Whether you think of it as the shortest day of the year, or the longest night of the year, or the beginning of lengthening days to come (you optimist, you), there’s no denying it: The winter solstice is coming. It occurs on Dec. 21 this year, amid the frenzied festivity of the holidays as always. In fact, many of the rituals associated with one of those holidays, Christmas, have evolved from the winter solstice celebrations of ancient cultures. For some, it’s a time for reflection and renewal — a welcome break from the bustle of the season.
“In most yogic traditions, the winter solstice is considered a sacred time for introspection, meditation, and also joyous celebration,” says Reinette Fournier, owner of Tenth Gate Center for Yoga & Meditation in Portsmouth, R.I. “There is a potent energy around the darkness of the winter solstice that allows us to go deeper within ourselves.”
Local organizations are hosting solstice celebrations that will light up the longest night, often geared toward families: They’re hosting hayrides, bonfires, moonlight hikes, and lantern-lit strolls. (Doesn’t reading that sentence make you feel just a little warmer about the snowy season ahead?) If you get a chance, pop outside and take a look at your shadow at noon on solstice day — it will be your longest noontime shadow of the year, like stepping into Mother Nature’s fun house. Here’s a sampling of events.
Candlelit Labyrinth Walk: Armenian Heritage Park, Boston, Dec. 8:
The Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Kennedy Greenway (between Faneuil Hall and Christopher Columbus Park) is the setting for this annual solstice event, now in its fourth year. Surrounded by the sparkle of the city after dark, participants walk the luminaria-lined labyrinth and are invited to tie a ribbon with a personal wish on the park’s wishing tree. Awww! Hot chocolate and cookies will be available. Free. Sunday, Dec. 8, 4:30-5:30 p.m. www.ArmenianHeritagePark.org.
Winter Solstice Lantern Walk: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Topsfield, Dec. 13 and 14:
Kids age 4 and up (and their grownups) are invited to Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River sanctuary to make lanterns in the barn, and join staff and volunteers for solstice stories and folklore. The group will stroll the sanctuary’s trails with their candlelit lanterns, and then head back to base for a bonfire with hot cider and cocoa. Members, $9 adult, $8 child; nonmembers, $11/$10. Pre-register at 978-887-9264 or online at www.massaudubon.org. Fri. and Sat., Dec. 13 & 14, 4-6 p.m.
Winter Solstice Celebration, Ward Reservation, Andover and West Andover, Dec. 18:
This popular event takes place at The Trustees’ Ward Reservation, and features a fire performer. The action begins with a guided candlelit walk through the woods narrated with passages from the story, “The Shortest Day,” by Wendy Pfeffer. Guests hike to the top of Holt Hill (at 420 feet, the highest point in Essex County) for views of Boston and a gathering around the solstice stones — a compass-like arrangement of stones that represent the cardinal points on a compass and the points of the solstices and equinoxes. Alongside a bonfire, fire entertainer Tetro will perform. Members, $9 adult, $5 child; nonmembers, $15/$10; Wed., Dec. 18, 6-8:30 p.m. www.thetrustees.org.
Winter Solstice Celebration, Joppa Flats Education Center, Newburyport, Dec. 20:
Bring the kiddos along for a “festival of light to beckon the sun’s return.” The event features stories, songs, and crafts that explore the concept of seasons and how different cultures celebrate the longest night of the year with legends and rituals. Themed snacks are included. Dress warmly, since some activities may take place outdoors. Members, $7 adult, $6 child; nonmembers, $9/$8. Fri., Dec. 20, 3:30-5 p.m. Registration required; 978-462-9998 or www.massaudubon.org.
Winter Solstice Stroll, Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Plymouth, Dec. 20:
Adults and children age 12 and up are invited on a nighttime hike at Tidmarsh, a former cranberry farm that is now a 431-acre haven of restored wetlands, streams, ponds, forest, and woodlands. Look for “creatures that awaken when the sun goes down” and explore the history of the winter solstice by the light of the moon. Members, $8 adult, $6 child; nonmembers, $10/$8. Fri., Dec. 20, 6:30-8 p.m. Registration required; 508-927-1200; www.massaudubon.org.
Winter Solstice Dunes-to-Roof Hike, Castle Hill, Ipswich, Dec. 21:
Celebrate the winter solstice on an easy-going hike through the dunes of the Crane Wildlife Refuge. On this guided walk, you’ll trek from the dunes to Crane Beach at sunset, and then head over to the handsome great house of the Crane Estate. Warm up with hot cider, rum, and light refreshments in the Chart Room on the third floor of the Great House, a space rarely open to the public. A trip up the spiral staircase to the roof reveals wondrous views of the night sky on the shortest day of the year. Trustees of Reservations members $36; non-members, $45; Sat., Dec. 21, 3-6 p.m. www.thetrustees.org.
Winter Solstice Hayride, Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield, Dec. 21:
Who says hayrides are just for fall? At this all-ages event, guests ride a hay wagon, guided by lanterns, to the sanctuary’s Fox Hill for stargazing. Bring a box dinner and the sanctuary will supply hot cocoa and dessert, to be enjoyed as you sit on around a campfire on hay bales and hear stories about how animals transition to winter. Members, $8 adults, $8 children; nonmembers, $11/$11. Sat., Dec. 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Registration required; 781-837-9400; www.massaudubon.org.
Solstice Illumination Night, Governor Hutchinson’s Field, Milton, Dec. 21:
Commune with family and friends on the darkest day of the year “for a fiery celebration of the return of the light.” The group will gather around campfires to make S'mores and roast hot dogs, sip warm beverages, and watch fire spinner Ember Flynn make flames dance. $20 per member family; $25 non-member family; Sat., Dec. 21, 4-6 p.m. www.thetrustees.org.
Winter Solstice Celebration, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, Easthampton, Dec. 21:
This free family celebration has been a local tradition for decades. Stroll along candle-lit walking trails, enjoy live music and a bonfire, children’s crafts, and feel the community spirit in this beautiful-in-any-season natural area. Free; Sat., Dec. 21, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Registration required; 413-584-3009; www.massaudubon.org.
Winter Solstice Celebration, Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Jeffersonville, Vt., Dec. 21:
This annual Solstice Celebration is offered to guests at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, but is also open to the public. The event includes a performance from Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theater, fire performers, a bonfire with s’mores and hot chocolate, visits from Smugglers’ costumed characters, fireworks, and more. Free. December 21; 4-5:45 p.m., 800-419-4615; www.smuggs.com.
Solstice Concert, Greater Bridgeport Symphony, Bridgeport, Conn., Dec. 21:
Marking the solstice and the warmth of the season, this concert features the Bach “Christmas Oratorio,” Vivaldi’s “Winter and Summer” from “The Four Seasons,” “The Seven Joys of Christmas” by contemporary American composer Kirke Mechem, and more. The Fairfield County Children’s Choir and the Connecticut Chamber Choir will lend their vocal talents. Tickets $15-$59; Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; 203-576-0263; www.gbs.org.
Winter Solstice Celebration, Ansonia Nature and Recreation Center, Ansonia, Conn., Dec. 21:
Learn about the journey of the Earth around the Sun, and celebrate the slow return of the light. Gather for a relaxed afternoon around the fire at Picnic Pavilion 1, make a craft, have some cider, and welcome the coming of longer days with drumming at sunset. Everyone is welcome to this family-friendly event; no unaccompanied children. Dress for the outdoors. $6 per person; Dec. 21, 2-4:30 p.m. 203-736-1053; www.ansonianaturecenter.org.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com