Image of snow covered trees in winter with sun low on the horizon suggesting time of the year around winter solstice

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Spoiler Alert: Many of today’s holiday traditions are rooted in ancient winter solstice celebrations and rituals which were originally pagan in nature. But today, families and kids from many belief systems enjoy the yule decorations, history, food, activities, and general warmth of a Winter Solstice observance. On the winter solstice, we experience the longest night of the year – and, therefore, the shortest day. Winter solstice festivals provide a wonderful opportunity for the family to slow down and appreciate the natural world around us.

The holiday season can be a super busy and even hectic time of year, especially when you have a family that celebrates more than one holiday during the season. This is one reason I love shifting some of my focus away from a season overwhelmed by gifting, buying, stress, and commercialism toward having a natural and nurturing celebration of the winter season.

A winter celebration doesn’t require shopping for gifts or wrapping presents, just embracing the beauty that is the winter solstice. If you’re looking to ring in winter with a fun new tradition, then these winter solstice traditions will be a great place to pick and chose what resonates with you and start a new tradition or two of your own.  

Your kids will love these winter solstice traditions alongside their familiar holiday traditions, or even in place of some of them. There are many ways to celebrate the solstice season, from lighting candles to setting your intentions or enjoying a feast together to bring in a new season.

two separate landscape images of the sun very low on the horizon with snow and ice all around - suggesting winter solstice traditions

What Exactly Is The Winter Solstice?

For the northern half of Earth (the Northern Hemisphere), the winter solstice occurs annually on December 21 or 22. (For the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs on June 20 or 21.) The winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year, making it the “shortest day” of the year. Thankfully, after we reach the winter solstice, the days begin to once again grow longer and longer until we reach the summer solstice—the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.

Shortest Day of the Year

Think of it this way: Although the winter solstice means the start of winter, it also means the return of more sunlight. It only gets brighter from here!

What Does The Winter Solstice Celebrate?

Humans have been observing winter solstice traditions since back to the stone age, though they might have celebrated a little differently then.

The winter solstice is a winter celebration of the sun. This special time is known as the “sun’s rebirth” and is one of the reasons why this celebration often incorporates fire and light.

Throughout history, societies across the world have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice, the day of the “sun’s rebirth.” Most often, winter solstice celebrations honored the symbolism of fire and light, along with life, death, the rising sun, and the moon. Saturnalia, for example, was an ancient Roman pagan festival dedicated to honoring the sun god Saturn through offerings and gift-giving. Another tradition that we still hear about today is Yule (or Yuletide). Similarly, Indigenous people continue to mark the solstice with storytelling and ceremony.

A Winter Celebration of the Sun

I am particularly fond of the storytelling aspect. 

beautiful image of red quince flowering against a backdrop of snow - with text suggesting 9 family celebration ideas for the winter solstice

How Can We Celebrate Winter Solstice At Home?

Remember that the point of these ideas for winter solstice traditions isn’t to overwhelm you with yet another holiday. Instead, these activities are a way to bring in the official start of winter in a joyous and relaxing way. Consider trying one or all of these winter solstice celebration activities to ring in the winter solstice this year.  

learn about the variety of Celebrations Around The World

Since ancient times, people all over the world have recognized this importance of the winter solstice and celebrated the “return” of the Sun in many ways.

You might be more familiar with the winter solstice as the day with the shortest amount of sunlight. But around the world, many cultures still celebrate the longest night of the year with unique winter solstice traditions. Winter Solstice Around The World

Ancient solstice traditions have influenced holidays we celebrate now, such as Christmas and Hanukkah. Watch this video to learn about winter solstice traditions both new and old to help light your way to longer days.

Craft orange pomanders

Orange is often used as a symbol of the sun, so using an orange to craft orange pomanders is a great craft to do during this time of year. You can decorate them to freshen up your home during the holidays or give them as a gift.

Yule Candles

Create a beautiful display of natural items that bring you joy and peace. Surround it with candles. Light the candles as a symbol of the sun’s ability to give us both life and light.

Winter Solstice Candles

Make Winter Solstice lanterns with your kids’

Many people enjoy this celebration by candlelight, so why not get your kids involved in this fun winter solstice tradition? Make your own DIY lanterns to provide your home with a winter solstice candle that your kids made with their own hands.

watch the sunrise

Get up early as a family, set up a cozy blanket, lay down and watch the solstice sun rise. You could each bring a journal to memorialize thoughts and feelings that come to mind as the sun warms your face. Bear witness as your world is cast into the light of the sun!

winter feast

Pagans used to celebrate “the return of the light” with a feast. Even in times of scarcity, they would sitll feast.

For this winter solstice tradition, you get to create your own glorious winter feast with each member of your family participating. This year, each member of our family selected a recipe to make and taste together. Enjoy creating a meal together that warms and nourishes. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are 20+ Winter Comfort Foods {Inspired by Nordic Hygge}

a gorgeous close up image of orange pomanders pierced with closed and decorated with ribbons as well as dried slices of orange - suggesting a wonderful winter solstice activity for families

get your creative juices flowing

Many of our yuletide traditions, such as hanging wreaths, branches and even our Christmas trees, originate from traditional solstice celebrations.

Create something handmade that honors the sun, such as a wreath from what you have around your house or backyard.

Evergreens symbolize protection and prosperity. The green wreath, during the starkness of winter, serves to remind us that spring is just around the corner, and the days will become warmer and lighter.

Read Winter Solstice books as a family

There are many great books that would make a great winter solstice tradition for the whole family! There are also books that would be great for tweens, teens, and adults. Here are some of our favorites:

Fun Winter Solstice Reads for The Whole Family

Set intentions

Setting intentions for the year to come is a popular winter solstice tradition. After you relax and let go of the darkness, write down your intentions that you would like to manifest for the upcoming year. This is similar to a New Year’s resolution. Meditate on your intention and be specific.

an image of a beautiful white reindeer leading a sleigh - suggesting the idea of the winter solstice

yule log – you decide which one!

This history of the yule log is so much fun! An entire tree!

The use of the term “log” is a bit of an understatement. When burning Yule logs, most families used a tree and first placed the wider end of the trunk into the fireplace. During the 12 days of Christmas, the Yule log would continue to burn as families moved the tree further into the fire.

According to the Almanac, the Yule log would begin burning on Christmas day and extend until January fifth, also known as Twelfth Night.

Tradition of the Yule Log

So, there is the yule log that you burn. And – yeah! France – the French version of the tradition, referred to as bûche de Noël, is the Christmas cake that’s now beloved across the globe. The chocolate roulade with cream filling is often decorated in meringue mushrooms or pistachio-nut “moss” and makes for an impressively festive centerpiece at holiday gatherings.

So whether you want to burn your yule log in the fire or eat it for dessert, the choice is yours!

Don’t forget to pin this so that you can come back later!

an image of beautiful handcrafted paper lanterns light from within by candle light - a wonderful Winter Solstice tradition