UK increasingly shuns sofa for outdoor activities during 'Twixtmas'
When Christmas is over and you are getting ready for the dawn of the new year, it can be tempting to hibernate indoors, watching Home Alone on repeat and eating endless boxes of chocolates. But an increasing number are shunning the sofa and instead taking part in the many activities planned between Christmas and New Year.
For providers of a stream of unusual activities over the limbo period sometimes dubbed “Twixtmas”, the period is characterised by getting out and about. On Christmas Day itself options included a walking tour, icy cold swims, and even a trip to the cinema. In Birmingham, brave souls gathered on Christmas morning to jump into Blackroot pool in Sutton Park. Other activities from Boxing Day on include a tree maze in Edinburgh and the Bibury duck race, one of Gloucestershire’s more unusual traditions.
Ben Caughters, 37, from Bangor, in County Down, Northern Ireland, always takes part in the Christmas Cracker run in nearby Newcastle on 28 December. “It’s a bit of fun really,” he said. “We run it in pairs and it is usually about eight to 10 miles of a trail around the Mourne Mountains ... I don’t take it too seriously. The last few years I finished it around an hour or just over. You run with a partner and have to both finish at the same time.”
Caughters said he did it annually: “You have to wait for your partner or run with them the whole way. As long as you’re both crossing the line together that is the main thing ... A lot of people do it in fancy dress.”
Caughters said it gave him something to do after Christmas, “when people maybe feeling a wee bit sluggish and hungover.”
He added: “It just gets them to clear their head and get up in the mountains. It is beautiful up there and usually very cold, so it is a good way to blow away the cobwebs.”
Related: 'I only buy second hand': rain and climate crisis deter Boxing Day shoppers
Swimming is another favourite Twixtmas pastime. Katy Ferguson spent Christmas morning at the Park Road Lido in Crouch End, London, and said growing numbers were opting for a winter dip. “There are usually two swims, one around 9am and another at 10am. People absolutely love it. I am not sure how many years it has been going but it makes Christmas Day special. You feel you can then indulge for the rest of the day. It is a really nice atmosphere.”
Ferguson said there were around 80 people per swim in 2018, with interest growing annually. “It is a heated lido, around 22 to 24 degrees. Other pools are unheated, but I am not sure I could cope with that. There is a core of us that do it but it’s growing as outdoor swimming grows in popularity.”
On Christmas Day, scores of people took to the water for the Peter Pan Cup at London’s Serpentine. The race has been an annual tradition since 1864 and involves members of the Serpentine Swimming Club completing a 100-yard course in London’s Hyde Park. The race got its name in 1902 when JM Barrie, who wrote Peter pan, was a member who competed in the event.
But for others, Twixtmas means a slower tempo. Jamie Dunning, 27, from Hertfordshire is spending the time birdwatching. “Over Christmas I will be out a few times but there will be people out every day. There are people who take it seriously and others just see as a nice Christmas tradition ... It can be a nice day out at Christmas.”
He added: “I will be doing it with my partner this year if I can convince her to – it’s a nice walkout over Christmas. You can usually see 30-40 species in a day.”
Dunning said that what began as an American festive activity has crossed over to the UK. “In the US the Audubon society use Christmas bird count data to do real demographic monitoring. In the UK Christmas bird counting is also a thing, but we collect citizen science data year round … so it has less of an organised feel. But the data collected is uploaded to bird track and saved for future use. Here, there is a tradition of semi-competitive birding in the festive period. There are those who keep year lists –the number of birds they’ve seen in the year – who try and get some last minute ticks, and start the new year on a high number. ”
“What’s so great about birding in this period is that it’s all for the sheer joy of birds and being outside, there is a huge amount of valuable data collected by citizen scientists who don’t even realise they’re doing it. And, that it truly is something that everybody and anybody can do.”