The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. In 2018 the winter solstice happens on December 21, at 22:23 UTC. This means that the winter solstice is at 2:23 PM PST and 5:23 pm EST on Friday, December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere.
Those in the southern hemisphere welcome the Summer and celebrate the summer solstice on the same date at the same time. Click on the link to learn more about the summer solstice.
How to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
In ancient times, people grew afraid when each day held fewer and fewer moments of sunshine than the day before. They feared that one day there would be no daylight left. Over time, they realized that after this day each year the sun started moving towards them again.
As a result, solstice celebrations were created to celebrate the return of the sun. Many contemporary holiday traditions, including Christmas, were borrowed from these ancient solstice celebrations.
The primary intention of most winter solstice celebrations is to release the dark in favor of the light (the old in favor of the new) and to welcome back the light as each new day begins to grow longer and longer.
What is the Solstice?
The day the solstice occurs is the same across the globe, but the season you welcome depends on the side of the equator you live on. The reason is a great science lesson for kids. It’s all about the tilt of the sun.
Earth is tilted about 23.5 degrees. This means at different times of the year, either the northern or the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. When the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun we experience the shorter colder days of winter, while those in the southern hemisphere experience the longer warmer days of summer and vice versa.
Learn More About the Solstices and Equinoxes
Related: Winter Tree Art
17 Ways to Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Below you will find a list of things you can do to celebrate the winter solstice. If you live in the southern hemisphere click HERE for ways to celebrate the summer solstice.
These ideas are all suggestions, not mandatory things that you must do. Create something meaningful for you and your family and you can’t go wrong. Click on the links following each idea to see the full tutorial.
1. Create a Winter Solstice Tree
Many people make a winter solstice tree by hanging food to feed the animals when their food supplies have become scarce on the winter solstice.
- Making a Winter Solstice Tree | 95 Acres of Sky for Playful Learning
- Decorating an Outdoor Edible Tree for the Animals | Wilder Child
2. Make Winter Solstice Lanterns
- DIY Winter Solstice Lanterns | eHow
- Ice Lanterns | Kiwi Crate
- Hand Painted Candle Holders | Use these ideas to create your own candle holder solstice lanterns. A little hand painted sun would be fun!
3. Craft Orange Pomanders for the Winter Solstice
Make orange pomanders to decorate and freshen the home on the solstice for the holidays. The orange is a symbol of the return of the sun.
- How to Make Orange Pomanders | Homemade Gifts Made Easy
- Make an Orange Pomander Centerpiece that Lasts! | Eclectically Vintage
4. Read Books about the Winter Solstice
Read winter solstice books to your kids to help them understand the solstice and the cyclical nature of the seasons.
5. Craft Sun Ornaments for the Winter Solstice
Make sun and or star ornaments to hang on your Christmas Tree to symbolize the return of the sun’s light.
- Dehydrated Orange Sun Wheel Ornaments | The Ditzy Druid
- How to Make a Mini Felt Sun | Bugs and Fishes
6. Stay Up All Night on the Winter Solstice
Some people celebrate by staying up all night on the night of the solstice to be awake to welcome back the light.
7. Spend the Night by Candlelight
Many people choose to not use electricity on the night of the solstice and instead enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight.
8. Have a Candlelight Winter Solstice Feast
Invite friends and family over for a candlelight feast! Eat, drink, and be merry! Prepare wassail (spiked or unspiked) to serve with your meal.
9. Enjoy a Yule Log
A yule log is a special log that is burned on the night of the winter solstice. Traditionally the fire is kept burning all night long to bring light to the darkest night of the year and to help re-ignite the Sun. Traditionally, a piece of last year’s yule log was often saved to help ignite the next years.
Yule log cakes were made by those that did not have a hearth or fireplace to burn one. A few recipes can be found below.
- Buche de Noel with Marzipan Mushrooms | Epicurious
- Yule Log | Cookies on Nigella
- Gluten Free Yule Log | Gluten Free and More
- Nutmeg Yule Log Cookies | Woman’s Day
10. Reflect, Release and Let Go
Write down everything that you would like to release and let go of, onto scraps of paper. Once done throw them in the fire and allow the flames to transform the darkness into light.
Having a solstice gathering? Invite your guest to join you in this activity.
11. Set Intentions
Write down your intentions. An intention is a thing, idea, habit, etc., that you would like to bring into your life. I like to spend the time after the winter solstice creating resolutions in the form of goals for the new year.
12. Practice Yoga and/or Meditate
As mentioned above, the Winter Solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Practice yoga and/or meditate on the light within each of us to bring light to the darkest day of the year.
13. Try Something New this Winter
Solstices and equinoxes are a great time to let go of the old and begin fresh.
- Make a list of things you’d like to try or do.
- Limit your list to activities that make sense for winter such as sewing a softie or giving snowshoeing a go!
- Plan to start one new thing. Don’t know where to start? See Creating Positive Habits.
14. Enjoy Winter Arts, Crafts & Activities
Creating winter arts, crafts, and activities is a great way to welcome the season. Here are a few to get you started.
- Winter Art Projects
- Rhinestone Pinecones
- Beaded Snowflakes
- Nature Craft Printable Activity Pack
- All Season Hand Print Tree – This all season hand and fingerprint tree is a great activity to do with your child to introduce the idea of seasonal changes. Feel free to do all seasons or just a winter tree.
- for more ideas check out our Winter Bucket List!
15. Add Winter Decor to your Home
16. Establish a Daily Rhythm
17. Get Outside & Connect
Get outside and connect with what matters on the equinox. You can start by searching for signs of winter. For more outside activities and information about the Get Outside & Connect Series click on the link.
Remember, this is NOT a must-do list. Pick any activity you like and make it your own.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
More Information about the Solstices and Equinoxes:
- Celebrate the Summer Solstice
- Fun Ways to Celebrate the Fall Autumnal Equinox
- 7 Ideas to Celebrate the Spring Equinox
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the power of the imagination, learning through play, making this world a greener place to live, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…