Winter Solstice Stories

For the Northern Hemisphere, winter officially begins on December 21st with the marking of the winter solstice. It’s the day when the North Pole tilts furthest from the sun and daylight is at its shortest. Mythical stories of darkness overtaking the light are traditionally shared in many cultures to explain the seasonal change.

One of the most popular is the Finnish myth of Louhi, a witch who kidnaps and holds the sun captive during the winter. She is known for shape-shifting and weaving magic spells. She grows jealous of the god Vainamoinen, who entertains all the forest animals with his music, so she turns into an eagle and swipes the sun and moon for herself! Then Vainemoinen and his companion, Seppo, have to find and return the sun to the sky. To learn more, read or listen to Louhi Witch of North Farm together and play a game of hide-and-seek with a paper sun.

Another traditional tale involves the Kallikantzaroi of Greek folklore. These goblins live underground sawing at the roots that hold the earth in place. During the twelve days of Christmas, they scramble out of the earth and cause mischief while the sun ceases to move. They steal people’s holiday treats and play tricks that disrupt human festivities. Share Gregory Miles’ book, Kallikantzaros: The Christmas Goblin with children and brainstorm some fun but harmless holiday tricks to play on each other.

The story of the Scandinavian sun goddess, Beiwe, bears some similarity to tales of Santa Claus. She flies across the sky in a sleigh, pulling the sun behind her as she looks for evergreens to feed her reindeer. Her hunt takes her below the horizon, where the sun disappears for 40 days. Families tell her tale while burning a Juul (Yule) log, which mimics the light and heat of the sun. Take turns imagining that you are Beiwe, flying the sun across the sky. Or pretend you are reindeer racing each other across a field to feast on the evergreens Beiwe brings.

Another Santa-like figure is Saule, the Lithuanian/Latvian reindeer goddess. Saule flies her reindeer-powered sleigh through the night and sprinkles amber pebbles on the earth like sundrops. She also catches sunlight and spins it into bright shining rays. Paint small rocks bright yellow and place them around the room to remind you that sunny days will return. Or cut strips of yellow paper and create paper chains that stretch like sunbeams across the ceiling.

Like Saule, Tomte, the Swedish gnome, is known for his helpfulness. Traditionally represented with a white beard and cone-like red hat, he awakens on the winter solstice and helps care for children and animals. However, he is sensitive to bad behavior and will cause mischief if kids misbehave or adults are disrespectful. Read The Tomten or The Tomten and the Fox (both by the author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren) and create a list of holiday chores that need attention. Then pick tasks from the list, don a pointy red hat, and pretend you’re Tomte making quick work of what needs to get done.



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