While the snow has been around for a minute, the winter solstice on December 21 marks the official beginning of winter for us in the Northern Hemisphere. The North Pole is at its farthest from the sun, and with it come our shortest days and longest nights.
Before we understood the Earth’s tilt and solar rotation, various people groups of the north would mark this time of year with celebrations meant to invoke the light and bring back the sun. Candles were lit and placed in trees, evergreen branches hung over doorways, and songs sung in a circle. Though our understanding of the seasons has changed, remnants of these traditions remain in our holiday trees, wreaths, and carols.
The long history of solstice traditions is evident in The Shortest Day, a poem by Susan Cooper illustrated by Carson Ellis. Both lyric and image depict the connections between our present-day traditions and the many cultures that have made meaning out of darkness.
We recently read this book at a youth program and paired it with an interactive retelling of Stone Soup, a classic story of communal eating and resource sharing to warm the body and soul. After storytelling, we then made traditions of our own: fragrant cloves stuck in oranges, ornaments of sun, moon, and snowflake painted with watercolors, and miniature models depicting Earth’s annual trip around the sun.
The long night of winter is upon us, and we have many lineages of traditions to guide us through the season. Whether you have family or rituals of your own, we invite you to share in the many stories, histories, and resources available for all at the library.