Land Between the Lakes Planetarium

Celebrate the 2013 Winter Solstice in Tennessee

Your winter coats are probably already in heavy rotation as temperatures dip into the teens but guess what, it’s not even really winter yet. Winter solstice, the day most consider to be the first of the coldest season, officially arrives in Tennessee on December 21, 2013 at 11:11 a.m. CST.

Winter solstice celebrations have their roots in ancient times and continue to be observed by people around the world in many of our modern winter holiday traditions.
Solstice, which translates to “sun stands still” in Latin, was a time when the ancients noticed the sun’s noontime height in the sky appeared the same for several days and thought the sun was standing still. When the hours of daylight began to increase again they celebrated with Yule logs and candles to help chase the darkness away.

Technically, the Earth orbits closer to the sun during our winter solstice so you might think we’d feel warmer. But because our planet is tilted on its axis in the same direction all the time, this time of year the sun shines most directly on the Tropic of Capricorn (a line 23.5 degrees south of the equator) so while the Southern Hemisphere is basking in summer sun, we’re heading for winter.

Here are a few of my suggestions for this year’s winter solstice.

West Tennessee
The Pink Palace Museum in Memphis continues its Holiday Magic of Science physical science demonstrations to help you get into the spirit of the season. Additionally, its Enchanted Forest display is filled with animated characters, model trains and beautifully decorated trees. The Sharpe Planetarium highlights the constellations and astronomical events of the season during Wonders of a Winter Night.

At Land Between the Lakes, Golden Pond Planetarium shows scheduled for December 21, 2013 begin at 10 a.m. CST with the Season of Light which traces the history of the historical, religious, and cultural rituals practiced during the time of winter solstice, views winter constellations and discusses Earth’s tilt and orbit around the sun. Other programs include what is visible in the night sky during the holiday season and the relationships among the Earth, our moon and the sun.

Land Between the Lakes Planetarium

Shows at the Golden Pond Planetarium at Land Between the Lakes explore Earth’s orbit around the sun and the development of modern holiday observations rooted in ancient traditions that lit up the darkness during the winter solstice. (Photo Courtesy of Land Between the Lakes)

Middle Tennessee
Two of Nashville’s Nature Centers have plans for celebrating the winter solstice on December 21.

Shelby Bottoms hosts an open-house from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. CST with story-telling, gathering around a campfire and warming up with hot chocolate.

Warner Parks has crafts for kids, a campfire, story-telling, wreath-making, watching the stars with an astronomer and walking through the woods along a luminary-lit pathway from 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. CST. Registration opens December 6; call 615-352-6299 to register.

Warner Park Nature Center

Enjoy watching the sunset on the shortest day of the year during Nashville’s Warner Park Nature Center Winter Solstice Celebration on December 21. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Nashville’s Adventure Science Center continues its Twelve Days of Science throughout December and its Sudekum Planetarium will show Skies Over Nashville at 1 p.m. CST on Dec. 21 for a look at what’s happening in the night sky during a live, interactive tour.

Murfreesboro’s Discovery Center at Murfree Spring teaches kids how to help staff naturalists with a winter bird count from 2 p.m.- 4 p.m. CST on Dec. 21.

East Tennessee
Kingsport’s Bays Mountain Park features nature programs about venomous spiders and the complexities of life in a wolf pack. Its planetarium shows on December 21 explore what the colors of objects in our universe tell astronomers about them and what people of the past thought about comets and the challenges faced by comet hunters today.

Bays Mountain Park Kingsport

Explore the cycles of nature in the night skies and life among wolves at Bays Mountain Park. (Photo Courtesy of Bays Mountain Park)

Knoxville’s Ijams Nature Center starts the day with a 9 a.m. EST program that delves into birds that live in East Tennessee during the winter months and the adaptations that allow them to survive. Stick around to enjoy a hearty pancake breakfast and meet some of the creatures that call Ijams home or explore the hiking trails and grounds.

At the southern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center hosts an old-fashioned Christmas celebration with traditional music, crafts, cider and cookies from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. EST.

How will you light up the longest night of the year?

Winter Solstice Tennessee

The winter solstice is the perfect opportunity to get in touch with nature’s cycles whether you join some of the winter activities planned across the Volunteer State or create your own winter solstice tradition at home with indoor candle-lightings, greenery made from coat hangers and greenery in your yard, outdoor bonfires, luminaries made from candles in paper bags or mason jars, and generally being thankful for the increasing hours of life-giving sunlight. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on

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