Weather permitting we try and spend a lot of the day outdoors. At our old house we would have had a bonfire but being in town and at a rental house it seemed prudent to skip that for this year! We typically collect greenery, herbs, holly, etc to decorate a "yule" log for our dinner table. This year I realized that I didn't have my herb garden and holly tree anymore so Peter took the kids on a walk through the neighborhood to forage, they got to knock on doors and ask if they could take a few cuttings from various holly trees and evergreens. Great way to introduce yourself to your new neighbors!
In addition to spending time outdoors we limit the use of electronics and try to keep the day as calm as possible. It is a good time to talk about the year you had, things you want to let go of, things you want to change.
Dinner is by candlelight and foods that are yellow/orange or round in shape, all to resemble the sun. This year we had pumpkin soup, sweet potato, oranges, carrots and cheese.
During dinner we listen to solstice music, I would describe it as earthy, celtic, relaxing. We read some poems about the solstice and talk about our year. It is such a peaceful, calming dinner, it is amazing how mellow the kids are.
The book talks about the short winter days and how the children look forward to summer.
"On short winter days, children bundle in warm clothes and walk through a frosty white world, dragging long shadows behind them."
"On long winter night, families eat dinner while it's dark outside. Children wonder when the days will get long again so they can play outside after dinner like they did in summer."
The books tells some of the ancient beliefs and practices of the winter solstice.
It talks about the different customs around the world....
And even a brief description of the Equinox.
Another nice book is The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson.
It begins with the ancient pagan customs of a Scottish family.
It talks about how different cultures celebrated the Winter Solstice, the Romans, Celts, the Peruvians, and more.
We also really like Night Tree by Eve Bunting.
This isn't a book about the solstice but fits in quite well. One of the things we like to do on the solstice is put out food for the birds, squirrels and small animals. Making treats to hang outside can be a really fun craft for the children. This book tells the story of a family that has a tradition feeding the wildlife. It is a beautiful story and the illustrations are lovely.
As Susan Cooper says in her poem "The Shortest Day",
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.