Celebrate the Winter Solstice: 10 Easy Activities for the Family

The winter solstice is the day of the year with the least amount (less than 12 hours) of daylight throughout the whole day. It used to be a day that I dreaded–cold and dark, and did I mention cold?! Then, a few years ago I realized that the great thing about the shortest day of the year is that after that day is over, we gradually get more and more sunlight back in our days. I also realized that many cultures and religions celebrate the winter solstice and I started to get in on the fun.

This year the winter solstice is December 21. I’ve rounded up a few fun ideas to celebrate!

Celebrate the Winter Solstice: 10 Easy Activities for the Family

The Facts

First, get the facts. What is the winter solstice and why does the Earth have seasons and varying amounts of sunlight per day? This short YouTube video will get you up to speed.


Next, what’s a celebration without food? If you want to stick to tradition, you gotta make or buy a Yule Log–the official dessert of the winter solstice. A more kid friendly take on the Yule Log is to burn a Yule Log (just a wooden log decorated with evergreen clippings) in your outdoor fire pit and cook some solstice s’mores. Another option is to serve sunny-side-up eggs and sun chips for dinner with moon pies for dessert! Or, maybe sun and moon shaped cookies for a fun treat. 


My favorite way to celebrate the solstice is by serving up food for the outdoor critters who will have to make it through the darkest (and possibly one of the coldest) nights of the year. This is the tradition that first turned me on to the whole winter solstice celebration in the first place. Consider making bird feeders to hang in the trees as part of your celebration. (Bird feeder inspo here, here, and here)

Round out your solstice observance with a winter solstice walk and lighting of luminaries. Enjoy the uniqueness of the early dark sky and go on a family walk. By 5 p.m. you’ll likely be walking in complete darkness–that doesn’t happen too often during the year! It’s also traditional to make and light luminaries. Cut shapes (maybe snowflakes?) out of lunch-sized paper bags, fill the bottom 1/8 of the bag with sand or small rocks and light candles or battery operated tea lights to light up the darkest night of the year.

Supposedly ancient people began to celebrate the winter solstice because they recognized that the shortest day of the year meant that the season that should not be named was half over–the hump day of winter if you will. I think those people were onto something!

I’ll be celebrating this year–will you?


Kate is the mom to Jack (2006), Liz (2007), and Alice (2011) and an avid Cubs fan through marriage. She's an assistant professor of mathematics and STEM education at St. Ambrose University and also moonlights as a mathematics teacher at South East Junior High in Iowa City. Between soccer, running club, tumbling, and piano lessons she likes to cook, run, and do yoga. She's also a sucker for 5Ks with cool swag and awesome medals.


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