In the Northern Hemisphere, winter means less daylight, shorter days and colder temperatures. Consequently, we turn on lights so we can see, and make fires to keep us warm and protected from the winter cold. The Winter Solstice is a celebration of the sun and the end of winter. It is sometime between December 21 and December 22 and is the ‘shortest day or longest night’ of the year.
Worldwide, interpretation of the Winter Solstice has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time. Light is used to bring a cheerful and bright glow to the snow and darkness outside on cold winter nights. Although people and cultures celebrate different holidays, several of these holidays have a lot in common: they are a time for friends and families to gather together; they are a time to make special foods and desserts; and often gifts and cards are given as reminders of how much people care about one another. Some common winter holidays that revolve around important happenings, often using light to celebrate are:
• Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, uses lights on a Christmas tree or 4 candles on an advent wreath;
• Hanukkah recalls the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees and use nine candles on a Hanukkah menorah;
• Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday that honors African-American people and their heritage with seven candles on a Kwanzaa kinara;
• Ramadan is the Muslim holiday that consists of a month-long fast to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice.
There is much anticipation and preparation as the excitement for the winter holidays draws near. Many families make special foods and drinks such as eggnog, potato latkes, Christmas cookies, and hot apple cider. Often, friends and families will gather together for a feast and celebration of their holiday. For Hanukkah, children may spin the dreidel and eat potato pancakes called latkes. For Christmas, children may hang stockings, decorate Christmas trees, and eat plum pudding. For Kwanzaa, children may eat delicious fruit and make special bracelets and necklaces for family and friends. Ramadan concludes with a 3-day feast called ‘Eid’ or ‘Eid ul-Fitr’ which means to break the fast.
The winter holidays are a time to be creative, generous, and thankful. It is also a time to look forward to good times ahead. All of these holidays have traditions that have been passed down from one generation to another. Hopefully these cultural traditions and customs will continue to be passed down to your own children. The Early Learning Success curriculum offers a Unit of Study about the Winter Solstice – click on the link Winter Solstice Unit of Study
Books for Winter Celebrations
These books are a wonderful way for kids to learn more about their own holiday celebrations or to discover how others celebrate during the winter season.
Elijah’s Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, for ages 6-10
The story of a friendship between a nine-year-old Jewish boy and an African-American man in his eighties.
A Hanukkah Treasury, for all ages
This colorful collection of stories is a tribute to this holiday, and includes plenty of history and tradition among the celebration.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, for ages 4-8
The Hanukkah Goblins are determined to ruin yet another Hanukkah for the poor villagers. But they haven’t counted on the clever skills of Hershel, who manages to outwit them.
How I Saved Hanukkah, for ages 8-14
Marla Feinstein is the only Jewish kid in her fourth-grade class, and she’s tired of feeling like an outsider. Children of any heritage will enjoy Marla’s funny struggles as she discovers what Hanukkah is really about.
Hurray For Three Kings’ Day!, for ages 4-8
Anita’s family celebrates the Latin American holiday known as Three Kings’ Day. Learn about the celebration by reading the book.
Imani’s Gift at Kwanzaa, for ages 4-8
Grandma M’Dear teaches granddaughter Imani about her name, which comes from the seventh Kwanzaa principle of having faith.
Ramadan, for ages 6-12
The month of Ramadan is an Islamic time of fasting, feasting, sharing, and prayer. Learn how young Hakeem celebrates Ramadan with his family.
The Runaway Rice Cake, for ages 4-12
Find out what happens when the Chang family’s New Year rice cake pops out of the pan and rolls out of the house and down the street.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, for ages 4-10
In a Ghanian village, a father’s will commands that his seven squabbling sons make gold from silk thread “by the time the moon rises” without fighting.
This Next New Year, for ages 4-8
This is a fun story about a half-Korean, half-Chinese boy and his best friends, a German-French boy and a Hopi-Mexican girl, as they celebrate the Chinese New Year.
The Winter Solstice, for ages 4-10
This book introduces the customs and beliefs of the ancient Britons, Scandinavians, Romans, and Peruvians, as well as certain Native American sun ceremonies.
Resources for the article Wikipedia on Winter Solstice http://fun.familyeducation.com/holidays/childrens-science-activities/32939.html