Ellen Jackson has a series of children’s picture books regrading various Earth-based holidays. So, when I ordered a copy of The Winter Solstice years ago, I had great expectations. Instead, I found a book focused solely from a Judeo-Christian perspective, even stating empirically that we now celebrate the winter solstice with Christmas and Hannukah.
Most families searching for books of this nature are looking for something that doesn’t revolve around Christmas. Jackson completely missed the mark on this book. I would even have been happy with a book which talked about how Christmas traditions are actually taken from Winter Solstice celebrations. Instead, it’s a book which discounts everything about the solstice and fails to acknowledge the light and goodness which has been shown around the holiday throughout the years.
I won’t refuse to read the book to my children, but I will make clarifications when reading it. I would not purchase this book again.
If you are looking for a children’s picture book about the Winter Solstice that doesn’t mention Christmas, Wendy Pfeffer’s The Shortest Day will meet your requirements. Of the few childen’s books available about the Solstice, almost all mention the Christian holiday. This fact alone makes the book worth purchasing for families who celebrate the Solstice.
Jesse Reisch’s colorful illustrations are true to form for a picture book, engaging the youngest readers. Suggested activities, although nothing spectacular, and solstice facts at the back of the book garner extra points from me.
The book is based on factual information, which normally would have me overjoyed. However, the facts are a bit questionable. Most notably, the dates for how long various solstice traditions have occurred around the world are off. Perhaps it’s a smal detail, but one I find greatly annoying. Despite that, it’s a good starting point for families with young children who celebrate earth based holidays and one I would purchase again based on the great lack of books available for families such as ours.
Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.
It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.
However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift.
There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…
Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.
The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.
One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.
The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.
The next year, at the age of six, he asked is Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.
We now have four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 7 months. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still stick to my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.
Edited to add: After that first year, the gifts have all been digital media for our library – either movies or music cds. Its a tradition we plan to continue, regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.
My husband grew up with an Advent Calendar. Every day his mother would dole out butterscotch candies that were pinned to it. A few years ago, he mentioned it to me, saying that it was a tradition he enjoyed and missed. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so we needed to come up with something that would work with our beliefs and holidays.
We ended up with a Solstice calendar. I’m not certain why I felt it necessary to hand stitch all of the tiny pieces of felt on, but it does look nice. The same ribbons that we use to hang it tie the calendar when it is rolled up. It’s also quilted, so it’s rather sturdy.
It happens that the Winter Solstice is not always on the same calendar day, so the last row of pockets has snaps so that we can change numbers or pictures. Rather than have the calendar be about receiving a treat, we made it about the gift of giving, with the idea that after receiving something nice yourself, you would pass it on by doing a kindness for someone else. The little face showing in the first pocket is a simple shape gnome. I realized after I finished the calendar that we needed a visual representation to move each day, so I grabbed one of our handmade toys. The little gnome has lived in the calendar ever since.
This year, we have added a small piece of paper to each pocket with a special thing to do. Some of the items are fun things and some are of a more giving nature.
- Put together Holiday Helper gift
- Make wreath for front door
- Ornament Swap
- Buy 2010 Solstice Ornaments
- Hang outside lights
- Paper snowflakes
- Mail holiday cards
- Make gingerbread house
- Make fudge
- Surprise Daddy’s coworkers with fudge and food
- Make cut out cookies
- Buy a holiday treat
- Drop off food at fire station
- Torch lit hike
- Leave cookies for mailman
- Surprise someone with baked goods
- Deliver Goodies to Neighbors
- Hot chocolate and games
- Drive around to look at holiday lights
- Celebrate the Solstice Party
- Make Yule log
- Open Gifts
As we gather nearer to the Winter Solstice, the darkness presses in closer, leaving us with an ever decreasing amount of daylight as we go about our lives. This period of darkness is when our family celebrates Halcyon.
The word halcyon is used to depict a time of peace and quiet reflection, stemming from the mythical halcyon bird which was thought to bring calming winds to turbulent seas. It was used to describe times of peace between warring peoples.
Beginning on Thanksgiving and culminating with the Winter Solstice, our family embraces and celebrates Halcyon. We light a Halcyon candle each night to remind us that the light will once again return, just as it always has. The flame serves to focus our reflection of where we are in our lives and where we want to be, of how we want to improve upon our selves, and how we resolve to live our lives more peacefully and fully. We use this time of quiet darkness to focus ourselves and prepare for the things to come in the new year, after the return of the light.