Winter Solstice, or Yule, is a sun based holiday. The days have been getting shorter and shorter as the season moves deeper into the winter months, ending with the shortest day of the year. This is, metaphorically, the day the sun dies. Then comes the longest night of the year, followed by days that ever so slowly get longer and longer. This would have been comforting to ancient peoples. Although there are still many cold, lean days ahead, this is the first sign of the warmth to come.
Many of the Solstice activities we do are centered around the sun, and what fruit looks more like the sun than a big, round, orange?
We put up our Yule tree, which is a fake. Yes, We choose to have a plastic tree simply because having a real one isn't practical in our family with a dog who marks even indoor plants as his, and 3 boys who are as boisterous as they can possibly be. Many years we bought cheap Christmas bulbs and hung them up, followed by a handful of years of putting up hand-me-down ornaments that had belonged to my parents and some to my grandparents. We do use some of the antique ornaments, but none of the breakable ones (at least until my littles are older and are more careful), but I prefer to have most of the decorations be hand made,out of natural materials. No more cheap plastic garland that sheds mess and ends up thrown away every year! My 4 year old is finally to the stage where he will sit and do crafts with me, so he's assisting this year to make our dried orange garland.
I use a dehydrator that came from Aldi. It was $30, it doesn't take up too much space, and it's 5 years old and still working great. Someday I might upgrade to some fancy-shmancy one, but this one gets the job done with minimal rotating.
When we eat oranges, I usually slice the ends off and dehydrate those all year round. Nothing to eat there, but plenty of lovely smell and color! Less waste into the trash can and more to string up at Yule. Lemons and limes are great for this, too, although they are less traditional. Once properly dehydrated, these will keep next to forever if kept in a dry place – preferably in an air tight container to keep out moisture. Once oranges are in season and really cheap, I buy lots of extra to dehydrate for Yule crafts and decorations. 3-4 regular sized oranges, sliced as thinly as I can get them, fills my dehydrator up and takes about one day to get them properly dried out.
Once we have a couple rounds of dehydrating done, I gather up all the supplies and have the kids string them together. I like to use cotton yarn and a tapestry needle. The tapestry needles are large and dull, and safe for most kids, with adult supervision, of course. The needle itself isn't completely necessary, but it helps to have something strong enough to poke through the orange and help draw the yarn through.
If you wish to avoid using the tapestry needle, or your child doesn't have the dexterity yet, you can fashion a tool out of the handle of a plastic spoon. You'll just want to pre-poke holes in any rind that might be too tough for the handle. Once the string is poked through a slice, help or show your child how to make a simple knot to hold it in place, and to prevent all the orange slices from slipping all together and bunching up. If you have other citrus fruits, you could have them make patterns with the different colors and use the opportunity to help them practice counting, sorting, addition, pattern recognition, and/or spacial recognition (spacing the slices evenly).
It only takes a handful of oranges to make enough for us to string around our small tree. The smell while they are dehydrating and while hanging on the tree is wonderful and warming. I definitely need more warming things around here since I know my feet will be freezing for another handful of months! If this scent isn't strong enough for you or fades too quickly, check out my Yule essential oil diffuser blends at the bottom of the page.
Another fun, yet much quicker and simpler, activity for little hands to do with oranges is to make pomanders. All it takes is an orange and whole cloves. It's great for little children because it helps them practice dexterity and hand eye coordination to poke the cloves into the orange.
Once all the crafting fun is done and there are left over dehydrated orange slices and bits you can make a delicious smelling potpourri! Crunch up the orange bits that are left into smaller pieces, add pine cones or even pine needles. If you have any, dehydrated cranberries are also a gorgeous addition for the color contrast. I like to put it in a glass bowl and put somewhere near the tree (but high enough that little hands can't grab it down). Once the natural smell has worn off, and it will, I like to put a few drops of the holiday EO blend on the bits and pieces. Smells lovely and still looks great!
Yule Cheer Master blend:
10 drops Juniper berry
10 drops frankincense
15 drops sweet orange
Mix into an empty vial and add 3 drops to 100 ML in a diffuser, or 3-5 drops onto your home made orange potpourri.
Winter Solstice relaxing bath soak:
5 drops juniper berry
2 drops peppermint
1 drop cinnamon leaf
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon castile soap or unscented body wash
Warm the coconut oil until just barely melted and mix in the essential oils.
Mix in the castile soap or body wash.
Draw a hot bath and pour in the mixture.
Swirl around until spread out, climb in and relax.