Happy Solstice!   

Today we celebrate the winter solstice. It is a day that marks the official first day of winter, and is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. We will have the shortest amount of time between sunrise and sunset until about this time next year. The exact time of the winter solstice this year is 10:59 a.m. EST, or 7:59 a.m. PST, but it is usually recognized for the entire day. If you were to head north on this day, the amount of daylight would decrease even more. In parts of Alaska, it will be dark all day.  The opposite will be true in the Southern Hemisphere, where they will experience their longest period of sunlight. The reason these changes in daylight occur is because of the way the earth tilts back and forth on its axis each year. This is also what controls our weather and seasons.    

The winter solstice is one of my favorite days of the year! You may be wondering what it is about the darkness and the winter cold that could make me want to celebrate this day. To me, the solstice signifies a day of hope and new beginnings. It is a day promising that going forward, the days will start to slowly stretch out. I celebrate that, when I wake, I will soon witness the first rays of sunrise as they happen later in the mornings. I celebrate that, before long, there will be more time to hang out on the porch in the evenings and talk with my neighbors or have a barbecue. The additional sunlight will warm the earth and encourage plants and flowers to emerge from their slumber. Of course, I realize that this will only last until the summer solstice in June. However, that is a long way off, and there will be other things to celebrate then.    

We are fortunate in understanding today what causes the amount of daylight to ebb and flow throughout the year. Imagine how ancient civilizations may have felt as they feared that the sun was going out and that they would have to live in darkness. Some thought their gods, particularly sun gods, were displeased. They believed that was the cause of the shorter days. To regain the favor of the gods, they offered sacrifices, built monuments, and held feasts and festivals in their honor. These were the earliest solstice observances. Despite knowing now that the solstice does not signify the end of daylight for good, the winter solstice is still recognized today. Around the world, different cultures and religions honor the day, and often the days around it, in a variety of ways. It is believed that December 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate the Christian holiday, Christmas, because of the proximity to the pagan solstice events of the times. There are also connections between Hanukkah and solstice

Your family may already celebrate winter solstice by observing one of these holidays, or another one. Perhaps you celebrate it as its own special day. If you would like to begin observing winter solstice as a holiday unto itself, why not start today? There is no one right way to do it. Start by drawing ideas from your culture(s) and build from there to make it your own. Here are some things you could try: 

  • Have a feast – Food is significant in many solstice celebrations. Make a favorite family dish, or try something new.    
  • Share stories – Light candles and have a quiet night at home by reflecting on the past year and/or things you’re looking forward to. One way to get the conversation going is to come up with questions and write them on slips of paper. Then, have everyone pick one or more to respond to.    
  • Relax together – Another idea for a family night would be to read together or watch movies. (You didn’t think I’d make it through this a whole post without suggesting reading, did you?) Family game night is another great option.    
  • Celebrate Nature – Since solstice traditions often include honoring nature, make a craft using items you find outside, like this Frozen Suncatcher.   
  • Give thanks – Thanksgiving is not the only good time to express gratitude. In the Rogue Reads adult book selection, Braiding Sweetgrass, author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about the Thanksgiving Address, which gives thanks for the land. 

Check out the Jackson County Library Services Event Calendar.  Several of our branches are offering other winter solstice activities and ideas. Whatever you choose to do, do not make it something that adds stress to the already busy season. Instead, do something that works for you and your family. Use it as an opportunity to slow down, reflect on the year, appreciate nature, and express gratitude for things now and those to come. We’d love to hear what you decide to do. If you’re not currently reading this post from our JCLS Facebook page, hop over and add any new or existing solstice traditions in the comments.