In 2021, the winter solstice will occur at 15:59 UTC on December 21. This means that those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will welcome winter on Monday, December 21, 2021, at 12:59 PM PST, 3:59 PM EST. Have all your questions answered below!
Winter solstice, also known as midwinter, the hibernate solstice, and Yule, is the astronomical first day of winter. The winter solstice occurs at the exact moment worldwide–but is converted to local time. One of the most interesting facts about the solstice is that those in the Southern Hemisphere welcome the summer solstice when the Northern Hemisphere celebrates winter on December 21.
Are you confused yet? Not to worry–we answer all of your FAQs (frequently asked questions) about the winter solstice and share a list of traditional winter solstice celebration ideas towards the bottom of this article. You may also enjoy our Winter Bucket List filled with winter activities for children and adults, including arts, crafts, and outdoor fun!
What is Solstice?
There are two solstices every calendar year; one is in December while the other is in June. So the solstice happens simultaneously worldwide, but the season you welcome depends on the side of the equator you live on or the hemisphere with which you live.
The reason is a great science lesson for kids–it’s all about the tilt of the sun. Planet Earth sits at an angle of about 23.5 degrees. So at different times of the year, either the northern or southern hemisphere tilts toward the sun.
In other words, the solstice marks the moment in time that one of the Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt toward the sun–while the other pole shifts away from the sun.
What is Winter Solstice?
The solstice is the moment in time that one of Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt. Thus, when the winter solstice occurs, the sun travels its shortest path through the sky. As a result, the hemisphere tilted away from the sun experiences the cooler temperatures of winter, while the hemisphere tilted towards the sun experiences the warmer summer temperatures.
The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches its northernmost position in the sky between June 20 and 21. The winter solstice is thus when the sun’s path is at its southernmost descent in the sky and usually happens between December 21 and 22. The diagram below illustrates Earth’s tilt at the summer and winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.
On the December Solstice, the South Pole tilts towards the sun, and the sun’s rays are directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. Thus, those in the Nothern Hemisphere welcome the winter, while those in the Southern Hemisphere welcome the summer. In June, these reverse.
In other words, the December Solstice marks the astronomical end of the fall and the astronomical beginning of the winter for the Northern Hemisphere, and the astronomical end of spring and the beginning of summer for the Southern Hemisphere.
When is Winter Solstice?
The winter solstice typically falls between December 21 – 22 in the Northern Hemisphere and occurs in the Southern Hemisphere between June 21 – 22. However, on rare occasions, the solstice can happen just outside of those date ranges. For example, leap Day keeps the equinox, and solstice dates are lined up with the seasons.
The day that winter solstice occurs is the shortest day and the longest night of the calendar year. After the winter solstice, the days get longer, the nights get shorter until the longest day, and the year’s shortest night occurs on the summer solstice.
The spring and fall equinoxes occur between the winter and summer solstices when day and night are equal. Learn more about the spring and fall equinox at the links below!
When is Winter Solstice 2021?
In 2021, the winter solstice will occur on Monday, December 21 at 15:59 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). In other words, the solstice will occur at 12:59 PM PST, or 3:59 PM EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. (source)
Related: Winter Tree Art
Winter Solstice Yule Traditions
In ancient times, people grew afraid when the winter days held less sunlight than the day before. As the days continued to get shorter and the nights longer, and they feared that eventually there would be no daylight left. Once these ancient civilizations began measuring the hours of sunlight through the passing of the year, they realized that after the winter solstice, the seasons’ rhythm shifted once more, and the sun made its return.
Christmas marks the sun’s returning light, marked by the shining star rising over the evergreen treetops earlier than it did the day before. The light returning was, indeed, something to celebrate. However, each year held no promise that the sun would return until the day that it did. Christmas is thus a celebration of light.
Winter solstice traditions and yule celebrations celebrate the “birth of the sun.” And, many contemporary holiday or Christmas traditions originate from these early pagan rituals and ancient earth-based winter solstice celebrations–as do many of the folktales.
Traditional Solstice Folktales
During winter, many people begin to tell children the tales of Santa and his flying reindeer. But why not share the stories that influenced these modern-day tales? The legend of Santa Claus and his reindeer have origins in folktales from around the world. The two most notable are the legend of “Saint Nicolas” and the winter solstice “Deer Mother.”
Saint Nicholas was a bishop who helped the needy and gave gifts to young orphans. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving continued to grow into the legendary character we know as Santa Claus today–who brings Christmas presents to children around the world. Learn about Saint Nicolas and more in Christmas Traditions.
The Legend of the Deer Mother
Long before the legend of Santa Claus began, people believed that the Deer Mother took flight on the longest darkest night of the year (the winter solstice) carrying the sun’s life-giving light safely in her antlers–and into the new year. And, wait for it, she drew the sleigh of the Sun Goddess behind her. (source)
She has long been associated with the gifts of fertility, regeneration–and the rebirth of the sun. In ancient drawings and pictographs, her antlers are often depicted as the Tree of Life carrying the sun, moon, and stars. After learning about these ancient folktales, I’m pretty sure I know why Rudolf had the brightest light in the sky!
It is the Deer Mother that has been lighting our way since early Neolithic times. She is still revered today as the “Life-Giving Mother” by many earth-based northern cultures. And, these northern peoples continue to depend on her for their survival every year, because it is the milk she carries that sustains them during the long cold months of winter.
So, let us not forget that the solstice is the time to remember the stories and legends of the Deer Mother–and the life-giving blessings that she continues to bring to each of us during the dark days of winter–fertility, health, wealth, good fortune, love, and light.
The Spiritual Meaning of Winter Solstice
The primary intention of most Yule traditions and winter solstice celebration ideas is to release the dark in favor of the light–both literally and metaphorically–and to welcome back the sun (light) as each new day begins to grow longer and longer.
As we celebrate the light, we must also take the time to spiral within to acknowledge our shadow self, and the wisdom that it shares with us–so we can bring the light of awareness into the darkness.
We are a reflection of the universe that surrounds us. The winter solstice represents the seasonal “dark night” of the soul. What takes place outside of us must also take place within us. Winter is the season of life that we must face our inner darkness to make way for the sun’s return on the Spring Vernal Equinox.
How to Celebrate Winter Solstice: 27 Winter Solstice Rituals & Celebration Ideas
Below you will find a list of modern ideas and traditional ways to celebrate the winter solstice. You may also enjoy Summer Solstice Celebration Ideas. These winter solstice traditions are merely suggestions of things to do on the solstice. It is not a mandatory list of winter solstice rituals that one must accomplish or something one must do.
We don’t do everything on this list of winter solstice celebration ideas, and you shouldn’t have to either. Instead, create something meaningful for you and your family, and you can’t go wrong. Happy solstice!
1. Decorate a Winter Solstice Yule Tree
Decorate an indoor or outdoor yule tree to celebrate the solstice this winter. In ancient times, solstice trees were decorated with candles, known as yule tree lights, and adorned with ornaments that symbolized the sun, moon, and stars. Sound familiar?
The Christmas tree is just one of the many traditions borrowed from early pagan or earth-based solstice rituals. For example, live evergreen trees called Yule Trees or winter solstice trees were brought into the home and decorated because they are considered eternal symbols of life.
The modern-day version of a Yule tree is an outdoor winter solstice tree, or the decorated indoor evergreen counterpart known today as Christmas Trees. Decorating an outdoor winter solstice tree is fun to feed the animals when their food supplies become scarce.
Making a winter solstice tree outside is a fun activity to do with kids. Homemade bird feeders and garlands made of popcorn make excellent solstice tree decorations! All you need to do is decorate a living tree with food for the animals.
- How to Make a Winter Solstice Tree | 95 Acres of Sky for Playful Learning
- Decorating an Outdoor Edible Yule Tree for the Animals | Wilder Child
2. Visit Stonehenge
Celebrate as our ancestors have done for thousands of years inside the Megaliths of Avebury Stone Circle. Some consider sunset at Stonehenge to be more important than the sunrise over the stones on the summer solstice because it aligns with a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset on December 21.
Experience up close one of the wonders of the world’s most well-known Stone Circles. Witness the sun setting at Stonehenge from the ceremonial Avenue on the most important day of the Celtic Calander. Traditionally, hundreds of visitors travel to Wiltshire, England, on the solstice to witness this magnificent event.
Unfortunately, there was no 2020 solstice celebration at Stonehenge. Instead, the Winter Solstice was live-streamed from the stones on December 21, 2020. And, In 2021, the status at Stonehenge remains uncertain as lockdown mandates continue to shift.
However, there are rumors of groups leading tours of the stones. And, Last year it was both easy and free to observe Stonehenge on the solstice on the English Heritage social media channels, which is likely to be the same this year. Learn more about Stonehenge and the stones at solstice HERE–> English Heritage.
3. Make Winter Solstice Lanterns
A Winter Solstice Lantern is a symbol that our light can continue to shine even as the light and warmth of the sun are waning. Like the Yule Lantern, light emanates from our hearts, homes, and the fellowship of friends, family, and community.
Traditionally, candles and Yule Lanterns symbolize the light on the darkest night of the year. Here’s a list of winter solstice lantern crafts:
- Heart Leaf Lanterns | Rhythms of Play
- DIY Winter Solstice Lanterns | eHow
- Ice Lanterns | Kiwi Crate
- Hand Painted Yule Candle Holders | Make your own solstice candle holders. A hand-painted sun would be fun!
- Fill paper bag lanterns with sand and beeswax tealights, or flameless tealight candles
Related: Lantern Walk Tradition
4. Host or Attend an Advent Spiral Walk
A winter solstice, or advent spiral walk, provides a lovely way to honor the light and is a common feature at many winter solstice festivals worldwide. Host or attend an advent spiral in 2021! It is a meditative ritual that honors the sun’s light as a reflection of the light that burns brightly within each one of us, even during the darkest days of the year.
5. Countdown to the Solstice
Because many winter advent spiral festivals did not happen in 2020, we created another way to spiral inwards to celebrate the rebirth of the light. Countdown to the winter solstice with this stone advent spiral. A simple way to honor this sacred tradition in your home or classroom!
6. Craft Orange Pomanders for Yule
In many earth-based solstice traditions–the orange is a symbol of the sun–and crafting an orange pomander is thus a sweet and fragrant way to celebrate the return of the sun. Orange pomanders are traditionally given as gifts on the solstice to symbolize nature and the returning light, love, and prosperity–and sweet and happy life. Make orange pomanders to celebrate the solstice, give as gifts, and decorate and freshen the home for the holidays.
Oranges symbolize the return of the sun in many winter solstice traditions because several varieties ripen in December. They also look like bright round suns on long, cold, dark winter days–could you imagine how an orange would appear to you in the dead of winter if you lived off of the land as our early ancestors did? Learn how to make an orange pomander for the solstice with these DIY tutorials:
- How to Make Orange Pomanders | Homemade Gifts Made Easy
- Make an Orange Pomander Centerpiece that Lasts! | Eclectically Vintage
7. Set up a Yule Altar
Choose a space in the home to set up a yule or winter solstice altar. A shelf, small table, dresser top, or nature table make excellent choices. Use beeswax candles, holly, evergreen, and seasonal crafts to decorate your Yule altar.
Reindeer candle holders that symbolize the Deer Mother and the blessing of the life-giving light she continues to bring to us during the dark days of winter are equally lovely.
Any other items that are meaningful to you and symbolize the light, birth of the sun, or represent the longest night of the year are also good choices. Learn more about building a Yule Altar HERE.
8. Make Reindeer Cookies In Honor of The Deer Mother
Bake and decorate reindeer cookies in honor of the Deer Mother on the night of the solstice. In many lands, cookies were offered to nourish the Deer Mother on her journey into the New Year with her life-giving light.
First, use a reindeer cookie cutter and our cake mix sugar cookie recipe, or feel free to use one of your family’s favorite cookie recipes to make reindeer cookies. Next, set them out on the night of the winter solstice as a gift for the Deer Mother. In return, she will bestow us with the blessings of fertility, health, wealth, good fortune, and light.
9. Enjoy a Yule Log
A Yule Log is a special ceremonial log that is lit on the night of the winter solstice or Yule– hence the name Yule Log. It is a ritual performed to help re-ignite the sun. Traditionally a Yule log fire kept burning all night as a symbol of light on the darkest night of the year.
The Yule Log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony.source
In ancient times, the burning of the yule log would take place in a fireplace or at a large bonfire to celebrate Yule; and the return of the light. Traditionally, people kept a piece of the yule log to help ignite the next winters’ yule log.
Yule Log Cake Recipies
Yule log cakes are commonly made by those that do not have a hearth or fireplace to burn one. (source) Here are a few yule log cake recipes:
- Bûche de Noël (Yule Log Cake) | Delish
- Gluten-Free Yule Log | Gluten Free and More
- Nutmeg Yule Log Cookies | Woman’s Day
Modern-Day Yule Log Alternative
Another modern yule log option for those that don’t have a fireplace is a Yule Log Video! I realize that these Yule log options are not ideal, but they are a lot nicer than you think! Or, fire up a merry yule log HERE.
10. Read Books about the Winter Solstice
Read winter solstice books with your kids to learn more about yule and the seasons’ cyclical nature.
11. Make Sun and Star Crafts and Ornaments
Sun and star crafts make perfect decorations for Christmas Trees and Winter Yule Trees because they are common symbols that represent the return of the light of the sun. Make dried orange slice ornaments–and any of these other fun sun or star ornaments on the solstice–with the fun craft ideas below. You may also enjoy this list of DIY Christmas ornaments.
Sun and Star Ornaments for the yule or Christmas Tree
- Angel Holding a Star
- Wishing Star Ornaments
- Christmas Tree Twig Ornaments with a Wooden Star on Top (Contains links to more twig ornaments, including DIY twig star ornaments.)
- Baby Jesus in Walnut Shell with a Star
- Make beaded snowflake ornaments with silver, gold faceted glass or clear Swarovski Crystal beads that sparkle like the sun and stars.
- Invite children to use paint pens to decorate wooden star ornaments, or hang them on the tree as-is for a beautiful natural look!
- Dehydrated Orange Sun Wheel Ornaments | Rhythms of Play
- How to Sew a Mini Felt Sun | Bugs and Fishes
More Sun and Star Crafts for Yule
A few of these simple sun crafts are great homemade gift ideas that kids can make. Invite children to help you make any of these cute sun crafts and hand them out to friends, family, and neighbors as gifts!
- Waldorf Window Stars Craft
- Fingerprint Sun Magnets
- Easy DIY Fingerprint Sun Necklaces
- Fingerprint Art Sun Keychain or Backpack Charms
12. Spend the Night by Candlelight
Many people choose not to use electricity on the solstice and instead enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight. We recommend beeswax candles placed in votives or lanterns lit on the solstice evening if you decide to try this.
A beeswax candle symbolizes that light and love are eternally present, and their smoke is much more pleasant for our lungs and bodies than paraffin wax. And, they also emit negative ions researched to improve health!
13. Have a Candlelight Winter Solstice Feast
In modern times, Thanksgiving and Christmas are seen as a time of overindulgence in food and drink; however, this is another tradition borrowed from pagan equinox and solstice rituals. In ancient times the pagans would overindulge to celebrate “the return of the light” and the food it would bring even though their food supplies had become scarce.
Invite friends and family over for a candlelight feast! Eat, drink, and be merry! Visit your farmer’s market to find locally grown and raised seasonal foods to prepare. Make the traditional winter solstice drink known as wassail (see below) to serve with your meal.
Candlelight Solstice Dinner Tip: If you plan to spend the night by candlelight, eat your solstice meal an hour or two before sundown, and ensure you have plenty of easy snacks ready and available to serve when bellies get hungry after dark! It’s not easy to do the dishes, or prepare food when the lights are off.
14. Enjoy a Cup of Wassail
Make the traditional winter solstice drink known as Wassail (spiked or unspiked) to spread warmth through the body on the darkest day of the year. Wassail is a beverage commonly made from a blend of apples and spices that is served both with or without alcohol added to the recipe. Many of the spices used to make Wassail–cinnamon, orange, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, etc.–are believed to have magical solar and fire associations.
Wassail is a hot mulled cider traditionally made with apples and spiked with bourbon, brandy, wine, or ale with spices added to it–but it can also be enjoyed without any alcohol included. It is a winter drink traditionally shared at Yule to invoke the sun, and bring good cheer as we face the darkness and the long cold winter ahead. Enjoy a glass of hot Wassail with your solstice feast, as you sit by the yule log fire, and throughout the evening. Try either of the Wassail recipes below to make this traditional winter solstice brew.
- Winter Wassail Recipe (spiked or unspiked) | Raising Generation Nourished
- Here We Come A-Wassail-ing: a Yuletide Drink of Good Cheer | Witch Fire
15. Stay Up All Night to Welcome the Return of the Light
Stay up all night on the night of the winter solstice to welcome back the light. In ancient days, people stayed awake to make sure the sun was coming back, while today, many people stay awake on the darkest night of the year to celebrate, hold reverence, and watch the light return.
After the solstice, each day will grow a little longer, and each night will get a little shorter until they are about equal on the spring equinox. Once the equinox has passed, the days get longer, and the nights continue to get shorter until the summer solstice.
16. Reflect, Release and Transform Darkness into Light
As mentioned above, the winter solstice is considered the seasonal “dark night” of the soul. Thus, spiritually, it is a time to circle within to honor the light and darkness within each of us.
First, write down everything you would like to release, and let go of, onto a piece of paper or several tiny scraps of paper. Continue to write down every hurt, every perceived injustice, all judgments against self or others, no matter how big or small it may seem. Let it all go.
Get it all out. Keep writing until you begin to feel a bit “lighter.” Take a moment to honor the messages that the darkness shares with you, and allow these awarenesses to shed light upon the darkest parts of yourself.
Once you feel finished, throw the paper in the yule log fire (or bonfire), and allow the flames to transform darkness into light. If you have a solstice gathering, invite guests to join you in this activity.
17. Set Intentions
After you release and let go of the darkness no longer serving you, write down your intentions. An intention is a thing, idea, habit, etc., that you would like to manifest or make a part of your life. Be specific for best results. After you have a few intentions down on paper, head over to learn how to turn your intentions (or goals) into affirmations–and why!
18. Practice Yoga and/or Meditate
The day that the Winter Solstice happens is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. So, spend time meditating and practicing yoga to bring light to the darkest day of the year!
We are a reflection of the universe that surrounds us, and the winter solstice represents the seasonal “dark night of the soul.” Therefore, what takes place outside of us must also take place within us.
In other words, yule is a time to celebrate the light and darkness both within us and surrounding us. And, taking the time to practice yoga or meditate on the light within and acknowledging the shadow self can help bring the light of awareness into the darkness.
19. Add Natural Winter Decor to your Home
People brought evergreen, holly, and mistletoe inside the house to decorate for the solstice in ancient times. This earth-based winter solstice tradition is yet another solstice ritual incorporated into many of today’s Christmas traditions.
Bring plants indoors from the outdoors to decorate your home for the winter solstice. Cut fresh holly to make a homemade holly berry wreath, or head out to a Christmas tree farm to cut down your tree this year!
Another fun way to decorate the home for the winter is to make a winter nature table. A nature table makes a great place to set up a yule altar. (Scroll up to #6 to learn more about building a solstice alter.)
20. Incorporate The Magical Colors of the Yule Season
Many of the traditional Christmas colors of the season have their roots in age-old customs and traditions. Learn more about the magical colors of the season, traditional color customs, and how to incorporate them into your yule celebrations on Learn Religions.
21. Enjoy Winter Arts, Crafts & Activities
Creating winter arts, crafts, and activities is a great way to welcome the season. Some of our favorite winter crafts and winter art ideas are below!
- Colorful Winter Tree Silhouette Art
- Best Winter Art Projects and Painting Ideas
- Rhinestone Pinecones
- Acorn Marble Ornaments
- Beaded Snowflakes
- Snowpeople Ornaments
- Four Seasons Hand Print Tree – This four seasons 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 filled with Fun Winter Activities for Kids!
22. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude brings abundance. Just because Thanksgiving has passed does not mean that the time to give thanks has. Use gratitude prompts and the “I am Grateful” Printable to get started with gratitude journaling.
Holding gratitude in our hearts during the winter months can ultimately help us live the life of our dreams. “When we are thankful for what we have, we are given more of what we are grateful for and can find greater happiness in life.” Try any of these fun gratitude activities with your kids and family to stay “in gratitude” throughout the long nights of winter.
23. Choose A Word for the New Year
Another fun idea is to choose a word for the new year. Feel free to look at our inspirational word ideas and decide on a “word” to use for 2021. After I choose my word, I like to spend the winter holiday season creating intentions and goals for the new year. Feel free to join me in this activity!
24. Set GOals and Make a Plan to Accomplish Them
Because they divide the year into four equal 90-Day (ish) quarters, the equinoxes and solstices serve as a great reminder that it’s time to do a goal review and set new goals. Have a look at either of the resources below to get started:
25. Plan to 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 winter activities, such as trying a new art project, sewing a softie, or giving snowshoeing a go!
- Make a plan to start one new thing this winter.
26. Establish a Daily Rhythm or Routine
27. Get Outside & Connect
Or, if you have toddlers and preschoolers at home, this winter scavenger hunt has pictures to make it easier for young children to participate.
You might also enjoy this list of fun outdoor learning and nature activities for kids–it contains even more outside activities for kids (and adults)!
Winter Solstice 2021 Celebration Ideas
Remember, this is NOT a must-do list. Instead, try any one of these winter solstice activities, or take a moment to teach children a bit about the solstice and the changing seasons only if you wish. And, please feel free to check out our Winter Bucket List for more fun seasonal arts and crafts.
You may also enjoy Meaningful Christmas Traditions for a Magical Holiday. In it, we continue to share the influence these ancient winter solstice rituals have on how people across the globe celebrate Christmas today.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!