Eco-Parenting and Winter Solstice Traditions

One of the things I have liked best about creating a family of my own is the prospect of new, meaningful traditions. When it was just Rick and me, I had only minimal incentive to investigate ideas and traditions that incorporate my love of nature and spiritual inclinations.

Yet, when my children entered the picture, they brought a sense of magical wonder to our family traditions. This was the incentive I needed to create meaning and a connection with nature into holidays that had otherwise become somewhat blase in my life, and a wonderful way to make environmental values fun for my kids.

Enter Winter Solstice and the Paper Lanterns
For years I’ve wanted to turn Christmas into a bigger event–something beyond Christmas Eve and gift-giving, into a longer connection with family and the winter season. Not just giving, but the bite in the air, the crunch of pine needles in the woods, the cozy contrast of a warm, loving, home, the special spice of winter cooking. It seemed somehow contrived to start something new. And yet, I’ve discovered that contrived is not necessarily a bad thing. It means scripting a tradition in a way that is most meaningful to me–that best shares my love of nature and our planet in a fun-filled celebration with my children.

So, we decided to kick off winter by creating German Lanterns. Winter means celebrating being awake in the chill dark. It’s thrilling in the contrast between the inky black and the lights that glow outside–the moon, the stars, candles, and our own lanterns.

In the past, we have paraded our lanterns around our neighborhood and visited other children in the night, inviting them to join our celebration. And this year, we celebrated with our lanterns in Half Moon Bay’s Festival of the Lights. Both children really loved their lanterns. Even Chloe–the 16-month-old-baby–toddled about clutching hers happily.

Here’s how we did it.

Empty milk carton (rinsed)
Glue in a dish
Craft paintbrush
Colorful tissue cut into shapes or strips
Glo stick

1) I cut holes in patterns–stars, moons, circles and squares–in our milk carton. We tried to cut as many holes as possible without weakening the integrity of the carton. (For bigger kids, the hole size–big or small–does not matter. For smaller children, smaller cuts are better because if they poke their fingers into the hole to break the tissue, the entire lantern is not damaged.) The important thing is to make sure you include plenty of holes–the more light that can escape the lantern, the better because in the night, everything is black except for the holes, which end up as the glowing bits.

2) We mixed 1 part water with 1 part glue in a small dish.

3) Working on one side of the carton at a time, Jasmine painted the carton with glue. Then, she laid pieces of tissue across the holes to cover them and painted the top of the tissue with the glue to hold it in place. I had to help her understand to cover each entire hole with a solid strip so that the tissue would stay strong. After we had our initial layer, we layered more patterns on top until the entire side was covered.

4) Repeat on all sides, leaving the spout of the milk carton uncovered as if you’d still be able to pour milk out of it.

5) Set aside until it’s dry.

6) We went into the woods and collected a branch for our lantern, discussing the forest floor during the winter months. What sorts of branches have lost their leaves? What sorts of nuts and cones have fallen to the ground? (If you want to decorate your stick with bits of yarn or glitter glue, you’d do that now.)

7) We measured about 16 inches of string, drilled a small hole in the top of the carton, and threaded the string through it. I pulled the thread back through the interior end, and strung the Glo Stick on it, then dropped it through the milk carton. (The best time to do this is when it’s time to light the lantern.) I tied the other end of the string to the stick.


silja salonen
silja salonen3 years ago


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Lincoln D.
Lincoln D.9 years ago

Oh, I forgot. I like to say Happy Winter Solstice as opposed to Merry Christmas. I don't think there is anything wrong about Christmas, but I'm not terribly fond of all the marketing pressure to buy buy buy. (That sounds so greedy to me all of a sudden! - buying...) (I mean, the stores.)

Lincoln D.
Lincoln D.9 years ago

Thank you for this article. It sounds so peaceful. To me Christmas is about connecting with nature and letting the modern world go for a while.

New traditions that are not consumer based sound wonderful. I came up with some other ideas that can be done, not consumer based.

Purchase from Jonsteen's: the plant a Christmas tree kit. (They are TINY.)

Have kids do other Christmas related activities (the lanterns, these are obviously endless, ranging from drawing to etc...)

Call the National Arbor Day Foundation and honor/*plant* a tree for someone.

Buy the miniature Christmas trees.

Take up an instrument (learn one) to play Christmas songs.

Make a Christmas vegan dish.

The lighting: consider solar powered ones.

Give to the mail-person (put card in mailbox).

Make/give recyclable/utility gifts - make a book (find project instructions online); the first page can double as the card.


jerie j.
jerie j9 years ago

This sounds like a wonderful tradition. I am thinking about using it in my own home, thanks.

pickerel weed
rosemary weston9 years ago

traditions are a wonderful way to bring people together. christmas traditions are such an amazing mixture of pagan, christian, secular traditions and is surrounded with holidays and traditions from other religions and customs from around the world...a huge festival of lights! a sensorial feast! adding your own traditions whether they are new or borrowed, with family and friends can only be a good thing.

Hilary S.
Hilary S9 years ago

Will do - just need to find them after our latest night out. Chloe, the baby, took a fist to both of them. :)

Heather R.
Heather W9 years ago

Could you possibly post a pic of these lanterns? Please! I would love to see one all done!

Hilary S.
Hilary S9 years ago

Thank you! We've had such a wonderful time with our lanterns and enjoying the dark. Just last night we took our kids on a light walk to enjoy all the lights in the neighborhood. The hour passed so quickly everyone was very late to bed.

Randy Paynter
Randy Paynter9 years ago

Neat idea. My kids love projects, and I love the idea of non-commercial ways of celebrating the holidays, so this looks like a good fit. Thanks!