Family Solstice Celebrations

When my children were young, a family friend invited us to a winter solstice party. There were sparklers and glow sticks, lots of flickering candles, party food, and a reenactment of the mythological Sun King’s rebirth. While they didn’t manage to stay up all night to welcome the sun’s return, they did love the symbols and pageantry of the night.

Celebrated on December 21st, the winter solstice marks the shortest day (and longest night) of the year for anyone living north of the equator. It also functions as the astronomical start of winter, although cold temperatures begin weeks earlier in many locations. And it symbolizes hope for new beginnings as growing darkness shifts to increasing light.

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to higher amounts of sunlight improves mood and enhances learning. Even on cloudy days, the sun casts more light than typical indoor bulbs. So this winter solstice, find ways as a family to spend time outdoors. Take a walk, play tag, watch the shadows cast by tree branches dance, or just sit with your faces upturned to catch a few rays.

Your family might also celebrate the winter solstice with light games. Compete to see who can collect (or name) the most light sources in your home or community. Collaborate in a light show, using flashlights to create special effects or shadow puppets in a dark room. Or create a dance competition in which contestants wear glow stick bracelets & necklaces and perform in the dark.

The shift from shorter to longer days also provides an opportunity to explore seasonal stories about darkness and light. Read about the Sun God, known as Helios to the Greeks, Ra in Egyptian culture, and Huitzilopochtli among the Aztecs. Compare beliefs about light in different religious celebrations, such as Diwali (Hindu), Hanukkah (Jewish), and Advent  or Epiphany (Christian). Put on a play about your favorite story, or mash them up into a winter solstice extravaganza!

The December solstice offers a chance to reflect on and renew family goals as well. Since it is when the seasons reset, it is traditionally seen as a time for acknowledging what has withered during the year and making a fresh start. Talk about your family’s values and how you want to live out those principles in the coming year. Set goals and develop benchmarks that will help you see how well you are achieving your goals throughout the coming months.

Finally, the year’s longest night is a great time to dream big dreams. Take a few minutes as a family to sit quietly with your eyes closed and imagine the future. Ask: What amazing things do you imagine will happen to you in the future? What kind of amazing things will you do? Then pull out the markers and crayons and create a mural together that depicts the many good things you see happening in the coming years. Include realistic and fantastical possibilities if that’s what comes to mind.



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