with honey while knitting a scarf.

  24. morealtitude says:

    Beautiful post and set of ideas. Here in Australia we’ve just gone the other way and have lovely long evenings right now, but this made me feel all warm and gooey and long for a nice cold winter’s night in front of the fire. 🙂

  25. Very nice and soothing…love your ideas! Thanks for posting…now to put into practice, Good for you & Great getting Freshly Pressed!


  26. I agree with all of your ideas. I personally love snuggling with my dog and spending time with my family, reading a good book, lighting candles, watching hockey or football games, and knitting during the winter months. Winter is by far my favorite season because the cold and the dark force my family and I to be inside and interact more, and that is special to me. 🙂

  27. Candlelight and a fire in the grate.
    Can’t wait till hubby gets home….

  28. I love winter because chestnuts are in season! So much fun to eat by the fire. Their smell as they are roasting is intoxicating and reminds me of coming out of the subway in New York City during the holidays

  29. I like this post. It’s so uplifting especially considering that we just had to move our clocks back an hour with DST.

  30. I love point one – I’m totally going to attempt a night without using electricity.

  31. I love this. Living in sunny San Diego, we don’t bear well in the cold. But reading this made me want the temperature to drop a little so I could bring out some cozy nights in.

  32. .,i like stargazing so much. great post 🙂 we used to eat in candle light whenever the current connections are out 🙂 we also flock one place in our house and talk much about almost everything that we could think of ha ha ha ha. 🙂

  33. Great post! A few years ago the power went out, and Hubby and I discovered the joy of playing cards (gin) by candlelight. We were disappointed when the lights came back on! We try to turn off the TV once in a while and just play cards and chat.

  34. Great suggestions. I enjoy baking on a cool night. The oven heats up the house, and the smells… well who doesn’t enjoy the smell (and taste!) of freshly baked cookies?

  35. I like to eat in a candle light, like in the village which is still very fresh free from pollution. Greate share.

  36. Wow, these ideas are so simple, and yet I would have never thought about them on my own. I’m always wishing my boyfriend would spend a little more time appreciating our dinner-time together (he has a short attention span and is always working….)I DEFINITELY want to try dinner by candlelight – and reading aloud to eachother. It’s very intimate – any suggestions as to good books to read (I would imagine short stories would be ideal?). I recently suggested to my roommate to start sewing more in order to improve her mood – I didn’t realize that hands-on work can actually alleviate depression. Thank you so much for the advice!


  37. Super suggestions! I I think I might try reading more, and throwing that potluck! 🙂

  38. Where I live, it gets dark just as quick as you! We bundle up, light a fire in the outdoor fireplace surrounded by snow and watch the northern lights come out to play. Hot Tottys are a must!

  39. I love these, it makes me almost excited for winter.
    My favorite thing to do on a cold dark night is going for a quick walk with my iPod and catch up on me time. There is almost no one outside, it’s a great feeling. Plus, the cold air feels great in your lungs, and then you get to go home to a cozy warm bed.

  40. Ooooh, I love this post! I live in Australia where the weather is ramping up with it’s prelude to a swelting summer, but reading your post reminds me of rugging up with a hot chocolate in hand a few months ago! Now that it’s daylight savings here for us, dinner by candlelight is a thing of the past 🙂

  41. Love the candlelight – haven’t tried an evening without electricity, though. Knitting, too. Wonder if I can knit by candlelight? DH and I recently dumped our cable, and have found ourselves watching a lot less tv – no mindless surfing ‘just to see’. We’ve been reading more books, listening to music and *gasp* having conversations!

    Have to try the stargazing out at my parents’ or sister’s, though – we live in the middle of the city, so not much shows up.

  42. so, how we could spend a hot hot burned day like in indonesia now… ?

  43. I personally love the winter.(most people think I’m crazy). I am from a place just below some mountains and I cannot wait to hit the slopes! I love to ski at night, which is a whole lot of fun in itself. Thanks for the lovely ideas. Im definetly going to try to be more conscious of the lights I use from now on.

  44. Great suggestions for those of us who dislike this time of year. I especially like the pot luck idea. My favorite thing to do when it starts getting dark so early is make homemade chili and play board games. Oh and also go to be early with the hubbie for a lil extra alone time 😉

  45. Good post – few things there to think about.

    Admittedly, I have been doing the candles for the past few years and occasionally reading a book under the flickering candle light. I find myself busy most nights during winter with plenty of indoor sports activities or going to gym.

  46. Fall is my favorite time of year and a time when I feel like my family is very close to each other. Winter is just inevitable, so I make the best of it! Being at home inside where it’s warm with my children makes it all bearable! We love to make hot chocolate and sit around and talk and laugh. We do many of the things you suggest already, except the potluck. Only because we like to be hermits and stay inside during the cold months. I make lots of homemade soups and bake. Mmmmm….you’ve got me thinking about my potatoe-carrot soup now!

  47. You forgot sex.


  48. Thank you for a virtual pick me up. Even if I don’t do all of them, just having read about them has warmed me.

  49. Tips? Think about somewhere warm and nice. I understand summer is on the way in other parts of the world.

  50. Make Something with your hands. Love it.
    great article, thanks

  51. Thanks for the post. Yeah, I live in Seattle and it always seems to be dark and drizzly here, so I understand what you’re saying. Of course, I really enjoy the dark/rainy/cold days and nights, but most people don’t. There are definite comforts you can find if you’re not used to it. I think just buying a hot cup of coffee at your local coffee house or bundling up in layers can be fun. Those are day time things I guess, but you know what I mean. People have a tendency to get bummed out, and you don’t want that.

    Good ideas! I’m all about finding good things to do or watch or whatever.

  52. Wow, what a lovely post. Thanks for the tips!
    I’ve been stargazing, it was a really nice expereince.
    I might have to bring out the candles 😀

  53. I love hearing stories. I wish my boyfriend would be more open and just tell me stories by the fire 😀


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