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1 December 2014

Winter Solstice With the Kids

With the hustle and bustle of the modern holiday season, celebrating the WS can be a welcome change of pace for the entire family, especially the kids who may need a break from the holiday festivities to keep things in perspective. This year, the WS falls on December 21 in the United Kingdom. Below, you will find five ways to celebrate the WS with the kids and the whole family.

1. Watch the Sunset On the Winter Solstice
No sight is more spectacular than the silhouette of barren winter trees against the multi-coloured sky at sunset. Since the WS is the shortest day of the year, the sun sets before 5:00 pm all across Europe on this day! Thus, it is best to get to your chosen sunset watching location by about 4:30 pm so you and the kids can get set up to really soak in the magic of the colours.

If you want to see the best colours of a sunset, you need to stick around for the aftermath of the sunset. This takes place about thirty minutes to an hour after the sun actually sets below the horizon. Thus, be prepared with snacks and blankets to stay until 6:00 pm in case Mother Nature decides to put on a truly spectacular after-sunset show! Often times, people leave far too early to see the most brilliant sunset colours.

Winter Solstice

2. Measure Your Shadows At Noon
On the day of the WS, your shadow at noon will be the longest of the entire year! This is because the Earth's axis is tilted furtherest from the sun on this day so the sun casts a longer shadow. You can have the kids put this scientific claim to the test by measuring each other's shadows and yours! Later in the year, you can have the kids measure their shadows again and compare the lengths. The shortest noontime shadow of the year will be on the summer solstice. It's fun for the kids to see the seasonal changes of their own shadows!

Winter shadow

3. Let the Kids Stay Up Late and Mark the Exact Moment
While we usually think of the WS as being an entire day, it is actually an exact moment. Astronomers and meteorologists mark the precise time when the sun reaches its southernmost point on the sky dome as the winter solstice. This moment officially occurs at the same exact moment all over the world, night or day! This year, the summer solstice will occur at 23:03 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This is 11:03 pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), i.e. England time!

The kids will love staying up late to mark this occasion, especially if you have them do something special at exactly 23:03 UTC. You could have them count down the seconds of the last minute, ring a bell, sing a special song, say a prayer, take a moment of silence, have a group hug, take a group photo, drink a cup of hot chocolate, or go outside and admire the night sky.

4. Join a Star Party Or Host One Yourself
In the northern hemisphere, astronomical clubs and science museums often host star gazing parties on the night of the WS since it is the longest night of the year and it gets good and dark before 7:00 pm. These are almost always kid friendly so check with your local astronomical clubs and museums to see if they have such an event you'd be interested in taking the kids to. If not, you can host your own star gazing party in the backyard or at a nearby park or campsite. You don't have to be an astronomy expert to look for shooting stars and the major constellations using maps in a book.


5. Draw and Colour a Winter Solstice Landscape
Ask the kids the following question, "What does the WS look like?" Then, take the kids on a "winter solstice safari" to help them answer this question. Once you find the appropriate inspiration and get the kids excited, have them draw and then colour a winter solstice landscape to display on the refrigeration. They may surprise you with the themes they come up with because kids often see things from a different perspective than adults!

Final Thoughts
The way you celebrate the WS with the kids doesn't matter as much as the fact that you celebrate it. Once you instil this connection with an annual natural phenomenon in them, it is something they hold in their hearts and minds always. It will also help them become more attuned to other natural phenomenon.