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Outdoor Ideas & Eight Great Reads for Family Yule

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

When the holidays roll around, it can be difficult to hang on to spiritual meaning. I have no beef with Starbuck cups or shopping mall Santas. But I want my kids to stay in touch with what Yule is all about. For us, that’s solstice, the longest night and all that it brings with it. It’s easy to honor Brigid and the gift of growing light and warmth at Imbolc when there’s no mainstream commercial holiday to vying for kids’ attention. But trying to merge commercial Christmas with Yule makes for a much harder sell.

One way I work to reinforce the spiritual meaning of Yule is to make sure my kids get plenty of time outdoors. It’s fun to bundle up and set out on bike or on foot. Family hikes offer a chance to enjoy the brisk air and observe what the season really brings. The kids enjoy the discovery of vacated nests, animal tracks in the icy ground or snow, and the different shades of evergreens. Armed with flashlights or dollar store glowsticks, they like to go out into the backyard and marvel at how early darkness arrives now, often before dinner! Our telescope is permanently set out on our front porch so we (or the neighbors, if so inclined) can marvel at the intensity of the Long Night Moon.

When it’s time to warm up, we snuggle together, savor peppermint tea (for me) or hot chocolate (for them), and read some Yule books. While they are harder to find than How the Grinch Stole Christmas, fantastic family friendly books about solstice are out there, waiting to be enjoyed. Here are some of our favorites--

  1. The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson. This picture book explores the traditions and rituals of Yule, taking a cross-cultural view. In this short, kid friendly read, the scientific and mythological connections around solstices are presented. There is plenty of visual appeal and an emphasis on the cycles of nature and human responses to them.

  2. The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer. This work also touches on human celebrations around the cold and darkness of this time of year but combines this with a scientific approach. There are hands on activities offered for kids to gain a better understanding of why we have longer nights, examining earth’s rotations. A reading list that explores more scientific aspects of the holiday is also included.

  3. The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards. This one is best for slightly older kids--upper elementary or above. The collected stories present solstice myths from cultures around the globe. There are all fascinating reads and together they highlight a meaningful point, that the need to find light and warmth in a season of darkness is indeed a universal human need.

  4. Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth by Dorothy Morrison. This is not a picture book but still a valuable read this time for year, especially for anyone raising pagan kids. The craft and recipes included are fun and easy. The appendix offers information about gods and goddesses associated with the holiday and as with the other books, the focus is on cultures around the world and throughout history.

  5. Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations around the World by Heather Conrad. This one is another global studies sort of read in which all the light and warmth focused holidays this time of year are presented. Yule, Solstice and Saturnalia are all briefly presented. It’s an accessible read even for very young kids.

  6. The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden. This is a sweet little story. For my kids at least, any tale is more enjoyable if told from the perspective of an animal. Badger’s tale of creatures searching for the Sun puts the season in easy to comprehend terms. The illustrations are lovely and sure to please kid and parent.

  7. Rupert's Tales: The Wheel of the Year - Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, and Ostara by Kyrja. In our house at least, no sabbat is complete without a story of Rupert the bunny. Both of my kids enjoy Rupert but my daughter does especially and now that she is a strong independent reader this book often ends up in bed with her. At Yule, as with all other pagan holidays, Rupert has a quick adventure that helps him understand the spiritual significant of the season for the humans around him. Told in rhyme, the tales are short and the illustrations are colorful and cute. And with this book and the companion text, you can cover the entire Wheel of the Year with your little ones!

  8. Elsie & Pooka Stories of the Sabbats and Seasons: Yule & Imbolc by Lora Craig-Gaddis. After my kids are done scratching their itch for a seasonal story told by a bunny, we can move onto lessons learned by a black cat, Pooka, and the little witch, Elsie, who teaches him about sabbats. Recipes and crafts accompany the tales. The stories are short and sweet with whimsical colorful illustrations.

In our house at least we do not try to beat back the influence of Christmas. Trees, lights, giant inflatables bring my kids lots of joy. By sharing stories and being outdoors we de-emphasize the lure of material things, look at actual lore of winter solstice and celebrate the quiet, humbling beautiful of this season.

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Kate Delany is the author of two books of poetry—Reading Darwin (Poets Corner Press) and Ditching (Aldrich Press). Her fiction and verse have appeared in many magazines and journals, such as Art Times, Barrelhouse, Jabberwock Review, Room and Poetry Quarterly. She does freelance writing on the topics of parenting, holistic health, herbs and gardening. She holds a MA in English from Rutgers-Camden and a BA in English and BA in Art History from Chestnut Hill College. She lives in Collingswood, NJ, with her husband and two children.  

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