This year all the first graders in Kian’s classroom had to answer, “What holiday does your family celebrate in the winter?”
After 20 kids said, “My family celebrates Christmas.”
And 3 kids said, “Hannukah”
And 1 kid said “Christmas and Kwanzaa”
Kian said “Winter Solstice”
Since Ramadan and Eid currently fall in the spring, our family is celebrating the SEASON this December. There is no nationally recognized holiday or language around celebrating winter: snow, evergreens, warm drinks, giving gifts, baking treats. So we have adopted Winter Solstice.
Below is a list of ways we are celebrating the winter season.
1. Learn About the Celestial Event
Before Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, December 25th time period marked the end of the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. The Sun seems to stop declining in the sky for three days, then it begins to rise on the 25th of December. Since prehistory, the winter solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures and has been marked by festivals and rituals (more on that below). It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun. The winter solstice falls on December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere.
This year, in particular, the winter solstice is getting new attention. On December 21, a rare alignment between Jupiter and Saturn, known as a Great Conjunction, will occur. The Great Conjunction marks the planets’ closest encounter in nearly 400 years. If you want to search for the bright winter solstice “star,” look to the southwestern sky an hour after sunset.
2. Discuss Winter Solstice Celebrations Around The World
Many cultures celebrate the winter solstice.
- The indigenous Hopi People of northern Arizona have celebrated the winter solstice for over a thousand years. The Soyal Ceremony is on the shortest day of the year and symbolizes the second phase of Creation at the Dawn of Life. The Hopi Indians celebrate Soyal for protection in the coming winter months.
- The Persian festival Yalda, or Shab-e Yalda, is a celebration of the winter solstice in Iran that started in ancient times. Families celebrate with traditional foods like nuts and pomegranates, and some stay up all night to welcome the morning sun.
- The Dōngzhì Festival is an important Chinese and East Asian festival celebrated by the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese during the winter. The changing of the seasons has been celebrated for over 2500 years! The Dongzhi festival, which translates to the “arrival of winter,” welcomes the change from fall to winter. Dongzhi is a time for families to gather and celebrate their past year together with fatty yummy foods.
- In India, many Punjabis and Sikhs celebrate Lohri on January 13th. Lohri is a winter celebration traditionally associated with the harvest of crops. In the days leading up to Lohri, villagers collect twigs and branches for a giant bonfire, which serves as a backdrop for singing, dancing, and feasting.
3. Make Evergreen Crafts
Ancient Chinese, Hebrews, and Egyptians viewed evergreens as symbols of eternal life. It was and continues to be a lovely way to bring green into your home during the harsh winter months.
The ability of evergreens to stay green all year round also makes it an interesting science conversation.
I loved this lesson plan shared by Firstieland.
4. Love Languages
Gift exchanges are a trademark of most modern holidays, cards for Valentine’s Day, eggs for Easter, etc. But gifts aren’t the only way to show love. Read and discuss The 5 Love Languages. I was introduced to this concept as an adult, but it completely applies to kids!
FUN FACT: Ronald Hutton, a historian at Bristol University in the United Kingdom, shared with LiveScience that presents were historically shared for New Years. Queen Victoria shifted the tradition in the 1800s when she gifted her family on Christmas Eve.
Sending Christmas Card for Words of affirmation.
5. Snow Science
Another great wintertime question, “Why does it snow?”
Then make your own paper snowflakes. I taught my 6-year-old how to cut his own snowflakes, and now he is slightly obsessed.
6. Winter Songs and Stories
Karaoke! No matter your religious views, who doesn’t love singing about fictional characters, Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa (whoops, sorry if I let the cat out of the bag). There are also more specific winter solstice songs such as “Deck The Halls,” which sings of the yule log.
We also checked out a few of these picturebooks.
FUN FACT: You would be surprised how many Christmas songs are written by other faiths, check out this list of songs written by Jewish composers.
7. Hot Cocoa & Baked Treats
When it’s cold outside, nothing is better than hot cocoa and freshly made cookies. NOTHING. These are my go-to recipes:
- Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Creamy Hot Cocoa
- Chocolate Pretzels
- Aunt Teen’s Creamy Chocolate Fudge
8. Celebrate with a Winter Lantern
Many of the winter solstice festivals around the world celebrate with lanterns. On the longest night of the year, why not play with light? I loved this easy tutorial that recycled to-go cups.
9. Winter Solstice Stroll
What better way to celebrate the changing season than by going outside? Our family is taking some time off for a hike, but if you have less time this week, a stroll around your neighborhood or local park works too.
10. Feed Our Animal Friends
Winter Solstice is a wonderful time to help animal friends and give back to nature. Building bird feeders is an easy way to feed your local birds and critters during the cold winter months. Here is a great tutorial using oranges!
10. Giving Back To Those In Need
Through the harsh winters, ancient people had to support each other. That spirit is still alive and well as people struggle through these hard times. The beginning of winter is a significant time for humankind. Our survival depends on the community, trust, charity, and winter solstice cheer. There are two ways our family is planning on giving back:
I hope you found a few new ways to celebrate! I can’t wait to get busy with these projects this winter break.
Peace & Salam,