A Winter Book List

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Early yesterday morning, Lupine woke with a sore throat and a queasy stomach. It quickly unraveled into something of a mild (yet, um, productive) stomach bug that kept us busy for much of the day. Poor thing. We’re just not “pukers” (if you’ll pardon the expression) and stomach bugs are a particularly nasty surprise to wake up to, especially when the lot of us so rarely throw up.

And so the homeschooling rhythm was scrapped, and a bed was made on the couch by the fire.

There was a hot water bottle filled to soothe a sore tummy, teaspoons of water dispensed, and homeopathic remedies to take.

And, of course, a pile of favorite picture books from when she was small. Because what could be more comforting than that?

Before long the wave of sickness had subsided, a tiny bowl of brothy wild rice + chicken soup was devoured (and then a second, and then a third) and we were well on our way to health once again.

I thought it would be fun to share with you a few of our childhood-long favorite winter books, in case you’ll hoping to restock your winter book basket this season. All of the photos are clickable links (afflinks).

Most of the books listed we happily own; others we check out each December from our public library.

Wishing you all wellness this season. And happy reading!

Love,

Rachel

A Winter Booklist

Around the Year, by Elsa Beskow is one of our favorite books. Though not a winter celebration, it’s a journey through the year. We can’t get enough of Elsa Beskow, or this title in particular.

Sky Sisters, by Jan Bordeau Waboose is a delightful tale of two Ojibway sisters, setting off into the darkness to see the northern lights. We adore this book.

It’s Snowing, by Olivier Dunrea is a simple, charming story about a mother and baby’s adventures in the snow. A gift for Sage when he was small, this book has a permanent spot in our bookshelf.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston is a bittersweet tale of family, motherhood, and Christmas. A tattered paperback copy of this book found its way into our world many years ago, and it’s pulled out each December.

The Shortest Day, by Wendy Pieffer is one of the few Winter Solstice celebrating books out there! We were delighted to stumble upon the whole series at our library years ago, and continue to enjoy these seasonal books.

Children of the Forest, by Elsa Beskow is not a winter-specific tale, but a lovely journey through the year beside the charming forest children and their parents. A perennial favorite in our home since our kids were tiny.

The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader is an old-fashioned sweet story of wildlife (and people) through a blizzard. It’s charming.

We love Cicely Mary Barker’s fairy books, and the winter collection is no exception. Short poems about plants and their fairies are a simple celebration of the season.

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Yellow Sled by Maj Lindman is a tale of kindness and generosity. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Reindeer is a lovely winter tale as well.

The Return of the Light by Carolyn McVickar Edwards is a collection of winter tales from around the world. On our library reserve list right now!

The Tomten, by Astrid Lindgren (yes, the author of Pippi) is a charming look at the mythical Tomten on the farm. There’s another title, The Tomten’s Christmas Porridge that Lupine also enjoys.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett is another wintertime favorite. If you’re familiar with Jan’s artistic style, you can expect this book to captivate you as much as her other titles. Beautiful illustrations and a sweet message.

The Mitten, by Jan Brett, is another visual feast. A charming story of childhood, wildlife, magic, and knitting. What’s not to love?

I would be remiss in not mentioning (one more time) my own book (ahem), Herbal Adventures for winter reading. What better time to get to know the plants that will spring up come April? And some (mullein and pine in particular) can even be foraged now for use this season. You can pick it up on my website as well!

And let’s end where we began, shall we? With another Elsa Beskow favorite, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Magic, innocence, and winter cheer abound in this charming classic tale.

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving

When my great, great grandmother Anna was just 16 years old, she and her sister said goodbye to their parents, their community, and their homeland, then boarded a boat in Norway destined for America.

I wonder what what she thought about on that journey across the sea at such a young age.  Was she fearful, hopeful–both?

And I also wonder–at any moment on that long, 6 week journey did she pause and wonder about the people who already called the “New World” home?

I don’t mean the other European immigrants who had similarly embarked in search of a better life, but the indigenous people of this continent. The people who already occupied the land she now planned to make her home.

This world, of course, was only new to the newcomers.

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On the long timeline of North American human history, my great-great grandmother’s arrival on this continent wasn’t all that long ago. I still have her spinning wheel; her stories of the seven waterfalls of her childhood home in Norway are still shared in our family today.

I’m a fourth generation life-long Wisconsinite. My great, great grandparents arrived here from Norway and Eastern Europe, chasing the dream of a better life that the “new world” offered. These hills looked like the home they had left behind, and so they stayed.

And a brief four generations later, I am keenly aware that I live on stolen land.

State (or national) pride will only take us so far, and what we’re left with is a tragic and violent legacy that as a collective we often choose to ignore.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I remember tracing my hand on brown construction paper each November, then affixing colorful paper “feathers” with paste to create a turkey in elementary school. I also remember cutting a strip from that same shade of brown, and affixing those paper feathers into a mock-headdress as our teacher explained the friendship between the pilgrims and the non-specific Indians of lore.

Most Americans grew up hearing a similar story (if not making similarly culturally inappropriate crafts).

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The land beneath my feet in my childhood suburban Milwaukee home was Peoria, Potawatomi, Menominee, Miami, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (or Sioux) territory. The hills where my dad grew up in the Driftless (and where my family now calls home) was the homeland of Očeti Šakówiŋ, Sauk, and Ho-Chunk. And the northern Wisconsin land that my mom (and her parents before her) grew up was that of the Menominee. 

My mom grew up in a predominately white community just across the county line from the Menominee Reservation. She has a lifelong friend to this day grieves never having learned the traditional Menominee ways.

Despite growing up on the remnant sliver of her people’s tribal land, thanks to colonization, neither her cultural traditions nor her family tongue were passed down to her.

Not because she left her homeland, but because Europeans arrived.

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And each year as Thanksgiving approaches, I think more and more of America’s true history surrounding this holiday. I sit with increasing discomfort at our table laden with food and steeped in myth, struggling with the story we have painted of the first Thanksgiving.

I feel a strong pull in two conflicted directions. The first is to find deep gratitude in this day that we devote to family each year. This is the Thanksgiving I have convinced myself we are celebrating, with our gratitude tree, homemade food, and time shared as a family.

The second pull, of course, is to acknowledge (and begin to heal) the historically accurate version of what we celebrate.

This more important tug is rooted in a need to decolonize a holiday whose traditions run deep in our cultural belief system.

If America focuses on Thanksgiving as simply a day to celebrate the people that we love (as I personally have done for most of my of adulthood), we are conveniently overlooking the bloody handprint that exists upon this day, and upon our place here in North America if we are of European decent.

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To be clear, I’m not here to take your turkey and stuffing away; rather I ask you to dig deeper than modern traditions to understand the backstory of what we celebrate. And then (when they are old enough to be ready) to share that truth with your kids.

I acknowledge that there is discomfort in sitting with these stories, in opening ourselves to the implications. I’m certain in even opening this conversation here I will make some missteps. But putting away the myth and picking up history is our responsibility–as parents, as the descendants and benefactors of colonists, as Americans.

Sure, the tidy history that we learned in elementary school (had it been factual) carries a greater appeal. But learning the truth, and peeling it back layer by layer to realize how it effects indigenous and non-native peoples to this day is crucial for deeper healing.

And sitting in our own discomfort is one small first step along this healing path.

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I have a few links to share today if you, too, are interested in decolonization, putting away the paper headdress-perpetuated stereotypes, and playing your part in acknowledging the generations of violence done to Indigenous people across this continent.

As a white person, what I have to bring to the table is to simply acknowledge that we have work to do, then digging in and beginning to educate myself and my children with facts instead of myths. From there I hand the floor to the people below who know far more than I, many of them indigenous.

I hope you will spend some time reading what they have to share, and reflecting on the true story of the America that we call home.

If you have additional resources to add to the list below, I invite you to include them in the comments. 

Thank you for stepping into this uncomfortable space with me. It’s not easy to change traditions, or to acknowledge that our own actions may cause harm. Healing generations of trauma is no quick fix, but–like so many of you–I’m ready to show up and do what I can to begin moving in that direction.

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving: a few links to get you started:

American Indians in Children’s Literature’s list of good Thanksgiving books for kids

This list includes:

 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (afflink)

Four Seasons of Corn, A Winnebago Tradition (afflink)

Thanksgiving: a Native American Story

The Native-Lands Map and (as importantly) the accompanying Teacher Guide

With Thanksgiving: a Native American View

The Future is Indigenous: Decolonizing Thanksgiving

Racial Justice Resources for Thanksgiving

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: a Toolkit for Combating Racism in Schools

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man” Indian Boarding Schools

 

Special thanks to my friend Shawn Nadeau for editing help with this post.

 

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Celebration

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Few things are more of a pleasure than celebrating birthdays and holidays with my family.

Our birthday traditions have been pretty well cemented since my kids were small. Yet time continues to catch me by surprise as our need for the candle spiral and birthday buntings seem to grow closer together year after year.

What is the saying when our children are small? “The days are long but the years are short.” And each year they grow shorted still.

This weekend it was Lupine’s turn to celebrate as we marked her twelfth trip around the sun.

In lieu of a friend party, she had requested that we go as a family to a trampoline park an hour or so from home. It was a ridiculous amount of fun for all of us, and a quiet follow-up day on her actual birthday was just the ticket to rebalance that crazy energy. (And rest our collective sore muscles!)

Have you been to a trampoline park with the people you adore the most? It’s madness, I assure you. And totally not our day-to-day jam. But honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, or jumped so high.

Her desires for her birthday itself were simple: a quiet day at home spent eating favorite meals, wearing PJs, and playing board games together. (Yes, please on all counts!)

She pulled out her favorite games, and we whiled away the day drawing one box after another off the heap. I think we got halfway through the stash below before the day was done.

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In the evening as we set out candles and dessert, I found the birthday crown that my sister and I made for her when Lupine turned 2.

It was buried at the bottom of the birthday bin where we keep the buntings, candle spiral, and other celebration necessities. She hasn’t worn it since she was small, having preferred a newer, less juvenile crown that I made her when she was five, or – more recently – none at all.

I jokingly offered the bluebird crown to her last night, and, surprising even herself, she enthusiastically agreed.

I gave her mittens for her birthday the first year she wore this crown. Carefully snipped and sewn from an old cashmere sweater, she adored them. Yesterday, a decade later and with her crown again in place, we repeated that storyline.

New mittens, a beaming smile, and a birthday story by candlelight.

Life changes, children grow, and childhood is fleeting. Yet there are things that – if only through magic – remain poetically the same.

Hang onto your hearts, parents of wee ones. You’re in for a beautiful ride.

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Postscript: If you’re curious about our family’s longstanding birthday traditions, there are a zillion posts in the archives if you search “birthday Lupine” or “birthday Sage”.

I also wrote a two part series some eight years ago about our favorite traditions. You can find them here and here. Many of the customs I outline (from the spiral to the story) are still in joyful use. And my free bunting tutorial is here, and my birthday crown pattern is up in my Etsy shop.

 

 

Annual ice cream bribe

It’s hard sometimes to believe that we’ve been doing this for the past 16 years.

Pressing pause and pulling these old jackets out of the hall closet for our annual photographs (AKA: bribing our kids with ice cream in exchange for a picture).

As homeschoolers, we don’t have annual school pictures to help us mark time. So some 16 years ago, we made up our own tradition.

On the suggestion of a friend, we chose an adult-sized piece of clothing for each of our kids to wear for an annual photograph. Each year we would stage the same picture until someday (in the far distant future), the clothing would fit.

Deeply sentimental at heart, I loved the idea immediately.

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One picture a year? We could manage that.

So we chose Pete’s old leather jacket for Sage and my Grandmother’s for Lupine, propped them up and took a few snaps.

We fell in love with this tradition immediately and we’ve done it every autumn since.

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And from a beginning as seated, chubby, pink one-year-olds draped in heavy coats, we’ve moved on. They’ve grown up.

And today, both coats nearly fit.

When they were small we bribed them with ice cream, to sit still long enough for a photo. It was the one thing I did just for me, the one time I bribed them with refined sugar all year.

And it was always worth it.

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We still make a habit of the ice cream (how could we not?) but somehow–after more than a decade–it has stopped feeling like a bribe, and now feels like more of a celebration.

A celebration of autumn, of childhood, of growing, of becoming.

Yesterday we set off for the creek and captured this year’s edition of the jacket pictures.

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Sitting here, with sixteen years worth of photographs spread out in my lap, I am thumbing through time as it unrelentingly spools out before me. Time is a marvelous and disorienting thing.

Hang onto your heart, parents.

This growing up before your eyes business is no joke. It’s humbling, inspiring, and so much more than most of us imagined when we decided to have “a baby”. Because it’s not a baby we had after all.

It was adults we were raising, from the start.

 

How we celebrated

Birthdays celebrations are my jam. Whether marking milestones for my kids, Pete, or enjoying my own birthday celebration, I love a simple and meaningful day centered around time together enjoying our favorite things.

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The way we celebrate has changed little through the years, except, perhaps, finally dialing in our game. There is a birthday bunting to hang (I shared instructions for making your own here), favorite meals to make, and a day to take off of work, no matter what’s on the usual agenda.

Even in my teens and 20’s I took my birthday off of work, and now my team at LüSa is given the same, a day off to celebrate family, friends, and life.

Yesterday was no different except: pottery!

This year my birthday brilliantly conceded with our weekly pottery lessons, and I convinced Pete decided to join us. For his first time at the wheel he was fantastic! (No surprise there.)

We spent the morning throwing pots, making messes, and enjoying ourselves thoroughly at the pottery wheels.

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Back home there was ample time to knit in front of the wood stove (clay still on my jeans), hike to the spring to forage some watercress, and soak in some needed sunshine.

In the evening I even set to work exploring the herbalism course I signed up for (mentioned yesterday). It seemed like the perfect day to begin!

The best part of the day was that Pete and the kids managed all the birthday prep work, cooking, and clean up while I gluttonously relaxed by the fire. The food was incredible. Perhaps partially because I did zero to prepare it; perhaps because it was made with love; or perhaps because these three are fine cooks and bakers!

Likely all three.

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And the day wouldn’t be complete without some small, thoughtful gifts handmade by my loves. We have never gotten into the habit of buying gifts, and I’m glad. That means the fabric, paints, hammers, and saws are pulled out for each celebration and the gifts are made with heart.

This year Lupine freezer paper stenciled some t-shirts for me from her own art (at 11 she can do every step herself, a tutorial for those is here). Sage took apart and rebuilt the gearbox of my stand mixer (wha?!), something that has been broken for the three or four years and sorely missed.

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And Pete carved me two mind-blowingly beautiful wooden spoons from wood he harvested in his prairie restoration project. Whoa. They are amazing, and the ladle even has a little heart carved into the end of the handle.

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And just like that, I’m 45!

So far this year is off to an excellent start.

Herbalist Day/Birthday

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When I stumbled upon “Thank an Herbalist Day” earlier this week, and discovered that it fell on my birthday of all days, I was tickled. Because what better newish holiday to overlap with my birthday than this?

And though here in Wisconsin this year Herbalist Day/my birthday looks more like Winter Solstice, I’ll take it!

But enough about birthdays (psst… 45!). Let’s talk about herbs.

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Several of you have reached out to ask if I’ll be hosting another Women’s Herbal Retreat or Green Magic Summer Camp this year. And the short answer is: no. (Not yet anyway.) While I absolutely loved doing each and every retreat I have done so far, other projects have risen to the top and retreats are on hold until further notice. (More on that very soon. I promise!)

In the meantime, I’ve been expanding my own herbal knowledge, which feels fabulous. After months of research, I finally decided on where to study and signed up for a class with Herbal Academy (afflink). They offer classes at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced, and the kids and I decided to study together as a part of our homeschool and my continuing education.

Herbal Academy is currently releasing a foraging and botany class that looks lovely, and speaks to skills many of you have asked me for tips to develop. (They have the class discounted today on account of Herbalist Day, so I thought I would mention it for those of you who were interested in furthering – or beginning – your study.)

Learning new things is, perhaps, the best part of growing older, don’t you think?

And with that, I have birthday goodness to get on with. We’re off to make pottery together, drink good coffee, and eat all manner of delicious foods – cooked by my favorite people.

Happy Herbalist Day, friends!

Irish Breakfast (and lunch… and dinner)

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Lupine is all about the celebrations. I mean seriously all about it. Is professional party-planning a life goal? If so, she’s already there. Each year she goes full out for Valentine’s Day, friends’ birthdays, Winter Solstice, and our spring celebration. Me? I only have so much holiday juju to give, so each year when she asked if we would have a St. Patrick’s Day celebration I did my best to evade her request.

This year, though, felt different. Exactly a half-year since our month-long road trip around Ireland, it felt like a wonderful excuse to celebrate. If not St. Patrick himself, at least the most memorable trip our family has ever taken.

We spent a week planning our menu, since we decided that the holiday would be pretty much all about the food: muesli, Irish brown bread (baked by Sage), and our best effort as a traditional Irish breakfast in the morning (black pudding, white pudding, rashers, and sausage. hello.) plus fried eggs and brown bread with Irish butter on the side. And cups of Irish Breakfast tea in our mugs, of course. For lunch Lupine baked a loaf of bread and we made sandwiches, something we almost never eat in our normal life but that made up the bulk of our cooler-lunches in Ireland. For dinner, I made my best effort at a classic Irish stew (eaten with more fresh bread, because if you’re going to go, go big) to mimic our favorite meal from our favorite Dublin pub, and honestly, for my normal stew-snubbing family it was a win. As in: eating seconds and wiping the bowl clean with their bread kind of win.

Beside the fire after dinner, we pulled out a photo album that I had printed of favorite photos from our trip, and relived our most memorable moments of the month.

The day left us feeling grateful, wistful, and – of course – oh so full.

Perhaps we’ve added another holiday to our annual list after all. (Lupine will be glad!) And this one I think even I can handle making a habit of.

Solstice on the river

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On something of a whim, we headed to my parent's cabin up north to celebrate the Winter Solstice. We spent nearly a week there, tucked in among the cedar trees. In that old cabin, build by my grandpa and great-grandpa back in the 1950s, we snuggled up beside the fire, watching the snow fall, playing board games, and carving, knitting, and reading – together. It was exactly what I needed after the busiest season I can remember in recent years. To simply slow down, reconnect, and savor what life (and family) is truly all about. 

Here are a few highlights! 

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Though we had a tree at home, Lupine felt it would simply not be Solstice without a proper Solstice tree at the cabin as well.

And since my favorite trees have always been the scraggly balsams found in my parent's woods, that was our first priority. Lu decided that a tiny table-top tree was in order as well, and, since my dad is clearing this woods of balsams anyway, we indulged.

A three-tree holiday? Why not…

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Back at the cabin, two old-fashioned wooden tree stands were crafted from scrap lumber, and we decorated with trimmings we packed from home. Then there were all of our other Solstice traditions to attend to. There were gingerbread houses to bake, assemble, and decorate (one gluten-full and one gluten-free, each made completely by their respective child). There were our favorite holiday cookies to bake, homemade gifts to wrap, and a Solstice fire to prepare.

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Our small (but meaningful) gifts ranged from a pair of knitted gloves to a wooden bird feeder; homemade nut brittle to an upcycled leather bag. I managed to steal an evening to make the kid's annual handmade ornaments, as well. They are the simplest (and possibly homeliest!) yet, but the kids got a kick out of them anyway. They are pickles because we're part German and love this bizarre tradition that I'm sure many of you are already familiar with!

The stone buttons, pictured below, were Pete's thoughtful gift for me. After I mentioned in passing while we were in Ireland that I wanted some, he gathered them up on the Irish beach, then drilled them for me after we returned home. I was utterly surprised and delighted.

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And then outside we went, to watch the sun sink low beyond the river. We played, listened to the eagles, watched a mink romping through the snow, and worked on the quinzee we were building in the yard. As the sun set we lit our Solstice fire, and settled in for an evening of sparks and stars.

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(Bottom two photos above, plus photos of me, thanks to Pete.)

Thoroughly chilled, we headed inside long after dark for candle-making and the simplest of dinners beside the fireplace.

Because honestly, who wants to stop all of this merriment to cook? None of us, it seemed, so stuffed baked potatoes were all that we managed. Everyone decided it was the best Solstice dinner yet, and that – along with celebrating at the cabin – it should be a new annual tradition.

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In all we spent just short of a week at the cabin – a few days before, then a few days after our celebration. It reset us in the best way possible, slowing down like we rarely manage around the holidays.

Because all of that doing and buying and rushing about? It's not for us, we've decided.

And a slow, old-fashioned celebration is certainly more our speed.

 

Winter Solstice Traditions: how we celebrate

Our main family celebration of the year is not Christmas but Winter Solstice. As a secular family, we have been celebrating Solstice for some 15 years, since our first born was just a baby. Many of our current customs date back to this tentative start at creating our own meaningful family celebrations, and each year we tweak and refine the to suit our evolving needs and desires. 

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For years I have fielded questions about how we celebrate – questions from other parents who are looking to create their own treasured family rituals. It seems we're not alone in seeking out meaningful traditions for our family! 

The longest night and shortest day are a wonderful time for us to slow down, gather together as a family, and focus in on what matters to us most. Into the darkness we bring all the light that we can – both literally and figuratively.

Each Solstice celebration is a bit different than the ones before, but our traditions always center around flickering flames, family, and connection, and takes place on the day before Winter Solstice, or Solstice Eve (we normally celebrate on either December 20 or 21).

We exchange handmade gifts as well, but they are a small part of our day, rather than the central feature. Indeed, our celebration is made of so much more than presents! 

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For those of you trying to carve out your own annual family traditions, here's a peek at some of the things we enjoy each Solstice night! (A few afflinks follow.)

Solstice Crafts

We are a family of makers. Few things bring us more contentment than a day spent with hands and minds busily creating. Solstice Night is no different, and a wonderful excuse to make things together, all day long. A few favorite crafts we enjoy on Solstice include…

Window Stars

Folded paper window stars are simple to make and beautiful to behold. We display them in nearly every window of the house, where they catch the fleeting sunlight. If you've never made window stars, be prepared to be as addicted as your kids! This book offers simple, easy instructions.

Cut-paper snowflakes are another option, though with a bit more clean-up and slightly less pizazz. 

Pine Cone Bird Feeders

Several years ago we foraged a bagful of giant pinecones from a road trip down south. They are perfect for making pinecone bird feeders, though small local red pine cones are lovely as well. Every year we spread some pine cones with nut butter, then roll them in bird seed and hang up outside the kitchen window as a Solstice gift for the birds.

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Candle- and Luminary-Making

Because Solstice is a celebration of fire and light on this darkest day of the year, we always make candles for the coming year on Solstice Eve.

Rolled beeswax candles made from flat wax sheets are easiest for younger kids – and fun for even adults – but this year we're returning to our tradition of dipping beeswax candles and making beeswax candle luminaries once more.

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Gingerbread Houses

The kids each decorate a gingerbread house on the day of our Solstice celebration. Baked earlier in the week from whatever recipe we're gleaned from the interwebs and cut from a simple sketched house design, the kids assemble and bejewel them with candies throughout Solstice eve. (We normally choose YumEarth treats since they are corn syrup- and food coloring-free, but still bright and festive.)

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Family Time

Aside from making, Solstice Night is full of family time. Games, books, songs, and stories are all part of our celebration. 

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Seasonal Books

Because my kids are getting older, read-alouds don't play the part they once did. I still occasionally manage to pull and old favorite off the shelf to read on Solstice. Our favorite seasonal books include The Shortest Day, The Return of the Light, and classic winter tales like Ollie's Ski Trip, The Sun EggIt's Snowing, The Tomten, and The Big Snow.

Winter Walk, Sled, or Ski

Getting outside is an almost non-negotiable piece of our Solstice celebration. A hike, ski, snowshoe, or sledding adventure is just the thing to celebrate the longest night! 

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Campfire

Being a fire celebration, each Solstice night at sunset we bundle up and head to the woods to light a campfire in the snow. This is, quite possibly, my favorite part of the night. We drink tea or eggnog as the fire crackles and the sun sets, make a wish for the coming year on a stick or leaf we each toss in the fire, the walk home through the dark woods (no headlamps!) to a warm house and dinner by candlelight.

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Candlelight

As the sky quickly darkens on Solstice Eve, we light candles (some freshly made) throughout the house. These are our light for the coming evening and set a relaxed and festive tone for the rest of our celebration. We aren't sticklers for "no electric lights" on this night, but we do our best to limit them as much as possible to set a festive tone. Candlelight also relaxes everyone, encouraging a slightly earlier bedtime, in the event that you accidentally set your kids up to pull an all-nighter*. (*See "Staying Up Late," below.) 

Locally-Grown Dinner

Inspired by a Martin and Sylva story on Sparkle Stories, we recently began a tradition of an all local dinner on Solstice night. Homegrown chicken, duck, or quail; butternut squash from a friend's garden; milk and cheese from a cow we know by name; kale from a nearby farm. We live in an area rich beyond belief in local food, making our celebratory meal that much more delightful to put together.

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Gifts

Because, yes, there are gifts! They just aren't the main focus of our celebration. Our gifts are small and usually handmade – from freezer paper stenciled t-shirts to homemade aprons to handmade caramels.

Occasionally something larger finds its way in (like a knitted sweater) but usually smaller is better in our world. I make each of the kids three small gifts each year, and one is always a handmade ornament for the Solstice tree. My grandma made my sister and I each a collection of beaded and embroidered ornaments when we were kids that I treasure to this day, so I adopted this craft as an annual tradition in our family.

Staying up Late

One of the favorite parts of our Solstice celebration when the kids were young was to stay up as late as we wished (or, as the family rule went, "all night, or until someone loses their mind"). Very loosely based on the Pagan tradition of keeping vigil by the fire throughout the longest night, then celebrating with the rising sun (but minus the Pagan bit), we decided that Solstice was a good reason to treat the kids to a wildly late bedtime once a year.

That said, as the kids have gotten older they can, quite literally, stay up all night (unlike their parents) so this tradition has been modified to "stay up until midnight" with excellent results. (Parents of young kids, choose your words and traditions carefully! Your teen will remember it all!)

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Solstice Sun

When the sun rises on Winter Solstice Day, we celebrate by pulling our Solstice Sun from the starry sky envelope, and hanging it in the window. We made it through the longest night, and from here the sun grows stronger and the days grow longer. We think that's something worth celebrating. (I made the sun a decade or so ago using an easy-to cut and emboss metal tooling kit, but I've always wanted to remake it with wool felt. 

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I hope the list above inspires you to create some traditions of your own this season! If celebrating Winter Solstice is new for your family, I encourage you to start slowly. Choose just two or three new traditions, then tweak in the coming years to add or subtract based on your needs. (Doing too much at once can easily overwhelm, and makes for a burdensome holiday rather than a joyful one.)

Wishing you all much light and magic during these dark winter days!

 

 

Holiday Triage: a slash-and-burn survival guide

Overwhelmed? I feel ya. This post (from December 16, a couple of years back) feels more timely than ever this season! Even if it is only the 8th…

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Our tree on December 15: a study in minimalism.

Let's all come clean. You just looked at the calendar, did some quick math, then freaked out. (It can't just be me.) Because seriously. December 16? What the?

I have my excuses, and you have yours. But all that aside, it's crunch time. For real. And as of this moment we have no cookies, no twinkle lights, no rustically wrapped gifts tucked under our rustic (and still not decorated) tree.

Hello.

So two nights ago I faced a choice: panic or make a plan.

I chose the latter. (Well, I chose both, but after trying them on I settled for the second option. It was a more comfortable fit.)

And my plan, it turns out, helped calm me down before I even baked a single cookie. My plan made it all manageable by deciding what mattered most and letting the rest go. Here's how:

  1. There are currently 5 days before Solstice Night and 7 days before Christmas Eve.
  2. There are 247 tasks that I would like to complete before that time, some of them epic like, oh, I don't know – cast on, knit, and cast off a man-sized sweater.
  3. It's not all happenin'.

So to make sense of the madness I divided my pre-holiday tasks into categories. And from now until Solstice we'll do one thing from each category.

I have four categories, and I slashed my to-do list down to five items for each category.

Because no one needs 12 batches of cookies. No one.

Here's my list:

Decorating

  • Lights and tinsel on the tree
  • Lights on the house
  • Decorate Solstice tree
  • Set up Christmas Village
  • Driveway lights and star on barn

Baking

  • Solstice Spirals
  • Gingerbread houses
  • Coconut snowballs
  • Ninjabread (Yes. Ninja.)
  • Thumbprints

Gifts

  • Food pantry donation
  • Kids & Pete
  • Mom, Dad, & Leah
  • Friends
  • Neighbors

Cleaning

  • Bathrooms
  • Living room
  • Kitchen & Mudroom
  • Bedrooms
  • Hall & Stairs

And suddenly – just like that – my list went from dozens of things pressing down on me until I could scarcely breathe to just four tasks a day. I can manage four. Four a day? Done and done.

We gave this a test run yesterday, the kids and I. And I was a teensy bit discouraged only because I realized I wanted them to hit the ground running and crank out a wrapped gift and a squeaky clean, well decorated room that smelled of gingerbread before lunch time.

Which, um, didn't happen.

So think of this as your list. Not your sweetie's, not your kid's, but yours alone. Then dig in!

(My kids did get crackin' just after lunch time and worked like mad to finish a gift and get our tree tinseled and lit. Sage suggests that if you do involve your children you give them an easing in period. Good call, kid.)

Because honestly. What really needs doing before Christmas? Very little, my friend. Very little. 

Because sure, you and I may celebrate differently this season. But all religion and customs aside the holiday spirit has little to do with a sparkling toilet or 32 gifts beneath the tree.

And you arriving at the holidays all relaxed and loving and go-with-the-flow?

It turns out that is the nicest gift of all.

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Originally published in 2015.