• Mara Shanahan

Welcoming and Celebrating the Winter Solstice

As December progresses to the end of the calendar year, the nights getting longer and longer, and the excitement of the season rises to a crescendo, I find myself craving peace and inward reflection. My body tells me "it's time to winter".

Don't mistake me, the fun and joy of the winter holiday season when you have children at home is like no other. I wouldn't trade these times for anything. I do, however, also like to show my son how to enjoy the quiet and especially show reverence for our natural world.


During the month of December, and especially leading up to the day of the Winter Solstice, we have a few activities that we traditionally enjoy as part of our advent activity calendar. Here, we'll take a deeper dive into my favorite natural ways to welcome winter in our house.


Decorate with Nature

Decorating homes with pine, spruce, and fir trees and boughs has long been a tradition in many cultures around the world during the time of the Winter Solstice, as symbols of everlasting life and the hope of the return of the sun and fruitful times to follow. In our home, we have our traditional tree, and I also like to decorate with pinecones, winter berries, and dried orange garlands. Forced amaryllis bulbs and bowls of fresh citrus also find their place in my house during the solstice season.



Dried orange garlands are so beautiful and easy to make. Here is my simple method:


1. Slice 3 large navel oranges approximately 1/4" wide.

2. Blot the slices with a paper towel and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Bake at 200°F for 2-3 hours, flipping halfway through. Keep an eye on them for browning.

4. After cooling, string them on baker's string or jute. Hang where desired!



Celebrate the Winter Solstice

In the Northern hemisphere, on December 21st (sometimes the 22nd), the sun reaches its lowest point on the horizon and the sun sets in its furthest point south, making that day the shortest day and longest night of the year. This is called the Winter Solstice and it officially marks the first day of the winter season.

After the solstice, the days begin to get longer and it is celebrated as the return of the sun.


We like to observe this day by watching the sun set, if the weather cooperates, and then having our dinner by candlelight, with all the other lights in the house turned off. This makes for a magical setting and a wonderful feeling of togetherness.


Bake a Sun Cake for the Solstice

I first made this cake last year as part of our solstice celebration, and it's so delicious that I decided that this will absolutely be a tradition to continue. I found the recipe for this Citrus Solstice Cake and tweaked it just a bit to my taste (I didn't use the rosemary). It was so delicious and beautiful and had just the right amount of sweet and citrus. It was a perfect ending to our dinner by candlelight.



Feed the Birds

I've written about taking care of our backyard bird friends a lot! I love watching the birds any time of year, but winter bird feeding is especially sentimental for me. I love to watch the cardinals and chickadees get so excited for the special nut and berry mix that I pick up especially for them every winter. The bonds made with the local wildlife bring a simple joy and fulfillment for me.

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December

A magical thing

And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring

Than we were in September,”

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

- Oliver Herford


Take a Winter Walk

When the days are chaotic and full, nothing grounds your mind and body like time in nature, moving your body. We like to make sure to take a special day out of the busy weeks of December to go on a local hike.


“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl


Books!

We center much of the rhythm of our lives around books, and I have a great collection of winter books that you can read about on my post about Our Favorite Winter Themed Nature Study Books


Specific to the theme of welcoming the winter season, a couple of our favorites are The Shortest Day - Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer and Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak.


I'm always on the hunt for great, living books. If you have any favorites, please share in the comments!


How do you like to celebrate the coming of the winter season and the solstice? Please share! Happy Winter!




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