Winter solstice, a.k.a. Yule, occurs on the first day of winter, which is December 22 this year.
The shortest amount of daylight is present on that day, and Yule is a celebration of the return of the sun and longer days. Yule is celebrated around the world in many ways, but light and fire are the prevailing theme. Other celebrations of renewal and light also share this time, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. The symbols of all winter holidays mesh together: trees, decorations, candles, gifts, and merry-making… which, by the way, is a phrase that should totally come back into play.
“Hey, what are you doing Friday night? Want to come over and help me pack?”
“No, sorry, I’ve got to do some merry-making.”
There are many ways to celebrate the winter solstice, regardless of your faith or affiliation:
- One of the most common is the burning of the yule log, traditionally a piece of oak that stays lit for twelve straight days, but that’s probably a little excessive, no? It is customary to save remnants of this log for use as kindling in next year’s fire.
- Don’t have a fireplace? Buy or make yourself one of those fancy-schmancy log cakes. Tastes better than wood.
- Light candles around the house as a way to usher out the darkness and bring in the light.
- Give potted trees as gifts to care for a plant in spring.
- Fill bird feeders or make homemade ones with pine cones spackled with peanut butter and rolled in seeds, then hang on a tree. Keep your neighborhood creatures fed during the cold months!
- Donate time or goods to charities and people in need. The theme of giving is universal, especially this time of year.
- Go green with your holiday activities, using your craftiness to repurpose items to make cards, gift wrap, and decorations.
I have to make a road trip to see any snow where I live. If you find yourself surrounded by blankets of white flakes, here are some great activities to explore and make the most of the cold:
- Outdoor camping: I know that our sleeping bags say they’ll keep you warm down to -40°F, or something equally silly, but I don’t think I’d like to test the theory. If you’re excited by the idea of an outdoor overnight experience, check out Backpacker.com’s guide to winter camping.
- Take the plunge: The polar bear plunge, that is. Strip down to your skivvies and dunk yourself in the iciness of your local watering hole. I’ll let you fill me in on how that goes. Find a polar bear club near you.
- Get sporty: Go skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, tobogganing, snowshoeing, bobsledding, or build a backyard ice rink and play some hockey.
- Drink it up: Hello?? Hot cocoa, hot toddies, coffee, tea, and other high-temp bevvies that may or may not be spiked with a little sumthin’ sumthin’? Check out this alphabetical list of hot drink recipes to warm those chilled bones.
- Get cultured: The holidays are a great time to catch up on your arts. Visit museums, plays, and take in classics like A Christmas Carol, or my yearly fave, the Nutcracker ballet. Find a Nutcracker performance near you.