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Winter wonderland

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Celebrate winter festivals from the past and present

winter solstice


Winter wonderland

Download your FREE winter-themed Interactive resource, ‘Winter Wonderland’ – with images and music, including Vivaldi’s Winter – to stimulate creative writing.

Winter solstice – the shortest day and the longest night – this year falls on 21st December. It marks the beginning of winter; when the Sun is at its lowest point in the sky at noon and the North Pole is at its furthest point away from the Sun. Also known as Yule, this festival dates back further than the birth of Christ and is traditionally a Pagan celebration marking the rebirth of the Sun after the shortest day.

Traditions born out of the Pagan festival still exist in some form today. The name Yule is thought to be linked to the Norsemen of Northern Europe who saw the Sun as a ‘wheel’ or ‘houl’ for the seasons. The yule log is thought to come from the Druids (Celtic priests) who believed that the Sun stood still for 12 days in mid-winter, so they lit a log to defeat the darkness and bring good luck.

The Romans had their own customs around winter solstice, too. They celebrated Saturnalia – a mid-winter festival named after the god of Saturn. Saturnalia included decorating trees, giving presents and feasting; much of which is still celebrated at Christmas time in the 21st century.

All readers can access the Interactive resource, ‘Winter wonderland’ – a collection of wintery images and sounds.


1. Shortest day, longest night

Introduce the children to the winter solstice and explain why it’s the shortest day and longest night. Invite them to participate in acting out what happens or use objects to demonstrate where the northern hemisphere is in relation to the Sun, to help explain where the Sun sits at noon. Compare this to the summer solstice, when the Sun is at its highest point in the sky at noon.

2. Saturnalia

Invite the children to research Saturnalia – the Roman mid-winter festival. Split the class into groups of four to six. Provide each group with an area to focus on – such as eating and drinking; decorations; the giving of presents and the closing of schools and businesses during the period. Having researched their area, challenge the children to compare how each event is celebrated (or not) during Christmas time today, drawing on similarities and differences. This activity will link in well with History 9, a study on ‘how British society was affected by Roman settlement’.

3. Writing winter

Use the Interactive resource, ‘Winter wonderland’ to stimulate ideas about winter for creative writing. Open the resource on your interactive whiteboard. There is a mixture of images evoking winter scenes, including footprints in the snow, a frosty, misty morning, sledging and barren landscapes. Different pieces of music are also available within the resource, including Vivaldi’s Winter; winter bells; footprints through the snow and Christmas-themed music.

Invite the children to look at the images first, without the music, and ask them to write down what each one makes them think of – an emotion, a memory, a wish. Show the images again, this time playing the audio. Do they have the same thoughts? Does the music bring the image to life? Or, does it mis-match the image? Does one piece of music work better than another? Extend this activity by dividing the class into small groups. Allocate each group a picture, sound clip or piece of music. Each group will be writing part of a class story. You could decide on characters and a basic plot at the start, or just run with the images and music as the basis and see what your class comes up with!

Encourage the children to be as descriptive as they can and to imagine that the person reading their part of the story won’t see the image. The image and music will help the children to recreate what they see and hear through the words they use – thinking about setting, sights, sounds and smells. Once all the groups have finished writing, come back together as a class and read the whole story together. Discuss each part of the story and provide the children with the opportunity to feedback on language used


  1. mackenzie
    on 26 November 2010

    we want the actele song

    this is a silly silly try rock around the shops it is so munch better

  2. tattynan
    on 18 February 2010

    wonderful winter resource

    love it.