Creating family traditions or finding ways to celebrate the festivals with children can be tricky. Here are some ideas from the children and Families Team on how they celebrate with their children, aged 3 years plus.
I’m still finding my feet with family traditions but this year I have a 3-year-old, so much more aware, and I feel the need to make a start at creating some.
I love the story in the book ‘Circle Round’ about the return of the sun and how the sun is tired and sleeps in the arms of night, awoken by the thanks of children. There’s an activity in the book to make a paper cut out of the night holding the sun, I think this would make a lovely tree topper and we can make decorations for the tree that also have things we are thankful to the sun for (and thanks in general).
Other ideas I’d like to try is making shadow puppets of the Holly and Oak Kings and retell their story. We’ll make some Sun shaped cookies and decorate them with icing pens and sprinkles, something my toddler loves to do. we’ll also make some seed cakes for the birds, I’ve got some lovely star shaped moulds to make them more festive, may even use green or red thread to hang them. Something else we might try, though how successful at this age I’m not sure, is to make a den, to represent an underground cave, like the hibernating animals, the underworld, or deep womb of the Goddess. Then we’ll sit in it and do a grounding meditation, or more likely read some solstice stories. The night before solstice we’ll light a candle, leave out a Sun cookie and some cider; to give the sun strength to return. In the future it would be nice to go up to our local castle with a hot flask of cocoa and watch the sun rise, but this year we’ll let them sleep and I might watch the sunrise over Stonehenge online instead.
Whatever you do, have a blessed Yule
Winter Solstice in our Family
We celebrate all across Yuletide, with walks out into the frosty weather when it’s dry enough, watching robins hopping in the bare branches of an elder tree, or crows perching precariously in the tops of poplars. When it’s too damp, we’ll watch soppy, seasonal films or plan for “The Big Day”. The kids (currently 3, 8 and 10) love it when it’s time to decorate, and I’ve always tried to have something “crafty” for them to do. One year we made stars out of lollipop sticks. Another we used cardboard tubes to make different coloured flower shapes; not exactly wintery, but colourful and fun nonetheless! As the solstice itself approaches, the kids get more and more excited. Our blended family is complex, and Christmas (more of the commercial than Christian variety) is generally spent with other folks; and for other folks, really, to make that day special for them. That means we nearly always have a huge solstice celebration here, with presents, food, crackers, games, and lots of cozy fun at home. One of the boys has sensory issues around food so I always get him to help me plan the menu, and the night before, we throw oats (no glitter!) into the garden for the Yule Father and whatever beast carries them. Their presence or existence is explained as the manifestation of the love in our hearts and the desire for others to be happy. I love that we’ve made our own traditions in amongst the trappings of the season, and once the kids are in bed on solstice night, I light candles to my deities, and thank them for all I have. One solstice eve, as we threw oats out onto the grass outside, a great gust of wind came and the tinkling of bells. I’ve never seen my eldest move faster to get into bed!
The Winter Solstice is one of the festivals I’ve always found easiest to share with my children, simply because it ties in with Christmas. Focusing on the Solstice is a good way to avoid getting caught up in the hype of secular consumption at this time of year as well as honouring pagan beliefs, not to mention getting outside to connect with nature at a time when staying cosy inside can seem more tempting. We often do Solstice crafts like making salt dough ornaments for the tree. Suns and stars are the usual favourites and I’m thinking of doing a Sun Goddess this year now the kids are a little older. There are plenty of easy salt dough recipes online and you can paint your creations once they’re cooked and cooled. We also like weaving “stars” with sticks and sunny yellow yarn, in fact there’s usually one of these on the top of our tree. On the day of Solstice, I get up to watch the sunrise (pleasingly late this time of year!) and encourage the children to join me, although they don’t always. We light plenty of candles and read Solstice stories like “The Rebirth of the Sun” from the book “Circle Round” (by Starhawk, Diane Baker and Anne Hill).
At this time of year in our house, we indulge in a whole festive season; one festival is not enough for us, we want them all!!
Yule has to be the most accepted of the Pagan festivals by our wider family, which they have celebrated with us; and we have indulged in Christmas celebrations with them. I perpetuated the myth of Santa, partly so the kids didn’t feel ‘different’ at school and partly because it was so ingrained in my own view of this time of year.
Luckily, my boy told me, when he was around seven, that he didn’t believe Santa was an actual person. He felt Santa was more a spirit of the season, as festive season which stretches from Bonfire Night to Christmas Day and includes all special days in between.
This took the pressure off with the Santa thing. We exchange our nuclear family presents at Yule; the children then have the wider family presents to look forward to on Christmas Day.
Our family traditions still focus on the sympathetic magic of putting up lots of lights to encourage the return of the Sun. Throughout this time, we enjoy the cold walks with the dogs and warming up after with a fire and hot chocolate. As the kids have gotten older, I have tried to ensure they know self-care is important and these traditions have helped. I don’t know if when they light a candle at this time of year, they are specifically connecting with the Deity they knew when they were younger, but I know they light candles and that is enough.