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Students will explore the winter solstice.They will discover that the traditional holiday is astronomically based and learn what this means.They will discover the scientific and seasonal significance of this event, traditional rituals and customs.
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Teacher should have a model, either photos or a 3D version, of the sun and earth.Teacher should have books and stories about the winter solstice.
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Three class periods (50 minutes each)
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- Begin the class with asking the students if they know what the winter solstice is.
- Record any ideas that they may have about this traditional celebration.
- Start to talk to the class about the change of seasons, how days become shorter and nights become longer in the winter.
- Explain that this occurs because of the sun’s relation to the earth.The sun is at its farthest point in rotation from the earth, and more specifically where on the earth the observer is.
- Show the students northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere.
- Explain that the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs between December 20 – 23 and in the Southern Hemisphere this occurs between June 20 – 23.
- Talk about why it occurs at different times of year for the two hemispheres (location from the sun).
- Use planet models to illustrate.
- Use photos to illustrate.
- Books, magazines and online sites feature great photos and satellite pictures.
- Discuss with the students the length of days.Are they getting longer (more sun)? Shorter (less sun)?
- Why do they get longer and shorter?
- The winter solstice has seasonal significance because on this day the reversal of long nights and short days begins.Days get longer and nights start getting shorter after this day.
- The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year.
- Discuss with students how this is an ancient celebration that dates back to the ancient Egyptians.
- Brainstorm and record why this day would be important to ancient peoples.
- These people had no heat, food shortages, shelter issues with the harsh winter weather and more.
- Show a picture and explain to the class that on this night the three stars in Orion’s belt align with the brightest star (Sirius) and these alignment shows where the sun will rise the next morning.
- Ask your students to test this during this year’s winter solstice.
- Discuss how the winter solstice signifies rebirth and a return to light to ancient peoples.
- Emphasize this transition from dark to light, rebirth.
- Discuss how Stonehenge was designed and constructed based upon this holiday.
- Use books, magazines or have students break into groups and research this.
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In conclusion read the class a book or story about the winter solstice. Also read about traditions and rituals that are practiced during the winter solstice celebration.
1) The Return of the Light by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
2) The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer, Jesse Reisch (Illustrator).
3) The Fires of Yule: A Keltelven Guide for Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Montague Whitsel
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Ask students to research and share with the class some traditional customs associated with the winter solstice. There are 36 different cultural celebrations associated with the winter solstice. Have your students investigate a few of these and share with the class.