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Family Activities

How To Celebrate The Winter Solstice

Written by Erin Feher & Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Erin Feher

As lovely as the holidays can be, they can also be a little divisive, especially in families with mixed spiritual and cultural beliefs. That’s why we love the idea of celebrating the winter solstice. It’s literally a celebration of the imminent return of sun, which we can all agree is pretty great. And the best part? No shopping required. Wondering what exactly the solstice is? Happening twice a year, it marks the exact moment that one of Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt. So, on the day of the winter solstice, the sun travels its shortest path through the sky. And this year, on Thursday, December 21, 2023 at 7:27 p.m. PST and 10:27 p.m. EST, that’s what will happen for us Northern Hemisphere folks (be sure to check your specific local winter solstice sunset time!). Conversely, the Southern Hemisphere will be enjoying summer solstice at the exact same moment, as their half of the globe is tilted towards the sun. (Find out how to celebrate the summer solstice here!). Astronomically, the winter solstice marks the end of fall and beginning of winter, and early pagan winter solstice traditions were created to celebrate the “birth of the sun.” The occasion is marked with sweet and traditional winter solstice rituals—from brewing mulled cider and eating winter solstice foods, to lighting lanterns, reciting winter solstice quotes, striking special yoga moves, and setting intentions for the season ahead. Below, we have rounded up some of our favorite winter solstice traditions so you can make this year’s shortest day a memorable one. Happy winter solstice!

Decorate an Outdoor Edible Tree for the Animals
As an alternative (or in addition to) a traditional indoor holiday tree, decorating a live outdoor tree with biodegradable, edible ornaments for local birds and other creatures makes for a fun project with kids. We love all these edible ornament ideas from around the web, such as citrus bird feeders, peanut butter pinecones, seed ornaments, and classic popcorn and cranberry garlands. Trim the tree and watch the critters come by and enjoy their treats!

Make Happy Winter Solstice Art + Lanterns
Our favorite winter solstice art project is making lanterns—one of the most popular winter solstice symbols of adding light to the darkest day of the year. There are dozens of DIY-lantern projects out there, and it’s really about finding one that works with what you already have at home. We tend to have an abundance of glass Mason jars, so we use colored tissue paper, cut-out sun, moon, and star shapes, and foraged leaves, and adhere them to the outside of a jar using modpodge or white school glue and paint brushes. Once the final decorations are in place, apply one last thin coat of glue on the outside of the lantern, and let it dry for about an hour. Remember to only decorate the outside of the jar, as once it’s all dry you drop a tea light into it and enjoy the warm glow!

Read Winter Solstice Books
What better time to snuggle up under a blanket and read through a stack of wintery-themed books than the shortest (and likely one of the chilliest) days of the year? The winter solstice book The Shortest Day, written by Newbury Medal–winner Susan Cooper and illustrated by one of our favorite mamas, Carson Ellis, is at the top of our family reading list these days. It moves through times to show how the winter solstice traditions and celebrations have carried on and evolved over centuries—from the earliest pagan traditions. It includes the most beautiful winter solstice images and pictures that you’ll want to pour over again and again.

winter solstice traditions

Recite Winter Solstice Quotes, Poems, or Blessings
The book The Shortest Day utilizes the beautiful 1977 winter solstice poem by Susan Cooper of the same name. Take turns reciting different parts of this beloved winter solstice quote or another winter solstice blessing and spiritual winter solstice quotes found online—including the winter solstice poem Mary Oliver wrote, Snowy Night, and pagan winter solstice quotes—with your children. Our favorite is listed below:

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome, Yule!

Incorporate Celtic and Pagan Symbols Of Yule Time
Do some research with your little ones on specific pagan yule time and celtic winter solstice traditions. This might include incorporating a pagan winter solstice symbol—like Candles (Winter Sun), Pine (Healing), Holly (The God), Mistletoe (The Goddess) and the Yule Tree (Renewal)—into your home.

Make A Winter Solstice Food or Craft, Such As Orange Pomanders
This is a simple winter solstice food craft that’s easy to do with kids and one that you will actually want to keep around the house afterwards. Start with firm oranges and a jar of whole cloves. Use a citrus zester to create patterns in the fruit peel and a small toothpick or skinny nail to make holes where you want the cloves to go (the pre-poked holes make it easier for kids to stick in the cloves). Stick the cloves in the fruit and you’re all set. Place a few in a bowl as a fragrant solstice centerpiece, or hang smaller fruit as ornaments on the tree. They also make sweet winter solstice gifts!

Spend The Night By Spiritual Candlelight
Switching off all the electric lights and doing dinner, homework, bath, story time, and more by the light of flickering candles and warm lantern light makes even mundane activities extra special and spiritual, and also makes the long, dark night more real. It also helps everyone appreciate the modern conveniences we take for granted!

Strike Some Winter Solstice Yoga Moves
Welcome the shortest day of the year with a graceful winter solstice yoga sequence. Here is one great 12-step yoga winter solstice practice to get started.

Experience Winter Solstice At Stonehenge (Virtually)
Stonehenge was specifically created to align with the sun on the winter solstice and summer solstice. On the morning of December 22 (not December 21), the 2022 winter solstice sunrise at Stonehenge  will be live-streamed via Stonehenge Winter Solstice on YouTube.

Make Some Wassail
This traditional warming drink is perfect for sipping during a  solstice celebration (and it makes the house smell incredible). For this traditional winter solstice drink, simply combine 2 quarts apple cider, 1 1/2 cups orange juice, 3/4 cup pineapple juice, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 cinnamon sticks, a dash of ground cinnamon, and a dash of ground cloves in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks, pour into mugs, and serve. And for the grown-ups, a splash of rum or cinnamon whisky doesn’t hurt. Combine with other winter solstice food for an over-the-top spread.

Share Funny Winter Solstice Greetings Or Meme
Search the web for winter solstice jokes, winter solstice greetings, and winter solstice funny memes to share with loved ones. (Here’s one to get them started: Knock, knock! // Who’s there? // Yule log. // Yule log who? // Yule log the door after you let me in, won’t you?)

Reflect, Release, Let Go, and Set Intentions For The New Season
The winter solstice is considered the seasonal dark night of the soul. Spiritually, it’s a time to honor both the light and the darkness that resides within each of us. Take small scraps of paper and write down the things that you would like to let go of. When everyone has finished, throw them in the yule log fire, transforming darkness into light. After “letting go,” set intentions for the new season ahead—speak aloud a thing, idea, habit, or practice that you would like to bring into your life.

Happy Winter Solstice!

For more winter family activity ideas, read all about the Danish concept of Hygge, otherwise known as cozy together time!

Write a Comment

  1. Jerry says...

    What wonderful ideas! I plan on doing several of them with my grandchildren this year. Thank you so much!

  2. Anne says...

    Great ideas.Thank you.Will be using lots of them!

  3. Jessica White says...

    So well written! Thank you for sharing ♥️

  4. Carol Kruschke says...

    Wonderful ideas, so glad I visited your site. Thank you for every bit of great info. Especially the Wassail recipe.
    Many Blessings,

  5. Denise Hempfield says...

    This was extraordinary! I can’t wait to do some of these tomorrow! Merry Christmas!

  6. Hilary says...

    Great article. Thanks!

  7. Beth says...

    so much appreciation!!! blessings Happy Solstice!!! 💜🙌🙏💫

  8. Marie says...

    Very interesting

  9. Teresa says...

    Thank you 😊 💓
    Blessed be Solstice and the New Year 🙏 ✨️ 🙌

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