This time of year, the family’s Green Hour can quickly turn into a Dark Hour. The golden minutes after school disappear. Daylight thins and darkness swoops down, suddenly, like a black wing.

And then on December 21–Winter Solstice–everything shifts. Slowly, slowly the light begins to return.

Right now, the natural world is austerely beautiful. The colors are muted, the air still, the trees almost skeletal. Why not celebrate the Solstice this month with an outdoor romp? You and your kids might watch that evening as the world moves from twilight to shadow to darkness–and then light candles or beam flashlights to mark the turn (and return) of the light.

Across cultures, across time, Winter Solstice has exerted a mysterious pull. The ancients heaped twigs on the fire, created torches, and chanted. They hoped to keep the dark at bay and entice the sun to return. I was reminded of this recently on an evening stroll with my 11-year-old daughter. As our familiar neighborhood slipped into darkness and the last fall leaves rustled underfoot, small bits of artificial and natural light began to appear. They decorated porches, filled windows and star-speckled the sky.

I Love the Night (Brown Dog, 2004, ages 1 to 5) by Dar Hosta is the perfect book to prepare for Solstice–and bedtime. Though it is not set in the winter, the book captures the beauty and sense of magic that infuses this darkest time of the year. As her crickets, octopus and raccoon remind us, night is the “perfectly perfect time for becoming still and quiet.” Hosta adorns her lullabye with collages in soothing shades of midnight blue, cocoa brown, pale lavender and pearly white. On the page, the shapes of the animals and the surrounding leaves and grass loom large, much like friendly shadows.

As the seasons turn and the year comes to a close, Hosta’s words have special meaning. Solstice might be just the right time for having a “nocturnal adventure” and then “making up a good dream.” Wishing you and your family a holiday full of good dreams and playful Green Hours.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 15 award-winning children’s books, including Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Random House) and two chapter-book sequels, all set in a city community garden. Check for activities connected with Mary’s books.

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Published: December 14, 2009