Each year we celebrate Winter Solstice with the children at the forest school. Our festivals and celebrations always have a touch of magic making them a special experience for the children. Last year during our Winter Solstice celebration we had a surprise visit from Father Winter to our school cabin in Palmer Lake. This year we ran into Tomte — from the Yule Tomte and Little Rabbits story — in the forest.
We also find ways to make the celebrations meaningful, where children are rewarded for kindness and care towards other people or animals.
Who is Tomte?
This year we have been reading Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits in the days leading up to the winter holidays. In Swedish tradition it is a tomte (or jultomte — Yule tomte) who brings Christmas presents to children. It is traditional to leave a bowl of porridge out for the tomte on Christmas night as a special gift to thank him.
Here is a bit of a cultural reference on a Tomte from Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace:
“They are both solitary, mischievous domestic sprites responsible for the protection and welfare of the farmstead and its buildings. Tomte literally means “homestead man” and is derived from the word tomt which means homestead or building lot.”
“A tomte is described as an older, little man about the size of a young child. He wears old often ragged clothes, usually gray or navy, and sports a bright red cap on his head. He resides in the pantry or barn and watches over the household and farm.”
There many different stories about Tomte. But the story of Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits is our favorite! In the story, Tomte loses his hat and mittens on a cold winter day (they get blown away) which upsets him greatly. Eventually however, he find them and meets some new friends in the forest. You can learn more about this lovely story in this blog post.
So last Monday as we were exploring and playing around in the forest on Winter Solstice we ran into Tomte! 🙂
At first we weren’t sure who it was sitting there on a log by a on wooden sled, but then we realized it was Tomte &mdash just like in the book! He even had a sock on his head!
Missing hat and mittens
It turned out that the previous week, when it was very cold, Tomte was out in the forest leaving seeds for birds and squirrels and a wind blew away his beloved red hat and mittens. Which is why he had to use a sock on his head instead.
It was such joy for the children to be able to help Tomte look for his hat and mittens. And along with the hat and mittens we also found a letter!
A letter from the birds
And the letter said:
Hello from Steller’s Jay.
Thank you for being so kind and bringing us bird seed last week. Not being hungry made us feel warmer and stronger.
I found your hat as I was flying high in the sky a few days ago. And the squirrel found your mittens. We are leaving them here for you, as we know you will be back to see us for Winter Solstice!
There are some very kind children that come to play in this forest and they often leave us peanuts. Finding a peanut is like a whole feast for us! If you meet these children could you please show them this map we made? It will take them to gift for them and for you to thank you all for your kindness to nature’s creatures.
Lots of chirps and tweets!”
What a delight it was to all the children to realize that the letter was also mentioning them — as the kind children who have been leaving seeds and peanuts for birds and squirrels throughout fall and winter (which we make a point of doing on our hikes). And that their kindness didn’t go unnoticed. The map included would lead them to a special Thank You from the birds.
The treasure map
After some search as Tomte and the children followed the map we found a stash of little bundles, one for each child as well as for Tomte and for the forest school instructors. 🙂
Having tea with Tomte
Afterwards Tomte invited us to share some pine needle tea and cookies with him, and we in turn shared our raspberry and honey tea with some delicious home-made carrot cake.
It was so wonderful to sit in the forest surrounded by friends with hands full of treats and gifts. 🙂
how the Earth moves around the Sun
And after our tea time Tomte also told us about how Earth moves around the sun, and why throughout the year the days get shorter and then get longer again. We learned that solstice means “sun stuck” and equinox means “equal night” as in night being same length as the day.
A gift from Tomte
Before we had to leave for home, Tomte also gave us special little gifts — a little bundle with bird seed so that we could care for our little feathered friends during the cold days to come.
We also got a special bird feeder for our forest school to help us care for the birds.
In closing, here is a little video about our magical day in the forest on Winter Solstice.
Making childhood magical
In addition to meeting Tomte that day we also made some beautiful crafts. And each child received a hand-made First Aid kit. But that is for another post, or two. 🙂
My deep gratitude goes to everyone who helped me to make this day so special for our forest school — my incredible mom and husband who are always on board with my ideas. Thank you to our one-of-a-kind Tomte, we hope to run into you again. 🙂 Thank you Kelsey, our wonderful Assistant Instructor, for your kindness and support that I can always count on. Thank you Elan for the beautiful carrot cake — it was so delicious. And thank you Abby from Santurbane Photography for helping us to preserve these special moments for years to come.
Happy winter to everyone! And hooray for our sunshine now getting a little bit lighter and longer with each new day.