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. 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 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. You may also enjoy our Winter Bucket List filled with winter arts, crafts, and outdoor fun!
What is Solstice?
There are 2 solstices every calendar year; one is in December while the other is in June. The solstice happens simultaneously all over the world, while the season that 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.
In short, 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 at it’s maximum til 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 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 when the sun’s path is at its southernmost descent in the sky and usually happens between December 21 and 22.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is when the sun is at its farthest north in the sky that usually occurs between June 20 and 21. The diagram below illustrates Earth’s tilt at 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 occurs in the Southern Hemisphere between June 21 – 22. On rare occasions, the solstice can happen just outside of those date ranges. Leap Day is designed to keep the equinoxes, and solstice dates 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 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 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 the winter days held less sunlight than the day before. As the days continued to get shorter and the nights longer, they feared that there would be no daylight left eventually. Once these ancient civilizations began measuring the hours of daylight 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 before the day before. This was, indeed, something to celebrate. 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 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, and, the winter solstice “Deer Mother.”
In ancient times, people believed that the Deer Mother took flight on the darkest longest night of the year, carrying the sun’s life-giving light 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 in the sky!
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 to 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: 23 Winter Solstice 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 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. Have a happy solstice!
1. Watch the Stonehenge 2020 Live Stream Event
Traditionally, hundreds of visitors travel to Wiltshire, England, on the solstice to witness this magnificent event. Observers standing in the enclosure entrance that face the stones’ center can watch the sunset over the stones in the south-west part of the horizon.
Unfortunately, in 2020 the solstice celebration at Stonehenge has been canceled. The Winter Solstice sunrise will instead be live-streamed from the stones on the morning of December 21, 2020. It will be easy and free to watch on the English Heritage social media channels.
2. 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 pagan solstice rituals. 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 a fun way to feed the animals when their food supplies become scarce.
Making a winter solstice tree outside is a fun activity to do with kids. All you need to do is decorate a living tree with food for the animals. Homemade bird feeders and garlands made of popcorn make excellent 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
3. Make Winter Solstice Lanterns
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 hearts, from our homes, and the fellowship of friends, family, and community.
Candles and Yule Lanterns are traditionally burned on the Winter Solstice as a symbol of the light within each of us, and, to bring light to the darkest night of the year. A few gorgeous winter solstice lantern crafts that you can make with the kids are listed below.
- 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!
- Paper bag lanterns filled with a bit of sand and beeswax tealights, or flameless tealight candles
Related: Lantern Walk Tradition
4. Advent Spiral Walk
A winter solstice advent spiral walk provides a lovely way to pay homage to the light and is a common feature at winter solstice festivals worldwide. 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.
Unfortunately, many winter advent spiral festivals have been canceled in 2020, so we wanted to offer another way to spiral inwards to celebrate the rebirth of the light. Make your own simple advent spiral with natural materials to honor this sacred tradition in several easy ways. Click the link to learn how!
5. Craft Orange Pomanders for Yule
The orange is a common symbol for the return of the sun. Orange pomanders are traditionally given as gifts on the solstice to symbolize nature and the returning light. Make orange pomanders to celebrate the solstice, give as gifts, and decorate and freshen the home for the holidays.
- How to Make Orange Pomanders | Homemade Gifts Made Easy
- Make an Orange Pomander Centerpiece that Lasts! | Eclectically Vintage
6. 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. Items that are meaningful to you or symbolize the light, birth of the sun, or represent the longest night of the year can also be used. Learn more about building a Yule Altar HERE and HERE.
7. 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. It is a ritual performed to help re-ignite the Sun. The fire is 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, a piece of the yule log was saved to help ignite the next winters’ yule log.
Yule Log Cake Recipies
Yule log cakes are commonly 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
- 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! If you are an Amazon Prime member, fire up a merry yule log HERE. I realize that these Yule log options are not ideal, but they are a lot nicer than you think!
8. Read Books about the Winter Solstice
Read winter solstice books with your kids to learn more about yule and the seasons’ cyclical nature.
9. Make Sun and Star Crafts and Ornaments for the Christmas or Yule Tree
Stars and oranges are symbols of the light of the sun. Make sun or star crafts to symbolize the birth of the sun on the winter solstice. To make this idea even more fun, invite children to make sun and star crafts for the Christmas tree (or Yule tree). Have a look at the list of DIY Christmas ornaments that you can make to decorate your Christmas tree below!
Sun and Star Ornaments for the Christmas Tree
- Angel Holding a Star
- 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 clear, gold faceted glass or silver 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 | The Ditzy Druid
- How to Sew a Mini Felt Sun | Bugs and Fishes
More Sun and Star Crafts
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
10. Spend the Night by Candlelight
Many people choose not to 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 beeswax candles placed in votives or lanterns on the night of the solstice.
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. They also emit negative ions that have been researched to improve health!
11. 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 (spiked or unspiked) to serve with your meal.
Candlelight Solstice Dinner Tip: Eat an hour or two before sundown if you plan to spend the night by candlelight. It’s not easy dealing with the dishes when the lights are off. It is also smart to have plenty of easy snacks ready and available to serve when bellies get hungry after dark.
12. 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 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 continue to get longer, and the nights continue to get shorter until the summer solstice.
13. 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 onto a piece of paper or several tiny scraps of paper. Please 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.
14. Set Intentions
Once you release and let go of the darkness that is no longer serving you, write down your intentions. An intention is a thing, idea, habit, etc., that you would like to make a part of your life. Once you have a few written down, head over to learn how to turn your intentions (or goals) into affirmations and why!
15. 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.
16. 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 the days of old and incorporated into Christmas traditions today.
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 own tree this year!
Another fun way to decorate the home for the winter is to make your own winter nature table. A nature table makes a great place to set up a yule alter. (Scroll up to #6 to learn more about building a solstice alter.)
17. 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 magical colors of the season, traditional color customs, and how to incorporate them into your yule celebrations over on Learn Religions.
18. 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!
19. 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.
20. Choose A Word for the New Year
Another fun idea is to choose a word for the new year. Please look at our word of the year ideas to decide your one little word for 2021. After 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. Feel free to join me in this activity!
21. 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!
- Plan to start one new thing this winter.
22. 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.
23. Get Outside & Connect
For more outside activities, pop over to 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!