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updated: 12/18/2012 1:22 PM

Winter solstice in the suburbs: How, why and where to celebrate

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  • Visit the observatory at Harper College in Palatine to get a look at the sun, through a telescope, on Saturday, Dec. 22.

      Visit the observatory at Harper College in Palatine to get a look at the sun, through a telescope, on Saturday, Dec. 22.
    Bill Zars/Daily Herald 2002

  • Listen to tales around the campfire on Friday, Dec. 21, when the Forest Preserve District of Kane County holds its annual Winter Solstice Bonfire. Last year's was at Tekakwitha Woods; this year, it will be at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles.

       Listen to tales around the campfire on Friday, Dec. 21, when the Forest Preserve District of Kane County holds its annual Winter Solstice Bonfire. Last year's was at Tekakwitha Woods; this year, it will be at LeRoy Oakes in St. Charles.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer, 2010

  • The solstice program at the Elgin Public Museum in Lords Park aims to teach guests about why this seasonal turning point holds such significance.

       The solstice program at the Elgin Public Museum in Lords Park aims to teach guests about why this seasonal turning point holds such significance.
    JOHN STARKS | Staff Photographer

  • Although the days will begin growing longer after Dec. 21, candles are a good way to light up the early winter evenings.

      Although the days will begin growing longer after Dec. 21, candles are a good way to light up the early winter evenings.
    Christopher Hankins/Daily Herald 2005

  • Tall grass in the Exner Marsh is lit by the setting sun over Lake in the Hills as the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, approaches.

       Tall grass in the Exner Marsh is lit by the setting sun over Lake in the Hills as the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, approaches.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Participants during a previous winter solstice Walk make their way down the path at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

      Participants during a previous winter solstice Walk make their way down the path at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
By Rachel Baruch Yackley
Daily Herald correspondent

Solstice actually means "sun stands still," and is a phenomenon observed twice a year, in the winter and summer.

During these periods, the sun is at its farthest point from the tilting earth's equator in the northern hemisphere.

The winter solstice, on Dec. 21, is a date of celebration, when people of different religions and walks of life come together to observe the shortest day of sunlight and welcome back the sun. This day also marks the first day of winter.

And if you've been wondering about the so-called Mayan apocalypse, predicted to befall us on this same date, here are some great ways to celebrate the earth's continued existence. All take place Friday, Dec. 21, unless otherwise noted.

Oak King and Holly Queen

Celebrate the season outdoors with a procession around Morton Arboretum's Meadow Lake, led by the Solstice King and Queen.

Visitors will be greeted by these luminaries, who will lead them on an easy 0.6-mile stroll around the lake behind the Visitor's Center. Along the way, noblemen and women will share their solstice stories and lead a variety of fun activities.

The "court" will comprise "the arboretum docents, who know how to tell good stories," said Mary Samerdyke, manager of interpretation at the arboretum.

"There are many solstice traditions: the Oak King and the Holly Queen represent the season and help us craft a story," she said.

In addition to celebrating winter solstice, the arboretum also holds special events for the spring and autumn equinoxes, as well as the summer solstice.

Don your warm winter finery (gloves, hats, boots) and join this royal court on a celebration of the sun. All are welcome, and the paved path around the lake is wheelchair and stroller-friendly.

Campfire tales

Gather 'round the campfire at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles, and listen to tales from different cultures about the traditions and ecological events inherent to this pivotal day.

Forest Preserve District of Kane County naturalists Ben Katzen and Barb McKittrick will share stories "interpreting different cultures' celebrating of the solstice and the importance of astrological events, and the cycles in ecology with the daylight change," said Valerie Blaine, nature programs director for the district.

Blaine said she personally celebrates winter solstice each year, "because it's important to recognize the natural cycles and seasons of the earth, and to be in tune with them instead of working against them. I recognize there's beauty in darkness as well as in the return of the sun."

"With the changes in daylight, there are changes currently happening in ecology, in both animal behavior and plant behavior," Blaine said. "If you start to observe around the solstice, you really will observe changes: courtship signals among waterfowl on the river, parallel sets of tracks in the snow as critters start running together."

Although the forest preserve district holds this event annually, this is the inaugural event at district's newest facility, the Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes. Dress for the weather, as this is an outdoor event.

Yule log and folk tales

Learn about the Druid Oak King, the Holly Queen, and other winter solstice lore when the Elgin Public Museum in Elgin presents "Ancient Cultural Traditions and the Solstice."

Visitors will get to watch the yule log burn while they listen to tales of why this seasonal turning point has carried such significance throughout the ages.

Warm cider and treats will be provided.

Readings, songs, drumming

If spiritual contemplation is more your style, attend "A Contemporary, Contemplative Winter Solstice Celebration" at the Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation's Bryon Colby Barn in Grayslake.

A service of readings, songs, dance, community drumming and a candle-lighting ritual will transport you right to the heart of this solstice celebration.

Feel free to bring treats to share as well as your own drums (oatmeal boxes and coffee cans work nicely).

Seasonal drinks, treats

For the revelers out there, winter solstice is certainly a time of celebration, and the public is invited to do so at the Elmhurst Art Museum's Solstice Party. This gathering is for adults only, and will include seasonal drinks and treats.

"This is our first year for the party," said Josie Kean, coordinator of museum services. "It's to acknowledge the solstice and celebrate the season."

As an extra treat, guests will be able to have their photographs taken by the 1950s Christmas tree inside the McCormick House, one of only three homes in the United States designed and built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The museum is built around this unique structure, which it purchased in 1991.

While at the party, feel free to stroll through the gallery and enjoy the beautiful pieces on display during the museum's current exhibit, "No Rules: Contemporary Clay."

A look at the sun

See the sun, up close and personal, at Harper College's observatory, in Palatine.

"Astronomy instructors planned this get-together because the world hasn't ended," said Harper astronomy teacher Bhasker Moorthy.

Held Dec. 22, one day after winter solstice, this event will offer glimpses of sunspots and other solar prominences.

The public is welcome to bundle up and gaze at the sun through telescopes that will be located just outside the observatory. These will be used as they have solar filters. College astronomy teachers Kelly Page and Joe Kabbes will be on hand, along with students from Harper's Astronomy Club.

This is a special opportunity for this time of year, as the observatory is only open to the public every other weekend, March through November.

The observatory is in Building O, on the northeast side of the Harper campus, with parking available in Lot 8.

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