In 2020, the winter solstice will occur at 10:02 UTC on December 21. This means that those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will welcome the winter on Monday, December 21, 2020, at 2:02 AM PST, 5:02 AM EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. Have all your questions answered below!
Winter solstice, also known as the hibernate solstice, and Yule, is the astronomical first day of winter. The moment that the winter solstice occurs, happens at the same moment all over the world–but is converted to local time.
One of the most interesting facts about the solstice is that the southern hemisphere welcomes the summer, and celebrates the summer solstice, at the same moment that the Northen Hemisphere welcomes the winter.
Are you confused yet? Not to worry… We answer all of your frequently asked questions about the winter solstice, and, share a list of traditional winter solstice celebration ideas below!
What is Solstice?
There are 2 solstices in every calendar year; one is in December while the other is in June.
The solstice happens at the exact same moment all over the world, while the season that you welcome depends on the side of the equator that 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.
The solstice marks the point in time that one of the Earth’s poles is in its maximum tilt toward the sun while the other is tilted away from the sun.
What is Winter Solstice?
The solstice marks the moment in time that one of Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt. On the day that the winter solstice occurs the sun travels its shortest path through the sky.
The hemisphere that is tilted away from the sun experiences the cooler temperatures of winter, while the hemisphere tilted towards the sun, experiences the warmer temperatures of summer.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is the moment when the path of the sun is at its southernmost descent in the sky and usually happens between December 21 and 22.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is the moment at which the sun is at its farthest north in the sky that usually occurs between June 20 and 21.
The diagram below illustrates the tilt of planet Earth at the moment of the summer solstice and the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.
On the December Solstice, the South Pole is tilted 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 are reversed.
In other words, the December Solstice marks the astronomical end of the fall and 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, between June 21 – 22 in the Southern Hemisphere. On rare occasions, the solstice can happen just outside of those date ranges.
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 and the nights get shorter until the longest day and the shortest night of the year is reached on the summer solstice.
The spring and fall equinoxes occur in between the winter and summer solstices when day and night are said to be equal. Learn more about the spring and fall equinox at the links below!
When is Winter Solstice 2020?
In 2020, the winter solstice will occur on Monday, December 21 at 10:02 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). This means that the solstice will occur at 2:02 AM PST, or 5:02 AM EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. (source)
Related: Winter Tree Art
Winter Solstice Yule Traditions
In ancient times, people grew afraid when each day held fewer and fewer moments of sunshine than the day before. As the days continued to get shorter and the nights longer, they feared that one day there would be no daylight left.
Once these ancient civilizations began measuring the hours of daylight through the passing of the year, they realized that after the winter solstice, the sun began to make its return.
Christmas marks the returning light of the sun, marked by the shining star rising over the evergreen treetops earlier than it did prior to the day of the winter solstice. This was, indeed, something to celebrate. Each year held no promise that the sun would return, until the day that it did.
As a result, winter solstice traditions and yule celebrations were created to celebrate the “birth of the sun.” As such, many contemporary holiday or Christmas traditions were borrowed from these ancient pagan winter solstice celebrations.
Traditional Solstice Folktales
During winter is the time of year that we begin to tell children the tales of Santa and his flying reindeer. Why not also share the stories that influenced these modern-day tales?
The legend of Santa Clause and his reindeer have origins in folktales from around the world. The two most notable being the legend of Saint Nicolas, the patron saint that gifted children in need, and, the “Deer Mother.”
In ancient times people believed that it was the deer mother that took flight on the darkest longest night of the year. She was said to carry the life-giving light of the sun back to the land, in her antlers, and into the new year. (source)
After learning about these ancient folktales, I’m pretty sure I know why Rudolf had the brightest light that guided the sleigh through the skies!
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 acknowledge our shadow self and the wisdom that it shares with us, so that 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, in order to make way for the rebirth of the sun on the Spring Vernal Equinox.
How to Celebrate Winter Solstice: 18 Winter 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 must be accomplished or things that must be done.
We don’t do everything on this list of winter solstice celebration ideas and you shouldn’t have to either. Create something meaningful for you and your family and you can’t go wrong.
1. Decorate a Winter Solstice Tree
Winter solstice, or, Yule Trees originated as a pagan solstice tradition. Live evergreen trees were decorated to celebrate because they were seen as an eternal symbol of life, during the dark months of winter.
In ancient times, solstice yule trees were decorated with candles, known as Yule Tree Lights, ornaments that symbolized the sun, moon, and, stars, and, presents that were hung as gifts for the gods and goddesses.
Sound familiar? The modern version of a Yule tree is a winter solstice tree, or, the decorated indoor evergreen counterparts known today as Christmas Trees.
Make a Winter Solstice Tree, or Yule Tree, with your family to celebrate the solstice and feed the animals when their food supplies become scarce this winter.
Making a modern-day yule tree is simple, all you need to do is decorate a living tree outside with food for the animals. Homemade bird feeders and garlands made of popcorn make lovely solstice tree decorations!
- 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. Make Winter Solstice Lanterns
Candles and Yule Lanterns are traditionally burned on the Winter Solstice to symbolize the light within each of us, and, bring light to the darkest night of the year.
A Winter Solstice Lantern is a symbol that our own light can continue to shine even as the light and warmth of the sun are waning. Like the Yule Lantern, light, and warmth come from our own heart, from our homes, and, from the fellowship of friends, family, and community.
A few gorgeous winter solstice lantern crafts that you can make with the kids are listed below.
- 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!
- Paper bag lanterns filled with a bit of sand and beeswax tealights, or flameless tealight candles
3. Craft Orange Pomanders for Yule
The orange is a symbol of the return of the sun. Make orange pomanders to celebrate the solstice and decorate and freshen the home for the holidays.
Orange pomanders are also traditionally given as gifts on the solstice to symbolize the love and worship of nature.
- 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 with your kids to help them learn more about yule and the cyclical nature of the seasons.
5. Craft Star and Sun Ornaments for the Christmas Tree
Stars and oranges are symbols of the light of the sun. Decorate your solstice or Christmas tree with sun, or star ornaments to symbolize the return of the sun’s light. A few fun DIY Christmas ornament ideas that you can use are listed below.
- Angel Holding a Star
- Baby Jesus in Walnut Shell with Star Ornament
- Make beaded snowflake ornaments with clear, gold, and silver Swarovski Crystal beads that sparkle like the sun and stars.
- 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 | The Ditzy Druid
- How to Make a Mini Felt Sun | Bugs and Fishes
Yule Sun Craft Ideas
Another fun craft idea for the winter solstice is sun crafts. These sun crafts make fun homemade gift ideas that kids can make.
- Fingerprint Sun Magnets
- Easy DIY Fingerprint Sun Necklaces
- Fingerprint Art Sun Keychain or Backpack Charms
6. 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 really coming back, while today many people stay awake on the darkest night of the year to celebrate, hold reverence, and see 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 continue to get longer and the nights continue to get shorter until the summer solstice.
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.
If you choose to try this, we recommend using organic soy or beeswax candles to light your home and lanterns. The smoke from beeswax candles is much more pleasant for our lungs and bodies than paraffin wax.
8. Have a Candlelight Winter Solstice Feast
In ancient times the pagans would overindulge in order 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 (spiked or unspiked) to serve with your meal.
9. Enjoy a Yule Log
Yule logs are named after the Yule celebration of the solstice. A yule log is a special log that is burned on the night of the winter solstice. The fire is kept burning all night as a symbol of light on the darkest night of the year, and, to help re-ignite the Sun.
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, a piece of the yule log was saved to help ignite the next winters’ yule log.
Yule log cakes were made by those that did not have a hearth or fireplace to burn one. (source) A few recipes can be found below.
- Bûche de Noël (Yule Log Cake) | Delish
- Classic Yule Log | Family Circle
- Gluten-Free Yule Log | Gluten Free and More
- Nutmeg Yule Log Cookies | Woman’s Day
10. Reflect, Release and Transform Darkness into Light
As mentioned above, the winter solstice is considered the seasonal dark night of the soul. Spiritually, it is a time to circle within to honor the light, and, the darkness, that resides within each of us.
Write down everything that 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 other, no matter how big or small it may seem. Let it all go.
Keep writing until you begin to feel a bit lighter. Get it all out. 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.
Having a solstice gathering? Invite guests to join you in this activity.
11. Set Intentions
Once you release and let go of the darkness that is no longer serving you, write down your intentions.
Once I decide on a word to use, I like to spend the winter holiday season creating intentions and resolutions in the form of goals for the new year.
12. Practice Yoga and/or Meditate
The day that the Winter Solstice happens is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. 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. The winter solstice represents the seasonal “dark night of the soul.” What takes place outside of us, must also, take place within us.
In other words, yule is a time to celebrate the light, AND, the darkness, that is both within us, and, surrounding us.
Taking the time to practice yoga and/or meditate on the light within, and, acknowledging the shadow self, can help bring the light of awareness into the darkness.
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 winter activities, such as trying a new art project, sewing a softie or giving snowshoeing a go!
- Plan to start one new thing this winter.
14. 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
- Rhinestone Pinecones
- Acorn Marble Ornaments
- Beaded Snowflakes
- Nature Craft Printable Activity Pack
- 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!
15. Add Natural Winter Decor to your Home
In ancient times, evergreen, holly, and mistletoe were brought inside the home to decorate for the solstice. This winter solstice tradition is yet another solstice ritual that has been borrowed from Pagans and incorporated into Christmas traditions today.
Bring plants indoors from the outdoors to decorate your home for the winter solstice, or head out to a Christmas tree farm to cut down your own tree this year. Another great way to decorate the home for the winter is to make your own winter nature table.
16. 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. Try any of these fun gratitude activities with your kids and family to stay “in gratitude” throughout the long nights of winter.
17. Establish a Daily Rhythm or Routine
Establish a daily routine to help keep your household running smoothly in the new year!
Both children and adults thrive when regular household rhythms are established in the home. Click on the links for more information.
18. Get Outside & Connect
For more outside activities, pop over to have a look at this round-up of fun outdoor learning and nature activities for kids!
Winter Solstice 2020 Celebration Ideas
Remember, this is NOT a must-do list. Choose any one of these winter solstice activities, or, take a moment to teach children a little bit about the solstice and the changing seasons.
Don’t forget 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 that these ancient winter solstice rituals have on how we celebrate Christmas today.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!