December 21 marks the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year. In different places and in different families, the first day of winter might be called Yule or the Longest Night. If you are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, you are probably busily distracted, but if you have the chance, it might be nice to take some time to observe the winter solstice with your family. Here are some ideas:
- Rely on candlelight after dark. Particularly during this busy time, it is nice to just shut off any electronics and background noise and focus on the darkness of the longest night of the year. Once the sun goes down, light candles (we don’t use real ones we use the fake battery operated ones to keep everyone safe) and talk about why the day was so short. (If you need a kid-friendly explanation, try this one on FactMonster.) Plan on doing something that you can do each year; if you live in an area where it’s warm, perhaps making s’mores in a firepit would be fun for everyone. If you live where it’s cold, you may need to use your fireplace for this!
- Consider using the winter solstice as a day to give something freely to someone else. While many families volunteer and write checks to the less fortunate this time of year, some get too busy with shopping, wrapping, menu-planning and other aspects of the season. Consider things like handing out sandwiches or care packages containing hygiene items to the homeless in your area (for safety’s sake, it’s a good idea to do this through your area’s homeless coalition rather than approach strangers on the street). Or, ask at a local nursing home about residents who aren’t expecting visitors for Christmas; perhaps you and your children could bring a few small gifts and simply spend time chatting with these people who are undoubtedly missing their families.
- Do something that you might have been planning to do anyway, but simply hadn’t taken the time for. Decorate a tree for the birds with cranberries, popcorn, orange slices and birdseed ornaments, for example. Or plan a special read-aloud; our family likes to read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter at this time of year; you could also read the Biblical accounts of the first Christmas, or something else that could become a tradition as the years go by.
Do you have special plans to observe the winter solstice? What are they?