In the midst of all of the holiday hoopla, most people don't even notice the winter solstice. This night, the longest and darkest of the year, is historically a time for reflection on the year gone by and anticipation of the brighter days ahead. The winter solstice is a great opportunity to help children connect to the changes taking place around them in the natural world.
This year the winter solstice will take place on Dec. 22, marking the official start of winter.
If you are thinking of observing the winter solstice this year, use these ideas as inspiration to create traditions and rituals that suit your family.
Light a yule log. Light plays an important role in any solstice celebration. Turn off the lights and burn a yule log in the fireplace. As an alternative, gather around a "yule candle." Use this time to talk about your plans for the coming year.
Make a pomander. Pay homage to the power of sun and light with this simple seasonal craft based around a fragrant citrus fruit. Gather together an orange and a bowl of cloves. Push the stem of the cloves into the skin of the fruit. Hang your pomander from a ribbon and enjoy the natural seasonal scent.
Celebrate outdoors. On Dec. 17, from 6-9 p.m., the North Park Nature Center will host its annual Winter Solstice Festival. Highlights include roasted chestnuts, crafts and a trail walk along a path lit with luminaries. Visit chicagoparkdsitrict.com for details.
Study the science behind the solstice. If the sun is shining on Dec. 22, you can conduct an informal science experiment. Around noon, stand in a sunny spot and measure your shadow. Record this information and repeat the measurement in the same spot around March 21, June 21 and Sept. 21 and note the differences. With a little advance planning, kids could also chart the time of sunrises and sunsets for the month leading up to the winter solstice to observe the changes over time.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.