Winter Solstice Observation Sites

Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  With modern electric lights and heated homes, this day usually passes without much notice. But, thousands of years ago, this tipping point, after which the sun begins to linger longer each day, was an important time for celebration.  We can get a glimpse at the ancient infatuation with the calendar's briefest day by looking at artifacts and monuments from the annual solstice festivities.

Newgrange, Ireland is one of the world's most famous locations for observing the Winter Solstice.  Inside the 5000-year-old earth-covered mound is a long passageway into an ancient temple.  On the morning of the annual Winter Solstice, light shines through a roof-box down the passage and into the the buried chamber, flooding light over the room for seventeen minutes.

Stonehenge is an ancient monument in England where more than 1000 people gathered this morning to view the solstice sunrise, which aligns neatly between some of the landmark's giant stones.

Egyptian Tour
In Egypt, the Karnak Temple is an important Winter Solstice site.  At dawn, the sun shines through the eastern door to illuminate the sanctuary.  As the sun rises, it appears to emerge from the temple into the sky.

Astronomy magazine via RockArtBlog
The Western hemisphere also has ancient artifacts that reveal Winter Solstice observations.  In Phoenix, Arizona, the Winter Solstice sunset illuminates rock art created by Hohokam Native Americans.

LA Times
Several of the Spanish Missions in California were also built to align with the Winter Solstice sun.  This morning at San Juan Bautista, the solstice sunrise flooded the altar of the 200-year-old church.

After taking this virtual Solstice observation tour, you can read The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer to learn more about the special day. 


Free Christmas Bookmarks

One of the best things about having vacation from work or school is the opportunity to read.  Cold and rainy weather on days without deadlines creates the perfect setting for staying in with a good book.  To help inspire holiday break reading, check out these printable Christmas bookmarks.

These bright Christmas tree bookmarks from ZiggityZoom are perfect printables for holiday storytime.

Eat Drink Chic is offering these more traditional gift tags that could double as winter-reading bookmarks.  In fact, any of the printable bookmarks would make excellent gift tags or gift toppers, especially if you are giving books.

These cute snowmen bookmarks are available to print at Heather Ozee Designs.

At Shiny Happy Art, you can print these free angel tags, which can be used as bookmarks, gift cards, or even table place cards.


Instant Nativity

Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, the son of the Christian God.  Reenacting the Bethlehem nativity scene of his birth is one of the oldest Christmas traditions.  Get your own instant nativity set from Marloes de Vries.
This full-color set that I discovered through How About Orange is ready to go.  Just print, cut, fold and enjoy.  There is also a blank set of foldables that students can color in with their own designs.  Kids can use the mini-puppets to act out the Christmas story.


Winter Holidays - Celebrations of Light

Now that the weather is chilly and nightfall is arriving so early in the evening, candles and lights are a welcome remedy to the darkness.  Since ancient times, light has been a huge part of many winter celebrations and holidays around the world.  Let students explore the role of light in familiar and foreign traditions this holiday season.

December 13th is St. Lucia Day, which is celebrated in eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Italy and some Caribbean countries.  Candles are an important symbol on St. Lucia Day when they are often used in wreaths, either as decoration or as a candlelit crown for the traditional Lucia procession.

Students can create their own candlelit crown with instructions from Kiddley.

Yule was first celebrated by the Norse, but its traditions have been incorporated into Christmas and other winter holidays.  In many cultures, festivals took place as long as the yule log burned -- often up to several days since the large, slow-burning logs were selected.

Visit Pretty Little Things to learn how to make mini Yule logs out of cardboard tubes.

Hanukkah is another celebration of light that is observed by Jewish people for eight days each winter beginning on 25 Kislev. Candles are lit on a menorah in remembrance of the miracle oil that burned at the temple in Jerusalem for eight days after it was reclaimed from Greece.

Creative Jewish Mom has instructions for this recycled cardboard menorah craft.
Younger students can practice ordinal numbers while counting the eight days of Hanukkah.

Christmas lights have been used to decorate trees for hundreds of years.  Visit White House history to learn about the first White House Christmas tree that used lights to decorate its branches in 1895 during Grover Cleveland's administration.

Challenge students to design a Christmas light decoration using repurposed materials, like this tomato cage Christmas tree I made.  To make your own, just flip a tomato cage upside-down and then wrap it with lights and garland.

Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year.  All around the world since ancient times festivals and celebrations have included lights on the day with the fewest hours of sunlight.

Make a solstice mobile with Cre8tivegirl's printable.

  Students can compare and contrast the celebrations after learning about each one.