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Celebrate the Winter Solstice

There’s something about the solstice, the precise and dramatic moments when one season moves into another. These moments allow us to pause and reflect on the turning of the year, as well as mark the unique joy of each season in numerous small ways.

The winter solstice (December 21 this year for those in the Northern Hemisphere) provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season.

Marked by the longest night and shortest day of the year, winter 2013/14 officially begins at 17:11, Universal Coordinated Time, on Dec. 21 (12:11 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their summer solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains the solstice.

In ancient Rome, the extroverted citizens celebrated the winter solstice for a full and rowdy week called Saturnalia. Though (much) milder in character, my family makes a habit of welcoming each summer and winter solstice with songs, stories, rituals and food, much the way people of many cultures have been bearing witness to the changing seasons and honoring life’s mysteries for thousands of years.

Looking for some simple ways to celebrate the winter solstice with your family? Try these:

  • Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night.
  • Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun-colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes.
  • Use an orange half as a candle holder by hollowing out space for the candle in the orange’s center, and enjoy the light together.
  • Place gold-covered toys or chocolate coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice.
  • Take a walk at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.
  • Take a cue from Scandinavia, where some families place all their shoes together at the winter solstice, in the hope of living in harmony throughout the year.
  • Do a solstice spiral dance to welcome winter or summer (instructions below).
  • Summer solstice celebrants, greet the season outdoors and make a wish on the first star that appears on the year’s shortest night.

Spiral Dance

Gather in a circle and hold hands. Sing or chant simple songs to honor the earth and the changing season while moving slowly in a circle. Have a leader break one handhold and lead the group in increasingly smaller circles within the larger one to form a spiral. Some of our favorite spiral songs:

Wearing Our Long Tail Feathers

The boundaries of the earth,
The planet of our birth,
The sacred Mother Earth.
We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

Witchi Tai Tai

O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
May we all be like eagles, flying so high,
Circling the universe, on wings of pure light.

Here’s some great information about cultural and religious celebrations of winter and solstice around the world. Some civilizations, like the ancient Incans and the Chinese, begin their new years at the winter solstice. (Interestingly, the ancient Mayan calendar marked the new year not at winter solstice but in May, the high point of the agricultural year.) However you choose, join in the global celebration of the solstice, the year’s longest night (or day), and perhaps the return of the light.

Photos – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf. Oranges, Public Domain

Adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, by Susan Sachs Lipman.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

There’s something about the solstice, the precise and dramatic moments when one season moves into another. These moments allow us to pause and reflect on the turning of the year, as well as mark the unique joy of each season in numerous small ways.

The winter solstice (December 21 this year for those in the Northern Hemisphere) provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season.

Marked by the longest night and shortest day of the year, winter 2013 officially begins at 11:12 a.m., Coordinated Universal Time, on Dec. 21 (6:12 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their summer solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains the solstice.

In ancient Rome, the extroverted citizens celebrated the winter solstice for a full and rowdy week called Saturnalia. Though (much) milder in character, my family makes a habit of welcoming each summer and winter solstice with songs, stories, rituals and food, much the way people of many cultures have been bearing witness to the changing seasons and honoring life’s mysteries for thousands of years.

Looking for some simple ways to celebrate the winter solstice with your family? Try these:

  • Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night.
  • Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun-colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes.
  • Use an orange half as a candle holder by hollowing out space for the candle in the orange’s center, and enjoy the light together.
  • Place gold-covered toys or chocolate coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice.
  • Take a walk at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.
  • Take a cue from Scandinavia, where some families place all their shoes together at the winter solstice, in the hope of living in harmony throughout the year.
  • Do a solstice spiral dance to welcome winter or summer (instructions below).
  • Summer solstice celebrants, greet the season outdoors and make a wish on the first star that appears on the year’s shortest night.

Spiral Dance

Gather in a circle and hold hands. Sing or chant simple songs to honor the earth and the changing season while moving slowly in a circle. Have a leader break one handhold and lead the group in increasingly smaller circles within the larger one to form a spiral. Some of our favorite spiral songs:

Wearing Our Long Tail Feathers

The boundaries of the earth,
The planet of our birth,
The sacred Mother Earth.
We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

Witchi Tai Tai

O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
May we all be like eagles, flying so high,
Circling the universe, on wings of pure light.

Here’s some great information about cultural and religious celebrations of winter and solstice around the world. Some civilizations, like the ancient Incans and the Chinese, begin their new years at the winter solstice. (Interestingly, the ancient Mayan calendar marked the new year not at winter solstice but in May, the high point of the agricultural year.) However you choose, join in the global celebration of the solstice, the year’s longest night (or day), and perhaps the return of the light.

Photos – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf. Oranges, Public Domain

Make This a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring frenzy and stress. Budgets and available time and resources are stretched. We schedule so many activities that we become tired and unable to enjoy all of them. We spend extraordinary amounts of our time in crowded stores, parking lots and post offices. Why? Because we internalize societal messages that tell us we have to give our families a “perfect” holiday, which means taking advantage of every possible option and gift, often at the expense of true family meaning and fun.

How can we take back our holiday seasons?

Set a family intention for the holiday season

Intentions are extremely powerful. It will help you and your family if you determine and express exactly what you do want this holiday season. What is important to the family? Time spent together at home or out at parties? A family vacation? Treasured traditions (and which ones)? A shower of gifts? Discuss your intentions as a family and perhaps arrive at some new ones.

Question or limit consumerism

This act will help many families derail stress. Decide on a gift limit, say one or two per person. Offer to forgo traditional gifting with extended family members or office mates. Instead, try something fun like a “Secret Santa” activity, in which participants choose names from a hat and gift that one person a gift, instead of every person in the group. Other things you can do include supporting local small businesses and artisans, and choosing gifts that will get a great deal of use because they inspire creative play or exploration, or even gifts of time and activities.

Be a holiday tourist

Limiting consumerism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy commercial holiday fun. Lots of towns and cities employ beautiful shop windows and other holiday and light displays. Find one near you and see how much more you and your family enjoy them when you’re not rushing by with a lengthy shopping list.

Visit your favorite holiday traditions, or create new (and inexpensive) ones

Holiday time can be extremely meaningful and memorable. Often, family memories are deepened when they attach to repeated fun rituals. These can include enjoying a holiday play, pageant, ice show or staging of a ballet such as the Nutcracker each year; attending a holiday tea; addressing cards together; making your own gift wrap; decorating your home; putting out cookies for Santa; enjoying holiday movies or books; playing old-fashioned games by firelight; playing in the snow; taking a holiday walk; or one of our frugal favorites, enjoying local holiday light and decoration displays. (These are often published in local papers.)

Gather for crafting and food

Holidays offer plenty of gathering time. Why not gather around fun, homemade activities? Make food together that is unique to the season, such as egg nog, apple butter, latkes or holiday cookies. Host a cookie exchange, to which guests each bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. Put all the cookies on a table and have guests walk around the table, taking one of each until the cookies are gone. (Serve guests a hearty or potluck meal before the cookie exchange, if you’d like.) Or make a gingerbread house or simple crafts like doily snowflakes. (Instructions below.)

Get outdoors

Often we get so carried away with some aspects of the holidays that we miss others. Holiday time can be a lovely time to enjoy nature. Often there are less other people on the walking trails and in the parks. Live in a snowy place? Make a Snowman Kit and keep it handy: Collect and store together coal pieces, rocks, or buttons for eyes, and woolens such as a knit cap, scarf, and mittens. Have carrots handy in the fridge. When the snow hits, take your kit outside and create your snowman, adding branches, twigs, evergreen boughs, and other items.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season. Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night. Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun- colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes. Place gold-covered toys or chocolate
coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice. Take a walk together at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.

Say no to some activities

As you’re saying yes to some of these new, fun activities, you might find yourself needing to say no to others. Do you really have to attend every office, school and neighborhood party or event? Decide which activities truly give you pleasure and try to guiltlessly skip the ones that don’t. The same goes for holiday cooking, decorating and other activities. If something isn’t pleasurable, no matter how much it fits into your idea of a “perfect” holiday, opt to do something you enjoy instead.

Give to someone less fortunate

There are many opportunities to serve and give over the holidays. Help at a local food kitchen, or participate in a toy or book drive. Or consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a worthy non-profit or other organization. These gifts may have much greater meaning than additional trinkets or things for families that have plenty.

 

Paper or Doily Snowflakes
These snowflakes grace our windows each winter.

You’ll need:
• Doilies, or paper in circle or square shapes
• Scissors
• Ribbon, optional

Fold a doily or paper circle in half, then in half again, and then
in half again, resulting in eight wedge- shaped layers, or fold a
square piece of paper in half to form a triangle shape, then in
half again. Then fold both halves of the triangle in toward the
middle, so that there is one pointy top, with the pieces overlapping,
and two pointy ends sticking down. Trim the bottom to
cut the pointy ends off.

Cut out small shapes along the folds or ends, such as triangles,
half circles, or swirling edges.

Unfold the paper and enjoy your snowflake. You may wish to
string many snowflakes together on a piece of ribbon to create
a garland decoration.

Craft adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Happy Winter Solstice 2011!

Winter Solstice is just about here, in the Northern Hemisphere — Our longest night and shortest day of the year, when Winter will officially begin at 5:30 a.m., Coordinated Universal Time, on Dec. 22 (12:30 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, 9:30 p.m. 12/21 on the U.S. West Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their Summer Solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains how the Solstice occurs.

This link illuminates cultural and religious celebrations from around the world that mark the Winter Solstice, the year’s longest night, and the return of the light. I was interested to learn that the ancient Roman 7-day festival, the Saturnalia, sometimes slipped into debauchery, but also included the postponing of war. Locally, (and currently), in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration in the Muir Woods that my family has attended many times. It occurs rain or shine, and will take place Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Muir Woods National Monument, from 3-8 p.m. The event, which is free with a park entrance fee, includes Winter woods-inspired crafts, such as making Solstice crowns; singing, storytelling, and a shadow puppet show; hot chocolate for purchase; and the beautiful ancient Redwood-lined trails of the park lit with luminaria, and often ringing with the voices of choral performers. Attendees should dress warmly, bring flashlights and prepare to have fun. Perhaps there’s a Solstice celebration in your area. Let us know!

Photo – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf

Look up! It’s the Geminid Meteor Shower and a Lunar Eclipse

Now playing overhead: The dramatic Geminid Meteor Shower, which many astronomers agree is the best meteor shower of the year. Following that,  stargazers could keep their necks craned for 2010′s only complete lunar eclipse, which coincides with Winter Solstice December 21.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is forecast to peak late Mon./early Tues. Dec. 13-14, between around midnight and sunrise, in North America. If you can’t stay up that late, not to worry — astronomers tell us that some meteors should be visible as soon as darkness hits. In addition, the shower lasts for days before and after the peak date, and there have already been reports from around the world of people spotting spectacular fireball-like celestial streaks.

What is a meteor shower?

Meteors occur when the Earth passes through streams of dust and debris from ancient comets which have entered the Earth’s atmosphere. (When the comet has flown close to the sun, its dirty ice evaporated and that, in turn, caused the comet dust to spew into space.) Scientists believe that the Geminids actually come from an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon, which is really the skeleton of an extinct comet. The Earth passes through this particular debris stream each December, and is said to originate near the constellation Gemini.

How to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

Good news! The Geminids should be visible with the naked eye in North America and perhaps in other parts of the world. Sky watchers in cold climates should bundle up, grab a chair (ideally one with some neck support), and perhaps a blanket, head outside where you can see the largest patch of night sky possible (with as little city light as possible), and look up.

Because meteor showers last for days before and after the projected peak, be sure to scan the skies during the surrounding days, if you can. This time of year, clouds can obscure the Geminids on the peak day, as can the moon, which will be in its first quarter.

A thermos of hot chocolate is a great accompaniment for the Geminids.

This shower has been getting stronger every year it’s been recorded, going back the the 1860s. It could be “an amazing annual display”, according to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

This American Meteor Society page is a great site for exploring more about the Geminids and where and when to see them in your local night sky.

This movie of the 2008 Geminids comes from a space camera at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rad3qkxxs5E&rel=0&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]

After the Geminids, night-sky gazers can look forward to a full lunar eclipse that will coincide with the winter solstice Dec. 21.

What is a Lunar Eclipse?

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through a point in its orbit when the Earth is directly between it and the sun, and the moon is in the shadow of the Earth.

In the Western Hemisphere, the eclipse will “officially” begin on Dec. 21 at 12:29 a.m. EST (9:29 p.m. PST on Dec. 20). As with the Geminids, the best way to see the eclipse is to hope for clear weather, go outside, and look up. It takes about 45 minutes to notice any changes in the moon’s appearance as the shadow moves slowly across it. The lunar eclipse should be visible in North and South America, the northern and western part of Europe, and a small part of northeast Asia. A complete lunar eclipse won’t happen again in North America until 2014.

Space.com has more great information about the lunar eclipse.


A Solstice Bonfire: Welcome Winter!

I just got back from a big Solstice bonfire in a rural field. There were goats I could barely see bleeting in the background, and I watched as a little girl toasted her first marshmallow over the fire and laughed with unbridled joy.

Into the fire went our wishes and hopes for 2010 or, conversely, the quality, activity or thought we wished to leave permanently behind. Scrawled on paper, the unwanted characteristics caught fire — edges first, and then entire sheets, until they were flaming, at times floating, pieces of ephemera.

The wind shifted, the fire smoked. It lit up the faces of people I had met earlier in the warm house, over Jambalaya and a fantastic, wintery Squash and Mushroom Soup. There had been lots of great talk and dancing, people of all ages. One woman continued to burn personal papers from a long-term task, just ended today. She methodically lifted envelopes out of a shopping bag and into the fire. I saw tax returns, the Blue Cross logo — highly earthly reminders of the present — as she continued her own ritual, her own moving on, just as the Ancients had done when they gathered to lurch (sometimes frightened) from past to future, to warm themselves together in Winter and greet the recurring miracle of returning light.

Above us, the Pleiades shifted in their faint group. People sought out the Big Dipper, which was especially low on the horizon. A perfect crescent moon, angled like a cradle as if on a stage set, rose and hung orange in the inky sky. When we reluctantly left, our host invited us back to see the baby goats that would arrive on this same spot in the spring.


Photo: Jon Sullivan, pdphoto.org

Happy Winter Solstice!

Winter Solstice is just about here, in the Northern Hemisphere — Our longest night and shortest day of the year, when Winter will officially begin at 9:47 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Dec. 21.  At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

For the many who, unlike me, yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year and like hunkering down on the longer nights.)

Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their Summer Solstice and their longest, sunniest day.

This is a great site that explains how the Solstice occurs.

This link illuminates cultural and religious celebrations from around the world that mark the Winter Solstice, the year’s longest night, and the return of the light. I was interested to learn that the ancient Roman 7-day festival, the Saturnalia, sometimes slipped into debauchery, but also included the postponing of war.

Locally, (and currently), in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration in the Muir Woods that my family has attended many times. It occurs rain or shine, and will take place Monday, Dec. 21, at Muir Woods National Monument, from 3-8 p.m. The event, which is free with a park entrance fee, includes Winter woods-inspired crafts, such as making Solstice crowns; singing, storytelling, and a shadow puppet show; hot chocolate for purchase; and the beautiful ancient Redwood-lined trails of the park lit with luminaria, and often ringing with the voices of choral performers.

Attendees should dress warmly, bring flashlights and prepare to have fun. Perhaps there’s a Solstice celebration in your area. Let us know!

Photo – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf

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