A few days before Christmas is celebrated and the candles are lit for Kwanzaa, people throughout the world come together and commemorate the winter solstice. Observed this year on Wednesday, December 21st, the winter solstice is a time of seasons changing and one of the Earth’s poles being tilted as far away from the sun as possible. The sun is the farthest south in the Northern Hemisphere at this time. This tilt only happens twice a year – once during December and the other during June. In fact, December 21st is known as the “shortest day” of the year because of this and is the first official day of winter.
The winter solstice is of valuable importance to many people. The word “solstice” is Latin and made of two words: sol – the sun and sistere – to make a stand. This day symbolizes life, death, and the sun’s rebirth. It is often considered to be one of the most powerful moments of the year because the Earth pauses and hesitates for a moment on the tilting axis. Ceremonies and festivals are held throughout the world and have been for centuries to celebrate this passing event. Saint Lucia Day in Scandinavia, the Dongzhi festival in China, and the Stonehenge gathering in England are just a few of the more well-known traditions of the winter solstice. However, there are many activities that can be held on smaller scales, such as with your family and friends, and can turn into traditions for years to come. The festivities below are only a handful of the options available:
- Make DIY-Lanterns to Hang Outside – Using Mason jars, colored tissue paper, and leaves, cut out sun, moon, and star shapes in the tissue paper. Then, glue the shapes and leaves to the outside of the jars. White Elmer’s glue or Mod Podge work great for this. Be creative. Once the glue has dried, place a tea light inside the jar and set outside to help make the shortest night of the year last longer. You can also take this tradition a step further by turning off all the lights and spending the night with only candles and the light of the lanterns.
- Read Books Based on the Winter Solstice – This is a great activity to do with kids. Spend the night snuggled up with hot chocolate, blankets, and a good book. There are many books, of all different lengths, available about the winter solstice. The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper is a favorite for many.
- Craft an Orange Pomander – Orange and cloves are two scents that are closely associated with the winter and holiday seasons. Together, they make a festive decoration. An orange pomander is simply an orange with cloves poked into it in a shape or pattern. First, use a zester or peeler to create your design. Then, poke holes along the lines of the design and place cloves inside the holes. You don’t have to have a design. A random pattern works just as well. Lastly, you can roll your orange pomander in cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or another scent for an extra spice element.
- Watch the Sunset or Sunrise – Since the winter solstice is all about the sun and rebirth, a quick and easy activity is to sit back, relax, and watch the sunset and/or sunrise. While watching the moment, take time to reflect on the season, the positive aspects of your life, and areas where you feel growth could be possible. After all, the winter solstice is a chance for a new beginning.
- Hang an Evergreen Wreath – Evergreens are symbols of safety, success, and eternal life – perfect associations for the winter solstice. When placed into a wreath (or you could even make it a planter), along with yew, pine, holly, ivy, and mistletoe, good tidings and well-wishes have a chance of coming your way. Here is your quick reference of the meanings behind the plants:
Holly and Ivy: Good Energy
Yew: Eternal Life
The winter solstice holds a powerful meaning of healing, growth, and rebirth. However you may honor the day, be sure to relax, reflect, and think. Then, mark your calendars for the summer solstice six months later.