Welcoming Winter and the Solstice

December 18, 2012

A few times recently, my daughter has corrected me when I have referred to the winter weather. She knows it’s still autumn, although it doesn’t always feel like it.

But on Friday, the seasons will officially change. It is the winter solstice, the shortest day—and longest night—of the year. We mark this day as the start of winter.

What is the Solstice?
Technically, the winter solstice is not a day but a moment. It is the time when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky (for those of us in the northern hemisphere).

This year, that moment will be at 6:12 a.m. Friday, December 21. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, that is the earliest start to winter since 1896.

The Almanac also explains that the word solstice refers to the way the Sun appears to stand still at this particular moment. The term derives from the Latin for “Sun” (sol) and “stop” (stitium).

Although we call Friday the first day of winter, the wonderful thing about the solstice is that it marks a turning point, after which the nights will start to shorten and the days will lengthen, as the hours of sunlight increase. For this reason, the winter solstice is sometimes called “midwinter.” The return of the light has inspired many celebratory traditions around the world. I know I will enjoy having more time for sunlit expeditions outdoors.

Celebrating the Solstice
Creating a family solstice tradition can be fun, but since many of us celebrate other holidays at this time of year, I recommend keeping it simple. Your celebration could be as easy as going for a “night” walk in the early evening or lighting candles in your yard.

Or you can attend an organized solstice event. Here are a few I know of in Massachusetts:

  • The Boston Nature Center in Mattapan is hosting a solstice event for kids ages 3-11 at 6 p.m. Friday, at which children can make paper luminaries and birdhouses (small fee; preregistration encouraged).
  • Oak Knoll Wildlife Sanctuary will host a celebration including a hike and hot cocoa, starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday and recommended for families with children ages 1 and up (small fee; preregistration required).
  • The Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton is hosting a free celebration with a bonfire and music on Friday at 6 p.m. for ages 5 and up.

Here’s looking forward to some more light!

Photo by Istock.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog, written by Heather Stephenson.

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