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Ideas for Celebrating the Winter Solstice

What is the winter solstice?

The earth travels around the sun once each year. The tilt of the earth is what gives us seasons. When the Northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, we have winter in Maine. During this time, the sun is lower in the sky and days are shorter. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, with just nine hours of daylight and 15 hours of darkness. At the winter solstice, we celebrate the return of the light. The winter solstice falls on Dec. 21.

Read more about the history of winter solstice celebrations by clicking here.

Get your free Winter Solstice Celebration Kit!

Update 12/18/2020, 4:30 p.m.: All winter solstice kits have been claimed. Sorry if you missed out. Happy solstice!

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust is offering free winter solstice celebration kits, first come-first served, from our office deck at 153 Harpswell Neck Road. Pick up yours starting Dec. 18 at 12 p.m. The kits include: most of what you need to make two paper solstice lanterns, two battery-powered tea lights, whole cloves to make orange pomander balls, a pocket guide to Maine animal tracks, winter solstice activity ideas and a compilation of poetry and songs. Each kit is designed for two people. No more than two kits per family, please.

A big thank you to the Harpswell Community School PTO for supporting these kits. Harpswell Community School 4th graders and Harpswell Community Nursery School students will also be making lanterns during school hours.

Celebrate

Spiral of lights (Julia McLeod photo)
  1. Greet the sun. On Dec. 21, the sun will rise at 7:10 a.m. in Harpswell. The Giant’s Stairs Trail and Stover’s Point Preserve are great places to watch the sunrise with a nice hot mug of coffee or tea.
  2. Say goodnight to the sun. On Dec. 21, the sun will set at 4:06 p.m. We recommend watching it at Skolfield Shores Preserve, Curtis Farm Preserve, Potts Point Preserve or Houghton Graves Park.
  3. Light a fire. Traditionally, people in many cultures have celebrated the winter solstice with fire. You could light a small campfire, pile up brush for a bonfire or simply eat dinner by candlelight.
  4. Create a spiral of light. This activity is beautiful and encourages us to insert some silence and reflection in our day.
    • Prepare by gathering 10-20 small candles.
    • Create a spiral pattern on the ground by laying down evergreen boughs or other natural objects. If there’s snow, you can shovel a spiral.
    • Take turns walking the spiral from the edge to the center with a candle in hand. Light the candle in the center of the spiral. Place the lit candle along the spiral as you follow it back to the edge.
    • As you continue to place lit candles along the spiral, it will fill with light.
  5. Go for an evening walk with your homemade lanterns or flashlights. Houghton Graves Park, Johnson Field Preserve and Otter Brook Preserve are all good options.
  6. Watch the moon, stars and planets. The first quarter moon will set at 11:40 p.m. on Dec. 21. Both Jupiter and Saturn will be visible. From Astronomy.com’s The Sky this Month December 2020 issue: “Jupiter shines as a brilliant magnitude –2.0 jewel, while Saturn’s fairer complexion comes in at magnitude 0.6. They set by 8:30 P.M. local time in the first week of December, leaving little time to view them. But drama builds as they approach a stunning close conjunction December 21.” Click here to read more.

Create

This is the set up for your ice lantern. The idea is for the water to go around but not inside the smaller container. This creates an indented spot for you to put your light.
  1. Winter solstice lantern. In our winter solstice celebration kits, we include most of what you need to make two paper solstice lanterns. Click here for directions for these paper lanterns and a variety of others.
  2. Orange pomander ball. All you need is an orange and whole cloves. Poke the whole cloves one by one through the orange’s skin. If it’s too hard to poke the cloves through, make holes with a toothpick first. You can make patterns with the cloves or cover your orange completely. If you use enough cloves, your pomander ball will last for years. A bag of cloves is included in our winter solstice celebration kits.
  3. Sun sachet, bag or ornament. Felt is such a fun and easy material for sewing by hand. One simple project to try:
    • Cut out two matching squares of felt and a sun or star pattern in a different color.
    • Stitch the sun onto one of the squares.
    • Sew the squares together. You can sew on a handle to make it an ornament or bag.
    • If you choose to make an ornament or sachet, stuff your mini pillow with balsam fir and/or cedar needles before sewing the last side.
  4. Ice lantern or medallion. This is a simple and beautiful celebration of natural objects.
    • Collect these materials:
      • A variety of small natural objects. Go for colorful berries, branches, acorns, grass, milkweed and more.
      • For a medallion: a metal pie plate and piece of string.
      • For the lantern: two containers from your recycling, one large and one small, so that one fits inside the other. For example, both a 32 oz and a 6 oz yogurt container.
    • Fill your pie plate or your large plastic tub about half full with water.
    • Add natural objects.
    • For the lantern, place the smaller container inside the larger one and tape it to keep it centered and level at the top (see photo above). Add more water so the large container is full. The small container should not have water in it. It is there to create an indent for a tea light.
    • For the medallion, place two ends of the string in the pie plate to create a hanging loop.
    • Freeze the medallion or lantern outside or in your freezer.
    • Display your medallion outdoors. Place a battery-powered tea light in the lantern and place outside for some beautiful light.

Reflect

  1. Join a free winter solstice yoga class with Kara Douglas of Fishmoon Yoga. Click here for a recording of the class. This restorative, gentle practice is suitable for all levels of yoga practitioners.
  2. Reflect on the year behind and the year ahead. Some ideas for doing this:
    • Write down what went well and what was challenging in the year behind us.
    • Jot down a few things you want to let go of and place this piece of paper in the fire.
    • Set intentions for the year ahead. What do you want more or less of in your life? What are some habits you want to let go of? How do you want your life to be different?
    • Write a letter to yourself, seal it up and don’t read it for a year, or five years.
  3. Try out some happiness practices from the Greater Good Science Center. There is a great podcast about these called “The Science of Happiness.”

Read, play, listen

  1. Watch a free winter solstice concert with Stan Davis and guests. Click here to watch a recording.
  2. Read poetry. Some suggestions (click on the links to read them):
  3. Watch a read aloud by Julia McLeod of “The Longest Night,” a children’s book about the Winter Solstice. Click here to watch it.
  4. Play a family board game.

Eat & Drink

  1. Warm drinks like hot cocoa and tea are a great way to celebrate the solstice.
  2. Orange cake from Moosewood. Click here for the recipe.
  3. Iranian Pomegranate Soup (Aash-e anar). Click here for the recipe.
  4. Three recipes from Maine Coastal Cooking – Down East Recipes Dating from 1664: spiced cider, eggnog and soft molasses cookies. Click here for the recipes.
  5. Decadent mini quiches, like little savory suns. Click here for the recipe.
  6. Cattail pollen star bread and a winter solstice warmth ceremony. Click here for details.

We’d love to see photos of your solstice celebration! Send them to photos@hhltmaine.org.

Do you have a winter solstice idea, recipe or resources to share? We’d love to add your ideas to this list. Email it to Julia at outreach@hhltmaine.org.