Our Winter Solstice celebration marks the longest night. So, one of our goals is to try and remain awake all night long. After our Winter Solstice dinner, we begin the activities that will take us through the night to the morning's sunrise.
This portion of our celebration is about having an awareness of our personal and communal relationship to Nature, the natural environment, and to each other. To that end, we generally engage in three types of activities:
Making of ornaments
Games and Creative Play
Making the ornaments: In our backyard, there is an American holly tree, a tree that is "evergreen," and thereby symbolically represents the ideas of continuing life in the starkest and darkest and coldest of times.
During the long night, we all work together to make decorations for our holly tree that are edible to animals, acknowledging our relationship to the various animals, big and small, living around us (and yes, there are lots of animals in suburban NJ!).
We use thread (if the children are old enough to work with it) and a large needle.
Or you can use dried Siberian iris reeds (leftover from the irises that bloomed in late spring--we leave them in the ground until December).
Using the thread or the reeds, create strings of oat cereal ("Cheerios" for example) and cranberries (if using thread) and dried orange slices.
The reeds can also be braided and threaded through large pretzels (the sourdough type) to create pretty hanging ornaments.
Clementines can be tied with braided reeds and dotted with cloves.
Once the ornaments are finished, we keep them in bowls until we decorate the tree late in the next morning.
Games and Creative Play: Another activity that is great for passing the time is to play a game. Sometimes, we'll play a variation on charades, with a winter theme, with all the clues we must guess being names or titles that are related to winter ("Frozen" "Jack Frost" "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" etc).
Sometimes, the children will improvise a short play, acting out the roles of animals that are preparing for the winter ahead and wondering if the spring will return. They love it when the adults participate too!
An activity that is both fun and reflective is to have a questionnaire that each person fills out anonymously and that we then pass around, read aloud and try to guess whose answers we're reading. Some of the questions include:
What is the best thing that happened this year?
If I could choose "person of the year," it would be:
The biggest challenge I overcame this year was:
The one thing I wish I had done this year was:
Next year, I hope that:
Sometime in my life, I want to:
This activity is a wonderful way to catch up with the friends and family we may not have seen very often during the past year. It's a chance to share with each other and offer support and encouragement. As you can see, some of the questions do not necessarily require answers of a personal nature ("person of the year"), and those answers often lead to some good conversations about events outside our immediate lives.
All in all, these are some of the ways we pass the time on this longest night. They generate laughter as well as thoughtful pondering. We hope you enjoy them too! For more on our Solstice Celebrations, please see our book Celebrating the Solstices available on our homepage.