What is the Winter Solstice?

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter in many places across the United States. The temperatures are dropping and the landscape has transformed into dull greens and browns as the deciduous trees are now mostly bare. Probably most noticeable of all are the short days and long nights. We are approaching the winter solstice (also known as Yule for some cultures). On this day we have the shortest day and the longest night of the year as one of the earth’s poles (the north pole for those of us in the northern hemisphere) tilts furthest away from the sun at 23.44 degrees. It also marks the first day of winter—December 21 at 7:59 am PST in the northern hemisphere.

Celebrating Winter and the Return of Light

Celebrations of the winter solstice date back to ancient times. From Soyal, the winter solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona to Dong Zhi, the “arrival of winter,” in China, people around the world observe the solstice in unique and special ways. Although it’s the shortest day (and longest night) of the year, this important astrological occurrence is viewed by many cultures as the return of the sun. After all, the days grow in length and light starting on December 22.

We think this transition from fall to winter on the longest night of the year is worth a celebration! Check out these activities, crafts and book recommendations to help your family celebrate the winter solstice.


Night Walks and Hikes: Nature transforms at night with different sights and sounds to experience. Winter offers the unique opportunity to partake in night events without having to throw the kiddos routine out the window. Check out this list for ideas on how to take advantage of the long nights of winter.

Sensory Scavenger Hunt: Welcome winter with each of the five senses. Review this printable checklist or create your own based on your region.

Create a winter nature table: Creating a space where your kids can place items that remind them of winter is a great way to kick off the season! It can be as small or big as you want, and the items that you place on it can vary widely. You can include pine cones, pine needles, twigs, winter crafts (see below), etc. Or better yet, following principles of “leave no trace”, you can take photos of these items in nature to include on your table.

Read this article for more creative ways to enjoy the outdoors with your family this winter.

Craft Ideas

Stick Art: Sticks and pinecones are plentiful this time of year. Here are 4 easy winter crafts to make using materials you can find in your own backyard.

Craft or Bake a Yule Log: The Yule Log tradition started as a medieval Nordic tradition. The yule log was lit as a symbol to entice the sun to return and lengthen the days again. Check out this article for a fun Yule Log craft. Looking to add some baking into your winter solstice celebration? Check out this recipe for a yummy Yule Log cake!

Winter Solstice Lanterns: Bring light to the longest night of the year by creating a nature-inspired lantern.

Books to Read

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” These beautifully illustrated books help children of all ages understand what happens as fall turns to winter — starting with the shortest day of the year.

Birth – 3 Years
Winter in the Forest By Rusty Finch – Follow two little raccoons as they learn about winter in the forest. Even the littlest kiddos will enjoy lifting the flaps to discover hidden surprises in the snowy landscape.

Winter Board Book By Gerda Muller – This chunky board book shows the joys of winter through beautiful illustrations. This book is part of a four-part, no-text series on the seasons.

One Short Day in December By Lilith Rogers – This fun book follows a deer family of two moms and their baby deer as they celebrate the Winter Solstice.

4 Years and Up
The First Day of Winter By Denise Fleming – Follow a little boy as he discovers all the trimmings needed to make a perfect snowman. This cumulative tale will have children chanting along to the tune of “Twelve Days of Christmas” starting with the first day of winter.

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter By Kenard Pak – Join a sister and brother as they greet the signs of winter while they explore nature and take a stroll through their town.

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice By Wendy Pfeffer – This book explains the science, history and cultural significance of the winter solstice in lyrical prose that kids can enjoy.

How does your family celebrate the winter solstice? Let us know in the comments below!

About Hike it Baby

Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. Since its grassroots inception in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, Hike it Baby is now a growing community of 270,000 families and 500 volunteer branch ambassadors hosting more than 1,600 hikes per month. More information, as well as daily hike schedules, can be found at HikeitBaby.com, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Krystal Weir and Jessica Human.


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