Winter Solstice, Winter Health: Dr. Starbuck Explains
Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about: the winter solstice.
On the winter solstice, which is coming right up on December 21, the day is the shortest and the night is the longest of the whole year. This happens because on the solstice, the northern hemisphere of earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it ever goes. This not only makes the days short, it also makes the sun rise and set far south in our horizon.
The word solstice, spelled S-O-L-S-T-I-C-E, comes from the Latin words sol which means sun, and sistere which means to stand still. At the winter solstice, the sun seems to hover and kind of stand still in the southern sky. After the winter solstice passes, slowly, ever so slowly, the earth begins to reverse its tilt. The days get longer and longer, and sunrise and sunset start their slow journey to the northern horizon.
The time around the solstice can be pretty hard on a kid’s health. It’s dark a LOT and that can make a person sad. It’s dark when kids get up and dark at 5 o’clock and there is hardly enough light to play outside. People of all ages get headaches more often in the winter, and cold and flu and sore throat viruses are all around. It’s challenging to have to put on boots and gloves and hats and big coats every time you go out. It’s easy to get sick when one minute you are freezing and the next minute you’re hot, and the minute after that somebody is sneezing or coughing right next to you! In winter, staying healthy is extra challenging.
For thousands of years, one way that people have improved their winter health is by celebrating the winter solstice. Celebration is good medicine – it’s creative and cheerful. We get to make plans, learn about something new and have fun making others and ourselves happy.
The methods ancient people used to celebrate the solstice were pretty simple. Lots of people today, maybe you and your family, are still celebrating in the same way. Here are some of my favorites:
A few weeks before the solstice, start a sunrise/sunset journal. Go outside or look out the window in the morning and the late afternoon and write down the time that the sun rises and the sun sets. It doesn’t have to be exact. Just get a general idea of how the light is shrinking and the dark increasing. You can marvel at the earth slowly tilting and the season slowly changing.
Notice red, green and white colors all around you during the time before the solstice. Red, green and white are the colors of the solstice (and of Christmas). When you notice these colors, you’re celebrating. You can see evergreen trees and red berries on mountain ash trees and brilliant snow. You can eat red beets and green chard and bright white potatoes. Your parents can help you put a wreath on your door, with a big red ribbon, and a Christmas tree in your house.
Go outside, even if it’s dark and cold. If you’re bundled up, it’s always nice to be outside. You can appreciate the ways the world is different and very beautiful in winter.
Ask your parents if you can explore the medieval tradition of burning a Yule log. Nowadays we think of Yule as a name for Christmas, but in ancient times in Northern Europe, Yule was the name for winter solstice festivals. People celebrated the return of sunlight by building bonfires and burning a specially selected Yule log. This year you might celebrate the solstice by going to a bonfire party or by burning your own Yule log in a fireplace or woodstove. If you haven’t got a fireplace, you might ask your parents for a special light or candle that represents a Yule bonfire. You can light it right at sunset on the solstice to celebrate the return of sunlight.
I hope you explore and enjoy a few solstice celebrations this year. I think doing that could be really fun, and great medicine for your winter health.
I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.