Perusing the Christmas card aisle a few years ago, I found myself drawn to cards adorned with peaceful winter scenes – trees blanketed with snow, snug little homes with the lights glowing and smoke curling from the chimney, even a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across a field.

This led me to wonder where the horse-drawn sleigh thing came from. While the idea of a horse-drawn sleigh is almost synonymous with the holidays in the United States, opportunities to ride them aren’t exactly abundant.

But as with many things, we here in Nebraska are lucky.

Over the past few years, Nebraska’s state parks have begun to offer traditional Christmas activities at little or no cost. Dubbed “Winterfest,” this series of events at parks throughout the state encourages visitors to hike through a winter wonderland, go sledding, make traditional winter crafts, sip cider or hot chocolate around a bonfire, yes, to ride on a sleigh (or at least a lighted hayrack). Ponca State Park even has an annual Fruitcake Fling, in which guests compete to see who can through fruitcakes the furthest. This unique competition, which has been featured on various national news programs, also serves another purpose – the fruitcakes are made with seeds that feed the birds that winter over at the park.

Many parks offer discounts on lodging during the winter months, so if you want to cozy up in a snug little cabin with your nearest and dearest, you can do that, too, and for less than during the busy summer months.

The idea is to help families rekindle old holiday traditions or create new ones, while showcasing the beauty of Nebraska during the winter. These events also offer families a chance during a busy time of year to escape for a few days for peaceful, quality time together.

The first of the Winterfest events will take place next Saturday, Nov. 29 at Ponca State Park. Guests can go sledding and ice skating, make holiday crafts, enjoy free cider and cookies, partake in a lighted hayrack ride and enjoy the groomed cross country ski trails around the park.

Other events will follow throughout the winter at Platte River State Park, Mahoney State Park, Buffalo Bill State Historical Park, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and elsewhere across the state. Events vary by park, but include holiday crafts, outdoor activities and, in some cases, visits from Santa photographed by NEBRASKAland photographers. A complete list of events and details is available on the Game and Parks website.

For the first time ever this winter, my family will celebrate the holidays with an old-fashioned sleigh ride, and it’s something I hope we can indeed make a tradition of. And maybe once I’ve actually ridden one, I won’t feel silly picking up Christmas cards featuring a sleigh.

Santa at Mahoney