Winter solstice, the longest night of the year, begins on December 21 at 7:27 p.m. in the Pacific Northwest (and throughout the Northern Hemisphere). It marks the transition from darkness into light —specifically, the beginning of lengthening days and shortening nights.
Coming as it does right around — or smack dab in the middle of — the holiday season, it’s also a welcome reminder for my family to slow down, jump out of the consumer stream, and be more present to the elements around us. Solstice is an invitation to connect with nature, recognize all the gifts it provides, and celebrate nature’s generosity in our lives.
Needed tools for children
These concepts are enormous, even for those of us who pass as adults, but how about for kids? As a parent, it’s essential for me to give my children the tools they need to live as whole beings and to recognize that they are part of and responsible for the natural world. What I’ve found through the years is that kids are quick learners, eager to help the Earth, and excited to celebrate the returning light (which will eventually bring back long days outside).
Solstice is an opportunity to shift the emphasis from shopping and gifts of “things” to being conscious of and grateful for the precious gift of living on this planet.
Ways to begin a solstice tradition
So, how do you integrate the abundant gifts of winter solstice into your winter holiday season? Here are some ideas from my family:
- Start before the longest night of the year with conversations about night and day, light and dark, rest and growth. Go out in the daylight and see the small things—frost on the grass, birds eating berries, leaves turning colors, warm sunlight on your face. Go out at night, smell the air, look at the moon and stars, and hear the quiet.
- Go to the library or bookstore and pick up books that tell stories about solstice and winter. Look for books that show how different cultures recognize this time of year. Try The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer. One of my kids’ favorites is “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen.
- Talk with your children about people without houses and what this time of year means for them. If you have the means, consider giving winter clothing, new socks, blankets, and money to local shelters.
- Go outside and gather items from nature to decorate your home. Make a centerpiece for the table from leaves and dried flowers, berries, curvy sticks, boughs, and grasses. Remember the rocks!
- Give the gift of connection by hosting a winter solstice celebration. The theme is the sun’s return, so think golden colors, warming elements, and fire. Invite family and friends to your home for a potluck on the night of the solstice and ask them to bring foods that are golden in color. My favorites are golden beet salad and a spicy peanut and pumpkin soup. Don’t be afraid of the name; you can make it as mild as you like.
- Include your children in the party by making cookies in the shape of the sun with yellow icing. While you are baking, ask them why they think the sun is so crucial to all living things and why we celebrate its return. What was the world like before there was electricity and lights in every house?
- And, of course, if you can have a solstice fire, do it! Fires on the night of winter solstice symbolize light arriving in the form of longer daylight hours to follow. I have a fire pit, and we celebrate by gathering around a big roaring blaze on the solstice. You can get the fire experience no matter where you are with candles, a fireplace, or a gas fire pit in the backyard. I’ve borrowed an Iranian custom for our solstice fire: Everyone brings a poem to read aloud. Help younger children find a poem they like and then read it aloud for them. I always read a poem called Remember by Joy Harjo. Other families I know light a fire, and then each person writes three intentions they hope to manifest as the days lengthen.
A respite from the chaos
In a season that can be stressful, expensive, and perhaps leave some people feeling disconnected, think about taking the time to create a quiet celebration of the natural world and our place in it. Celebrating the winter solstice is a gift to your children that will last a lifetime.
Illustration by Jesse Reisch courtesy of ‘The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice.’
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