This has been a year of making new traditions, with Annabelle finally old enough to get excited and to help with the making and executing of plans for our family shenanigans. Everything we did in her first two years has been taken to the next level, and it really adds to the magic and wonder of it all. It has also been a year of thinking and evaluating traditions as we determine what we want to focus on in our celebrations and how.
Being culturally American, I always celebrated Christmas, but I don’t have many memories of specific traditions associated exclusively with it that I’m compelled to carry on with my own children. We did gifts, sure, but for the most part I look back and feel a bit bummed at the sense of entitlement I felt to those gifts. Not only did I have a long list of requests, but I honed my negotiation skills as I convinced grandparents to combine their birthday and holiday budgets to get me the big ticket items I knew cost more than the amount they spent on each of us for Christmas. We also believed in Santa, though I’m not really sure why, because none of the gifts under our tree were credited to him, and I knew that mom had selected each of our stocking stuffers. As the most deeply religious one of the bunch, a few times I all but forced my family into sitting around the living room on Christmas Eve to listen to the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth, but that one never did stick either. The one thing I do remember is having extra time to be with family, and that’s the one thing I still appreciate deeply today.
These days, the most prominent feeling I have around the gift giving tradition is stress. In fact, a few years ago the husband and I let our families know that we were simply opting out. I love to give to others when I happen upon just the right thing that I know they’d want or need, but finding things to buy for people so that I can check their name off a list at a specific time of year just doesn’t put me in the holiday spirit. The Santa tradition is one that we decided we didn’t want to carry on either. I think the way many families do it is lovely, but it doesn’t jive with our personal philosophy, so we enjoy the Santa story as a fictional one. We still love The Polar Express and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, of course. At this point, neither the husband nor I is religious either, so the Biblical Christmas story is another element we simply enjoy as a piece of literature and of history that is deeply important to some of our loved ones.
With all of those elements stripped away, there’s not much of anything left to Christmas for us, but I so love the holiday cheer and couldn’t see missing out on a good celebration. After much thinking, I came up with a plan that I thought would work well for us, and it has. As lovers of science and observers of the natural world, it only makes sense that the event that should be the center of our celebrations is the Winter Solstice. Of course we follow the Gregorian Calendar as well, so December 31st is always an exciting day as we say farewell to another year and usher in the next, so I figured we’d start celebrating on the date of the solstice and keep on going into the New Year. Of course most of the people around us celebrate Christmas on the 25th, so this will likely continue to be a special day, if only because we’re busy calling loved ones to wish them a wonderful day. The tree, decorations, cookies, and other bits of cheer we associate with the holiday season are still relevant, too, which is perfect, because I can’t see missing out on those!
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
This year, in the days leading up to the Solstice, we read The Shortest Day, and made preparations for a day of celebration on the 21st. I was so very disappointed that I didn’t have my good camera to use to document it all, but I have some poor quality proof thanks to my cell phone anyhow.
First, we made candles, both to use on the Solstice day, and to send to loved ones to wish them a happy holiday. Next, we set to work on various other ways of bringing light into our home. Annabelle made yellow paintings and we punched star shapes out of them and set them aside to use in decorating the Solstice dinner table.
Next, we set to work on a star garland for the dining room window. We had eaten take out from a favorite restaurant, and I had cut stars out of the thick paperboard from the top of our food boxes. I gave them to Annabelle to decorate, and when she had finished, I used a needle and thread to string them.
I also purchased a set of muslin bags and this festive stamp. Using these two things, along with a gold ink pad and a few stamps I already had, Annabelle helped me decorate 11 bags which I would later string and hang as a countdown calendar to the New Year. I have so enjoyed all of the wonderful activity-based Advent calendar ideas I’ve been seeing around the web, but since we weren’t planning anything super special on Christmas day, I figured we’d count down this way instead. Inside each bag, I placed an index card on which I had written the special holiday activity planned for that day in gold ink. Each morning when she wakes up, Annabelle pulls the card for that day and we read it together, then count the number of days remaining in the year.
The simple goodies we’re sending to our loved ones will be timed to arrive in the New Year, so making them has been part of the countdown, and has given us an opportunity to think of these special people as we enjoy this time. The threads that have run through our celebrations are the same as those that run through all other winter celebrations: light, and family – and I love that. One of the first things we did as we prepared to celebrate this season was to paint a mural on banner paper, which now hangs in our dining room. Annabelle cut apart photos I printed of her aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents, and taped them wherever she pleased on the backdrop of a city we created. We’ve been attaching the beautiful photo cards we receive in the mail to remember other loved ones, too. My goal in doing this was to have a visual available for Annabelle to think on as she helps me prepare envelopes to send off.
Anyway, back to Solstice Day, we opted not to use any artificial light in the house. We used the candles we had made, some we had bought, and the light of the sun. Of course this made the lack of sunlight on this particular day all the more obvious. In the morning, we dressed in bright yellows and oranges and went downstairs to eat breakfast and make pomanders. The plan was to spend part of our morning decorating one of the trees in our yard for the birds and squirrels. Annabelle loved this idea, but had no interest in making the pomanders I planned to hang with ribbon. Fortunately, some wonderful friends had sent us some dried orange slices to hang on our tree, and the children’s Grammy had sent a felted bird house, so we were able to decorate using these things instead. We bundled up and headed outside, where I was thrilled to see that the Winter Jasmine beside our front porch was suddenly in full bloom. We had discussed the fact that our shadows would be shortest on this day, and hoped to take a “shadow walk” after our decorating so that we could see for ourselves. It was too cloudy to see any shadows at all, however, and very cold and windy, so we ended up coming back inside.
Later in the morning, I put on the yellow nursing necklace that my brilliant friend Kristal sent me, and Annabelle wanted a necklace, too, so I pulled out a length of ribbon and some orange and yellow beads and she made one of her own. The rest of the day was spent reading and talking about Solstice and baking our carrot cake yule log. The cake was inspired by an image on Pinterest, and was the biggest baking fail I have ever been responsible for – both the first and second try. It was tasty, though. In future years, I think I’ll make a regular round carrot cake – it’s more of a sun shape anyway, right? And still appropriate colors. While I was working on round two of our cake, I measured out some ingredients for Annabelle and she made some salt dough, which we cut into star shaped ornaments to decorate and take to our neighbors.
As the sun set, we lit more candles and prepared the table while I put the finishing touches on dinner. When meal planning for the week, I had found a really tasty sounding recipe, which included both citrus and greens. It seemed like the perfect Solstice meal, and was appropriately simple for a day when I knew I wouldn’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen. Fortunately, it worked wonderfully and somewhat made up for the goopy mess of a pile that was our cake. Before we ate the meal, we took an idea from the book The Shortest Day and sang, “We Wish You a Merry Solstice” to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and lit one little candle in a special, sun shaped holder I’ve had for years and didn’t realize I was saving for this special tradition.
After dinner, we took a candle upstairs and got the children ready for bed. We had been waiting for months to read the Winter section of Annabelle’s book of poetry – Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature on this occassion, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more excited to read anything. Annabelle was thrilled, and reading by candlelight made the poems even more exciting, accentuating the themes of winter and light in the darkness.
Thanks to an idea from this post about celebrating Solstice on Rhythm of the Home, I had a “sunshine bag” waiting for Annabelle the next morning, to celebrate the return of the light and gradually lengthening days. I simply cut two circles of orange felt and blanket stitched them together with yellow embroidery floss, leaving an opening in the top so that I could fill the “bag” with clementines and dark chocolates. This was a last minute addition to our plans for Solstice, so I didn’t get much time to prepare it, but in future years, I’d like to make it even more special, and of course we’ll include Elliot, too.
Since then, we’ve simply been enjoying our countdown. I selected a couple of new board games for us to enjoy on New Year’s Eve and we were invited to join some friends for a kids’ countdown to 7pm, so we’re looking forward to that, but I’m still thinking of other ways to make the last and first days of the year memorable and special.
No matter what event we center our traditions around, I want this time be a time of love, light, and reflection for all of us – one that we look forward to all year long. I think we accomplished that, and in a way that feels authentic for us. I look forward to seeing how our traditions evolve and expand in the years to come. I know Annabelle and Elliot will be giving more and more input from now on, and I can’t wait to see where their ideas take us.
Happy New Year!
Do you do anything special to celebrate the Winter Solstice? Have any New Year’s traditions you love? What else do you do to celebrate this time of year?
Disclaimer: Amazon links are affiliate links. Purchases made when you
navigate to amazon through my site help to offset the cost of hosting for
Vibrant Wanderings and are deeply appreciated! I only link to items I
have used and/or purchased myself and can recommend in good