Untraditional Holiday Traditions

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As the son of two park rangers who value simplicity, Andy Cochrane’s childhood holidays didn’t look like most. The writer and photographer returns home to Minnesota to discover the value of untraditional traditions. And, yep, it’s the Midwest: ice skates mandatory.

Words and photos by Teva Explorer Andy Cochrane.

It’s late November in northern Minnesota and winter is already upon us. Yesterday the temps floated just above ten degrees, winds gusted at 35 miles per hour, and four inches of snow fell on the ground. It’s a stark contrast from my last few weeks in Utah and Arizona, wearing only shorts. Guess I’ll be acclimating on the fly.

For the next month I’ll be staying at my parents’ cozy outpost situated on the North Shore of Lake Superior, a short drive from the Canadian border. I’m ostensibly home for the “holidays,” but that word takes on a different meaning when your family doesn’t observe holidays the same way most do. Big celebrations aren’t our thing, but we do have annual traditions that I love. Most of them are simple, like card games, family outings, and reading around the fire. Even Christmas is modest affair – we each give and receive one present, then go cross-country skiing as a family.




Bea, a very good girl, wears the Men’s Ember Lace in Black.


Andy’s dad, Tim, presses fresh apple cider in the Men’s Arrowood 2 Waterproof sneakerboot.

Getting home to northern Minnesota is a pilgrimage, in a couple senses; it’s both arduous and sacred to me. The fastest path is a pair of flights to Duluth and a two-hour drive north along Highway 61, which takes a full day. Slowly winding north towards the middle of nowhere, familiar feelings start to set in. Memories of childhood resurface and I’m reminded that part of my heart will always be in rural Minnesota.

My parents’ house always feels welcoming, heated by a wood stove and filled with books. Mom and dad do what they can to live off the land, and through the years have taught themselves how to tap trees for syrup, pickle root vegetables, harvest wild rice, hunt deer, press apple cider, make chutney, raise chickens, tend large gardens and grow an apple orchard, too. When my sisters and I are here, we help with a lot of this. In turn, most of the food we eat during holidays comes from less than a hundred yards from the house.



Andy’s mom, Jean, prepares her cozy women’s Sugarpine II Waterproof boot for some snowshoeing.



Even though November days are short and cold, many of our family traditions happen outside. They range from chores like feeding chickens and shoveling the driveway to family hikes and longer adventures. Fresh air and cold toes have been rooted in family lore for as long as I can remember, which I chalk up to my parents’ background. The two met as rangers on Isle Royale National Park and while they both eventually progressed to desk jobs in the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, they raised us outside: hiking, biking, skiing, and paddling.

We started going to “church” as soon as we could walk, my parents’ codeword for a Sunday morning hike. Sometime in elementary school, we started the tradition of week-long canoe trips during summer, often exploring the nearby Boundary Waters as a family. A few years later, the ritual of camping trips during spring break kicked off. I remember filling our minivan with camping gear, two dogs, and five people, and hitting the road without a fully fledged plan. The road trip memories are endless.



Good for camping, hiking, or hanging with the locals. Jean wears the Women’s Arrowood 2 Mid Waterproof sneakerboots to spend some time with her girls.


Andy presses “pause” on adventures (for a week or two) to relax in his parent’s cabin. Here, he wears the Men’s Ember Lace in Black.


Our Ember Lace, Ember Moc and Ember Wool styles are made for both cozy cabins and cold campsites. Shop both at Teva.com.

We crafted traditions during the holidays too, albeit unconventional. A few days before Christmas, the family picks a tree for the living room. We wander through forest service land in deep snow, find a thick spruce, cut it down and bring it home. We make a wreath out of the clipped branches, too. The biggest surprise for us each holiday is finding out how early the pond will freeze over enough for skating.

These outdoor traditions feel timeless; in twenty years I hope to be doing the same with my kids. Simplicity seems to allow each of us to transcend time. All our holidays require are a paddle, or pair of hiking boots, or a small saw (and we could get by without most of that, anyway). As kids, these traditions were just about fun and laughter, but as I’ve grown older I see the deeper value in them. Through these untraditional traditions the family grew closer, connecting in a unique way. That’s the real value.

Shop styles for your entire family with our Holiday Gift Guide at Teva.com.


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