The First Day of Winter

In 2012, the earliest winter since 1896 arrives with the winter solstice officially occurring at 6:12 AM on December 21 (EST). It’s the shortest day of the year, and the longest night of the year. This is the day the Mayflower Pilgrims landed at Plymouth where they spent the terrible winter of 1620-21. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has more facts and folklore about the first day of winter.

The Winter Solstice is also called Yule. The name “Yule” derives from the Norse word for “wheel,” to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowpoint, ready to rise again. Yule was the winter solstice celebration of the Germanic pagans. The Romans had big Yule festivals too.

Extend your Christmas celebration or expand upon it with a solstice celebration. If you have any German or Scandinavian roots, it’s a great way to honor your ancestors. As part of your festivities, you can exchange small gifts if you wish. Create a new family tradition or just enjoy the warm companionship! Below are some ideas for how your family can celebrate the longest night of the year.

For an outdoor solstice celebration, go out to your backyard or to another place that’s special to you – such as a park, trail, field, hillside or mountaintop that provides a good view of the setting sun. Can’t go out? Watch the sun set from inside a warm window.

Where permitted, light a bonfire and gather around it to tell stories or sing Christmas carols. (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” can be adapted to “We Wish You a Merry Solstice” for this occasion.) Or simply observe the night sky and look for constellations.

If you have time to spend outside before sunset, help the kids identify winter plants and animals with a field guide on a short walk. Gather some evergreen boughs, holly, mistletoe, or ivy to make a wreath or decorate the inside of your home. Search for a ceremonial Yule log. Have the kids draw pictures of winter scenes in your neighborhood.

Lights are an important focal point of solstice celebrations. With the day turning to darkness so early in the North, it is cheering to look out into the cold and dark at lights sparkling and glittering in the crisp air. This would be a good day to put up some Christmas lights around your house if you haven’t already done so.

You can also decorate your yard by making luminarias and spacing them about a foot apart along the sidewalk to your home, or around your patio. Place candles inside dollar store glass holders or canning jars, punch decorative patterns in tin cans, or use flat-bottomed paper bags. If you use bags, fold over an inch or so of the top to help hold their shape and place some sand inside to weigh them down. Twist a votive candle into the sand in the middle of each bag and light the candles as dusk falls.

To maintain a cozy atmosphere indoors, stick with candles and Christmas lights, relying on whole room lighting as little as possible. If you have a fireplace, fire up your Yule log. If you don’t have a fireplace, gather around your lighted indoor Christmas tree and sing carols. Read Genesis: Chapter One and The Nativity Story. Try writing an acrostic poem in which you use “solstice” as the root word and use each of its letters as the beginning of a line in the poem.

Food is another focal point of many solstice celebrations. You might want to prepare a candlelight dinner of favorite foods. Begin the meal with a prayer of thanksgiving. After dinner, ask friends or family who play instruments to provide music, or listen to a CD of Christmas carols or soft music (such as piano pieces by Debussy, Mozart, or George Winston). Then you can have a quiet evening of games or reading around the fire. This would also be a good time to read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Don’t forget the cookies and spiced cider. Other traditional Yule foods include: caraway cakes, fruits (mainly apples and oranges), nuts, eggnog, and ginger tea. Children can have fun cracking nuts or making clove apples and oranges (see recipe below). You might bake a cake shaped like a sun or decorated with a sunny design. Add candles with each family member lighting a candle while making a wish, and then the family as a whole can blow them out to send the wishes on their way.

Big Comfy Couch “Comfy and Joy” Episode #413 – In Clown Town, the Longest Night of the Year is a festive occasion for Loonette and her clown family to exchange gifts, sing songs and, best of all, stay up all night long to watch the most beautiful sunrise of the year! They welcome the return of the light while wishing each other gifts of comfort and joy.

CLOVE APPLES & ORANGES – To make a clove apple or orange you will need: 1 large red apple or orange, ½ cup whole cloves, and a toothpick (optional). Press the sharp point of each clove into the fruit. Push it in only until the head of the clove shows. You may need a toothpick to help you get started. Continue until the whole fruit is covered with cloves, or you can make some artistic designs on the fruit with the cloves. Display your clove apples and oranges in a basket or bowl out of direct sunlight.

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