The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the forthcoming return of the sun after the darkest hours. Celebrated by many cultures around the world, Winter Solstice falls on Monday 21st December this year.
As 2020 has been a particularly tricky year for many, honouring the Solstice could be a beautiful way to see darkness turning into light, as the daylight hours gradually become longer and we move into 2021.
Here are some ideas on embracing nature and welcoming in the Winter Solstice, no matter what your religious or spiritual views may be.
1. Take a Solstice walk
Spending some time in nature can be a great reminder of the beauty around us. A winter walk is beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit. It can give you space to slow down and take in the sights and sounds around you as well as boosting your health.
It’s recommended that children get at least 60 minutes of outdoor activity a day. As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, exercise motivation can be reduced for everyone, little ones included. A simple walk supports a child’s muscle growth and bone development. But spending time outside also has a significant impact on children’s emotional well-being and ability to concentrate and learn.
As you wander, you and your kids can explore the changing seasons. Wrap up warm and see what birds and animals you can spot in your local area. You could look at the different trees and plants around, as they adapt to the winter weather and begin to prepare for reemerging in Spring.
2. Decorate a Yule Log
The burning of a Yule log was originally a Nordic tradition. ‘Yule’ is the name of the old Winter Solstice festivals in Northern Europe. A carefully chosen log (initially a whole tree) would be placed in the hearth and lit to ‘entice the Sun to return.’
With the rise of Christianity, Yule logs were used to feed the family’s fire through the 12 Days of Christmas.
The Yule log doesn’t have to be used for burning in the fire though. Creating a Yule table decoration, complete with candles, is a lovely way to invoke the Solstice symbolism — plus it makes a great conversation piece!
You’ll need to go out and pick a sturdy log — the kids can help with this bit, foraging in a local woodland! In various regions, different types of trees are traditional for the Yule log. In England, Oak is typically chosen, while in Scotland, it’s Birch and Cherry is used in France. But of course, you can choose whichever type you can get!
Then using whatever nature-based decorations you like, you can make a beautiful Yule candle holder to light the way through December. This step-by-step guide is great but does require a drill so be aware of safety if your little ones are helping out or watching.
3. Or bake a Yule Log
And the traditional symbolism of the Yule log has continued in the form of a delicious chocolate treat! A sponge roll, layered with cream is covered with chocolate flakes or icing to resemble an actual Yule log. You can decorate it with as many nature-based features as you like – from royal icing holly leaves, to marzipan mushrooms.
Mary Berry’s ‘Bûche de Noël’ recipe is a deliciously rich Yule log that makes a wonderful dessert option for those who don’t like Christmas pud!
4. Read a Solstice story or poem
Winter Solstice has long been considered a time of storytelling in many cultures. For example, as the cold nights drew in after a long summer of gathering food and supplies, Native American tribes would gather to tell stories to teach and entertain their children.
There are many myths and folktales about Solstice that can be magical in igniting your child’s imagination. There are also more modern short stories that can help children learn about the cyclical nature of the seasons.
Snuggling up to read one of these stories together can be a beautiful and cosy way to explore Winter Solstice with your little ones.
5. Watch the Solstice sunrise
One of the most famous Solstice gatherings worldwide happens at Stonehenge, near Salisbury, UK. Every Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice, hundreds of people come together to watch the sun rise over the magnificent Neolithic stones.
Although social distancing measures mean that gatherings won’t be happening in the same way this winter (though the Solstice sunrise will be live-streamed from Stonehenge), you could still find a spot to watch the day roll in by yourselves.
If you’re able to find a nice location with a clear view of the East, watching the sun rise can be a magical experience. Remember to wrap up warm and take a hot flask of tea or coffee for you, and some snacks for the kids!
6. Make an ice lantern
A fun winter craft that again harnesses the symbolism of the sun returning after the longest night. It’s also an excellent opportunity to get the kids outside again, even when it’s cold.
This guide from Little Green Explorers shows you how to make a stunning ice display with very few materials.
All you need is water, two plastic containers of varying sizes (but both need to fit in the freezer!) and tealights — real or LED will do. You can decorate with whatever pieces of winter foliage you and the kids can forage!
The result is a beautiful light encased in sparkling ice that can remind you of all the bright things that will be coming your way.